Assessing What Matters Most


As an executive coach and organizational consultant, I am often confronted with the use of the term Assessments. When I was a corporate executive I used assessments to benchmark and scorecard my business, to hire the “right” talent, or to determine an individual’s “potential” for succession planning. As a consultant I use a large assessment umbrella to cover a wide range of tools that provide rich data for my clients, but I also recognize the benefit of clarifying the term here.

Assessments are methods and tools that provide rich data with which to determine the appropriate intervention or course of action regarding talent management issues in organizations. It is this rich data that helps coaches and consultants measure what matters while simultaneously guiding client organizations or leaders in taking action and measuring results.

In my practice, I love using assessment tools and rarely commit to a prescribed menu. Most consultants and coaches are familiar with a range of multi-rater tools that are often robust and calibrated against normative data and produce invaluable reports. I often use these types of assessments and select the item that best suits the situation at hand. That said, these tools are often the very last item I call upon in my practice.

Let me review the wider range of assessments I apply that are tried and true, offer up rich data, and anchor my practice. To begin, I use myself. Drawing on the seminal work of Wilfred Bion, Clay Alderfer, and Ruth Orenstein, I recognize my own capacity to assess a person, group, or organization coming into a system and taking in the dynamics in action. This assessment process requires taking copious field notes that highlight potential hypotheses that build a frame around all other assessments.

As an extension of using myself as an assessment tool, I incorporate dialog tools that are used during conversations and meetings. These dialog tools are simple, including essential and topical questions that allow me to draw conclusions and identify themes. In my practice, this is especially useful when interviewing multiple members of an organization. While unstructured interviews are often appropriate, I prefer structured interviews with a dialog instrument to allow me to refer back and calibrate with other assessment data I gather.

When working with teams I always call on a team assessment tool. There are many offered by third-party organizations, but I leverage the work of Rod Napier and Rich McDaniel who outline core factors contributing to high performing teams that offer benchmarks and opportunities for alignment. In addition, when observing team meetings in action there are a variety of assessments that drill down into the group process and meeting design.

Finally, recognizing the importance of the individual leader in the context of their organization, I prefer to use both a self-assessment as well as a multi-rater assessment. Here, the actual tool must be selected in accordance with the situation. Sometimes we find tools that assess behaviors such as emotional intelligence or which communication style works best, while other times we must call on personality assessments to ferret out other factors at play. A multi-rater assessment, commonly referred to as a 360, is of enormous help here, too. Tools that offer individual and group profiles work well, and they should provide insight into the competencies important for the individual and their organization. With regards to multi-rater assessments that are automated, it helps to augment them with one-on-one interviews with a selected sample to ensure high correlation within the results.

Regardless of the assessment tools used, I am personally committed to any assessment being balanced between strengths of the individual, team or organization, and the developmental opportunities available. Too often we allow assessment data to pave the path forward and it is the job of an experienced consultant and coach to help the leader and the organization apply meaning and distill out areas for action.

How do you utilize assessments in your organization? What results have you seen using methods similar to those referenced in this blog post? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below.

Adena Johnston, Director, Talent Management, with Career Partners International – Philadelphia brings over 20 years of corporate and consulting experience as a recognized leader, trainer, mentor and developer of top talent. Adena guides her clients to become more effective and navigate the complexity of today’s challenges by helping them focus on what it takes to overcome obstacles, and ready themselves for increased visibility and responsibility.

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