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Getting skeptics comfortable with assessments

By Greg Barnett, PhD

Behavior and cognitive assessments can yield amazing results by helping to solve a number of business challenges, from finding the right talent to coaching and developing leaders and strong teams. Yet some assessees are skeptical when they’re first exposed to assessments, unsure of their purpose or value, perhaps even likening them to some kind of voodoo. I mean, let’s face it: you take 10 minutes to answer a handful of seemingly innocuous questions and – presto – the answers to your most challenging business problems are suddenly revealed through data? Could it really be that simple?

While it might satisfy some skeptics to simply explain that assessments are based on science and meant to help you understand people better so that you can make more informed decisions without the subjectivity that often creeps in, some may need a bit more convincing. Consider taking the following steps to encourage participation in and adoption of your assessment initiative:

Step #1: Communicate. If you have an assessment tool you’d like to use with existing employees, it’s critical that you establish a certain amount of trust and clarity before just sending an assessment out to them willy-nilly and saying, “Okay, you need to have this done by tomorrow. I’d like to know this data about you.” Remember, this is personal – you’re talking about evaluating someone’s behavior or other aspects of who they really are. You’ll want to proactively communicate the reasoning behind your request and what they can expect in terms of next steps.

Step #2: Wear their shoes. If you were told you were going to be assessed in your workplace, what questions would you have? Chances are, your questions aren’t much different from those of your staff. Before administering your assessment, consider the answers to questions such as, “Why am I being assessed? What are you going to do with the results? Will they be shared with me and/or others?” With answers to these questions at the ready, you’ll be able to easily give examples of how you’ll be using this data, whether it’s to help ensure they’re optimally motivated at work, enable constructive conversations or support career and leadership development. This will go a long way toward building trust and establishing a good mindset around your use of the assessment. It will also help to support a process that is fair and consistent.

Step #3: Get serious. Uncovering behavioral and cognitive tendencies about yourself and others can be a fun and interesting exercise, but you’ll want to guard against taking the assessment process too lightly. If it’s treated like a parlor trick, your staff will be less likely to consider the results as anything more than a sideshow or an excuse for certain behaviors. (“I’m not coming in to work today because, hey, we all know I’m not a rule-follower.”) More serious implications can result from assessment data that isn’t used properly, especially if certain protected groups are regularly passed over despite the data gathered. In these cases, your organization could be caught with its pants down and have to answer to the law.

Step #4: Find your champions. Once you’ve created your assessment process and communicated your intentions to staff, look for ways you can harness the excitement from early adopters. They’ll be able to help socialize the value throughout the organization and identify opportunities where assessment data can be applied to solve other business challenges.

When administered fairly and consistently, assessments can provide valuable insight and help to solve some of the most common business challenges. And with a clearly communicated purpose, the mystery behind the method is removed and your entire organization is better equipped to make the most of that voodoo you do. 

Greg is the SVP of science at PI.

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