Is your assessment past its use by date?

leadership performance Jul 21, 2021
Photo by Eduardo Soares on Unsplash

How many of us have rummaged around in the back of the fridge, found some food slightly curled at the edges, looked at the “use by” date and thought “that will be OK’.  Mostly it is OK, though my husband learnt the hard way that chicken past its use by date can land you in hospital.  I’ve been thinking about this in the context of the Assessment and Succession Planning industry (and it has become an industry).  Like all industries its products have good and bad sides (a bit like the chicken industry) and need some thinking about.

I should reveal before I go on that I am qualified in several good assessment tools (list on our website if you are interested), and find them useful,  so I am not opposed to assessments as such.  However, I think that they need to be used with care, and debriefed with even more care by people who know what they are doing and understand both people and organisations.

 Assessments claim to identify your character traits, your strengths and weaknesses, and, in a work context, your suitability for certain roles, or for a place in a team, or for a place in a succession plan.  Some of these claims have some basis at that point in time. They should come with a “use by” date because assessments are like any other check-up, they are taken at a particular moment.  But all check-ups need to be repeated regularly if they are to be useful.  The fact that your blood pressure was perfect at 30 does not mean it will be at 40 or 50.  And nor will your character, and even less your ability to perform a particular role, be the same in 10 years’ time.

Covid laid this bare when a number of people who were on High Potential lists, or on succession plans, failed to deal with the challenges of the pandemic.  I’ve heard leaders say that “we thought she/he was on the fast track to senior leadership, but the last few weeks/months have shown we were wrong.  They just couldn’t cope with the speed of change”.  Those people had been good performers prior to the pandemic but could not deal with the need to adapt to an uncertain future or cope with the shift to on-line working.  They may be good performers once again, but given the ambiguity of the future of work they have question marks over them now.  They may well have reached their “use by” date.

The conclusion that you can draw is that all assessments, all succession plans need to be constantly reviewed.  They may be true at a point in time but that does not mean they will be true in the future. Leadership talent is situational, as Churchill discovered when he was thrown out of office at the end of the war.  Every time the situation changes you need to review.  That is true of individuals and of teams.  All of them have “use by” dates.

 Think about how you review and who does the reviewing.  As I said there are good assessment tools, but they come with three health warnings:

  1. They are an aid to decision making by decision makers. Choose a good tool or tools, get them administered by people who know what they are doing, but remember they are only an input among other inputs. 
  2. Make sure that the people who debrief the output to you are experienced business people (not simply experienced in assessment). If they are, and they know your industry, then take their output seriously as an input to your thinking.
  3. Beware of assessments by people who are really trying to sell you something else and are doing this as a sideline to get you to buy their main product. As an example, be very wary of the head-hunter who assesses your team and concludes that you need to replace several of its members.

 Having said all that, assessments can be useful at a point in time:

  • When you are thinking of re-organising
  • When you are recruiting to fill a gap in a team
  • When you are looking for a particular skill
  • When you are trying to develop yourself or a particular individual

 But they are NOT set in stone, they are situational, and they are only ever an input to a decision-making process.

 Pat Chapman-Pincher 

Pat has spent most of her career founding and growing leading edge technology companies all around the world.   Pat believes that thoughtful and inspiring leadership is critical to the future growth of the world economy and now uses her skills and experience to help leaders and teams at all levels reach their full potential and to help companies succeed in a world where technology is transforming the way we do business. 

Pat is a Founder of www.defyexpectations.co.uk