Executive assessment is changing, and here we outline the latest trends. The traditional one-to-one assessment model deploys a number of questionnaires and aptitude tests to build a deep understanding of the individual. There are usually two participants in the process, the person being assessed and the assessor, who is often, but not always, a psychologist. Broad-based personality questionnaires such as the Occupational Personality Questionnaire or the16PF are often used, and these may be supplemented by measures such as Myers-Briggs, Firo B and Belbin’s Team Type questionnaire. Verbal and Numerical reasoning aptitude tests are also common.
The results from these psychometrics are usually discussed with the participant, and are sometimes incorporated into an extensive interview where the individual is questioned about their life experiences from schooling through to the present day. Across all these tools, the assessor is looking for common themes and recurring patterns of behaviour in the individual’s life. Based on these insights, a report is produced, summarising the person’s performance on each instrument, and their likely strengths and development areas.
This model is thorough, well-established, and provides valuable data that would not otherwise be available. However, leading-edge executive assessment is evolving in six key ways:
- New tools: New psychometric instruments become available each year. Some of these are poor, making grand claims that are not substantiated by validity data. However, a number of sound, interesting new tools have emerged that add real value, for example in the areas of creativity and management judgement. Another trend is the increased use of business case-study exercises. Properly designed, face-valid exercises provide vital ‘sample’ data to enhance the ‘sign’ data obtained from psychometrics.
- Benchmarking: Assessor credibility and experience is always important to the client – it enables them to trust the outputs of the process. Client confidence is further re-enforced by the use of relevant, current benchmarking data, enabling participants to be rated against meaningful comparison groups. Good assessment firms build and utilise such benchmark databases, enabling them to capture and quantify their combined experiences for the client’s benefit.
- Integrated, tailored reports: Bland assessment reports that simply detail how a candidate has performed in each test are quick to produce, but offer limited value to the client. The best reports integrate data from across all the instruments, and are tailored to the particular skills, competencies and business context that the client is most interested in. They make confident, authoritative and accurate statements enabling the reader to reach clear conclusions. The more progressive assessment firms are willing to make clear recommendations.
- Group Analysis: Once a client has assessed several of their executives, it is fascinating to analyse the data across the group of respondents. This can show, for example, that a particular team has clear strengths or gaps, or even that a whole tier of managers is more task than people-focused. Such information is invaluable in planning development activities, in cultural change initiatives, or for example in helping PE firms build a comprehensive picture of the management team.
- Strategy and Context Led: Assessment activity must dovetail with the client organisation’s business strategy, current organisational challenges and, where one exists, Talent Management strategy. This ensures the work is aligned and consistent with the organisation’s direction of travel and key deliverables. And critically, the understanding of individuals’ capability needs to sit in context. There are a limited number of stars around, but there are plenty of people who can perform excellently in certain roles/contexts. Too much assessment just looks at generic capabilities, rather than providing a granular understanding of how the person will perform within specific work environments.
- Driving personal development: Assessment processes are increasingly used to trigger and drive self-development. Underpinning this approach is the recognition that self-awareness is a vital component in leadership development. In true development assessment the individual is not being assessed for a job or a promotion, rather the focus is upon establishing development needs, and building a development plan. In this application, the outcomes are self-insight, leading to personally led self-development.
Wickland Westcott has a high level of expertise and credibility in one-to-one assessments, both in the context of placing individuals in particular roles and in helping people to develop and grow. We can also provide an interesting blend of insights by pairing psychologists with Search Consultants to produce a report combining behavioural analysis with an understanding of how the individual’s experience stacks up in the marketplace.