Successful leadership assessments require preparation, priority and the ability to specify the company's challenges – and the foundation of success is to define the leadership behaviour that drives business performance.
Very few would question whether it is a good idea to measure an array of performance parameters in a company – from sales figures over employee turnover to leadership quality and all things in between. But to be able to use the results, it must be completely clear what it is that you are measuring. And when designing the survey, you must ensure that it is in fact possible to act on the insight that the survey gives you.
So what is the problem?
A leadership assessment is often conducted from a desire to achieve improvements. A "pain" could for example be poor performance, low job satisfaction in a department, lack of commitment, failure to understand the strategic direction or maybe a general impression that you are headed in the wrong direction. These are all symptoms – but what is the actual problem, and how do you measure it? At People & Performance, we experience that the above challenges in a company are more often than not rooted in leadership. But in order to be able to act, you need to identify and express the actual leadership challenges. This clarification is necessary for the subsequent definition of the goals that are to serve as beacons for the leadership assessment to be conducted. When the challenge has been identified and the goal set, you are ready to start designing and implementing the process required to obtain workable results that are easily translated into actions.
Make the leadership principles come to life
Leadership principles, leadership competences or simply a definition of "good leadership" in your company is probably something you have already outlined along with a specification of what the principles are supposed to bring to the company.
The challenge of such principles is that if they are not operational, they will die. If for example you have a principle that leaders in your company must lead by example, you need to define what "lead" and "example" are. If it is not completely clear to the individual, and if the management group stands divided, it is difficult for the leaders to live up to and impossible to measure.Our advice is therefore for you to make the leadership principles – and all the thoughts and the time you have put into them – come to life and define what each principle specifically is so that you can measure performance. If you have not already done that, it is about time you get started. When you have done the work, you must either choose the leadership assessment tool that suits your company or ask a professional supplier like People & Performance to assist you.
Behaviour must be felt
An in-depth leadership assessment will often be designed so that a leader is assessed by his or her own superior, colleagues at the same level as well as by the employees he or she is leading. In some cases, other stakeholders in and outside the company (such as customers, partners or suppliers) will also be asked to assess the leader. Exactly for this reason it is essential that the statements which the respondents are to assess are linked to specific behaviour. In other words, remember to make statements about leadership behaviour that can either be seen or felt. For example, it will be difficult for an employee to assess whether his or her leader "meets his invoicing targets", but the employees know if their leader "gives feedback on results and behaviour" or "handles disagreement and conflict in a constructive manner".
Prioritise the questions
When defining desired leadership behaviour, we typically recommend that you end up with four to six leadership principles. We at People & Performance will then phrase three to five items, which are specific statements measuring the defined and desired leadership behaviour. It is important to prioritise the chosen statements to ensure that we measure the most important leadership behaviour. We recommend measuring on a maximum of 25 specific items to focus the leader's efforts and make it easy and straightforward for the respondents to answer. Often, colleagues and the leader's superior will be answering several leadership assessments, so answering an assessment shouldn't become a project of its own.
Translate what you have learned into specific efforts
When you have launched your leadership assessment and collected the results, you need to translate them into efforts. Your results will depend on the reporting format selected, but you should at least get an overview of the individual leader's strengths and development areas. And you will probably also get an idea of how you grow and strengthen the two, respectively.
In our experience, the best results following a leadership assessment are achieved when it is translated into concrete changes in behaviour. Therefore, you should make sure that the individual leader receives sparring from either a competent in-house resource – or an external consultant, who will be able to challenge and push the leader. Maybe you have implemented the process using in-house resources up until this point, but now it is time to involve external resources. Again, it is important to emphasise that if you want to achieve specific changes in behaviour, you need to set specific goals and define concrete actions. Our clear recommendation is for the leadership assessment to be used as a tool for the individual leader – a personal tool for his or her own development. In the most optimum setup, the leader has access to sparring and dialogue with others and assistance to focus his or her own efforts and focus areas.
From a 100-metre sprint to a marathon
An initiative – or a process – such as a leadership assessment is often taken for a 100-metre sprint. We need to take action, so we do a thorough warm-up before we tense all muscles and give everything we have got to reach the finish line. And then we relax and catch our breath.
However, we should look upon a successful leadership assessment (or rather successful leadership assessments in plural) as a marathon. It is of course important to get a great start, but thorough preparation and a clear strategy are decisive factors to complete the race with a satisfactory result and without risking injury.In order for an assessment to make sense, you need to repeat it so that you can measure the development that hopefully takes place. Therefore, it is inexpedient to take a static approach, and it may be downright destructive for company culture if the 100-metre sprint leaves you with a group of breathless and sweating leaders who do not know where to go from here. You should therefore prioritise the coaching aspect in order to equip your leaders to act and change behaviour. Part of the coaching task is to help the leaders understand and "accept" the results and ensure that the personal development is focused where there is an actual need. In some situations, feedback from a leadership assessment may be difficult to "accept" and it would be very sensible to involve an experienced coach when interpreting the results. You may also find yourself in situations where it is difficult to "understand" the feedback you receive as a leader, and it may thus become necessary to seek further feedback from your respondents.
Finally, it is important for the leader to give feedback to his or her employees in relation to the feedback he or she received and what impact it will have on his or her future behaviour and focus. The employees have invested time and thoughts in the assessment and rightly have an expectation of feedback and information on how the results will create changes.