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Which subject would be best for your organisation to assess?

Neil Bachelor , Pure Measures
07 Oct, 2019
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When engaging with new clients we (Pure Measures) often get asked for advice about choosing the most appropriate assessment subject. You may already know where differences in your employee’s understanding and judgement are significantly impacting business performance but, if not, here are some tips to guide you through an initial analysis:

To find broad subject areas where employee assessment may be useful:

  • List any operational areas where you have performance inefficiencies or other concerns
  • Filter this list down to those involving issues potentially related to the understanding and interpretation of information or procedures (i.e. poor situational awareness or judgement)

To analyse each subject area, go through the key concepts (both theoretical and practical) that employees need to apply and, in particular, list situations where rules

…may be counter-intuitive

  • Where is the appropriate action not obvious? For example, if treating someone with frostbite it may seem logical to immerse the affected area in hot water as quickly as possible. This could however make the tissue damage worse - instead the area should be gradually heated using warm water.
  • Another source of confusion can be ambiguous names. In an assessment evaluating financial literacy, we discovered many respondents weren’t sure whether a company’s van should be classified as a fixed asset. The answer is that it should - being physically unfixed is irrelevant, but it can still confuse people who aren’t familiar with the underlying concept.
  • If you don’t know whether any of your procedures are counter-intuitive then take a look at critical incident reports and customer complaints. Most employees try to do a good job (or at least don’t want to make mistakes) and a significant proportion of incidents will therefore be where employees haven’t properly anticipated the consequences of their actions.

...have exceptions

  • Generally appropriate steps may be inappropriate in certain circumstances. For example, low-dose aspirin can help prevent heart attacks and strokes but shouldn’t be prescribed to people with stomach ulcers - aspirin can irritate the stomach lining and prevent ulcers healing or even make them worse.


  • The modern workplace is complex and behaviour is often governed by different rules that can interact. One of our clients operates a clear cab policy i.e. no tools or parts are allowed in the front (driving cab) of their vans. A scenario in their assessment was therefore to imagine driving down the motorway and noticing a heavy spanner loose in the passenger foot-well. The engineer then had to judge whether it would be appropriate to pull over on to the hard shoulder to put the spanner in the back of the van. The answer is that they shouldn’t as being on the hard shoulder would be even more dangerous - instead they should leave the motorway at the next junction and then look for somewhere safe to stop.

…have recently changed

  • When procedures get modified then often the instinctive behaviours developed to follow the old ones can make it harder to remember/follow the new ones (Psychologists refer to this as Proactive Interference). On a simple level, many of us will have changed a system password and, for a while at least, may sometimes enter the old one instinctively. Within the workplace, this could mean performing a task the old way without even realising it. This may not matter but, as procedural changes are usually made with good reason, more often it will.

…have critical consequences

  • The severity of impact is also an important consideration. Sometimes rules can be easy to understand and follow but, unless it’s impressed upon employees the impact of not following them, then costly mistakes can still occur. As an extreme example, British Airways had a data centre outage in May 2017 that took its global booking system offline over a bank holiday weekend, caused the cancellation of over 700 flights and cost the company an estimated £58 million. This was almost certainly not caused by a contractor’s initial error, but much more likely by their panicked response. The findings of the formal investigation have not yet been published but it seems as if the uninterruptible power supply to a key data centre was accidentally switched off …although it was a failure to follow proper procedure to restore its power that caused a voltage surge resulting in damage to the servers that took days to fix. In other words, if the contractor had been more aware of the risks of bypassing the power restoration process then the critical outage probably wouldn’t have occurred. 

Once you have a complete list of potential misconception, then evaluate/score each one on these three parameters:

  • Likelihood of misunderstanding being held (i.e. Is it a common misconception?)
  • Frequency of rule/concept usage (i.e. Is it regularly used by a substantial proportion of the workforce?)
  • Severity of impact (i.e. What are the costs if the rule or procedure is not followed?)

This should then give you a feel for the subject containing the riskiest misconceptions and probably therefore the one that you should assess first.

Don’t worry if this all sounds too complicated, we’ll happily guide you through the process and, longer term, can support the diagnostic design, delivery & analysis of the response data generated.

I hope that you’ve found this primer useful and good luck with whatever assessment project you decide to take on. And please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions ([email protected]).

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