Received, but understood?

Howard Popeck reviews the online assessment tool Cognisco Series-300

Litigation from external sources or disgruntled employees is on the
increase. To merely claim that the litigant had been presented with the rules,
safety procedures, employment guidelines, HR policies, and so on is no longer a
credible defence. The most commonly asked question in court is: "Yes, but
how do you know that they understood the information they were presented
with?"

Onerous board-level responsibilities

Consider the implications of increased legal responsibility placed on board
directors by compliance regulations where the current blurred distinction
between information and knowledge is likely to come under increasingly rigorous
scrutiny.

Two global companies keen to identify what their staff actually understand
about job-related information are working with the UK-based HR data analysis
firm Cognisco, using its Cognisco Series-300 which provides online assessment
and detailed ongoing analysis of individual employees’ levels of understanding.

Avoiding lucky guesses

Cognisco’s claimed raison d’etre is that it is able to identify employees
who meet or exceed a competence benchmark primarily through memory
(questionable understanding), against those who achieve similar or better
grades by demonstrating sufficient understanding, for example, with only
limited reliance on memory. Moreover, it spots the ‘lucky bluffers’, who give
the correct, but guessed answers, it claims.

Where is the evidence?

At first sight Cognisco’s claims appear extravagant. Yet senior HR people at
two giant organisations, Interbrew (37,000 people worldwide) and Toms
Confectionery (£110m turnover) believe the UK findings might ultimately
influence their entire global HR policies.

Interbrew UK uses it to provide online assessments within its sales function
competency framework, providing accurate measurements of the levels of
understanding by senior level sales managers and directors. This fits within
the early stages of a rolling strategy to harmonise competencies on a global
basis for Interbrew. In the global arena, accessibility and ease of use of
these types of systems is an important factor.

The Cognisco tool has enabled senior Interbrew managers and directors to
focus on their development needs within a well-structured competency framework.
For individuals, this means they are able to focus and target their development
where it really matters.

Promotion policies re-evaluated

Even more radical are the conclusions drawn by Toms after an intriguing
application of Series-300. These conclusions, if they gain widespread acceptance,
are set to overturn at least one long-held irrational HR belief regarding
remuneration negotiations and promotion policies.

Toms’ HR director Alan Best says: "I wanted an objective reply to the
challenge we’ve all heard far too often – "I’ve been here 20 years and I’m
the most experienced one here." Cognisco’s Series-300 demonstrated that,
sadly, this can be one year’s experience simply repeated 20 times!"

Duty of Care

The British Army has expressed an interest in evaluating whether officers
truly understand what is meant by Duty of Care via Series-300 online
assessments. Its concern is that too many court martials are failing because
officers do not sufficiently understand the basis on which a charge can be
brought. According to Cognisco, discussions are under way with two regional
health trusts regarding objective assessment of managers’ understanding of
race, gender and paternity issues.

However, Cognisco is at pains to point out that Series-300 is not a tool for
trapping the unwary. "It is not 1984 revisited. It seeks to identify the
exceptionally competent too," it says. According to Sam Burton, Subaru
UK’s managing director commenting on a successful application of Series-300
across its UK dealer network, "the whole point is not to catch people out,
but to improve skills."

A glimpse over the HR horizon perhaps?

So are we witnessing the start of an HR revolution where tests decide who
should advance? Will the driving force be proven merit rather than longevity?
The indications are that increasing numbers of HR managers are demanding a
sounder basis for making certain global decisions. Faced with this, Cognisco
Series-300 may be the preferred choice.

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