Start with Assessment

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Beyond the employment interview, how often do we assess employees as they move through their time with the organization?

Stephen Kelner of Spencer Stuart discusses the need for assessment early in the development process for leaders in his blog post, Why Effective Executive Development Begins with Assessment.  I think his insights into the role of assessment in executive develop are just applicable to the rest of the workforce and should be part of any L&D analytics and assessment plan.

In a nutshell, Kelner’s argument can be broken down into a basic statement of ‘how can you arrive if you don’t know where you’re starting from.’  He says that executives crave feedback on their performance “Rich, specific feedback tied to the demands of current and future roles enables leaders to improve and develop important new capbilities.”

Current, event-based leadership training and coaching have similar effectiveness ratings as the rest of training.  Kelner says that the widely accepted research on executive training shows only 25% of participants make any behavioral changes at all.  “Some categories of executive training have been found to have zero impact.”

A major factor in this poor performance is that what guidance/training is provided is done with little understanding of the individual contexts the leader is in, what he/she needs to meet the challenges of a specific role, and how change is impacting all of that.

Without a through assessment/analysis of these factors, there is little chance of impacting the behavior of executives and thus their ability to perform better.

Kelner provides three guidelines when assessing executives prior to initiating a development plan:

  • Measure the capabilities that are central to effective executive leadership – for the future as well as present leadership demands
  • Consider the relevant leadership context – including environmental changes, and remembering that current performance is not the same as future potential
  • Evaluate potential with a development lens =- but be sure to ask “potential for what?” and “is the leader motivated to develop in that direction?”
  • Embrace multiple methods and perspectives for precision

Hey goes into each of these points in good detail, but I won’t repeat it here.

I agree with Kelner’s closing statement that, “Assessment provides the starting benchmark and identifies the best opportunities fo a leader to grow and change, and thus enables the growth of a company’s leadership overall.”

But throughout organizational learning efforts, the is very little effort made to understand where individuals are starting from.  Sure, in our instructional design models there is some attention given to understanding context and doing gap analysis regarding current and desired future states.  But in practice, little information is gathered – pre-design or built into the current project.  We talk about the Kirkpatrick and other post-instruction assessment, but how often do we assess “what’s next?” or “what else does this employee need?”

Ideally, we’d be developing a portfolio or helping the employ to develop one, which would provide an understanding of what she/he needs to advance her/his career.

Assessment should be ongoing as a part of the organization’s performance management effort and a robust learning culture.  Unfortunately, often, neither of these is the case.

Your turn.  What do you think?  Do we assess learners pre-training?  What types of assessments do you use or do you think are useful in benchmarking where learnings are starting from?

Feature photo by SportSuburban via Flicker.  Creative Commons Attibution License 2.0.

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