When done well, developmental leadership assessments can provide participants with some very useful and detailed feedback to help them become more effective leaders. However, even with high-quality leadership assessments that are well-administered, there are a few common pitfalls that can derail such programs. Below are 5 such pitfalls that stakeholders should be made aware of, and hopefully make efforts to prevent, before rolling out any developmental leadership assessment program.
1) Not taking the assessment seriously
Resistance from participants in leadership assessments is not uncommon. They may believe they are being forced to take the assessment to address perceived capability gaps with which they disagree, they may not believe the program will help them develop as a leader, or they may simply not want to take a multiple-hour battery of tests.
Whatever the reason, lack of engagement from participants increases the chances that the assessment results will not be accurate, and every effort must be made to ensure participants are bought into the developmental assessment program and are motivated to get the most out of it.
2) Expecting to agree with everything in the feedback report
It is actually quite rare for participants and their managers to agree with every competency score on an assessment feedback report, and this can sometimes result in them questioning the accuracy of assessment and begin losing sight of overall objectives of the program.
This is why it is absolutely critical to set appropriate expectations about the assessment results before the feedback report is delivered. The messaging to participants and their managers should emphasize that they should expect to see some scores that may not align with the participants perceived strengths and/or performance history, and that the key to getting the most out of the assessment is to identify the pieces of feedback that resonate most, and for which the participant’s current role provides opportunities to develop in those areas.
3) Biting off more than you can chew
Most lists of best practice recommendations for leveraging developmental assessment results include some guidance on only picking a couple of areas at a time on which to focus for development. This is because evidence suggests that if leaders try to develop in more than 2 or 3 key areas at a time, they are significantly more likely not to make progress on any of them.
Therefore, you can maximize the chances of growth by keeping things simple and focusing on just a couple of key areas, by putting together a detailed action plan that clearly lays out the behaviors on which to focus, and by defining how progress will be measured and what outcomes are expected. If more than two or three developmental areas are identified, it is not necessary to focus on all of them simultaneously. The additional areas can always be deferred for six months to a year, after significant progress has been made on the top two or three.
4) Leaving your manager out of the development planning
Managers play a very critical role in any developmental assessment program in which their direct reports participate. In most cases, they initiate the assessment program in the first place and are key sponsors of the initiative. As a result, they are obligated to proactively work with participants to incorporate the assessment results into developmental action plans and hold them accountable for making progress on the identified developmental objectives.
Without such support from managers on the back-end of the assessment program, the program will not have “teeth”, and participants will be much less likely to act on the assessment feedback and make significant progress in their development.
5) Failing to align focus areas for development with work objectives
If the developmental action plan is not linked in any way to things the participant has to accomplish in their role, then it will simply be viewed as something in addition to their “day job” that they have to find time to work on. This could easily result in the action plan getting deprioritized as the participant gets caught up in meeting their deliverables and other commitments of the job.
Finding ways integrate the developmental action plan into the job will not only increase the likelihood of making progress on the action plan, but it may even result in performance improvements, as participants will be more conscious of the behaviors they need to demonstrate to show progress on their development while simultaneously accomplishing their job responsibilities.
In sum, it is really important to understand, and to take proactive measures to prevent, the above derailers to leadership assessment programs. The good news is that these derailers are very preventable, as long as the appropriate measures taken to address these concerns with the participants, managers, and other key stakeholders as early as possible in the leadership development program. Taking these preventative measures should significantly improve the likelihood that the program will be a success.