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How assessments contribute to development

We define development as the acquisition of new beliefs, knowledge, skills and/or behaviour that expands an employee’s capacity to contribute to the organization. Therefore, assessments used for development must contribute to improving an employee’s capacity to contribute to the organization’s strategic objectives. With this definition in mind, Figure 17.1 organizes the existing research into a framework that illustrates how assessments can contribute to development.

Identifying leader development needs to begin with a clear understanding of the organization’s strategic objectives and priorities. In order to have leaders ready to execute strategy, the key drivers of the business strategy must first be identified (CCL, 2009). Starting with the strategy and the key business drivers allows a clear alignment between leader development and business outcomes. The value of assessments for development becomes more apparent when the purpose of the overall leadership development process is linked to critical business needs.

Framework for how assessments can contribute to development

Figure 17.1 Framework for how assessments can contribute to development.

The next step is to translate the key business drivers into leader talent implications (CCL, 2009). The questions raised at this stage are these: based on the key drivers, what will leaders need to be able to do well? For example, a key driver of strategy may be expansion into new markets, rapid development of new products or increasing operational efficiency. Each of these key drivers has different implications for the talent that is necessary to support them.

Many organizations have expressed serious concerns about the quality and availability of leader talent necessary to support their business goals (Hollenbeck, 2009). Understanding these challenges and the potential impact on the business is essential for defining what development is needed, and from there, how assessments can support this development. Next we explore some commonly cited challenges.

Leadership quality needs improvement Hogan and colleagues (2010) note that estimates of the percentage of managers who fail in their roles ranges from 30 to 67%, costing organizations vast sums of money in turnover and lost productivity. In organizations where survey or business results indicate that leadership needs to be improved, assessments can be useful for raising collective awareness among leaders about their strengths and development needs. Feedback from assessments is often an important catalyst for change, as leaders gain direct feedback about the gap between their current skills and requirements for success.

An inadequate leadership pipeline Many organizations lack the internal candidates necessary to fill projected vacancies. Adler and Mills (2008) noted that 56% of organizations do not have adequate leadership talent and 31% expect this shortage to hamper their performance. Assessments can provide a systematic process for identifying leadership potential and help organizations avoid a common misperception about employees’ readiness for higher-level jobs: that past performance is the best predictor of future performance. Effective performance is necessary but not sufficient for predicting future success. In addition to performance, an individual’s potential to operate effectively at the next level must be considered. Leadership assessments, which can provide valuable insight for evaluating potential, are more objective and provide better predictive validity than managers’ judgements alone. Identifying individuals with the most potential to succeed at a higher level will help ensure that the right people are selected and developed, fostering a stronger leadership bench.

Increased demands without increased resources Given the pace of change and increased complexity in the current work environment (CEB, 2012), there is more pressure than ever for leaders to continuously learn and perform at higher levels (O’Connell, 2014). In a time of reduced resources, learning investments must be precisely targeted. Rather than implement one-size-fits-all development programmes, assessments can identify strengths and development opportunities so that leaders receive the training they need to improve their performance (McCall, 2010).

Once the organization has defined clear strategic drivers and specific leader talent challenges, it can identify the individual attributes leaders need to contribute to these priorities (CCL, 2009; Schippmann, 1999; Schneider & Konz, 1989). For example, if the organization has determined that increased innovation is the key to competitive advantage in the future, then leaders will need to be able to create a climate in their teams that allows innovation to thrive. Specific attributes that leaders may need to do this well include behaviours such as encouraging new ideas, skills related to divergent thinking and traits such as openness to experience.

Once the leader attributes required for success are identified, it is useful to assess the current state of leader talent to determine how it compares with the desired future state (CCL, 2009). If used at this point, the purpose of assessment is to identify the gap between leader talent needs and leader talent availability. The results from these assessments can be used for two purposes: prediction and diagnosis. Prediction is used to identify individuals who are most likely to succeed at a more senior level and who are ready to take on more responsibility. This has great organizational benefit as it facilitates decisions about whom to select for a leadership role or for a high-profile development opportunity. When development programmes have limited space or are time- and resource-intensive, assessments help organizations identify where to invest their scarce development resources (i.e., differential investment), which it is hoped will improve the return on investment of those resources. Church and Rotolo (2013) found that 50% of organizations they surveyed used assessments to identify potential.

As Howard and Thomas (2010) note, while prediction is used to determine in whom to invest, diagnosis is used to identify learning needs. At the individual level, diagnosis can inform development planning. Moreover, becoming aware of the gap between one’s current and desired level ofcompetencies can provide motivation to engage in development. At the organizational level, aggregate assessment results can be used to diagnose learning needs at the organizational level and inform decisions about the types of programme that need to be developed.

Once individuals whom the organization chooses to invest development resources in are selected and their individual strengths and development needs have been evaluated, assessments can aid in the learning process itself. First, assessments facilitate development by raising self-awareness of strengths and development needs (Byham, Smith & Paese, 2002; Day, Harrison & Halpin, 2009). This self-awareness goes beyond identifying skill gaps to include a deeper understanding of the psychological drivers of behaviour, such as personality attributes, motives and attitudes, as well as specific behaviours and their impact on others, as typically assessed in 360-degree feedback. However, assessments that are done only for the purpose of raising self-awareness may not be sufficient to change behaviour. Smith er, London and Reilly (2005) conducted a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of multi-source feedback for behaviour change in managers. The effect sizes were relatively small (corrected mean d = 0.12 for measures by direct reports and mean d = 0.15 for measures by supervisors), suggesting that most managers do not change their behaviour significantly after receiving feedback. Therefore, feedback by itself is usually insufficient for development. Smither and colleagues (2005) proposed a model that highlights the importance of goal-setting and developmental action as mediators between feedback and actual behaviour change.

Some assessments, especially simulations, can provide a learning experience in and of themselves beyond self-awareness by offering a medium for practice, feedback and reflection

(Thornton & Rupp, 2006). For example, assessment centres and other simulations provide participants with a complex set of leadership challenges that mirror a real-world environment. Working through each scenario exposes the participant to a broad range of situations in which to engage in deliberate practice. When feedback is offered during or at the end of the assessment, additional learning occurs. This type of assessment is particularly powerful when multiple simulations are used so that participants can obtain feedback between each round of practice (Rupp et al., 2006).

Finally, assessments can be used to evaluate the impact of development. According to Church and Rotolo (2013), 25% of organizations use assessments to confirm skill acquisition or capability. Assessments for evaluation purposes can be used to determine whether participants have learned and whether they can apply new knowledge and skills acquired through development programmes to improving performance on the job. By measuring changes in important knowledge, skills and behaviours, these assessments can indicate a leadership programme’s value to the organization.

Early in the design of the assessment solution, which of these purposes assessments will be asked to fulfil should be discussed and even prioritized. From an assessment design point of view, each of these potential purposes will yield a different answer in terms of what needs to be assessed and how. For example, if the most important purpose of assessments is to identify who has the greatest potential to grow into higher-level leader roles in the future, then assessments that measure stable traits such as motivation to lead or intelligence, where feedback to individuals may not be necessary, may be a good fit (Silzer & Church, 2009). Alternatively, if the most important purpose that assessments will fulfil is diagnosing individual talent gaps in a current leader role to help individuals decide development targets, then an assessment that measures current behaviours and has detailed feedback with developmental advice may be best suited. Because the purposes of assessments within a leader development process are many, and purpose has important implications for the choices of both what and how to assess, the assessment purpose must be clearly specified before moving on to decisions regarding what to assess and how.

Starting with a clear purpose in mind can improve the fit and effectiveness of assessments in the context of leader development. Once this purpose has been defined, the next question to consider is what needs to be assessed.

 
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