ASSESSMENT CORNER
Is the Assessment Market Glutted?
by Roberta Hill

The short answer is yes—the assessment market is glutted. But the real question is, "What difference does that glut make to you?"

A Google search on "free assessments" nets over 64,000 hits. If that feels overwhelming to you, imagine how your clients feel after taking the MBTITM, DiSC®, Clifton Strengths FinderTM, Emotional Intelligence, and 360° assessments to help them improve their on-the-job performance!

I used to think that this over-exposure to assessments and instruments resulted in a watering down of the valuable tools that I offer to my clients. Then I asked myself, "Why are people accessing assessments to begin with?"  Perhaps they are seeking self-awareness, help with a major career decision, or insights into working better with their management teams. Generally, they are trying to find answers to the questions they cannot easily answer on their own. Since exploring various assessments can be a great place to start that inquiry process, mass access to these tools does not worry me as much as how results are interpreted.

Some of my colleagues are also concerned that various untested instruments and assessments present a danger because they provide erroneous data. I believe that the danger more often lies with the interpretation of the data, rather than with the instrument or the data itself. I have seen people derive meaningful insights from a tool that was neither valid nor reliable from a research perspective, but which nevertheless presented some information that was useful to them at that particular point in time. In addition, the assessment often leads to a more in-depth exploration of a topic or question. Conversely, I have seen excellent assessments misused by 'qualified' administrators and others who have not been properly trained, interpreting results regardless of the ethics involved. The inappropriate organizational use of the MBTITM is an excellent example of how a reputable assessment can develop a 'bad name' in some circles. 

Bear in mind that it can be difficult for business people to evaluate the vast scope of instruments available. Many assessments are used to provide information on some aspect of an individual's personality. There is the additional complication of the assessment continuum, ranging from the subjective 'soft data' of surveys and checklists to the objective 'hard data' of polygraphs and biofeedback. Generally speaking, the more objective the tool, the greater the controls on its use. However, it is extremely difficult to monitor the use of a particular assessment or the individual who administers it.

Ultimately, what was once the privy of 'experts' is now readily available to anyone with access to the Internet. For example, anyone can purchase a blood pressure monitor from a major retail outlet. My dad bought one when his doctor mentioned that his blood pressure was a little on the high side. Dad has measured his blood pressure twice a day ever since. If it ever skyrockets, he'll be off to the doctor immediately—either to face a false alarm or to detect a serious medical problem. In the latter case, surely, this blood pressure 'assessment' was a valuable tool.

My point?  Well, I have several. First off, as coaches, we can't prevent our clients from using whatever tools they want to use, and we can't guarantee how they'll use them. As professional business coaches, we can only ensure that we are using assessments in an appropriate manner. Secondly, like my dad, some people will become 'addicted' to gathering information, even if they only use it when the results cause concern. I call these people assessment junkies. This is neither a good nor bad thing—necessarily. Thirdly, one day such a client may take an assessment and feel compelled to talk to you about interpreting its results. This allows you to educate the client about the role and value of assessments. Finally, coaches who understand an array of instruments can provide valuable assistance by guiding clients toward those tools that are customized to the client's particular needs.

What does this really mean for business and corporate coaches? 

The old adage 'you get what you pay for' is no longer true. Some assessments that were once only available from licensed practitioners can now be purchased online at very reasonable prices. This provides a great opportunity to educate clients about possible benefits and limitations of various products, and is one way to effectively leverage the easy access to assessments to create more knowledge about the merits of particular instruments.

A broad general knowledge of assessments—the types available and their express purposes—is important for business coaches. You, too, can explore the range of products in the marketplace by utilizing the Internet and its reasonable price points. Be sure to take advantage of any available resources that can keep you up to date on the latest trends. (One of those resources is my blog—www.AssessmentsToday.com.)  Perhaps even more importantly, acknowledge what you don't know about a specific instrument. 

Since few individuals who have taken assessments know what to do with the data, our role as educators takes on greater significance. Instead of 'telling' people how helpful an assessment might be to them, we can:

  • Outline the expected benefits (rather than just features) of the assessment by demonstrating how to apply the information to help the client meet goals and objectives;
  • Differentiate our services by reviewing the costs and anticipated ROI of the recommended assessment;
  • Reduce clients' fears by describing how an assessment will be used, including reassurance regarding confidentiality;
  • Analyze the trade-offs of one instrument versus another by comparing our assessment recommendation with other types of activities/services that clients may be considering; and
  • Create value and meaning for our clients by effectively debriefing the assessment and developing an appropriate findings-based action plan.

What is the bottom line? When assessments are integrated into a service package, they can differentiate one coach from another. That said, the reputation of the coach generally carries more weight than the tools that he or she uses. So don't be concerned about the glut of assessments on the market. Instead, view assessments as an opportunity to build your reputation, educate yourself and your client, and perhaps develop additional business as well!
 

Roberta Hill, MBA, MCC, PMC, is the owner of Assessments Now, an online assessment provider with a network of more than 40 qualified coaches worldwide. As a partner in 1-Focus International, she currently consults on issues of change and leadership in Europe and North America. Roberta may be reached by email at roberta@wghill.com.

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