Use Assessment for Development

Ultimate Guide to Leadership Development

The Dream Team: Assessment and Development

When explaining why and how to use assessment for development, we like to ask this question: Would you expect your doctor to prescribe medication without a diagnosis or medical exam? Probably not. A diagnosis guides which treatment you receive, ensuring that it will solve your specific need. The remedy prescribed is specific to the problem you have and the dose and frequency of treatment are personalized for you.

Assessment for development is a similar concept. An assessment ensures development is focused on the right areas. It also helps leaders understand how their mix of competencies, knowledge, experiences, and personal attributes might support or hinder performance in key areas.

Why Assessment Is Core to Development

We have talked about the importance of personalization in leadership development. Deep personalization is driven by data and insight, and one of the best ways to gain these insights is using assessment and insight tools.

For example, before undertaking a development journey, leaders might participate in a 360-feedback survey or an immersive assessment center to ensure they enter the program with a clear understanding of their strengths and development priorities. At various stages throughout the learning journey, leaders might complete a short self-assessment that builds awareness in specific areas or checks on development progress.

One of the other reasons you want to use assessment for development is time. Research has shown that time is the number-one obstacle to leadership development.

several gears with one blue gear pictured out front, in the middle of it a clock, written to the right of it: The #1 obstacle
to leadership development is time.

When it comes to leadership development, it’s not about making everything fit in less time or waiting until there is a better time. It’s about making a meaningful and focused investment with the time we have. Data and insights from assessment can help us do that.

How Assessment and Development Work Together

Too often organizations view assessment and development as two separate disciplines. However, in practice, the relationship between assessment and development is symbiotic: They exist together in a way that benefits both.

As such, development without assessment leads to a generic, one-size-fits-all approach. And assessment without development does little to move the dial on key skills, competencies, and behaviors.

So how do they work together? When included as part of a leadership development experience, assessment provides several important insights. Assessments can:

  • Identify competency strengths and development areas so that leaders know where to put their development focus.
  • Identify critical experience and knowledge gaps that might be important for current and future roles.
  • Reveal personality attributes and tendencies that might influence how a leader reacts in certain situations. With this insight, they are better equipped to manage and moderate their behavior across different situations and contexts.
  • Help individuals and the organization determine readiness to execute business drivers.
  • Provide group insights that inform cohort-based leadership development initiatives.
  • Track progress of individual leaders and groups and measure the impact of leadership development initiatives.
illustration of a laptop with an assessment report shown on screen, with several items surrounding it: a dollar sign, a magnifying glass, a bar graph, and a bullseye, written to the right of the items: 38% of organizations that combine
high-quality assessment and development have a strong bench of leaders compared to only 11% of organizations that don’t combine, source: DDI Leadership Transitions Report, 2021

Different Types of Assessment Support Different Development Insights

DDI’s Ultimate Guide to Leadership Assessment provides a comprehensive overview of different types of assessments. It’s a great resource when you’re exploring how to use assessment for either development programs or selection decisions.

While assessment tools come in many shapes and sizes, most fall within a few basic categories. Additionally, note that while each of these tools is an effective method for collecting assessment information, each also serves fundamentally different purposes.

  • Assessment Centers: A simulation that immerses leaders in a role at a fictitious company. The leader is required to manage emails, meetings, and other role-specific tasks. The experience might also include a strategic analysis and business planning exercise.
  • 360-Degree Feedback: Also known as a multirater assessment, a 360 provides behavioral feedback from direct reports, colleagues, and managers. It also includes a self-assessment.
  • Leadership Tests: These tests include a series of questions (usually closed-ended) designed to gather data on a leader’s knowledge, experience, and judgment.
  • Personality Tests: A self-assessment that reveals underlying personality patterns, motivations, and derailing risks. 
  • Self-Assessments: These assessments are not designed to objectively evaluate leaders, but rather to drive self-reflection. As leaders take a moment to think about their skills and habits, it can create an “Aha!” moment for them, fueling their energy for leadership development. For example, a self-assessment might help you reflect on your growth mindset as a coach or think about your natural approach to networking.

How Assessment for Development Is Changing

Assessment has been around for quite some time, but several shifts are making assessment for development more powerful and relevant today.

Historically, assessment has often been used to inform development across macro moments. For example, an in-depth assessment of competencies and personality attributes might be used to determine development priorities and readiness for key leadership transitions. This “big bang” approach often involves a comprehensive assessment at the beginning or end of a leadership development journey.

This approach is still deeply powerful for measuring overall readiness for a role. But with advances in technology, assessment can now be used throughout the learning journey and even back on the job to support leaders during micro moments.

Consider this scenario:

To prepare for a difficult performance conversation, a leader accesses a quick learning module on facilitating difficult conversations. As part of the module, the leader completes a short online assessment of skills and tendencies, receiving tips and guidance on best practices. They also receive targeted and personalized insights about how to manage the conversation. In this way, assessment is becoming a more regular and integrated part of leadership development.

Practical Considerations When Using Assessment for Development

The section on Best Practices for Implementation provides valuable tips and suggestions for implementing a leadership development initiative. Here are some practical considerations about how to use assessment for development.

1. Begin with the end in mind.

Be clear about what you are assessing and why you are assessing it. Go back to the business drivers and competencies and use them as the core criteria for assessment.

2. Create Success ProfilesSM.

Use information captured in a Success Profile to enhance the quality and scope of assessment insights. Helpful information may include experiences, knowledge, and personal tendencies. Remember, different tools provide different insights.

3. Use multiple types of assessment.

Use comprehensive assessments as well as short, targeted assessments during the learning journey and back on the job. As discussed earlier, short, targeted assessment can provide deeply relevant and personalized insights in a moment of need.

4. Seek feedback from coaches.

When using a more in-depth assessment like an assessment center or personality profiling, use a coach to provide feedback. While the quality of assessment reports and insight continues to improve, a coach can help leaders make sense of multiple data points. A coach can also bring focus to development needs and priorities.

5. Communicate, communicate, and communicate.

When communicating, make sure you cover all potential stakeholders and clarify the purpose and importance of the assessment process. This applies to any aspect of leadership development but is particularly important when using assessment for development. Why? It’s good to be mindful of the sensitivities that surround any form of assessment. Avoid messages that imply the assessment is an evaluation of the person or that they pass or fail as a leader. Additionally, your communication can promote and reinforce the value of data and insights for ongoing development.

6. Clarify roles and expectations.

It’s also important to clarify the roles and expectations of various stakeholders, including the manager of the leader. The manager of the leader has a key role to play in their development. Sharing data and insights from an assessment process can be a good way to build a collaborative relationship about development. The manager might just be the mirror a leader needs to better understand and validate their behavior and actions.

7. Think about how assessment data will be used and shared.

Several times in this section we have emphasized the value of data. With that in mind, you need to establish and communicate a clear data-sharing policy. How will the data be used? Who will have access to the data? How will the data be stored and for how long?

a woman business professional sitting on a chair putting together a giant puzzle in the shape of a lightbulb, written to the right: Development without assessment leads to a generic, one-size-fits-all approach. Assessment without development does little to move the dial on key skills, competencies, and behaviors.

Leaders Value Data—and Want More Assessment!

The good news is that leaders recognize the value and importance of assessment data and insights. Our recent global study with over 15,000 leaders found that 42% of leaders wanted more assessment to diagnose leadership strengths. In today’s complex and ever-changing business environment, leaders understand the value of having good quality data to make business decisions—including on their own development.