Tricia Naddaff's picture Submitted by Tricia Naddaff May 12, 2017 - 11:23am
Using Assessments Wisely in Your Coaching Practice
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Early in my career, when I first encountered assessments, I was not impressed. This may seem an unlikely confession from someone who now leads an assessment organization but I think it can largely be explained by the type of assessments I was originally exposed to. While I have learned a great deal in the 30 years that I have been in the learning and development field, even at the start of my career I was aware of how complex (and even contradictory) human beings are. And at that point in time, the assessments I first came into contact with, seemed to want to reduce magnificent, complex, contradictory, interesting people into neat, little, constrained constructs.

Well thankfully both assessment providers and assessment users have come a long way in thirty years. As users we are wiser and more insightful about where assessments are helpful and where they are not. And as providers we have become more sophisticated and wiser about reflecting more about people, their uniqueness and complexity, in the constructs of our instruments.

Currently I would call myself a reserved enthusiast about assessments. I’m enthusiastic because well- constructed assessments, used in the right way by skilled practitioners, can open doorways of self- awareness that are insightful and provide meaningful direction to individuals who want to continue to learn and grow. I am reserved because there are still assessments out there that take a more reductionist view of individuals. And even with well-constructed assessments, there are still times when they are used in ineffective and unhelpful ways.

There are many benefits and risks associated with using assessments and there are some important guidelines that we have learned over 30 years of supporting practitioners in their assessment work with clients. Let me offer a few of these guidelines for your consideration:

  • You can do an assessment almost any time in the coaching process – it doesn’t always have to be at the beginning of the process. Sometimes it can take a while to determine the best assessment(s) to use to support the work.
  • Ensure the assessments serve you and your client (not the other way around) – Just as you have values, principles and beliefs that are the foundation of your approach to coaching, assessments are also derived from an underlying set of beliefs and theories. Find out what these underlying assumptions are when you are considering assessments to ensure that they align with your approach to the work.
  • Measure both more and less changeable aspects of the individual – there are assessments that measure everything from aspects of individuals that are less adjustable (i.e. values, beliefs, principles, motivation, personality) to aspects that are more adjustable (behaviors, competencies, skills). When using assessment for development it is very helpful to measure something in both categories so both the opportunities and the boundaries for development are more clearly revealed.
  • Always be present when your client is sharing data – when your clients go back into their organizations to share their data with their bosses, mentors, teams, you need to be there. You are certified in the interpretation of the instrument, your clients and their colleagues are not, and the chances for misinterpretation to occur in the recounting of the data are very high without you participating.
  • Navigate your own biases – by now we all know that we are full of biases (both conscious and unconscious) for those biases we know about, we must be vigilant in ensuring they do not cloud our assessment interpretation. The best cure for this is to interpret as many different profiles as Using Assessments Wisely in Your Coaching Practice you can in order to build your expertise in that assessment. It is through this diversity of experience that you will encounter people who are successful with profiles you would not predict would lead to success and you will encounter challenges with profiles you imagined would create primarily positive outcomes.
  • Set assessment confidentiality parameters upfront – of course we all set confidentiality agreements up front for our coaching work, but confidentiality parameters for the assessments should be addressed separately and specifically. While many organizations may automatically assume that what you and your clients talk about is protected by confidentiality, surprisingly many organizations do not automatically make the same assumption about the assessment data used as part of the coaching process.
  • With team coaching, provide individual assessment feedback prior to doing team development – when individuals have a deeper, clearer understanding of their own feedback and have reached a point where they are able to put that feedback into their own words, their ability to participant openly and constructively in team development accelerates (sometime significantly).
  • Take advantage of your providers’ research – would it help you to know about gender patterns, age patterns, country differences, best practices, derailer patterns, or patterns by leadership level when working with your clients? For most of us research can provide valuable insights for our work with clients. Most if not all of the assessment companies you work with have this kind of research (and more) that they can make available to you (usually without a charge)
  • Become an expert in your assessments – there is nothing like expertise in your chosen assessments to make the data truly valuable for your clients – and there is nothing like practice to build that expertise. People often ask us what kind of assessments they should have in their toolkit. We recommend the basic assessment toolkit include one assessment in each of four categories: Cognitive functioning, Personality, Motivation, Behavior and then if it supports your practice you might include one or more specialty assessments (for example: Emotional Intelligence, Team effectiveness, Individual Values). The sweet spot is not to have too few (because then you risk not having an assessment that fits the needs of a situation) and not to have too many (then you limit your ability to become an expert in all the assessments in your toolkit).
  • Work with other coaches who are using the same assessments – this both accelerates the building of your expertise and helps navigate through biases.
  • Remember: Assessments are never infallible – even well-constructed assessments with strong technical documentation are not perfect and they should be used to enhance and deepen your coaching process, not override it.

When assessments are well matched to the situation, the coach and the client, and they are used wisely in the coaching process, they can provide a rich, deep opening to a thoughtful, productive discovery and development journey.