ASSESSMENT CORNER
I Like Chocolate Too: Or What Flavor of the Month Do You Follow?
by Roberta Hill

My oldest stepson loves chocolate: Chocolate everything—especially une glace (ice cream). The younger one on the other hand prefers strawberry. It makes things rather reliable and predictable as they are highly unlikely to be tempted by the flavor of the month*. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for choices often made in businesses. As organizations look for quick wins and short-term profits, managers frequently feel pressure to try the latest fad. In retail, the flavor of the month lasts 30 days. In business, the flavor seems to have more of a 30-month cycle.

Assessments often fall into a similar pattern. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI), perhaps the most popular assessment around, seems to go in and out of favor every few years. People become bored with it or 'everyone' in the company has already completed it at least twice. Not that they can tell you their preference type; let alone explain what it means. I believe that the underlying problem is that not enough time is provided to properly introduce, understand, debrief and, more importantly, apply the lessons learned from the assessment. I was once asked to do MBTI training with 50 people in one-and-a-half hours. Impossible! I finally did a True Color Introductory session with them and negotiated two-and-a-half hours. (In encouraging management to reconsider the MBTI training, I used some of the suggestions outlined below.)

Personally, I don't think that getting 'tired' of an assessment is necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes experimentation is a good thing. Even my sons want to try something new once in a while, but they always end up going back to their favorites. The problem with a fad is that whether it is Six Sigma, Balanced Scorecard, or Learning Organizations, it remains a standardized, cookie-cutter approach that breeds cynicism. I can already see the signs of some current popular assessments falling out of the limelight over the next few years. (This is speculation on my part so I shall not name names.)

What we tend to get is a repackaging of the same old principles into something that has more technological bells and whistles. Chocolate will always be around. This is a fact and a trend—not a fad. In business 'Quality' is a fact and trend not a fad. In the human resources field, testing is a fact not a trend. Assessments have been around a long time and are a solid trend—even though they may become 'faddish' at times; this too shall pass. As I have written before, it is not the tool that is wrong or invalid or weak, it is how it is used that is critical.

Don't be tempted to compromise how you use an assessment to meet these requests or demands. Here are a few tips on how to survive the drought and/or resistance:

  • Do not compromise. But don't be rigid either. If the client is not convinced, let it go.
  • Remember that perhaps the assessment you use isn't as in demand today or is receiving resistance; your coaching is so much more. Wait. What goes around comes around.
  • Connect the principles and theories of the instrument to the needs and strategies of the individual or group with whom you are working. Establishing context is always a key to using assessments.
  • Be sure to tie your assessment data into action plans and then measure the success. This is the thing that makes the difference between 'taking' an assessment and 'applying' what you learn from an assessment.

And, if you are tempted to jump on the bandwagon of the latest assessment, heed this advice (so un-coach-like of me):

  • Keep your perspective. Why did you want to use an assessment in the first place? To better serve your client or to make residual income?
  • Unless you want to become an expert or guru in the use of that tool, you will probably never recoup your initial time and investment to become certified. Do you want to be a marketer or a coach?
  • Some markets or industries will stick to certain assessments while others will be much more 'fly by night' in their approach, so don't get caught up in the hype. Find the place that fits best for you.
  • "Stick to the knitting." By that I mean, look for alternative ways to provide the type of assessment you use. Perhaps a simpler version—this is not compromising. This is being flexible to the demands of our current reality. Utilize online versions, which save time.

Often my job is educating the client. Just like my children ... sometimes they listen and sometimes they don't. Hopefully it will all wash out in the end. In the meantime, I will take my favorite type of ice cream if you don't mind. Give me Chocolate Chip Mint please. (That's code for trying to hedge my bets.)

* This article is full of colloquial sayings, idioms and euphuisms—no apologies—it just seemed appropriately trite given the topic.

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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