Lessons for Procurement Teams
Using behavioural assessment (BA) for the selection of key business partners for collaborative contracts, already has a track record of 17 years. It has been used in some of the UKs highest profile and highest value procurement exercises and, with the predicted growth in the UK infrastructure sector, and further use of BA by existing users, its use is expected to grow as a key assessment tool for procurement teams.
This article outlines a significant step forward in making behavioural assessment more effective. The article is based largely on work B2B have undertaken in working with High Speed 2 (HS2) on the Enabling Works Contractor (EWC) behavioural assessments completed in 2016, and one other high profile project that has yet to be announced. It is particularly relevant for those who may want to use behavioural assessment in the future and where they want their approach to reflect internationally recognised best practice.
HS2, along with many organisations, are committed to using behavioural assessment as a tool to support its selection of its key collaborative partners.
B2B were appointed in 2015 as the HS2 partner to deliver the very first suite of BAs for the appointment of the Phase 1 Engineering Delivery Partner (EDP) contract. In 2016 B2B delivered a second suite of seven behavioural assessments for the Enabling Works Contracts (EWC) and, in 2017, B2B completed nine BAs for the HS2 Main Works Civil Contracts (MWCC) – the organisations that will build the Phase 1 part of the new rail system.
A First for Behavioural Assessment & Future Benchmark
Whilst B2B team members introduced in 2001 the very first BA to operate in a regulated procurement exercise, (and have since delivered BAs for the highest value and highest profile contracts), the BA for the HS2 EWC set a new standard and achieved a European first!
The BA for HS2 Enabling Works Contracts was the first behavioural assessment in Europe to be delivered in full compliance to the only internationally recognised standard for ‘behavioural assessment’ – the ISO Standard – BS ISO 10667 -2.
BS ISO 10667:
The Business Case for BS ISO 10667 and Messages for Procurement Teams
The standard is particularly relevant for procurement teams because it clarifies the best practices that they should follow in selecting a BA provider and it provides a route map to manage the whole life cycle of developing and delivering a behavioural assessment.
There are, in fact, two separate ISO standards for behavioural assessment – one for the BA supplier (BS ISO 10667-2) and one for the commissioning procurement team (BS ISO 10667-1). Because the two standards are designed to work together, it provides a platform for enabling the procurement team and BA service provider to collaborate effectively in the delivery of the BA.
Obtaining a Compliant and Effective Behavioural Assessment
Delivering a BA within a regulated procurement context is not the same as a standard assessment centre. This is because it needs to simultaneously address legal/procurement regulations and key procurement principles and has to ensure the assessment produces not only produces valid and reliable results, but also those being assessed treated ethically and professionally to accepted assessment standards. The demands of ensuring legal compliance and delivering a professionally informed assessment can very easily work to different priorities. The ISO standard can align them for a win-win outcome.
Our experience is that systematically pursuing the framework of the ISO best practice standard, (which is open to third-party and independent verification), significantly helps to address these challenges and prevents or mitigates the risks of legal non-compliance.
At the same time, it significantly increases the likelihood of the validity and reliability of the results -which are the basis for the investment in time and money to deliver it. Importantly it will provide those being assessed with an added assurance that the key procurement principles of transparency, fairness, equal and consistent treatment, and an assessment that is proportional for the work in hand, is delivered. How does BS ISO 10667 do this?
The standard codifies all the processes across the full life cycle of a well-managed BA; from the initial scoping of the BA work stream and specifying the requirements for the BA undertaken initially by the client procurement team, through their selection of the BA provider and for developing an agreement with them for the delivery of the BA. B2B have, working collaboratively with HS2, aligned best practices in behavioural assessment with the requirements of UK and EU procurement regulations. The key stages of the standard and the linkages to the legal framework are mapped in the B2B BA model below.
Critical Success Factors (CSFs) for Effective BAs
There are dozens of clauses in the ISO standard for the effective delivery of a BA. However, based upon the successful HS2 project, and several other BAs carried out by B2B in 2016, we have identified some of the main Critical Success Factors (CSFs) for a successful BA process.
Agreement: Initial Client Thinking & Planning
Before engaging a BA service provider, the procurer must plan, resource and consider its own role in the initial process of specifying the requirements of the BA service; each BA should be tailored to evaluate specific behaviours or criteria that are context specific and are focussed on the role of the partner and the particular risks, challenges or opportunities the will encounter that behaviours will need to address. Because of this the standard advises that the procurement team arrange to consult internally those who will have an appreciation of what ‘good should look like’ in a partner and have begun to identify factors such as – the potential scope of assessment i.e. who are the best targets for assessment, any limitations for carrying out the behavioural assessment and have a view on the potential range of uses of the assessment data beyond its use for making a partner selection decision.
After appointing the BA service-provider, it is very important for the client to be flexible, open to professional review and change in its initial plans, and to develop the BA plan in collaboration with their BA provider.
The time between hiring a BA-Provider and the publication of the Invitation to Tender (ITT) which lays-out the BA design, is often limited. The client team should have a plan to resource the management and/or oversight of the BA delivery before appointment and to be ready to provide any required input from internal subject matter experts or stakeholders who may be needed to support the development of the BA model and its activities.
The client team should be aware of its own responsibilities as a commissioner of a quality behavioural assessment and the potential contribution it may need to play in supporting the delivery of not only a legally compliant BA, but also an effective and professionally managed one.
Selection of the BA Service Provider
Selecting the BA provider will be a key decision and the client team needs to ensure its procurement process for the BA provider is robust. 17 years after the first BA in the UK, there still remains, variable understanding of what to specify and how to test prospective BA suppliers. The BS ISO 10667-1 standard for procurers advises that the client should ensure the BA service provider follows accepted professional processes as documented in the standard. B2B would add that potential supplier needs to show they have aligned these processes to operate within in a regulated procurement environment. BS ISO10667-1 provides the procurement team with a route map for specifying the basic qualities the provider should bring. A review of BS ISO 10667-2 (the full standard for the BA supplier), will clarify for the procurement team what specific processes, methods and competences the potential BA provider should possess if they are to demonstrate they can deliver a best practice BA.
CSF: Without this CSF, the reliability and validity of the BA may be compromised. Without this CSF, the risk of challenge due a non-compliant BA process increases.
Agreement: On Boarding the BA Service Provider
The standard is clear that an effective delivery of a BA should not be positioned as a transactional, or ‘off-the-shelf’ service and is likely to require collaboration between client and BA provider. The twin tasks of delivering a legally compliant and a professionally delivered BA, can be a challenge. Those commissioning the BA and the BA provider should agree a collaborative approach. The standard provides a framework for this. Importantly the client and BA provider need to ‘live’ the collaborative behaviours that will deliver the twin goals of compliance and effectiveness. This aspect is not covered specifically in the BA standard. However, guidance is on the way! BS ISO 440001 (the new international standard for collaboration in business relationships, (the successor to BS11000), does provide guidance on how to approach this within the ‘Partner Selection’ stage of the new collaboration standard.
CSF: Without this CSF, the full potential value of the BA may not be realised, best practices may not be fully shared and many aspects of good procurement and assessment practice may be missed.
Planning & Informing
The standard provides details for the planning of the BA and ensuring relevant stakeholders are engaged in its development. Within a regulated procurement exercise the publication of the ITT should provide a full account of the rationale for the BA, the assessment criteria, any sub-criteria, details of the assessment methods, scoring approaches, targets for assessment and a number of other factors to ensure transparency and fairness for those being assessed and to ensure equal access. Publication of the ITT is, in many ways, a ‘point of no return’ (or at least a point of limited return), for the eventual BA approach!
BAs come in all sizes and degrees of complexity. Different assessment methods yield different levels of value in predicting future behaviour of potential partners. But even those that are so-called ‘light touch’ should have no reduction in their fitness for purpose. The description of the BA in the ITT is on the critical path to developing nearly everything else that will follow in the BA.
It is critical that planning the BA allow sufficient time for the BA provider to develop a fit for purpose BA approach that will pass both scrutiny for assessment effectiveness, as well as providing an assurance to legal and procurement professionals and other key stakeholders.
This CSF is key: Once the ITT has been published, there are significant limitations in making any improvements or changes to the overall BA design even where they are required.
Irrespective of whether the BA design is a simple 1:1 interview, or a comprehensive assessment centre with psychometric profiles, team exercises and a host of other ‘moving parts’, all are close to being a ‘public event’ in that they are played out to a range of internal and external stakeholders and have limited scope to ‘fix’ errors, or deal with unscheduled variations, in a live situation. Additionally the BA is a shop window on the client organisation and its reputation. The standard requires that the BA should have as clearly a documented delivery process for managing probity and risks as any good tender opening exercise and should ensure all activities are controlled with a full audit trail.
CSF: ISO10667-2 provides a clear blueprint for delivery of an effective BA. The BA delivery plan should include all the key standards within it and should be aligned to best procurement practice to ensure delivery of the key procurement principles above.
Results, Reporting & Feedback
The assessment results – how they are generated, what they will contain, when, how and to whom, they should be reported, and the required audit trail of supporting evidence, should, be concluded in the ‘Agreement’ stage. If not there, certainly before the assessment has started.
There are several aspects of reporting that should be agreed upon between the client team and the BA service provider to ensure reporting outputs both comply with legal/procurement regulations but also respects how reporting can also meet professional assessment and ethical standards. Factors such as differentiating reports for initial results for award decisions, results for unsuccessful tenderers, reports for developmental purposes for tenderers and (if assessed) reports for client team member performance.
CSF: Reporting outputs and feedback methods should not be left as late considerations and should be agreed early in the BA programme.
The BA project should not be considered ‘over’ once the assessment reports are delivered. BS ISO 10667-1 & 2 both underline the importance of a collaborative review of the BA process and to identify areas for retention in future BAs and areas for change and improvement. In the spirit of best collaborative practice, the review process should be joint and feedback a two way process between client and BA service provider. The BS ISO 10667-2 standard provides a comprehensive evaluation agenda that can be reviewed and agreed.
CSF: A post BA evaluation plan should be agreed between the BA provider and client as soon as feasible within the project plan timeline.
Behavioural assessment is an activity clearly undertaken in the procurement phase of a major project. Unfortunately for many projects it remains anchored there and frequently does inform activity into the post award delivery phase. The BA sets a benchmark of competence levels at a given time. If designed to ISO 10667-2 standards, the results will provide good predictive accuracy of future behavioural competence. For this reason, the BA needs to be positioned as a first step on, as they say, a journey. Designed into the BA programme should be the minimal expectation that the BA results will be used to inform the ‘on-boarding’ of the new partner and including developmental feedback. Potentially to inform collaboration development between the client and partner organisations.
Without this CSF the full value of the assessment can be lost as areas for behavioural improvement are likely to be overlooked when mobilisation starts and as a result key opportunities for accelerating collaboration development will be missed.
Effective collaboration between organisations and their people does not naturally evolve – it needs to be managed and behavioural performance measures placed on the performance scorecard of contract delivery. Both client and partner teams should measure, evaluate and improve upon the baseline behavioural performance levels established in the initial assessment period.
Without this CSF collaborative behaviour is likely to cease to be the critical issue it was thought to be in the procurement phase and the importance of behaviour to delivery is likely to diminish until fresh interest in behaviours re-emerges when ineffective behaviours begin to impact performance – whether it be cost, programme, risk, reputation or trust levels.
The use of behavioural assessment is set to grow in 2017 and beyond. Procurement teams using BA to inform key award decisions, the tenderers who take part in the assessments, and the eventual users of the facilities or services that are produced, will all benefit from the greater professionalisation of BA.
Procurement teams would benefit from using the ISO Standard 10667-1 as a guide to inform their plans for using BA and know what ‘good looks like’ in a well-managed BA.
BA providers would benefit from adopting the practices in the standard so the behavioural assessment industry can raise their game and discourage the ineffective practices. By following the best practice standard all stakeholder’s can benefit and current practice can be further developed, and innovations introduced effectively.
John Doyle is a Director with B2Bppm Ltd. He has led and delivered close to 100 BAs since introducing them to the UK in 2001. He would welcome dialogue on the above from procurers and tenderers alike and other stakeholders interested in BA. A more detailed article on the above is available on request from firstname.lastname@example.org