How to Fail at Assessing People
Thursday, July 14, 2011 at 05:50PM
by Bhavesh Naik in 4. Strategy, Assessments, Corporate Culture, Hiring, Teams

Assessment tools that help us assess our people’s strengths and weaknesses can be helpful. They help us gain valuable insights about the people we lead, work with and report to. Such insights can lead to better relationships, higher productivity and happier workplace. But when they are not used properly, they can lead to misunderstanding, frayed relationships and a demoralizing work environment.

In 15 years of working with businesses, I have witnessed many assessment initiatives, many of them quite successful but quite a few of them that were not so successful. The good news is that it’s not too difficult to spot, right at the beginning, which ones would succeed at getting the desired results, and which ones would fail.  Following are some ways in which assessment initiatives fail with some ideas on how to correct them.

1) Address only one or two of the human dimensions.

Human beings are fascinating creatures. They have many facets. One could argue that they have infinite number of facets. I believe that people are impossible to “figure out” with computer based tools. And yet, I also believe that such tools can be enormously helpful in effectively working with them.

As far as assessments are concerned, human development consists of three phases: 1) Nature, 2) Nurture and 3) Applied.

The Nature dimension addresses those traits that we are born with or genetically predisposed to at birth. The Nurture dimension addresses traits that are a result of our social and parental conditioning, most of which happens after birth through our formative years. The Applied dimension is what’s consciously developed by a person on her own volition.

Most assessments address only one of these three primary dimensions and do not tell a full story. In my observation, most assessments in the marketplace address only the first and the third dimensions, Nature and Applied, largely ignoring the second dimension, Nurture, which has tremendous impact on the behaviors of a person. Such fragmented assessments lead to improper labeling, poor judgements and incorrect use of people’s skills, gifts and talents.

Awayre’s assessment tools cover the full gamut of these three phases of human development. That way, you are assured that you are not using fragmented, incomplete or one- or two-dimensional data in assessing your people. Visit us at http://www.awayre.com for more information.

Update on Monday, August 8, 2011 at 05:40PM by Registered Commenterby Bhavesh Naik

2) Use tools that view human beings as static “things.” (As opposed to dynamic beings.)

Machines are easier to manage than people. They don’t go home at night, call sick, ask for a raise or a promotion or talk back. If it’s broken, a machine can be fixed or replaced with another machine that’s most likely better than the one being replaced. No such guarantees with people. In fact, it often takes a long time to find replacement for a good employee and even then good people are hard to find.

That’s why, management theories of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s simplified people management by viewing them as machine parts. This was easy to do then as that was the age of John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil and later Henry Ford, assembly lines and industrialization. It worked brilliantly in those times, which were dominated by physical labor, much of it in assembly lines.

Times have changed, however. Today, we live in information age and our work is knowledge-based, not labor-based. And yet, the fundamentals of our management are rooted in the principles developed in the old days. Job descriptions, hierarchical reporting structures and command-and-control are some of the ideas that remain as foundational pieces of today’s management.

The main problem with applying industrial-age management theories to knowledge-based work is that people feel limited by the artificial constraints they find themselves in. As a result, they produce a small fraction of what they are capable of producing while not enjoying their work and feeling unfulfilled in their jobs.

It’s quite seductive, however, for most managers to want to “simplify” management of their people. In order to do that, they reason, they need to minimize the parameters they can manage. So they use tools such as assessments to pre-judge and form static opinions about their people. In other words, they want to see the human being as a predictable piece of machinery that will behave in a consistent and predictable pattern.

That’s why it’s quite important, I think, to find tools that view people not as mere machines but as human beings with flesh and blood and inspiration and aspirations.

When clients bring us in to assess people, we make sure that while providing traditional data like other static assessment tools, we also supply a dimension that allows managers to see people as people, not as machines. Yes, it makes managing people a tad more difficult. But most of our clients find that that’s the price they are willing to pay in order to have people who are engaged, inspired and, of course, productive. In fact, our clients are typically those who are looking for an edge in managing their people. They are willing to go that extra mile, try a little extra hard than their competitors to have a great workplace that they can be proud of and their people thrilled to be a part of.

To find out more about Awayre’s assessment solutions, please visit http://www.awayre.com.

Following is a list of assessment mistakes I will be covering in the subsequent articles, not necessarily in the order they appear. You may be able to identify some of them from your personal experience, either as a leader in your organization or as someone who took such assessments. If you have a question or a comment about any of them or would like to have them covered in a particular order, please send me an email at bhavesh@ambica.net.

1) Address only one or two of the human dimensions.

2) Use tools that view human beings as static “things.” (As opposed to dynamic Beings.)

3) Assess people as separate entities from the business process.

4) Use asssessment tools that are overly simplistic.

5) Interpret assessment data incorrectly or inaccurately.

6) Use overly complicated assessment tools.

7) Use too many assessment tools.

8) Use wrong kinds of assessment tools for the job or profession.

9) Take assessment results too seriously or literally, ignoring a gut-level check.

10) Use tools that are too general to be meaningful.

11) Use only one assessment tool.

12) Switch through too many tools; not becoming an expert in a few.

13) Forget assessments once they are done.

14) Continue to believe in and use assessment tools that consistently produce inaccurate results.

15) Use too many “new-fangled” assessments.

16) Rely on assessments to find out the skill level of a person.

17) Use a wrong combination of assessment tools.

18) Use assessment results to pigeon-hole people.

Article originally appeared on FlowForward.Biz (http://blog.awayre.com/).
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