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Assessment, Development and Why 1+1=3 (Or More!)

By Eric Hanson, Ph.D.

Eric Hanson, Ph.D. Jobs and Wozniak. Ben and Jerry. Simon and Garfunkel. You can pick any powerful combination you want, but the point is the same: Sometimes two things, when brought together, create a degree of value beyond simple addition. As is often said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In other words, when the combination is just right 1+1 can equal 3, or possibly more.

Why 1+1=3 (Or More!)We may not think of assessment and development in this way, but maybe we should. When it comes to talent management, we have found that a sizable percentage of organizations have separate assessment and development strategies that are led and executed by different teams of people. This division of labor may not necessarily be a bad thing. But when the two functions are disconnected, as is too often the case, or there is a lack of alignment with organizational strategy, the result is that neither function fully meets the organization’s needs. In other words, without alignment, 1+1 equals something less than 2.

The combination of assessment and development is not so much about bolting together two separate functions as it is about making sure that both are tightly aligned with the organization’s business drivers and talent strategy—and with each other.

The current state—How we got here

To understand the disconnect that occurs between assessment and development practices, let’s look at how these two functions address leader or executive development within an organization.

Assessment takes different forms and can be used for a variety of purposes. Assessment practices are associated with selection, promotion and sometimes succession. Those running the assessment function often appropriately emphasize its technical qualities and the measurement accuracy. As we know, assessment is also often used in development to diagnose strengths and gaps and focus individual and group development efforts. There are leadership assessments ranging from inventories, to 360s, to simulations and assessment centers. In a developmental context, good, robust assessment should provide focus and specificity about the skills, behavior and capabilities in which the individual or population needs to improve.

I have seen leader and executive development initiatives driven from both the assessment and development functions. Assessment-driven development initiatives often feature individualized development planning or coaching as a follow-up strategy to the assessment. These initiatives are defined by both pluses and minuses. On the plus side these assessments typically feature in-depth tools, diagnostic precision and the opportunity for deep personal insight—a critical starting point if true leadership growth is to occur. On the minus side, however, these efforts often run the risk of placing more emphasis on initial assessment activities than on issues like rigorous development planning, access to learning resources/support and development accountabilities.

Meanwhile, leader and executive development initiatives, driven by learning and development groups, focus on providing the best available resources to drive the leadership capability required to meet business challenges. Some may view these initiatives in terms of curricula, while others may consider the broader spectrum of learning resources, including action learning, special projects/assignments, coaching, and so forth.

These initiatives often take into account the need for high-quality content, audience relevance, holistic learning and emphasis on application. When initiatives such as these exclude an adequate assessment component, potential liabilities can include relying on underpowered assessment approaches that can lack breadth, specificity and depth of insight. This can lead to the participant experience lacking needed personalization and individual ownership.

When assessment and development are disconnected, several vulnerabilities and missed opportunities can result, including:

  1. The organization isn’t optimally addressing leader skill gaps. When a leader population is accurately assessed, the resulting assessment data make clear where the leadership skills gaps exist in that population. When this assessment data isn’t used as the starting point for development, identified skill gaps—and therefore gaps in the organization’s leadership capability—aren’t addressed. As a result, valuable development resources can be spent building the wrong leadership capabilities.
  2. Leaders don’t necessarily have their individual development needs recognized and addressed. When either individual leaders or a large cadre of leaders attend a development program not connected to specific learning and development needs, some skill gaps may get ignored while strengths are inefficiently reinforced. These learners will be less likely to buy into and personally engage in development when the learning is designed as a series of generic, one-size-fits-all events.
  3. It’s difficult to accurately measure the effectiveness of the development initiative. Without assessment data as a baseline to gauge behavior change after development, the impact development has on an individual, or a group of leaders, is hard to ascertain.

Why are assessment and development disconnected in so many organizations? It may have to do with the focus of the different disciplines or siloed structures. But whatever the reason, an opportunity is missed to achieve a bigger pay off.

Why assessment and development can (and should) work together

When organizations don’t integrate assessment and development, they miss a golden opportunity to optimize their leadership capability and, ultimately, to help address business priorities and meet critical goals.

When a business-focused architecture guides both assessment and development, there is clarity about why the individual or group is being assessed, whether it’s to identify potential, inform promotion or placement decisions, get a snapshot of a leadership team’s combined strengths and growth areas, or pinpoint an individual’s strengths and development needs.

Similarly, an integrated architecture can make clear what action needs to be taken on the assessment data. When assessment and development work in concert, these data form the basis of an individual or cadre development plan. If this connection is absent, valuable assessment data never gets fully used.

Another characteristic of a guiding architecture is that the right amount of assessment can be employed for each purpose and level. For instance, the assessment process for a high-potential leader targeted for accelerated development will require both depth and rigor to ensure that he or she gets the exact development needed—and to ensure that the organization’s significant investment in developing that leader can be optimized. Alternatively, there may be some development efforts intended solely to raise broad awareness rather than facilitate deep transformative change. In that case, a lighter assessment approach may be sufficient.

Avoiding the risks

When assessment and development aren’t properly aligned, the organization can face significant risks. Consider an organization that needs to transform in order to respond to new market demands. Perhaps it’s an established organization that needs to become more nimble, or to position itself to compete in new markets. If the organization’s assessment and development initiatives aren’t aligned with these critical business needs, the effort will struggle to have the leadership capability to drive the transformation.

Assessment and development systems and structures created separately and/or at different times can lead to disconnects that cause confusion, consume resources, and require reverse engineering of some of the designs previously put in place. Ultimately, the goal of development in talent management is to grow talent to propel leader and executive readiness. The business and its leaders deserve an efficient and well-thought-through framework to make the most of what high-quality assessment and development have to offer.

Eric Hanson, Ph.D., is director, Leadership Assessment Solutions at DDI.

Our whitepaper, The Dynamic Duo! from which this article is adapted, describes a comprehensive framework for bringing assessment and development. Read more about how to build a framework including strategic alignment and governance, assessment strategy and individual and cadre development strategies in the guidebook: The Dynamic Duo of Assessment and Development: Building a Strategic Integrated Framework.

Posted: 05 Oct, 2016,
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