Why? The Purpose of the Assessment
When using assessments for selection, the purpose is fairly clear: to maximize prediction. Numerous studies have demonstrated that using high-quality assessments to inform selection decisions results in higher employee performance, reduced turnover and a host of other benefits (CEB, 2013). However, when using assessments for development, the value proposition is less clear. For example, a 2014 survey of HR leaders found that while 76% use assessments for external hiring, only 56% use them for leadership development (Kantrowitz, 2014). Moreover, only 37% of organizations indicated that they collect metrics to determine how assessments add value to development programmes. The same study found that assessment use increased the higher the job level being assessed. Similarly, Church and Rotolo (2013) found that 90% of organizations use assessments for executive development, but only 47% use them for first-line supervisor development.
One reason why assessments are not used more often for development may be ignorance of how assessments contribute to development. ‘Best practice’ summaries of leadership development frequently highlight individual components of development programmes (e.g., 360-degree feedback, action learning) but do not address how each component relates to others or to a systematic learning process (Day & Halpin, 2001). Organizations tend to select learning activities and developmental assessments based on their popularity or familiarity (i.e., leadership programme staff choose the assessments with which they have personal experience) without careful thought as to how these assessments will support the development process, resulting in missed opportunities, cynical participants and wasted time and money. Therefore, the first step in choosing the right assessment is to consider the purpose. Why is the assessment being used, how will it support development and what outcomes does the organization hope to achieve? A clearly defined purpose is the first step in improving the fit between what to measure and how to measure it, and improving the effectiveness of assessments. In this section, we explore the various ways that assessments can contribute in a systematic leader development process.