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Stop Treating Leadership Programs Like a Dart Board

By Mac Tefft

Mac Tefft

As the weather chills and Fall is firmly in the air, I’m reminded that the year will soon be coming to an end. As usual at this time, I find myself reflecting on all those “coming-this-year” trend articles, and the various predictions those industry experts were publishing back at the turn of the year.

Dart BoardI dug up an article from last fall by Cushing Anderson published in Chief Learning Officer, Let the Assessments Begin, that cites that 61 percent of organizations were projected to increase spending for training! Assessment and evaluation were among the highest priories for CLOs—not virtual classrooms or collaborative/social software.

This really caught my attention because this topic is close to my heart as a consultant, having spent two decades developing and implementing assessments across many organizations for many purposes (not just development). Of course, other industry analysts had noted such a trend for several years. Looking a few years back, Aberdeen’s Assessments 2014: Consistency is Key, and Make the Most of Assessments: Measure Their Success reports, for example, also predicted these trends.

Both of these articles demonstrated modest but steady growth in companies reporting usage of pre-hire (and to a lesser extent, post-hire) assessments from 2011–2013. This would suggest that many of you are starting to experience loosening budgets associated with developing leaders throughout your organizations. This seemed to all be great news to HR professionals as once again, the business would be freeing up resources to assess its current talent and to invest more wisely in high pay-off development activities.

But, with any such trend, I thought: there’s a catch! I think we’d all agree that this type of spending must be justified, as would any other organizational expense such as a purchase of some type of manufacturing equipment or addition to staff head count. That is, we must provide the business case for our leadership assessment investments directly to the leaders of our organizations to ensure expectations for business outcomes will be met; whether those expectations involve improvements to organizational outcomes such as levels of engagement, increased talent capacity to meet future business strategies, or more direct financial outcomes such as increases in profitability or growth expectations.

So as more and more organizations free up budgets specifically aimed at improving the leadership talent evaluation in addition to strictly development efforts associated with their existing populations, they expect to gain insights that will shape their programs’ ability to close critical gaps that address the changing demands of the business. This results in those organizations spending more resources (both time and money) now assessing their internal talent than they have since 2008. The options available to these organizations are greater than ever as companies choose among a variety of assessments ranging from multi-rater surveys, on-line self-assessments, engaging game-like interactive assessments, and even immersive day-in-the life acceleration centers (today’s version of the assessment center). All of these options and programs are intended to gather information and data that help individuals and managers determine the best route to quickly build the mission-critical skills in a way that will yield the biggest personal and organizational payoffs.

This situation appears to be a reversal of fortunes for HR professionals compared to not-so-distant history when most have been forced to build one-size-fits-all development programs that were chosen as a means to provide the greatest overall good with minimum budget. Or worse yet, when it seemed like these programs were being eliminated altogether.

Ready, aim, assess—bullseye

With this great news comes an unanticipated challenge: if you blindly assess first, then attempt to gain insights based on a shotgun approach to the data, you are little more than closing your eyes and throwing darts at a board hoping you’ll hit the bullseye.

To increase the odds of hitting that bullseye, you’ll need to establish the business-relevant targets against which assessments will be gathering data. This will ensure insights to the business to inform critical talent development and placement decisions.

If only we could establish the critical future business needs, we might be able to align our assessment efforts most efficiently to yield data that will directly inform business decisions. Imagine providing data that would illuminate our business leaders as we help them answer questions such as:

  • Do we have the leaders we need to expand in that new region or meet those growth strategies?
  • What skills do our leaders need to develop in order to shift from a command and control structure to an innovative, client-focused, agile organization?
  • What information should I gather related to my current talent to inform decisions about where and when to develop that talent in the most efficient manner?
  • Which skills will provide the biggest payoff toward accomplishing our mid-term strategic objectives?

WHAT can lead to HOW

Knowing the business relevant targets isn’t the end of the story. So, when I’m talking about identifying the appropriate target data at which to aim, I’m not just talking about WHAT to assess, I’m talking about HOW to assess.

To truly harness the power of any development efforts, starting with identifying individual or group gaps or strengths, we should first be thinking about what targets of assessment are the best able to provide insights that will drive targeted development at both the individual and group levels and aligned to the future business needs.

Then, we need to consider how to gather insights in the most efficient way possible to answer the questions that are important to us. Answering these questions requires a strategic focus and foundation-setting. Fortunately, by taking a strategic view, you will be able to help align the diagnosis to ensure the resulting data will provide insights relative to the important business questions. Identifying the critical business and cultural priorities to inform your competency models, which should influence your final assessment, will ensure your approach meets the needs of your business leaders and thus, provides value.

In a lot of ways, it almost seems like we’re back to the future. By applying the foundational concepts to the design of your diagnosis, which will inform and improve your development programs, you can ensure efficiency, accuracy, business relevance, and ultimately, results.

Mac Tefft is a product manager for DDI's Talent Diagnostic Solutions.

Posted: 11 Oct, 2016,
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