Using Assessments at Work by Tracy ONeillAug 5th, 2010 | By tracyoneill | Category: Coaching Research
Everyone should know his character and inclinations, and should be a rigorous judge of his strengths and weaknesses. – Cicero
In many positions and occupations, individuals are hired for their hard skills. This is referred to as technical knowledge or training. Ironically, job performance is usually soft skill dependent. These skills are often intangible and not easily taught. They tend to be more a function of personality and behavioral characteristics. Some examples of soft skills include:
- Self esteem
- Self management
Organizationally, these soft skills might mean that employees:
- Participate as a member of the team
- Teach others
- Serve customers
- Exercise leadership
- Work well within cultural diversity
Hard and soft skills are both important in the working world. Employees who lack the ability to manage their lives, take responsibility for their own success, and follow through on commitments need to learn soft skills along with the hard skills required for a job. By doing so, they will understand how all aspects of their lives connect. Soft skills are what make great people. Few individuals are fired because they lack technical knowledge. Most are fired because of a deficit in how they practice and apply soft skills. Ultimately, what we know is not nearly as important as what we do with what we know.
Many companies today use assessments to gain knowledge of what soft and hard skills employees possess. Assessments involve collecting information and then providing feedback about behavior, communication style, preferences, or skills. They are not evaluations, which usually judge performance. Some assessments require training and certification to administer. All should be valid and reliable. This means the tests should actually measure what they claim and show consistent results.
In a coaching relationship, assessments provide coaches with material to open discussion. They help to identify who needs training or what skill level individuals are at. Assessments can indicate whether performance deficiencies result from a lack of knowledge, skill, ability, motivation, or work design problems. Many assessments already used in organizations will work well with coaching and can be used to develop goals for personal growth. They help those being coached understand where they are now and hopefully find motivation to take advantage of learning opportunities available to them. In general, assessments:[i]
- Establish baseline performance levels
- Confirm the reality of coaching goals
- Test assumptions, perceptions, and beliefs against objective data
- Identify strengths, weaknesses, and values
- Reveal blind spots or barriers
- Consider behavioral and situational factors
- Induce self awareness
Popular assessments include 360-degree feedback, direct observation, emotional intelligence, leadership, personality, talent, and values. All of them push individuals out of their comfort zones and challenge them to improve who they are. None of them tell the whole story or should be used as labeling devices. When multiple assessments are implemented in coaching, participants have the opportunity to see patterns in their results and to gain a deeper understanding of self. What preferences are dominate? What behaviors need to change? How do the self assessments compare to what others say? What needs to be done in the context of organizational culture and meaning? Questions like these provide opportunities for exploration.
When choosing assessments, determine what purpose they will serve and what outcomes are expected. Check the credentials and reputation of assessment vendors. Ask to see validation and certification data. Make sure the test is not biased towards any group or culture. Some federal, state, and local laws limit testing in the workplace so it would be beneficial to get legal advice before adopting specific assessment structures.
[i]Susan Battley, Coached To Lead (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2006), 105.