Webinar Wrap-Up: Harnessing the Power of Assessments in Coaching

Coaching can have a powerful impact on an individual, no matter where they are in their career. And leveraging assessments as part of coaching can have some great benefits. It can also come with a few risks.

In fact, when we polled attendees of a recent webinar about the unfortunate assessment experiences they had, 78% reported that they’d had a client feel judged or defensive about their results. And just over half said they’ve seen participants try to game assessments by answering with what they thought their coach or their org would want to hear.

These two risks – along with many others – are some of the elements that can cause assessment anxiety for coaches, not to mention those they coach.

In the webinar Harnessing the Power of Assessments in Coaching, MRG president Tricia Naddaff brought her considerable experience to bear to explore the risks and rewards of assessments, and explore how – when chosen and leveraged carefully – assessments can be an efficient way to unlock insights that are hard to unearth with other methods.

Read on for highlights from the webinar – or, if you’re ready for a deeper dive, watch the full webinar on demand here.

Assessments: Then & Now

If you first experienced assessments early in your career – years, even decades ago – you may have noticed that the assessments have evolved significantly in both form and intention.

Early assessments were big on data – think tables with raw scores on a variety of scales – but light on context. In general, these were geared more toward the practitioner, and not toward the individual who was taking the assessment. They were also designed to yield “good” or “bad” scores – not much room for nuance. Why? These early assessment were developed to sort people – and to save money. By evaluating specific skills within individuals, organizations could more efficiently spend their training dollars.

Of course, that style of assessment still exists. But many assessments have started to dive deeper and focus more on revealing complex insights and recognizing unique individuals. These types of insights can be leveraged to support more sustainable growth and development – the kind that eschews one-time occasional “trainings” and focuses more on long-term guidance, practice, and reflection.

Creating Self-Awareness (and Why it Matters)

Research shows that while 95% of people think they are self-aware, only 10-15% actually are self-aware.

Why does that matter? As a coach, you likely have an intuitive understanding of how important self-awareness is, personally and professionally – and there is plenty of scientific data to support that. Research shows that people with self-awareness are better communicators, perform better at work, are more likely to be promoted, and even deliver better shareholder returns. They enjoy benefits that extend beyond the workplace, too – like happier personal relationships and more confidence.

So closing that self-awareness gap is of critical importance in coaching. Fortunately, research also indicates that self-awareness is malleable, and it can be learned – and that’s where assessments can serve an important purpose.

Whether you’re using an assessment to increase internal self-awareness (measuring values, motivation, or personality) or external self-awareness (measuring behavior, competencies, or skills), it can offer a number of specific benefits. A well-designed assessment can reveal individual complexity and provide insights that are both more expansive and more objective than observation or interviews. The right tool can help clarify priorities and reveal blind spots between how an individual sees themselves and how others perceive them. It can also accelerate the relationship between you and your client, providing you with a common language and a foundational understanding of how they approach their world.

Why Do Assessments Go Wrong?

With all the benefits of assessments, surely they’re a slam-dunk in every coaching engagement… right?

Not exactly. As promised, Tricia identified some of the common pitfalls of working with assessments.

Some of these include…

  • Poor assessment design
  • Lack of assessment expertise
  • Coachee not ready or fully prepared

The Checklist for Choosing an Assessment

So it’s clear – the benefits of assessment are many, but they’re highly dependent on selecting the right tool – for you and for your coachee. How do you know if an assessment tool is the right fit? There is plenty to consider, but this assessment checklist will give you a good start.

When choosing an assessment, look for:

  • Alignment: Make sure the tool matches not only the goals of the engagement, but also your coaching philosophy.
  • Validity: Look for assessment design that is hard to “game” and that delivers accurate, psychometrically valid results.
  • Education: Evaluate the educational tools available – both for initial training and for ongoing learning as your coaching, and the world of leadership, evolves.
  • Support: Choose an assessment provider who offers ongoing research, service and support materials that are valuable to you and to your clients.
  • Authenticity: Use an assessment that reflects and embraces individuality and identifies unique aspects of the coachee, broadening the conversation rather than narrowing it.

Case Study: Supporting Elisa’s Shift from Mid-Level Manager to Senior Leader

What does it look like to actually apply assessments in the coaching process? There are so many possible ways to use them, it can leave you wondering exactly when and how they fit into your engagements.

To illustrate a specific use case, Tricia shared a case study: Elisa, who was recently promoted from a mid-level manager to a senior leadership role and has been struggling with making the transition.

Tricia shared her coaching game plan:

A few highlights:

  • She leveraged both a behavior-based tool (the LEA 360™) and a motivation tool (the Individual Directions Inventory™) to support internal and external self-awareness
  • To identify key areas for development, she used assessment data, conversations with Elisa and her manager, and research studies like this one, capturing internal and external perspective and using it to inform the development plan
  • She leveraged resources to help Elisa take specific action to modify her behavior, including increasing her use of clear communication
  • Elisa increased the time she spent clearly communicating expectations and she found it helped her provide better feedback to her team; she was selected by her boss to co-lead an important strategic initiative

The full case study is worth a watch: check it out here.

The Assessment Checklist: What to Remember about Leveraging Assessments

A well-designed assessment can open numerous pathways for coaching and development – but don’t let that overwhelm you.

As you choose assessments to incorporate in your work, keep these five key aspects in mind (watch Tricia’s explanation here):

  • Alignment: Make sure the tool matches not only the goals of the engagement, but also your coaching philosophy.
  • Validity: Look for assessment design that is hard to “game” and that delivers accurate, psychometric-ally valid results.
  • Education: Evaluate the educational tools available –both for initial training and for ongoing learning as your coaching, and the world of leadership, evolves.
  • Support: Choose an assessment provider who offers ongoing research, service and support materials that are valuable to you and to your clients.
  • Authenticity: Use an assessment that reflects and embraces individuality and identifies unique aspects of the coachee, broadening the conversation rather than narrowing it.

For a more in-depth look at assessments, watch the full webinar on-demand here.

The presentation generated a lot of discussion – read on for answers to questions that we didn’t have time to answer during the webinar.

Questions & Answers

Q: If we’d like to use the MRG assessments but are not yet/or newly certified with the tool, how can we get support to deliver the results to the client?

A: We offer regular certifications to ensure coaches can have access to our assessments when they and their clients need them. We are very attentive to the coaches’ customers, offering a variety of ways to build skill and knowledge through webinars, workshops, our extensive knowledge base and one-on-one profile reviews to help coaches newly certified in our assessments prepare for giving feedback.

On rare occasions when the coach cannot be certified until after a feedback session is needed, the coach can contract with MRG to have one of the MRG coaches deliver the feedback and support the coaching work until the coach can participate in an MRG certification.

Q: Does MRG use evidence-based data or literature for the development of assessments?

A: Great question – we use both. The most recent example is the development of our DEI questionnaire that can be added on to our Leadership assessment. At the start of development we had some data from our assessments to evaluate. Then we did an extensive literature review to build the initial model. We then crafted a questionnaire that had approximately 3 times the number of questions we wanted for our end questionnaire. In the next phase we had a few hundred people complete the expanded draft questionnaire and then we conducted the analysis to determine which questions were the strongest to include in the beta version of the questionnaire. The beta version of the questionnaire is now available and after about two years of gathering data, we will do some further analysis to determine if any adjustments need to be made. Even with a short assessment the process generally takes about three years to get a final version and even then, we regularly evaluate our assessments for performance and relevance so essentially, development is never final.

Q: Should an assessment be used as a selling point with a prospective client? Why or why not? If yes,  how?

A: Well it won’t surprise you to learn that we certainly use assessments as a selling point with prospective clients. We share all the points that we presented in the webinar on the benefits of using assessments. I think the selling points that register strongly with prospective clients are these:

  1. You will get deeper and more meaningful insights faster than any other method which means the work of change can begin earlier in the coaching process. This registers because everyone is looking to get things done more quickly these days and assessments get to the heart of things quickly.
  2. You will get deeper, more meaningful insights so you can create more sustainable change. By deepening inner self-awareness, we help our clients uncover why they engage in the world the way they do. By deepening external self-awareness we uncover a clear picture of how the client is perceived by key stakeholders. This combination makes the choice of how to proceed much clearer and it makes the path to ensure sustainability more sure.

Regarding the how, we share the points on the slide and show samples of the reports. We also find out about the prospective client’s experience with assessments so we can appropriately engage the topic based on their past experiences and knowledge (for example, some want to know how our assessments compare to others they are familiar with while others might be more interested in whether we have data from their industry). Finally, if the prospective client is talking to us about a project that includes several participants, we often encourage the decision maker(s) to take the assessments we’re recommending and let us provide feedback so they have the opportunity to have a first hand experience with the assessments.

Q: To what extent is the research presented public domain vs. MRG’s?

A: The research shown in the case study is MRG’s original research. We have been in business for 40 years and we have conducted our own research from the very beginning.  We have hundreds of research studies that explore topics such as leadership and motivational patterns based on different demographics (ex. generation, gender, etc.); leadership patterns associated with effectiveness in a wide variety of competencies and leadership and motivational patterns based on context (ex. Industry, geography, management level, function, remote work etc.) and more.

MRG makes a selection of our research available to the public on our website and when coaches become certified in any of our assessments, they have access to our entire research library.

Q: In helping someone understand their “internal wiring,” what personality assessment model do you use?

A: While personality assessments are widely used, we have a preference for measuring motivation rather than personality. We prefer motivation for three reasons:

  1. We find that measuring motivation gives us more to work with than personality. While influenced by personality, values and beliefs, motivation covers a broader range of situations and experiences and because we talk about motivation in terms of energy, people can physically experience their motivational patterns making it easier for them to understand them and the impact they have on their choices.
  2. Assessing motivation allows us to help an individual see the possibilities of flexibly working with motivational preferences. While motivation is harder to change than say, behavior, all of us have experiences choosing to make decisions about our actions that are counter to our motivational impulses. For example, we may not feel like getting out of bed when the alarm goes off but because we see a higher order benefit associated with acting counter to our motivation, we get up. Another example; there are times when we may be motivated to speak harshly to someone but again, we see a higher order benefit in not acting on that motivation and we make a different choice. And while a great deal of satisfaction can come from working in alignment with our motivational preferences, these common experiences help us understand the value of having the flexibility to occasionally work outside of our motivational preferences.
  3. Finally personality has a potential “branding issue”. Personality has long been described as something that is fixed and immutable in adults. However, neuroscience is increasingly showing us that our brains have a vast capacity to change which then leads to the understanding that personality is not completely fixed. Unfortunately, the common understanding of personality as fixed is lagging behind the science and we don’t want to offer a measurement that has the potential to suggest that this is a fixed element of the individual.

The motivational assessment we use is our own Individual Directions Inventory (IDI) and as was shown in the case study, we often use it in combination with our Leadership assessment, the LEA 360.

About the author

Lucy is the Head of Marketing at MRG. She's a passionate people person who talks with her hands even when she's on the phone. She will not rest until everyone on earth has taken their IDI.

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Libby Bell
Libby Bell
1 year ago

Thanks for the summary Lucy. It was very timely and I will review the full video at a later time.