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Guide to Assessment

Cult of personality

Coaches are more frequently using personality assessments as an extra development tool. Joy Persaud finds out why they are turning to them to gain insights into people's behaviour.

Assessment: an essential part of coaching or an optional extra? "There's most certainly been an increase in the use of psychometric tests in coaching," says Roger Martin, director of the development division at selection and development specialist Ashbourne.

"As the economy has shifted from hiring to the retention of key employees, organisations are investing more in improving their existing employees' effectiveness. The result has been that we are noticing a boost in sales of tests for development purposes. As coaching evolves, the need for thorough diagnostics to increase self-awareness is becoming more and more important," Martin adds.

Richard Doherty, group vice-president, solutions and marketing, at Jobpartners, a software developer specialising in talent management, has noted a year-on-year growth in companies using psychometric testing to identify candidates during the recruitment process over the past nine years. Now that the tools have matured, they provide real value, he reflects. "As psychometric testing has proved itself in recruitment, especially where large numbers of applicants are concerned, the natural progression is for organisations to use the same tools with their existing internal talent as part of the talent management and coaching programme."

He adds: "Through using the tools to identify an individual's talents, and then performing a gap analysis for what they will need to reach the next level, psychometric tools can inform the coaching process."

Echoing this, Jenny Kidby, managing consultant at workplace psychologists OPP, says: "We've certainly seen an increase in demand to use psychometrics in coaching. In part, it's been driven by an increasing need for credibility in the coaching process. Employers are no longer content with a 'fluffy' approach to coaching, and now often demand a more robust approach – something psychometrics can provide."

But Kidby stresses that it is important that the focus of the coaching scenario is on how the person being coached relates to his or her issues. Applying a psychometric tool can provide the coach with another perspective to help to question, challenge and support the individual, and give new insights into what drives their behaviour.

Pauline Willis, director of psychological and coaching services firm Lauriate, says that under the current economic conditions, coaches who offer assessment are likely to have a competitive advantage over those who are unable to integrate it into the coaching process when appropriate.

She observes that there is a growing trend for assessment tools and psychometrics to be used in team coaching, which she says is gaining in popularity – as are assessment toolkits that support the evaluation of group dynamics. "Assessing group dynamics by looking at key factors such as the effectiveness of cooperation or communication in a team is fundamental to establishing how successfully teams are working together," she adds.

Marielena Sabatier, CEO of Inspiring Potential, a coaching and training provider, has found that psychometric assessments produce objective reports that help people to understand the impact of their actions and behaviour on others. For some people, this level of self-awareness can be achieved only by seeing hard factual evidence, she says.

So, should assessment always be part of a coaching scenario? Ashbourne's Martin believes it is vital, again emphasising that it plays a key role in enhancing self-awareness – often the starting point for a coach. He says: "Assessments provide a framework for discussion around development. The relativity of norm groups gives what we call 'a-ha!' moments. People inevitably normalise their own behaviour and it is often only when they can see how they compare with others that they realise their individual differences."

But he warns that assessments are used too often to identify perceived weaknesses to be developed rather than strengths to be taken advantage of. "Imagine, for example, if Tiger Woods was taken aside and told that, while his golf was fairly good, he really needed to spend more time on his swimming," he says.

Doherty believes that HR departments can demonstrably improve the quality of their coaching and talent management programmes through assessment, bringing benefits to the business as a whole, and to employees on an individual level. "Many organisations are looking to define some of the traits that they have identified as necessary for fulfilling certain roles within a company, be it someone with team spirit or someone who is a self-starter. Psychometric tools can really help to establish if somebody has these or not, but in an objective – rather than subjective – way," he says.

Simon Mitchell, director of talent management specialist DDI, believes that assessment is only one part of the overall talent strategy and should be driven primarily by the needs of the role and overall business goals. "For coaching, it's essential that the recipient of assessment receives information on both the areas they are good at, and the aspects where there is room for development or training," he says. "Looking at all of this data helps the organisation to assign a coach with the right skills and helps the coach and their client to have relevant and meaningful conversations. It's also critical that the right assessment is chosen for the job level or role; there is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach."

Jordan O'Connor, principal consultant at HR consultancy Chiumento, says it is accepted that some sort of assessment needs to take place to identify, select and nurture raw talent. He adds that the focus will turn to the quality of coaches used and the supervisory arrangements in place to monitor coach performance. As Kidby at OPP says: "Of course, the psychometric tool is only as good as the coach who is using it. It's something that has led to a lot of internal coaches seeking out ways in which they can develop their own skill sets in using psychometrics."

And, while Mark Loftus, director of assessment at leadership development company The Thinking Partnership, suggests that "assessment" is a bad word for many coaches because it is perceived as something that is "done to" clients, rather than "done with" them, he sees assessment and development as intertwined. The best assessments, he says, have a distinct coaching feel. "Organisations can help themselves in two ways. First, by making assessment less of a 'done-to' experience. Second, by ensuring that all coaches are skilled in assessment, rather than the use of assessment technologies, and are able to pinpoint enduring strengths, future potential and the real agenda for change."

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