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Observations on Assessments Pt. 7. Are Thinking & Learning Really Important?

Updated: May 25, 2022

Once after playing tennis at a ritzy country club, I noticed a sleek, jazzy red sportscar parked near my car. I commented to my friend that it looked like a Shelby Cobra, one of the fastest cars of its day, and I imagined what it would be like to take it out for a spin. My friend took a closer look and destroyed my fantasy, saying it was a fiberglass kit car with a 4-cylinder Volkswagen engine…all show with no go.

I don’t believe many people would buy a car without first knowing what kind of engine it has. It is amazing how many companies hire employees without knowing how they think and learn. The interviewers may guess at it…just as I did with the red sports car, but they cannot determine it with any certainty. The vast majority of assessments do not include a measurement of cognitive abilities. In today’s rapidly changing business world, knowledge work is the cornerstone of many companies' operations. That is work that is dependent upon acquiring, understanding, and applying knowledge, as opposed to manual labor requiring only the simple training of the work processes.

Cognitive ability has long been established as a principal determining component of job performance. It is important to understand that today’s understanding of cognitive ability shatters old concepts of “smart” and “not smart.” All people are “smart” but in different ways. Knowing the way that a person is “smart” enables a company to put them into roles in which they are most likely to succeed.

Hundreds of real-world studies of such jobs have shown over and over again that speed of learning is a key factor in employee retention. Fast learners leave routine jobs, often after blazing through the training program. Slower learners stay and perform those jobs quite well. Conversely, when slower learners are faced with increasing complexity in their jobs, they do not leave, but continue to struggle, not realizing what has changed. For example, complex or solution sales demand higher speeds of learning than product sales. This creates huge challenges when a company attempts to transition from one to the other. Vast sums of money are usually spent on sales training with only marginal results. In these situations, it is not a skills issue but a speed of processing issue.

One of the first things to consider when analyzing a performance problem or when planning strategic initiatives is to inventory the cognitive strengths of the work group involved. This information will reveal how well the strengths can support the strategies, and it will show the most effective training options.

For more information on how to select and use assessment technology, visit


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