How to build a leadership assessment

It doesn’t really matter how you conduct your leadership assessment or whether you build it around the company’s leadership principles or use a more generic model, what matters is that you are diligent when designing the assessment.

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Torben Nørby

Torben Nørby

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It doesn’t really matter how you conduct your leadership assessment or whether you build it around the company’s leadership principles or use a more generic model, what matters is that you are diligent when designing the assessment.

If the form, character and number of questions are not thought through, you may end up with a large amount of fairly useless data. Especially useless for analysing and developing leadership behaviour.

Use statements that are actionable

An efficient leadership assessment asks questions that the respondents – the leader, the leader’s colleagues, the leader’s employees and the leader’s leader – can actually give meaningful answers to. It may sound obvious, but you often encounter statements such as “My leader does not think of …” or “My leader thinks that …” – statements which you cannot answer, because no one knows what others think or feel. On the other hand, if the respondent can relate to and assess the statement, you will get answers that can serve as actionable feedback for the leader. For example, good statements could be: “My leader sets clear goals for me” or “My leader is good at explaining why he does what he does”.

As the statements concern specific behaviour, the respondent can relate to the question and the result is actionable for the leader. If the leader gets a low score, it is clear what the action should be.

Examples of statements that would be beneficial to use in a leadership assessment:

My leader communicates clearly and unambiguously

My leader sets clear goals

My leader is good at bringing people together to share information

My leader gives constructive feedback

My leader handles disagreements and conflicts in a constructive manner

My leader recognises employee performance

My leader empowers the employees to make their own decisions

Ask one question at the time

A classic mistake, which is often rooted in an ambition to leave no stone unturned and get as many answers as possible, is to include several questions in one statement. The challenge of multi-pronged statements is that they are actually impossible to give a meaningful answer to.

For example, if you have a statement such as “My leader is good at setting a strategic course and following up on the process afterwards” and ask the respondent to rate the statement on a scale from “I strongly disagree” to “I strongly agree”, you are left with fuzzy data. If you get a score that is below average, what does it mean? That the leader is not good at setting a strategic course, or that he is not good at following up on the process afterwards? Or both?
Avoid the temptation to be overambitious. You will get clean data, which is a precondition for improved leadership.

Go deep or go wide?

Opting something in also means that you have to opt something else out. When you decide to ask one question, you also decide not to ask a number of other questions. That means that you will miss out on a number of answers.
This trade-off between depth and width is something you will have to accept. The narrower your leadership assessment, the fewer areas you will cover. On the other hand, you will go in-depth with the conditions you decide to measure, and such focus will leave you with better and more useful results. We recommend that you choose a focused approach to ensure high-quality data. Alternatively, you will be left with a wider but also rather useless assessment.

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Keep it short

In continuation of the depth/width consideration, it is important to remember to pause and think when you word and select the questions for your leadership assessment. You will undoubtedly be able to find numerous relevant questions/statements, but we recommend that you keep your survey to 25 or maximum 30 statements.

There are several reasons for that. Remember that whether completing the assessment is a nice to or need to assignment for the respondents, you are taking their time. Also remember that a person with five leaders as direct reports will have to complete five assessments.
Furthermore, if the leadership assessment is too long and extensive, the respondents may just “get done with it”, and that may result in a certain degree of random answers.


Assessments adjusted to different respondents

At People & Performance, we also measure business performance when we conduct leadership assessments. We ask the leader and the leader’s leader to assess the performance, and we compare the answers to the behaviour. In the same way, we ask the employees what is important for them to be committed, and we ask the leader what he/she thinks is important for the employees to be committed.

The aim is to reveal if the leader is working in the right direction and is capable of behaving in a manner that ensures high performance, and we know that commitment fosters excellent business performance. A precondition for a useful assessment is to keep a holistic view of the design. It requires data discipline, but the results are worth the effort.


Deadline and scope – keep it brief

As mentioned before, you are on a mission, and you are taking people’s time. This requires you to make reasonable demands in terms of when you need the answers for your leadership assessment, but you should also take care not to set too generous a deadline. A rule of thumb is a deadline of two weeks – allowing people time to answer, without risking that they forget.
Also consider scope and layout. Leadership assessments are used by many companies and organisations as a coaching tool where the results are brought into play at meetings between the leader and the leader’s leader. Keep the scope to a few pages to avoid the meeting being spent scrabbling through piles of paper. Think short and useful and let that be reflected in the layout.


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