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, 76% 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.
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
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 incorporate assessments into your work, keep these fundamentals in mind:
- You can do an assessment almost any time in the coaching process
- Ensure the assessments serve you and your client (not the other way around)
- Measure for both internal and external self-awareness
- If interviewing, do so after using validated assessments
- Be present when your client is sharing data
- Navigate your own biases
- Set assessment-specific confidentiality parameters up front
- Provide individual assessment feedback prior to doing team development
- Take advantage of your providers’ research
- Become an expert in your assessments
- Work with other coaches who are using the same assessments
- Valid assessments are wonderful tools, but coaching is needed to help turn the insights into growth
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: To what extent do you find psychological counseling comes into play (either being needed or relevant) during coaching? How do you manage/deal with that?
A: While there are certainly occasions when we recommend that the best way an individual can support their wellbeing is to consider working with a qualified mental health counselor, more often what we find is that individuals need some coaching around wellbeing practices. These can include meditation, mindfulness practices, journalling, more time in nature, better sleep habits, exercise, art and music experiences, etc.
When we do recommend the option of counseling, we express it in relation to what is very specifically coming up for the client. For example, we might say “You’ve raised the issues you had with your father several times now and each time it is clear that you have a lot of emotions associated with these memories. Have you considered taking some time to work through those at a deeper level?” Depending on the reaction, we would recommend either they work through their Employee Assistance Program, we would direct them to a referral source or, if they weren’t ready, we would let it go and wait to see if it continues to be an issue. We are always very clear that this is not our expertise (and even for our psychologists, that is not the role they are playing nor contracted for in this work).
Q: Are there particular questions that you recommend in the post-coaching plan?
- What do you need to remind yourself of on a regular basis? Where will you put these reminders to help keep them top of mind?
- What practices that we’ve worked on do you want to sustain? Who will you share this with as an accountability partner? (In addition to specific work-related practices, I work with coachees on mindfulness practices and managing their self-talk so these are often part of the practices they will hopefully maintain.)
- Who will you seek regular feedback from and how often will you seek it? (At this point they should have a regular practice of asking for feedback during their coaching so this is usually fine-tuning the commitment)
- Which peers will you rely on for peer coaching?
- How will you use your manager to support your ongoing development?
Q: Do you have research on moving from corporate leader to independent consultant?
A: You may find it helpful to look at our Best Practice Report for leaders in the consulting services industry.
Q: Have you been successful coaching when the desire is driven by the coachee and their leader is ambivalent?
A: Yes – although sometimes the “success” is that the coachee realizes that they need to leave the organization in order to find a more engaged, supporting manager. Other times we look at development work the individual can do that doesn’t require their leader (we are big fans of peer coaching as a means of ongoing support for our coachees!). In these instances we talk about how the coachee wants to grow as a leader that is potentially a more universal capability and not limited to their current situation alone. Sometimes, if the manager is more critical to the coachee’s success, as a coach, I might spend some time with the manager (with the coachee’s permission) to see if I can uncover the reason for the ambivalence and if there is something that could potentially engage the manager to be more invested. Perhaps this is a bit idealistic, but I never feel like development is a waste of time. Even if everyone around the coachee is not as supportive or invested as would be ideal, it is still growth, and therefore valuable, for the leader.
Q: Can you remind us again of the definition of semi-ipsative questionnaire design?
A: Ipsative is a scientific word meaning forced-choice and so “semi-ipsative” means partially forced choice. MRG’s assessments blend two formats of questionnaire design:
- Anchored rating scale (rating each item on a 1-5 scale)
- Forced choice (ranking three choices against each other – first, second, third choice.)
In this example, we combined the forced-choice (the individual choices their first choice and their second choice, with their third choice being the one left over), with the anchored rating scale (they tell us how strongly they feel about their choices by choosing 5 or 4 for their first choice and 3 or 2 for the second choice).
Ultimately I suppose we could have called our questionnaire design Anchored Ipsative, but I think that would have been especially confusing!
Q: How long would your coaching procedure typically last?
A: Our most common coaching assignment is 6 months with the option of extending 3 additional months. However, we have some CEO/C-Suite coaching assignments that are ongoing (no specified end date) and we do some coaching assignments where the timing is aligned with the leadership development program the coaching is supporting. In those cases the coaching assignments can be anywhere from 3 to 12 months long.