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Competency Assessments, Flatpack Furniture, and Chain Restaurants

Creating workplace competency assessments may seem far from running furniture stores or restaurants. However, they share some common success formulas.

Imagine a furniture store owner preparing their store for potential customers. Some may fill the store front with popular pre-made pieces that customers can buy and take home on the same day. To do so, they need to fork out the cost up-front and hope whatever they choose will sell quickly. Some may also collate a catalogue, allowing customers to choose and even modify existing designs to their liking. However, there will be a wait between ordering and delivery, which may put off customers that are in a hurry. The emergence of Ikea and other flatpack furniture stores revolutionized this market—by breaking multiple complex designs into common, standardized component parts, customers can now buy furniture pieces with flexible customization options and take them home on the same day.

Next, let’s consider restaurants. Often, the chef of a restaurant is the key to the restaurant’s success—to the point that the departure of a good chef can impact a restaurant’s business. The heavy dependence on the skills of one individual is a significant bottleneck that prevents many small independent restaurants from repeating their success in new branches. However, when we look at the most successful chain restaurants, we seldom see star chefs at every branch. Chain restaurants employ a very different production model – food is prepared in a centralized kitchen following standardized processes designed by experts, leaving only a few simple preparation steps to individual branches. This way, quality standard is maintained and consistent across branches. Moreover, reducing food preparation time in-branch allows customers to receive their orders faster, and allows the restaurants to serve more customers in the same amount of time.

But what has all of that got to do with creating competency assessments in the workplace?

By collating decades of research and analyzing empirical data, SHL scientists created the Universal Competency Framework (UCF), breaking workplace competencies into a comprehensive model of 96 objective behaviors.

As it currently stands, the development of customized competency assessments relies heavily on the individual craftsmanship of psychologists and psychometricians. In furniture store terms, we are still operating in the pre-flatpack age of one-size-fits-all products or slow and costly customized designs. In restaurant terms, we are still following a chef-centric business model, with repeatability and scalability limited by the availability of skilled psychologists and psychometricians. But we have learned a couple of tips from the examples above that could help us make customized competency assessments faster and cheaper.

From flatpack furniture stores, we learned that fast and affordable customization can be achieved by breaking complex designs into common, standardized parts that are designed to work together. By collating decades of research and analyzing empirical data, SHL scientists created the Universal Competency Framework (UCF), breaking workplace competencies into a comprehensive model of 96 objective behaviors. These behavioral components provide standardized building blocks for competency modelling—each component is unique and context-free, but when mixed in different combinations and proportions, they are able to capture and describe the distinctive behavioral requirements of different job roles.

From chain restaurants, we learned that a centralized, standardized production process can offer efficient delivery to customers while upholding stable product quality. SHL’s scientists have built out this “central kitchen” for tailored competency assessments. We grew our own “ingredients”, i.e., assessment contents for each of the 96 UCF components, and ensured that they are of the highest quality through repeated empirical trialing. We even made a “cooking robot” capable of preparing a unique meal on-demand (i.e., creating a competency assessment tailored to a specific role) from the bank of ingredients (i.e., the UCF item bank), without the presence of a skilled chef (i.e., psychologist or psychometrician). This “cooking robot” also tells us whether a meal it prepares is likely to taste good (i.e., have high score reliability and low measurement bias) before serving it to the customer.

This “central kitchen” with “standard ingredients” is now known as SHL’s Apta measurement architecture – a patented, technology-enabled process for creating tailored competency assessments based on the UCF. However, this is not to say that the traditional way of competency assessment development should be cast away – just like there will forever be a place in the market for designer furniture and Michelin chefs, high-end customization and production will continue to be driven by psychologists and psychometricians. Instead, by making tailored competency assessments through an industrialized, standardized production line, Apta allows more organizations to have them cheaper and faster.

A more in-depth and technical description of the Apta measurement architecture is published in this peer-reviewed journal article.

To discuss how Apta may be useful for your business, please contact us.

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Yin Lin

Dr. Yin Lin is a Principal Research Scientist in SHL’s Research and Development team. A mathematician-turned-psychometrician, Yin's passion lies in designing and streamlining measurement processes and systems to solve real-life talent challenges more efficiently. Yin has over 10 years of experience in applied psychometrics and is the first inventor of SHL's patented preference-based testing system "Apta".

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