The Secret Ingredient in Assessment

“Skill and Will” is only the beginning of talent assessment.

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When assessing talent, “Skill and Will” dominates the conversation. Does the candidate have the skills, knowledge and experience needed for the role? And does the candidate value the role and its work?

If skill comes up short, well, you can train for skills and knowledge, and you can accelerate experience by judiciously bringing the candidate up to speed. Getting someone to value the work is a bit trickier, but effective management and coaching can usually deal with that.

But, assessing talent on skill and will alone misses the most important and woefully secret ingredient: cognitive capability. In short, is the candidate smart enough for the role?

Many of us squirm at the idea of confronting intelligence as a measure of a person. It bucks up against our ideas and beliefs about egalitarianism [see “Anaklesis”]. And yet, cognitive capability – the mental horsepower to handle the level of complexity of the role – is the go/no-go delimiter in assessment, because you cannot teach it, train it, nor accelerate it. Over our lives, our ability to handle complexity rises, but at different rates for different individuals. Ultimately, at any one time, some of us are just smarter than others.

So, how do we measure the cognitive capability of an individual? In addition to instruments that measure it, intuitively most of us can sense intelligence. When considering the cognitive requirements for Vice President and above, for example, our work indicates that less than two percent of the general population can handle the complexity at that level, and these people tend to stand out.

There’s one more perspective on assessment that is often not addressed: temperament. Does this individual have any debilitating behavioural issues that will interfere with the work of the role: substance abuse, anger management, compulsive lying?

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