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Choosing a Leadership Assessment: How and Why?

March 24, 2017

Pre-employment testing and assessment is most often thought about in the context of entry- and mid-level positions. While this is certainly due to the fact that these types of positions are the most plentiful, it can sometimes lead organizations to believe that they either cannot or should not use similar pre-hire assessments for higher level leadership positions. That's simply not the case.

To address the former misconception, there are a wide variety of assessments and tests that target leadership and executive level roles, both for selection and for development. There is a lot of data that shows leadership-level hiring is much more important because those individuals drive the culture and make strategic business decisions that can make or break the company. In a leadership assessment context, an organization looking for valid and predictive methods to both select and develop its leaders shouldn’t be asking whether they should utilize an assessment, but rather which assessment they should use.

Why Should I Value Leader Assessments?

Before we delve into the different methods for assessing leadership capabilities, let’s first take a look at why assessments are so valuable in executive and leader positions. There’s quite a bit of dissonance between the best practice and the current practice when it comes to this topic.

Most organizations focus on their lower-level positions and have standard processes for these application and selection processes. Whereas, hiring teams responsible for onboarding a new leader will place an emphasis on experience, degree, and education - and worst of all, their gut feeling about a specific individual. These criteria have been shown to be incredibly poor predictors of leader performance; with experience, education, and instinct all having very low validity as it relates to prediction of candidate success in a leadership role. This is part of the reason why leaders sometimes fail at a very high rate. This is a counterintuitive phenomenon. High-level leadership positions should have the strictest, most predictive, and valid processes in place for hiring, not the least.

The organizational impact that someone in a leadership role has is much greater than someone in an entry-level role, so why is it that most entry-level hiring methods are more objective and valid than leadership methods?

  • One potential reason is that HR typically handles entry- and mid-level hiring, while leader and executive hiring is done by leaders and executives, with the administrative help from HR. In these instances, because the current leadership is not trained as thoroughly on both what to look for, and how to go about looking for it, they fall back to looking at things like education and gut feelings.

  • Another reason could be that the organization flat out dismisses the value of a leadership assessment, or perhaps they don’t want to insult or alienate their candidates by making them take a long, possibly uninteresting test. They would rather trust their own judgment and wing it, which research has shown is the best way to get poor performers in the door.

What Should It Measure?

Conducting a job analysis to determine the appropriate KSAs is a best practice to understand what you should be measuring in the hiring process. However, there are a few core characteristics you will want to be sure to measure:

  1.  Leadership potential (tactical and inspirational leadership)

  2.  Execution and delivery (driving results)

  3.  Emotional intelligence and collaboration

  4.  Learning ability and strategic thinking

  5.  Adaptability and leading change

Putting a well-defined assessment process in place will pay dividends. It will allow you to hire higher performing leaders, lower overall turnover, and positively impact your corporate culture and eventually, your bottom line.

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Paul Glatzhofer Paul Glatzhofer is the VP of Talent Solutions based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI Services LLC. He works primarily with organizations that are implementing global assessment and development systems at the leadership level. Paul’s work includes leadership development, leadership skills training, coaching, leadership and executive selection, turnover and ROI analysis, and ongoing feedback development.