How to Utilize an Assessment?

There are personality assessments, leadership assessments, organizational assessments, engagement assessments, the list goes on and on. How many have you taken over the years? Did you utilize the results? Did your company teach you how to utilize those results? Did you do it right? That last one sounds odd right. I mean, these are assessments, typically telling you more about yourself and most of them stress to the point of annoyance that there is no right and wrong answer. There is a right way and a wrong way to respond to those answers though. I’d like to start with a bit of a story and then walk through what went well and what didn’t in the utilization.

Years ago I worked for a company with let’s say 100ish employees in a variety of departments and roles. The company was transitioning from traditional methods of management to more contemporary leadership methods and trying to focus on supporting the whole person at work rather than just what you saw in an 8 hour day. They decided to utilize an assessment to gain a better understanding of what made their employees tick both inside and outside the office. They asked the employees to take the same assessment twice as a matter of fact, once considering how they respond and act at work and again thinking of themselves outside of work. Once these assessments were completed senior leadership took the results and segmented them by department and role keeping both sets of results together for each employee. They looked for two things, alignment of work results to the needs of the job and consistency of results between home and work. For those respondents who’s results didn’t match their roll the leadership group strategized where they might fit better in the organization. For those respondents who’s results between home and work were incongruent, leadership strategized how to get them to a spot that would allow them to be more ‘aligned with their true self.’ The thought being that acting in different ways at home and at work would cause undo stress and result in less productivity or poorer output. When they began discussing organizational changes with middle management and individual contributors they were met with opposition. As it turned out, the vast majority of employees reported being happy in their work and didn’t want to change regardless of the assessment. The verdict, the assessment was off and didn’t reflect well what truly made employee’s tick.

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Whew. Did you pick out some interesting pieces in there? Let’s break that down a bit.

  • Intent and plan: The intent that the company had was to better support the whole person with the group that they were working with. This is a great reason to look to an assessment. It can start the process to better understand people within the group and develop common language and understanding of the strengths and opportunities each style has.
  • Structure: Their structure could have used a little work. They didn’t use the results of the assessment as a jumping off point they used it as the full story of each of their employees. They also compared the home and work assessments. It isn’t the utilization of two assessments I have a problem with (more on this next) but the way they utilized them to aid in a proposed restructure of the company.
  • Inclusion: Including people in the discussion and utilization of their results is non-negotiable. There are some universal truths that come from where each person lands but there are countless more distinctions and cross overs that you aren’t privy to by simply reading each person’s print out. Allowing each respondent to analyze and speak to their results is critical. This would also be a great opportunity for them to understand their own congruencies and inconsistencies from work to home life and support them in drawing their own conclusions. Leadership, seemingly intentionally, entirely skipped this piece.
  • Implementation: The company clearly overreached on this. They had good intent and started out in the right direction but took it too far. To consider reorganizing your company based on the results of a personality assessment is not the way to implement.

If I had had the opportunity to consult with those senior leaders I would have advised them a bit differently.

  • Intent and plan: Better support the whole person at work to maximize engagement and productivity.
  • Structure: Provide two versions of the assessment, personal and professional. When completed, set up small group discussions by department starting with the top down facilitated by a disinterested third party to better understands what results mean. Set up follow up meetings 30-60 days after the first to review follow up questions and support any changes that may be beneficial.
  • Inclusion: If the company is open to making changes depending on people’s comfortability in their current role (which this one obviously was) make sure that that is understood in a controlled way. You can’t promise to move people anywhere they want to work because you need to keep the company functioning and profitable. However in this instance it was clearly an option they were willing to entertain so in those follow up meetings that could be discussed for employees who were experiencing stress and realizing it was due to incongruency with their personal and professional selves.
  • Implementation: Create a continuous culture of understanding personalities and how they impact us at work. Bring awareness to any strengths and opportunity

So cool right, years later I have an answer to how they could have handled that better. Not so useful or profound at this juncture. The next question becomes, how do we learn from that information to improve the next situation. Well, if you formally lead people and you look to an assessment, be collaborative in the discussion. Likely you can’t just make structural changes if people’s personalities don’t align with their roles but you can support any identified opportunity areas and find side projects that allow them to play to their strengths. If you’re the respondent in the assessment, look for the collaboration and implementation. If you don’t see it working the way you want it to, make suggestions to improve. If you notice an incongruence with your role and your personality, ask for the specific support you need, and if necessary, use the new knowledge about yourself serve as the first step in discovering the next right role for you.

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