Assess More to Coach, Not Judge

Workplace assessments are critical, for both the employee and organization. However, common practices are so poor, Learning & Development professionals are squandering their best opportunity to have meaningful impact.

Assessments are almost invariably placed at the end of a body of content as a completion trigger.  Most are still multiple choice recall tests due to a deeply ingrained content fetish.  Tons of time is spent gathering information and agonizing over presentation treatments to make it “just right” for the target users. Assessments, however, are generally an afterthought additive which is slapped on at the end of the development process, driven by the content matter, not the expected performance outcomes.

Even in cases where an assessment does focus on performance (such as a good simulation or application scenario) it is “a little too little, little too late”. The assessment itself may be adequate to evaluate whether or not an employee can apply skills, but this design has all the wisdom of having a baseball player read a “how to swing a bat” manual, sending them to the batter’s box, and then coming to a conclusion on batting ability.

A wee bit late for feedback to really improve performance, no? Even if the feedback does note what the issues are, which most often, it doesn’t.

The biggest problem with assessment is actually a common perspective on it’s purpose: it is almost always cast into the role of being judge at “the end” of a learning process. Far too seldom are assessments considered as a key tool for coaching and feedback embedded within a learning process. With more assessments designed as experience/feedback loops (practice with solid diagnosis and feedback), Learning & Development has the greatest opportunity to actually help a user improve their performance. A batter isn’t judged at their first “at bat”; coaches have them practice repeatedly and will tailor feedback to help the batter improve.

Sports teams and individual players are surrounded by assessments: scoreboards, team and player ranks, individual player statistics. These are ultimately the measure of their performance, the judgement of skill. Employees in a business are no different. They have many metrics to which they must answer.

Learning & Development doesn’t need to place themselves in the role of judge. There are enough scoreboards across the business. Except in cases where the employee must be evaluated as safe or compliant with a critical process, we should step away from the role of judging.  Even in these cases where judgement may be needed, this shouldn’t be the first (and often the only feedback) we have provided.

Many have expressed concerns over our increasing abilities to collect and analyze more data. Perhaps it is our own doing since typical designs has Learning & Development talking at users by providing information to them, and only asking for enough dialog back from the employees to judge them in some manner.  That’s not a partner in development. That’s not coaching. It’s judgement.

Workers deal with enough judgement and measures. They need partners and coaches to help them perform more successfully. Let’s have the critical and constant dialog needed so that our “final” feedback to users isn’t a crack of a gavel noting “you pass/fail”, but an encouraging slap on the fanny as they step into the stadium with our “final” feedback “You’ve got this. Go for it.”.

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