I remember the first time I had a battery of tests and assessments done when I was with an organization. I can’t quite remember why I was doing these things (which is another story!) but I do remember getting my results. Looking back now I consider myself very fortunate to have been working with the person I was working with. At the time I simply considered it a typical way to work with personal data. Now I’m not so sure it was, or is that typical.
I had done a number of assessments; reasoning and decision making, ethical judgement, conflict approach, MBTI and some others and I was given my data with some instructions about how to read the data plus some comparison data and had about a week to review it with another meeting scheduled to go over the results. As I left the first meeting the one thing I remember most vividly was the person I was working with saying, “Remember, this data is yours, when we get together in a week, I’m most interested in what you have made of it all given what you want to accomplish in this organization.”
I can now look back and say I was being asked to self manage my own data, I was not being diagnosed by someone else’s interpretation.
There is an awful lot underlying this approach to assessments and I think most of it is very valuable:
- The people we work with are not ‘diagnosable’ in the clinical sense. There is nothing categorically problematic/wrong with them.
- The data itself is understandable by the owner of it. We’re not dealing with rocket science.
- If change is to be made as a result of assessment data, the driving force for that change needs to be the owner of the data.
- Making meaning of assessment data is a process of interaction and very dependent on the context in which people exist.
As I navigate around discussions, stories and applications of assessments I see quite a lot of compromise of the points above:
- Facilitators who do not want participants to have their data prior to a feedback session because the facilitator thinks they won’t understand the concepts
- Entire assessment data being positioned as measuring ‘innate’ characteristics that do not change across time or context (MBTI in particular).
- Facilitators making a diagnosis of what is the problem with someone or some team and then telling them what they need to do about that problem.
- A fear of ‘letting’ people talk about their data without the guidance of the expert.
- Assessment data being separated out of the work context for understanding rather than being part of that work context.
- Short duration feedback sessions with the intent being to solve problems in that one session.
This is not just a facilitator challenge (although we so often corroborate for the sake of acquiring business or relevance). Individuals, teams and organizations seem to crave this model of assessment use; do the assessment, have an expert interpret the meaning and provide solutions, and the end user responsibility is to execute on the solution.
The opportunity to experience learning more of self management, engaging in challenging interactions, working with paradox, context and uncertainty, taking accountability for self understanding all get pushed aside. And these are the sustainable experiences and learning of this work! These are the things that we say we want to achieve with this work. Are these not the things we would like to see in ourselves, our employees and our organizations?
We should all take a close look at how we work with assessments. Are we supporting more self management or more diagnosis?
What is your approach?