There are many different models and frameworks out there that encourage people to assess their skills and attributes as a leader. Although it is always useful to self-reflect and continually challenge your own behaviour, here are 5 important things to consider before you click the button and take your next online assessment …
1. Labels stick!
I have lost count of the number of leaders I have worked with who have taken online assessments then started a conversation something like this:
“I’ve done the assessment and it tells me I’m an XYZ so that explains everything”
The real message here is that the individual has abdicated responsibility for evaluating and regulating their own behaviour. By accepting whatever ‘label’ the assessment has attributed to them, they typically have no motivation to change and have given themself permission to continue to behave that way. The result is often a pattern of repeating behaviour that does not serve them well and continues to reinforce and anchor the label – which is why labels stick!
2. Remember the context and use the right tool
Many of the popular assessments and diagnostics are used by HR departments for recruitment and talent management purposes. Although this is useful to provide a profile for individual leaders and an overview at team, departmental or organisational levels, it is often not what the underlying framework or model was designed for. I remember once being asked to coach a group of senior leaders through a period of change when their company was acquired by a global competitor. The first thing I was given was a file containing 3 different assessments for each leader – a little light reading! But when I asked the leaders what all this information told them about the way they were likely to behave during the transition, they were unable to apply any of the profiling to a new context that they had never experienced before.
“This is a completely new experience for me so I don’t know how to interpret this information”
It is so important to remember the purpose of any evaluation or assessment and to make sure that the context is taken into account. After all, you wouldn’t try to unscrew a nail with a chainsaw … make sure you use the right tool.
3. A 360 will make you dizzy
Anyone who knows me will be aware that I am not a huge fan of 360 assessments – I acknowledge that they can be extremely powerful if used properly but are typically not facilitated or interpreted well enough and are rarely followed up with sufficiently focused support to make a real impact.
“I know who said that about me … but I still can’t work out where this comment has come from”
Several years ago, I supported over 300 senior police leaders with a custom designed 360 that was intended to analyse their developmental needs and lay the foundation for future training programmes. If I’m honest – it didn’t work as well as it could have (if they had listened to my advice not to use a 360 in the first place). The majority of these senior leaders spent more time trying to work out who had said what about them than they did considering why this had been said in the first place! If you really feel the need to use a 360 assessment, please make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and that you put the correct interventions (coaching, mentoring, facilitation, training) in place to meet the needs that are identified. If not, then at least be aware of the potential this has to damage communication and undermine relationships.
4. Feed you inner coach and not your inner critic
If you really want to get the value from any assessment, make sure that you internalise the results and get the balance right. My experience has shown that too many people focus on what they perceive to be negative results or comments and often lose sight of the overall picture.
“I already knew that … but this is where I have to focus”
Here is a useful exercise I often ask clients to try:
— Print the report produced by the last assessment you took
— Take two different colour highlighting pens
— Highlight all the positive statements in one colour – these are typically the things you think you already knew about yourself or the comments that you like
— Use the second colour to highlight any negative statements and/or any areas where the need for development has been indicated.
Sometimes it takes a visual using colour for people to see the balance and keep things in perspective – remember it is often harder to maintain a strength than it is to rectify a problem!
5. So what …?
The common thread that you may have picked up by now is that you need to have a very clear reason for doing an assessment in the first place. But, just as importantly, you must know what you will do with the results and be able to define the outcomes you are trying to achieve.
“Oh yes, I remember taking that assessment a couple of months ago”
“OK – so what are you doing differently, as a result, and what impact is that having?”
Taking an assessment (regardless of which type or format) is useful to promote self-reflection, which is an essential part of any leader’s practice. However, it is critical to remember that the assessment itself is simply a tool to provide some results and that these then need to be used to drive action, otherwise people are simply taking assessments for assessment sake.