Recently, clients have been asking me about assessments. Not specifically, rather they are looking for advice about the process. The people I’m speaking with have been around long enough to see a few variations on the theme and they are far from naive. However, the sheer volume of material coming at them can be dizzying.

This is what I’ve been asked:

  1. Are ‘objective’ tests really objective?
  2. How much do I need to know about the tests to understand the output?
  3. Why are these reports so ridiculously long?
  4. Why all the emphasis on personality? Does that predict performance?
  5. If I want a transcript of an interview, wouldn’t I pay a court reporter?
  6. Why don’t the assessments tell me what I most need to know?

These questions all tell me the same thing. The consultants with whom my clients have been dealing are not consultants at all. They are technicians. They might be really good technicians, but nonetheless, they are selling methodology, technique, and details. Leaders need to ask:

  1. Are the needs of the organization clear?
  2. Does the person I’m considering fit what we need and our values?
  3. Do they possess the ability and willingness to learn?

The leader must answer number one and his or her colleagues need to be on the same page. An assessment can answer number two and three. Yet, too often they are generic. Too often they are full of detail and light on conclusions. Many are beautifully descriptive but not prescriptive. As a leader, you need relevant, synthesized information, not data. You need this process to sharpen your view not put a film over your lens.

When I help clients in mergers and acquisitions, for example, the leaders and I define what they need from people in order to fuel the company. We stay with this task until there is solid alignment. If this isn’t done, it’s like building a skyscraper on an uneven foundation. The descriptions are both visionary and reflect operational realties. They are lofty and gritty. They are short and pointed.

This process yields a framework for all manner of decisions about leadership, people and culture, the very things that prevent deals that are good on paper, from delivering value. It works.

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