A senior business executive I was coaching recently made a revealing comment, “Now I know why you like assessments. They’re mind blowing! I’m really learning something about myself that I didn’t know—and it’s all good.” That got me to thinking: Most people are leery of taking assessments. It makes them think of tests, and after all, people generally put taking a test in the same category as having a tooth pulled. No fun.
But assessments are exciting. Like puzzles, they complete the picture. They help you discover things about yourself that you probably didn’t know. Things like talents and blocks that might be holding you back from reaching the success you deserve. So here’s my view of assessments: Basically, I like them. I like seeing my clients experiencing “aha!” moments and coming face-to-face with their potential. Maria, another of my clients, recently discovered though an assessment that she was literally made for sales—and she spent many years in HR roles up to that point. She’s excited about her new job in sales. I know she’s going to be a great success and I applaud her.
So let me unpack my views on assessments for you:
First off, some people don’t know what assessments really are. Assessments are on- or off-line questionnaires referred to as “instruments,” that produce specific insight into the talents, drivers and influencers that characterize an individual or group. They typically are researched and designed by experts in their fields and they are must be interpreted by individuals trained and certified in their use. Some people call assessments “tests.” This is wrong. They are not tests. They measure indicators and not skills or knowledge. And, there is no pass or fail.
True assessments are validated, that is, they are supported by research that defends that they measure what they say they measure. Validation is both a legal and academic process that sometimes takes years; nevertheless, the following questions must be asked, especially by business organizations that could face legal consequences for basing hiring decisions solely on such instruments:
- Is this instrument validated?
- For what purpose is it validated? (e.g., The MBTI, discussed below, is specifically not validated as a pre-employment selection instrument.)
- Who developed it?
- Who validated it?
Don’t be afraid to ask about validation. Such questions are reasonable and assessment developers typically welcome them.
Assessments provide insight into what may be going on beneath the surface. They uncover indications of behavioral drivers or influences that can get in the way of success—or reveal talents that you didn’t even know you had, like my client Maria! Sometimes these indicators are crystal clear; sometimes they just provide insight that is useful to the individual or coach and must be interpreted. But remember, whatever the information derived from an assessment, the client should be privy to it in some form, either verbal or written. A good coach never gives an assessment without giving feedback to the client.
OK, so here’s a problem: Some hiring managers want a “snapshot” produced by an assessment that will tell them positively that the person is or is not a fit. That’s not going to happen. Interpreting an assessment is tricky business and should be left up to a trained and certified professional. There are a couple of reasons for this:
- Each assessment has its own vocabulary. Even common words like introversion and extraversion have special meanings in context with the assessment being used.
- Instruments that purport to measure certain skills, such as sales, may measure specific capabilities in relation to retail sales, one-on-one sales presentations, sales to which negotiations skills are attached, and so on, yet be considered general “sales capability assessments” by the untrained.
- Overviews and summary sheets that depict apparent easy-to-grasp information can be very misleading. This leads the untrained non-professional to make conclusions that may not accurate.
Here are some of the assessments I use in my coaching business:
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator(MBTI®)
Based on Carl Jung’s theory of psychological type, this instrument identifies the individual as having certain psychological characteristics that fall into one of 16 groups, or “Types.” I call these “defaults,” because in theory they are in-born and don’t change, but they can be enhanced or modified with effort. I’ve used the Myers-Brigs to help sales people understand where the prospect is “coming from,” allowing them to modify their approach and sell from the client’s point of view, thereby enhancing sales and client retention. The first version of the MBTI was developed from Jung’s theory by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. A later refinement, called the Step II, broke down each of the 4 letters of type into 5 sub-categories that further shows to what extent the individual possesses fundamental components of the Type. In my opinion, Types are made up of talents that the person is born with, but can be enhanced to lead to greater success in the company or in life. I use the MBTI a lot, particularly for coaching sales people, in resolving conflicts, and producing Aha! moments that lead to success.
Energy Leadership Index (ELI)™
I am particularly fond of this assessment because it provides an indication of where you put your energy, and where you could put it if you make the right choices. The ELI produces a measurement of how one’s mental energy is distributed between negative or catabolic energy, and positive or anabolic energy, and to what extent, in 7 key areas, under normal circumstances and under stress. The difference between Catabolic and Anabolic energy is how they impact success: Catabolic energy is a success buster, whereas anabolic energy is a success builder. What I especially like about this assessment is that it provides the individual with a roadmap to success and overall life satisfaction. Gently guided by the coach, the person identifies what defaults he or she may have that are blocking success. Such defaults may flow from limited thinking, incorrect assumptions and interpretations, destructive self-messaging and thinking patterns developed over time that impact how one sees one’s self in general. See my website blog, “What is Energy Leadership Coaching?” for detailed information on this assessment.
This assessment yields workplace-relevant and job transition information useful to anyone wanting to enhance their overall success on the job. The three key areas measured are characteristics of the individual, characteristics of the work situation, and interaction between the individual and the situation. It differs from most assessments in that is considers the interaction between the individual and the work situation in a variety of contexts. It provides specific client-centric, problem-solving prescriptions for the issues most likely to affect the individual’s overall success jockeying the delicate balance among outward behavior, inward needs, preferences and stressors.
Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)
Reputedly the world’s best-selling conflict management assessment, the TKI zeros-in on five basic styles of handling conflict: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and accommodating. This simple assessment takes about 15 minutes to do, but provides very meaningful results. Like every assessment I use, the TKI challenges the individual to own their conflict response style or, if it’s getting in the way of his or her success, to change it
This instrument comes to us from the Gallup Organization. Knowing Gallup’s high standards, this gives it almost instant credibility in my opinion. It’s a simple assessment that shows what special strengths or talents you bring to the organization. Some organizations use it to discover what may be good at what, and apply the findings in organizational design and customer service. Good stuff!
Hogan has a number of assessments specifically designed for use in business settings. The reports can be daunting to the untrained, but in the right hands, they provide excellent input for executive coaching in particular. Some reports generated are: The Challenge Report focuses on derailers that can undermine one’s career. The Coaching Report provides guidance for an action plan leading to strategic awareness development. Core values and motivators are covered in the Values report, and the Potential report zeros-in on one’s strengths and competencies for leadership.
360 Degree Leadership Assessments
I use a variety of 360 assessments. I use both “hard” and “soft” 360s. Hard 360s are paper or online assessments. They typically ask the individual to rate him/herself on several work-related factors, and then asks the person’s boss, direct reports, peers, colleagues and customers to do the same. This is then “interpreted” by a trained professional who gives feedback to the individual, helps the individual prepare an action plan to accomplish development needs, and facilitate a feedback session between the individual and his or her boss. Take care when selecting a 360 instrument. Some are good; some are not. Given their popularity, the market is flooded with them. The effectiveness is not necessarily in the instrument, however, but in its interpretation and feedback.
Soft 360s are done on the telephone and consist of guided conversations that begin with carefully designed questions and expand to other performance-related areas prompted by the conversation. Confidentiality is an absolute necessity when using 360s. The 360—hard or soft—must guarantee confidentiality to all participants. Nobody can know what any specific person said in the process.
Yes, I really like assessments and I use them in my business—if they are valid and appropriate to the coaching situation. I’ve seen too many of my clients reach empowering milestones and significant life changes to discount their effectiveness. My business is helping people succeed through self-discovery and making the right choices. Assessments help them do that. Discovery is an exciting journey.