I have the privilege of participating in regular online meetings with several well respected, credentialed, experienced practitioners in the Leadership Development space from around the world.  Each member of the group has the experience, degrees/certifications, success etc. to hold credibility in the Leadership space individually, and together, they represent a wealth of knowledge.  In addition, the members of this group take a practical approach to applying resources which will secure real-world results.

In a recent meeting, the conversation centered around the use of psychometric assessments in the workplace for leadership coaching and development.  One of the group members declared the following “..I don’t believe in psychometric assessments because I’ve been the recipient of them and have seen how off kilter they are. Nobody agrees with them. They create more trouble than they help…..!”  It was clear he had a very bad experience.  Other members of the group weighed in with additional assessment horror stories.   Many shared examples resulting in legitimately bad experiences for participants involved, and the organization at large.  Unpacking these experiences further, we discovered the negative outcomes were the result of several different factors from process to execution, including the use of the proper assessment for the objective at hand. 

It also occurred to me that via bad experiences, it was easy to lump all assessments together under one banner and apply unilateral disdain.  My initial thoughts centered around the premise of “all assessments”.  The analogy that came to mind is a bit like hearing “I don’t like Italian food”.  Ask my Italian friends, and they will quickly tell you there is no such thing as “Italian” food.  Differences between regions and cities offer a sharp contrast.  The hearty dishes like polenta, risotto, with rich cheeses, game and potatoes in the Northern Regions, differ greatly from the Mediterranean influence in the South bringing fresh seafood and shellfish to the table along with a thicker version of pizza.  Conversely the Central region entices us with heavy dishes such as spaghetti alla chitarra with a trio of pork veal and lamb paired with a velvety Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (hungry?)  So, much like mischaracterizing one dish as representing all “Italian food”, I imagined there are many Human Capital practitioners and executives that via a couple of bad experiences might lump all “Assessments” together as one, and collectively shun their use.

Perhaps you have a similar bad taste in your mouth from an experience you have had as well?  If so, here is an additional perspective for anyone thinking of using assessments in the world of work.

My experience using assessments in the development of high potentials, emerging leaders, and in leadership and executive coaching and development has not been entirely without challenge but has been overwhelmingly successful.  In applications across a variety of professional levels, disciplines and organization types, unique requirements flavor the selection and use of assessment tools.   Based on my experience focusing on the assessment tool itself, (not the requirements for process design and organizational readiness required) the following are key considerations for effective use.

  1. Is The Assessment Statistically Sound? – This covers statistical rigor in both content and criterion validity and reliability. A worthy assessment tool will be accompanied by a technical manual, transparently allowing the facilitator to understand the scientific study (including peer reviewed study replicability) used to create/update the instrument.  There are too many quick “type or color” assessments that do NOT meet the scientific community’s standards for validity or reliability. They invest a great deal in marketing, and play to the emotional traps long practiced by carnival side show barkers (the Forer effect, and confirmation bias as examples)  A great book on this point is “The Personality Brokers” by Ms. Merve Emre. 
  2. Is The Tool Fit For Purpose? – Per the criterion related validity and reliability above, one tool is not necessarily applicable for all use cases.  Overapplication (if you are a hammer all you see are nails) of a tool is at a minimum, irresponsible.  If the description of the assessment is “Everything …….”, be very cautious.  For example, using a tool not validated for selection to provide data for selection without the appropriate criterion related validity study, under-serves client interests and borders on unethical practice.  In certain countries it could run afoul of the law.  In the US, the “Uniform Guidelines On Employee Selection Procedures” outlines prohibitions involved in the misuse of tests associated with the employment selection process. It is also critically important that the assessment tool allows for interpretation via context.  There is no absolute one right way of working/leading that spans every condition in every environment for every organization.  It is not binary.
  3. Application Via Skilled Interpretation and Facilitation – Like the use of any other tool, an assessment can create great value in the hands of a trained/certified/licensed user.  Conversely it can create great damage at both a personal or organizational level when misunderstood and misapplied. For example, inherent dangers exist in labeling, and labeling is an easy trap to fall into when using assessments.   Labels can also be used passively or actively as crutches and let one off the hook; “Well I really can’t do anything about my conduct because this shows I am a …….”    The assessment tool should be an objective source providing self-awareness of an aspect an individual otherwise cannot see in themselves.  A blind spot if you will. Without exploration of self-awareness and then getting to root cause, any investment in development methods will be sub-optimized, misguided or perhaps more damaging than good.  If self-awareness of Leadership impact is the question to be answered, a multi rater (360) tool is necessary.  A leader can believe in her own mind she is strategic, collaborative, empathic, etc…., but the way she shows up with her manager, direct reports and peers is the true reflection of her impact via her behavior.  There is a big difference between intention and behavior (5 frogs on a log).

There are plenty of assessment tools that meet the criteria above.  Practitioners and consultants have a duty to their organizations/clients to use the tool optimized for the context and objectives required.  Avoid the trap of using an assessment recommended by friends or marketed in your inbox.  Finding the right tool requires research, and the right tool found will be backed by research as well.

What additional assessment considerations would you add?  It’s hard to catch everything in the space of a post.  Look for my next post on setting the organizations table for success – the discovery and process design required before launching any kind of assessment.

So when your friend says “I don’t like Italian food” ask, “How about some fresh fish and muscles?”….”Yeah Great!”  

Contact me If you would like to explore the beneficial use of assessment tools as part of an overall approach to Leadership and Talent Development.  Your organization and its people deserve the best opportunity to grow.  Provide them with the Optimized Talent Strategy!