The vacuum that is … assessments

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I’ve now had three or four — four, I think it’s four — full-time jobs where the following sequence of events happened:

  • We were told we would be taking some type of assessment.
  • It was rolled out, either internally or by a consultant.
  • We all take it.
  • A week or two passes.
  • We get results.
  • For a few days, people discuss whatever their “type” is — the letter combo, the character, etc. It’s a big topic of discussion.
  • There are 1–2 meetings in this period to help you “better understand your team” or “better understand your manager.”
  • 72 hours pass.
  • No one talks about any of this again until 17 months later, when another assessment — same type or different — is rolled out.

Broadly I would put this stuff in the category of “We need to be seen as doing something, so let’s do whatever.” Someone in some department somewhere — even at small companies — is like “Whoa, I don’t feel completely relevant this month. You know what I will do? I will roll out an assessment.”

But the thing is, as powerful as assessments can be — and they can be, truly — it often goes into a vacuum. Like, let’s say three months after the assessment cycle there’s a real blow-up on your team. Are people sitting there talking about their Meyers-Briggs type? Maybe. Not usually, though. Usually they’re fighting and scrapping through the blow-up like they normally would. The tools that we have at our disposal are often not used unless, well, the tools were something immediately in front of us.

Assessments are supposed to create self-awareness and team awareness and make better leaders and teams … but because they so often seem to go into a vacuum, they don’t do much of that at all.

Northwestern agrees with me

Here’s a quote from a recent article, and a good quote at that:

Cates is a professor.

But yea, that’s the thing. I think a lot of people get direct reports and think “I am a leader now.” In fact you’re not a leader; you’re a , but let’s gloss that over for right now.

The biggest problem with modern leadership — sorry, modern management — is that we heap tons of stuff on these people. Like tons and tons of stuff. Meetings, calls, emails, reports, reviews, slide decks, pitch decks, trainings, etc. By the time most people become a manager, they have 1–3 kids somewhere back at the ranch. Those kids probably get out of school at 3:30pm or so. Managers often saunter in around 9:10am. People need to eat lunch. In standard white-collar, there aren’t that many hours, and we heap tons of crap on these managers.

Most people operate from a place of self-preservation, so the managers do the stuff that will impress those them, or at the very least keep those above them off their ass. That means they regularly ignore their own direct reports, and stuff like “empathy” (Who has time?) and “setting the context for a project” (“We need people who can hit the ground running!”) die in the flood.

Same with assessments. Sure, we took ’em back when and the results were interesting, but I’ve got this problem in front of me now and I’ve got to deal with this problem and I can’t be bothered to remember what mythical creature I was on an assessment six months ago. I need this peon to fall in line now. Like .

In reality working through the assessment would usually be better for both manager and employee, but again, who has the time? Time is everything at work, and time is the most fleeting aspect of all.

Just in general…

… the things that make work passable and interesting are usually the things we can’t breathlessly “track” with our “data,” and that’s a dichotomy that increasingly confuses people. Work is good when bosses show respect, the work has context, the projects are (mostly) interesting, there is opportunity for growth, etc. Very few of those things can be tracked on a spreadsheet, though. What’s measured is what matters, right? So the good stuff isn’t the stuff that matters, and the stuff that matters isn’t the good stuff. Right there is the main problem with work. Assessments and how we use them fall somewhere in that whole picture.

What should we do with assessments?

Make them matter by revisiting them once every two months. Bring up old team issues in the context of them. Or put someone on staff whose periodic function is to mediate disagreements using the assessment types the company decided on.

Also, make learning and growing a deal, as opposed to something you do once every 1.625 years and then largely forget about. Employees want to learn and grow, because they want to keep getting paid by someone — hopefully you! — down the road and they see that as their path.

What else might you add on assessments and how places tend to use them?

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