Talk to your doctor-friend and he will admit in private that there is a huge amount of inappropriate and unnecessary diagnostics that patients are put through. Technology and financing and the desire to establish a business is driving the proliferation of diagnostics.
The field of leadership development is no different.
Talk to any senior leader and he will baffle you with dozens of psychometric assessment reports that he has been subjected to. Ask him what meaning he has made of them and how it helped him and you will only see anger and frustration.
It is my sense that an ever increasing percentage of Leader development budgets are being spent on diagnostics, leaving little money, time and energy for development!
Why are organisations assessing their leaders with a vengeance so to speak?
For one, immediate managers are unable to delivery high quality, actionable and objective feedback that the employee can pay attention to and act on. Also, many employees who have been successful personalise the reasons for success and feel invincible and choose to live with their blind spots and flaws, often to the detriment of not just themselves but their teams and the businesses they manage. Then there is data from engagement surveys and other sources which might point to concerns about the style and sensitivity of certain leaders. Then of course is the fact that today’s young team members are less tolerant to and accepting of bosses whose styles and approaches are dysfunctional.
So, the desire to somehow get leaders to “wake up and smell the coffee”, to get leaders to become more self-aware, to shine the spotlight on some of their dysfunctional blind spots is understandable and even important. It is also understandable that some of these assessment tools can be very effective in doing this.
However, most talent managers, L&D professionals and HR leaders fail to understand the human and psychological dimensions involved in doing this well. They fail to realise that challenging someone with strong feedback is like throwing a bird off its nest or opening up something hard and unpleasant for a person.
Many underestimate or even ignore the fact that the process of challenging individuals through such assessment processes must be done in a climate of care and empathy and must be accompanied by an equally adequate amount of support to do deal with the emotions it evokes and thereafter help in doing something about it.
Often, firms and individuals who have been retained to assess and debrief the results of assessment tool at best have one session with the employee for about an hour or so to walk the employee through the report – that is it.
To leave a person with assessment data without adequate support is worse than not doing anything.
When assessment is accompanied with support in terms of help in interpreting it, making meaning out of it, dealing with the emotions that it throws up and crafting actions to overcome it, it can be an empowering experience. Such support must come from a qualified helper who can spend at least a few sessions with the person to convert the assessment data into actionable ideas for one’s benefit.
For this to happen the HR team needs to develop empathy. As a first step, all team members in HR must subject themselves to all assessment tools that they plan to administer on their employees. They must experience the emotional stages of S-A-R-A-H (shock, anger, resistance, acceptance and help) first hand so that they can empathise with their employees. When they implement these programs, they must come from a first-hand experience of having gone through this and benefitted so that they are credible and empathetic. (No different from first filling for yourself a KRA form that you design for others).