Psychometric assessment has been the basis for talent identification and leadership development since the early 2000s. So, for around 17 years now we have developed leadership competencies, assessed people against them, told them where they need to improve and tried to develop them in these spaces. However, it would seem that this approach is not working, with a recent HBR article stating that more than 40% of individuals in HiPo programs, aren't actually high potential.
In addition to not successfully identifying the ‘right’ people, leaders (particularly Executives) don’t enjoy this process and often question the artificial nature of assessment centre activities. So, even if the feedback they receive is accurate, it is largely dismissed due to the lack of face validity in the assessment process. Leaders need a compelling reason to change their behaviour. The fact that one assessment and development report tells them to adapt their style is not likely to result in change if they are otherwise successful in their career.
This is not to say that all assessment is a waste of time. Having some baseline measure and way of tracking progress is important, but this can be achieved through 360-degree surveys and KPIs. Approaches that also include behavioural observation and review of key documentation such as email correspondence, combined with real time evidence-based feedback can also provide leaders with a more compelling reason to adapt their behaviour when required.
Many people find the constant focus on deficits demoralising, with increased tension and competition amongst peers as we compare them by asking them to display the same competencies at a similar level of capability. Wouldn’t it be better if we looked at the organisations’ vision and strategy, the skills and behaviours required to achieve this, and the collective capability of leaders to deliver a successful outcome? Spending time and money trying to make leaders all things to all people just doesn’t make sense. Do all leaders really need to be innovative as many competency frameworks would suggest? What’s wrong with a leader whose talent is getting programs of work delivered on time, under budget, with an inspired and engaged team? It seems that in our desire to identify and develop talented leaders, we have lost the ability to appreciate the nuances that made these people unique, interesting and successful in the first place.
Amy McWilliam is the Managing Director of The Coaching Panel. She is a registered psychologist, with extensive experience in talent management and organisational psychology. Having worked in Australia, Canada, Singapore and London, she balances strategic thinking and academic rigour, with tangible commercial application.