What did you spend last year on a gym membership, weight-loss programs, online classes, and self-help books and videos? Why not make an investment in professional development that will give you a 1,000-to-one return on your investment?
According to experts, the average American spends $5.53 per day to stay fit. By 2022, the annual US self-improvement investment is projected to be more than $13 billion. The same article cites self-help book sales rising by 6% per year, while professional coaching expenditures are increasing at a rate of $50M per year. The trend for professional development continues to rise with no signs of slowing down. Clearly people are seeking ways to improve themselves in order to improve their lives and careers.
I can think of no more effective self-development tool than a behavioral assessment.
Author’s Disclaimer: I’ve been administering assessments for more than 40 years and have been using them to accelerate the career development of individuals for more than 25 years. I’ve been certified in dozens of assessments and have been part of the development team for nine commercially available assessments. The purpose of this article is to present what to look for in an assessment and the effective practices of using assessments as a talent and career development tool.
Why a Behavioral Assessment?
There are many different kinds of assessments available today that cover a multitude of subjects to be assessed, which are administered in a variety of different formats, such as online, paper-and-pencil, or by observation. Of these, I suggest a behavioral assessment as a most effective way of helping someone accelerate his or her career development. A behavioral assessment measures someone’s behavioral tendencies, behavioral patterns that are likely in response to that person’s interaction with people and their environment.
Behavior is something that can easily be observed in the workplace and is seen in the manner in which an individual goes about his or her workday activities. Each person has or her own unique style of doing things. His or her style is derived from both what is inherent about a person (their “nature”) and what has been learned (their “nurture”) through the person’s upbringing, life experiences, and education. Behavior is expressed through one’s personal preferences of people versus process, detail versus big picture, and preferred pace.
There is a pronounced link between someone’s behavioral preferences and their fit in the workplace. Behavioral preferences are expressed in terms of the role being performed, the people with whom it is being performed, and the organization’s culture in which the individual is performing his or her duties. Rarely is work performed on a solo basis without interaction between coworkers, customers, and partners. Whenever there are two people, each person’s set of workplace behaviors will either complement or be in conflict with the other person’s set of workplace behaviors. The degree of complement or conflict directly affects both the quality and quantity of work performed and results delivered.
When people are aligned they outproduce even the most talented groups of unaligned people.
Five Things to Look for in an Assessment
Here are five things to make certain that your choice of assessment will provide:
One: Reliability and Validity. Reliability measures whether or not the assessment produces consistent results. If you took it ten times, would your results be consistent? Validity is an accuracy measurement – does the assessment measures what it says it measures? Both validity and reliability are scored based on a detailed analysis of the results over time, often through a university or similar study. Reliability and validity are one way to ensure that the assessment you’re paying for is not something cooked up on Survey Monkey by an unqualified originator.
Two: Adverse Impact Bias. Another factor is to assure that your assessment of choice is bias-free, meaning that it does not produce different results depending on a person’s race, gender, national origin, etc. An assessment that has inherent bias renders it unlawful for employment areas such as hiring and promotion. Here’s a great article on adverse impact from our friends at Careerminds.
Three: Readability. The better assessments are steeped in research and development by behavioral scientists. However, if the language used in an assessment’s reports require a behavioral scientist to interpret them, they will be of little use to you in applying their guidance. That’s why the best assessments will lean towards being relatively easy to understand, though you may want to also seek some expert coaching.
Four: Actionable suggestions. A good assessment should not only correctly diagnose your behavioral tendencies, it should also tell you what you could do to better utilize your behavioral strengths. Suggestions should also include when tempering your strengths might be appropriate, and how to develop in specific behavioral areas. Some assessments provide self-development action plans associated with them. Executive and career coaches can help their clients apply the findings of a behavioral assessment, including the creation of a personalized development plan. If you’re considering engaging a coach, here’s some timely guidance on how to choose the right coach.
Five: Graphs and Norming. Graphs are an easy way to understand information. Human brains favor images over text for both comprehension and recall. The better assessments present their findings in multiple ways, using both text and graphics. It’s always best to look at graphical information in context. Consider the example below that measures an everyday workplace behavior, interaction. This person’s score is shown in the blue bar graph on a 100-point scale. The 60 and 55 respectively measure the mean score of everyone who has ever taken the instrument on two different scales, the person’s natural behavior in this area, and her approach as she adapts to her workplace. The red boat-shape under the blue bar represents one standard deviation above and below the mean, which is a group representing the scores of two-thirds of the people who have ever taken this instrument. The combination of her scores, relative to the mean score and one standard deviation above and below the mean, suggest she will tend to favor more frequent interaction with others. You would expect her to regularly engage and leverage the dynamics of her team.
Putting Your Assessment to Work
The real value of an assessment is to help you find new ways to improve your effectiveness when working with others. While it’s fun to read about yourself and your tendencies, you’ll want to use the assessment’s guidance to focus your development.
How can you best do this? Here are some ideas that will help you convert an assessment’s guidance into an actionable development plan:
One: First and foremost, apply the First Law of Effective People, which says, “the most effective people in the world are those who understand themselves, then correctly understand other people and specific situations, and adapt their approach in order to be successful with each person and in each situation.”
Two: Examine each suggestion contextually. With this in mind, consider the assessment’s guidance to be both context and people dependent. In other words, the guidance will have its best value when applied in specific situations and with specific people, not simply applied in a general sense.
Three: Beware the overuse of your behavioral strengths. Having a strength is a good thing. Except when it is not. Too much of a good thing is no longer good. Suppose one of your behavioral strengths is analysis. This means that you’re good at analyzing things, but only up until the point when you begin overanalyzing things (which tends to frustrate others).
Four: Focus on the bigs. Determine which specific guidance in your assessment will give you the largest uplift in your performance right now. Answer this, and you’ve identified the bigs.
Five: Ask yourself the right questions. Here are a few of the many question you should ask yourself about each of the tendencies in which you’d like to improve:
- Do I see this tendency in myself?
- When was the last time it surfaced – what specifically happened?
- What specifically does this look like to others?
- With whom does this resonate (positively and negatively)?
- What, when, and with whom should I do more of it?
- What, when, and with whom should do less of it?
- What, when, and with whom should I stop doing it?
- What, when, and with whom should I start doing it?
Six: Make it a 2-month plan. It takes 21 days on average to acquire a new habit if you practice it daily each of the 21 days. However, if you are replacing an ineffective habit with a more effective one, that takes 45 days of daily practice. Thus making your action plan a 2-month plan should have you acquiring new habits that become part of your growing, go-to toolkit.
Seven: Live a daily routine. The two best times of day to look at your self-development action plan is in the morning, before you start your workday, and in the afternoon after you’ve ended your workday. In the morning look over the list and note the opportunities you’ll have that day to take the actions on your plan. At the end of the day assess how well you did on your action items. Did you miss any opportunities where you could have applied your action points? What will you do differently tomorrow?
Eight: First 2 weeks to tweak. As you spend time daily working your plan, you’ll make some adjustments for the first 2 weeks or so before your plan is refined and effective.
Example: Suppose your assessment report offered this list of areas in which improvement is suggested. If you see guidance such as, “You have a tendency to:” as a top focus area for you over the next 60 days, a good development plan could be as simple as a 4-quadrant grid where you list specific actions of:
- Things to stop doing,
- Things to start doing,
- Things to do more of,
- Things to do less of.
If you want to accelerate your professional development, a behavioral assessment could be just the ticket to take you where you want to go, faster and more efficiently than most other self-help methods. That’s why high quality behavioral assessments are a favorite tool for the world’s most effective coaches.
I love working with people and organizations who want to improve their effectiveness! Here are several outstanding resources that can help you and your organization to go to the next level:
About me: I work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. I also help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. My company’s acclaimed career development tools help people navigate the ever-changing landscape of conducting a successful job search. To find out more, please visit us at www.boyermanagement.com, email us at [email protected], or call us at 215-942-0982.