The idea of “being assessed” traditionally conjures up images of an interviewer in a white lab coat, carrying a clipboard and taking notes on everything from what you’re wearing to what you’re saying and the mannerisms you’re using. Though this is one form of assessment, it paints a rather uncomfortable picture of one-sided evaluation. In reality, assessments are an ongoing part of many business communications. They happen through interviews, phone screens, tests, resume scans, conversations and any other manner where an inference is made about an individual’s or a group’s capabilities. The most valuable assessments, however, are those that help you understand how someone’s past experiences might inform their future performance. To the extent an assessment is both targeted and objective, it can be extremely insightful. Thus, Industrial and Organizational Psychologists typically endorse assessments that measure what people have done, what people can do, or what people want to do.
When designed thoughtfully and accurately, an assessment can be thought of as a two-way street: In one direction, it communicates organizational expectations and evaluates cultural fit, and in the other direction, it seeks to understand personal competencies, experiences, preferences, and personal fit. Board assessments can be particularly valuable when the issues they address call directors’ attention to the organization’s needs and expectations, while also soliciting directors’ feedback on ways to make the board more effective. Rather than an invitation to be tested or judged, an assessment of this type becomes an opportunity to increase your understanding of the board on which you serve and the role you play on it. Let’s hope that this picture of “being assessed” evokes less trepidation and resistance, or even sparks a little enthusiasm for assessments.
How do Boards Use Assessments?
Assessments are used for many purposes. Boards rely on them to:
- Fulfill performance assessment reporting requirements, which are required by NYSE and strongly encouraged by NASDAQ
- Conduct gap analyses to highlight the strengths and deficiencies of the board relative to the organization’s needs at that level
- Identify specific skills and expertise to be sought ahead of recruitment efforts
- Measure the strengths of a prospective board member and how they map against the gaps in the current competencies or identified needs
- Plan educational programming and/or provide growth opportunities for individual board members
- Develop a general sense of the current and desired cultural characteristics of the board
Most boards also use assessments to evaluate the performance of a CEO, as part of CEO succession planning or to evaluate the competencies, expertise and cultural fit of a prospective CEO. While CEO assessment is an important topic that deserves its own focus, and is a subject for some other time, suffice it to say that board and leadership assessment share a number of common themes and often inform each other.
How Will Assessments Benefit My Board?
A good board assessment is designed to encourage you and your fellow directors to think objectively about what works, what doesn't, and how the efforts and capabilities of the board contribute to the organization and its leadership team. Board assessments typically are designed by third parties to bring objectivity and technical expertise to the process; however, they are commonly administered in a “self-evaluation” format. This allows your board to use an assessment that is based on direct input, provides direct feedback and enables self-directed follow up. As noted earlier, assessments can also help your board identify gaps in the expertise that is most valuable to the organization. This is critical information for board succession planning, opportunistic cultivation of new members, and investing in board education on deep-dive topics like cyber security, risk management, digital marketing and more.
Regardless of whether you are required or advised to take assessments, you should consider implementing them simply because the benefits are valuable. The old saying “You can’t change what you don’t understand” is relevant here—assessments help you to identify and appreciate the current state of affairs, so that you can see the opportunities and challenges before you and map out a plan for success. Who wouldn’t want the increased knowledge and power assessments provide you to make positive changes?
Will Assessments Benefit You as a Current/Future Director?
Assessments can help you, as a current board member, identify where your strengths lie; they can also steer you toward opportunities where you can excel, develop, and thrive. Assessments can be used to effectively match you with new boards where your attributes, experiences, and expertise will be a good fit and value-add. In addition, assessments help you see your skills and potential objectively, and help clarify where you need to focus in order to get where you want to go.
It’s All About the Questions
To achieve the best results, an assessment should be designed using the most appropriate methodologies, and, importantly, it must ask the right questions. To get the most out of the experience and the data collected, assessment-takers must be prompted to address the significant issues facing their organization. That’s part of the expertise your advisor should bring to the table, and the topic for a later blog post. For now, just remember:
If you don't ask the right questions, it's hard to get the right answers. Start with the right questions.
Looking for the right questions?
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(Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash)