How HR can rise to the challenge of leadership assessments

Assessments can be an important component of a smart leadership development strategy.
By: | March 31, 2021 • 4 min read

Psychometric assessments have a host of benefits for hiring and talent development, which is why most Fortune 500 companies use them in some form or fashion, especially in evaluating executives. Most HR leaders know the immediate benefits of using leadership assessments to evaluate job candidates and current executives. However, conducting assessments for current and potential leaders is just an important first step in what should be viewed as a broader, longer-term leadership development strategy.

Author Michelle Johnson

In considering leadership assessments, HR executives and other organizational leaders should look beyond the individuals being examined. Assessments uncover valuable truths and tendencies about professionals and can push organizations to become more forward-thinking in terms of their talent needs, especially with respect to leadership. Psychometric assessments come in different flavors—those that investigate one’s behavioral tendencies, cognitive/critical thinking abilities, motivational tendencies and so forth. Leadership assessments can:

  • Highlight talent gaps on a team, so that organizations can focus on building and hiring leaders with the necessary skills and capabilities for longer-term institutional success.
  • Help eliminate groupthink because an evaluative process that relies upon leadership assessments is more deliberate and relies on empirical data rather than impressions and intangibles. (How many times have we heard about someone, “He/she just has it!” without evidence to show for it?)
  • Encourage diversity. Assessments allow organizations to more objectively align their talent decisions around stated job criteria and minimize the bias that can stifle meaningful progress toward diversity goals. Too often, colleagues and I may be working with clients who in theory want to promote or hire women and people of color, but an affinity bias—an unconscious tendency to be drawn toward people who are most like oneself—can result in a decision that perpetuates the make-up of the current team.

Often disguised as “culture fit,” affinity bias can prevent an organization from advancing diverse candidates who could represent a healthy “culture add” for the organization. Assessments require a willingness on the part of talent managers to get serious about advancing individuals from underrepresented groups by focusing on a candidate’s alignment to the stated job criteria.

Thinking Long-Term

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Because talent and team development, like culture work, is a continuous, long-term endeavor, the individuals driving leadership strategy must bring the courage and commitment to incorporate psychometric testing into the process of hiring, coaching and developing current and emerging leaders.

See also: 6 ways organizations can optimize their talent acquisition budget

Leadership assessments uncover an individual’s unique strengths and talents that—through coaching and development programs—can be leveraged and enhanced. Conversely, assessments will identify opportunities for professional growth, allowing organizations to help individuals be more successful in their roles in strategic, targeted ways.

In a recent client example, a leadership assessment uncovered an extremely high “impression management” score, meaning the individual is likely to avoid situations or the sharing of information that could cast them in an unfavorable light. A psychologist at CMA, a St. Louis-based firm providing assessment and coaching services, worked with the hiring executive to develop strategies to support the individual by creating an environment in which they would likely feel more comfortable sharing important information.

This thoughtful and strategic approach to leadership development takes time. Additionally, it takes a measure of courage and conviction for an organization to incorporate leadership assessments into talent and leadership development programs. “Leveraging psychometric assessments requires some insight and a little vulnerability,” says Dana Borchert, Ph.D., an organizational psychologist with CMA. “The assessment data may reveal individual weaknesses or organizational gaps that leaders may be nervous to surface.”

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Still, says Borchert, what assessments actually do is provide more data by which to measure leaders and candidates. “Many leaders have relied on their ‘gut feeling’ for selection and promotion decisions and may need time to trust the reliability and validity of the assessment instruments available today,” she adds. Once they do put trust in the data, it allows them to conduct more honest and meaningful assessments of executives or potential hires.

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“It’s all about finding the best fit for the organization and for the individual,” Borchert continues. Assessment results can give individuals important information about their growth opportunities, and when they might benefit from coaching or training.

Talent managers who have any qualms about using assessment data should remember that this data is meant to complement other aspects of talent decisions, rather than dictate those decisions. Although data serves as an objective and extremely helpful element, talent mangers should consider other points including job performance, references and previous experience.

As Borchert puts it, “People are more than data.” Once talent and hiring managers appreciate this, they’ll fully embrace the value of psychometric assessments.

Michelle Johnson is a principal in the Healthcare Practice of the global executive search firm WittKieffer.

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