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What is the Value of Assessment?

By Matt Paese, Ph.D.

Matt PaeseI sometimes wonder if when Dr. Doug Bray launched the first leadership assessment center in 1956, he had any notion of the impact it would have more than half a century later. My guess is that he knew he was onto something big, but I doubt he could have predicted then what we are observing today.

Assessment ValueOf course Doug had good reason to be optimistic, since the prevailing methods of assessment at the time left something to be desired. Handwriting, facial expressions, examining body features, and phrenology (using measurements of the skull to predict behavior) are just a few of the legitimate approaches that were in use. But as a researcher and budding scholar at Yale and Columbia Universities, Doug was onto something new and better.

When given the opportunity to leave academia and apply his ideas at the largest company in the world (AT&T), he jumped, and began simulating realistic challenges of leaders and observing behavior in those simulations as a way to predict future leadership effectiveness. His resulting longitudinal research, the Management Progress Study, vividly demonstrated the predictive power of leadership simulations, and sparked a worldwide movement in the science and practice of assessment centers that continues today.

At the heart of the many lessons that Dr. Bray taught is one fundamental axiom: Observing the behavior of leaders is the single most powerful means of predicting their success in the future.

That axiom has animated DDI’s application of assessment centers for more than four decades, and has been applied to leadership selection, succession, and development in organizations throughout the world, and at all levels of leadership, from frontline supervisor to CEO. During that time, methods have evolved dramatically to leverage technology and advanced scoring and evaluation techniques that heighten reliability and validity, making today’s assessment center look and feel entirely different from Doug’s version, while preserving the measurement foundations that ensure validity.

Over the years, assessment centers have proven to be one of the highest-impact levers in growing leaders, and the impact has gone far beyond the prediction of leadership performance. Not only do assessment centers provide accurate intelligence about leadership capability, they also spark energy and insight in leaders themselves, and catalyze action that enables leaders to grow and develop more rapidly.

To date at DDI, we have assessed millions of leaders and have continually researched the validity, impact, and effectiveness of our efforts. DDI’s Chief Scientist, Evan Sinar, and I have summarized some of DDI’s most recent research on the effectiveness and business impact of DDI assessment centers, including 15 studies across 80 organizations, and I believe that even Doug would be stunned to see what our research shows. DDI assessments have impact in four areas that significantly benefit both individuals and organizations:

  • Predict performance and growth – Assessment centers are not only strong predictors of performance, but also of performance improvement.
  • Inform and engage participants – Against a series of metrics, assessment center processes improve the engagement of participants and have a positive impact on the culture.
  • Catalyze development action – Participants in DDI assessment centers become more receptive to feedback and take a series of actions to accelerate their growth as leaders.
  • Drive sustained business impact – DDI assessment center initiatives create business value through better intelligence, more effective decision making, cost savings, revenue growth, and a series of other business benefits.

On the whole, the impact of assessment centers is significant and positive, but it is not guaranteed. Great assessment initiatives come from great design and flawless execution, and only then are the positive impacts realized. We have learned many invaluable lessons from our clients and have many more yet to learn. In the meantime, we hope our research summary informs and illustrates that what Doug Bray started more than half a century ago continues to propel leadership excellence in organizations throughout the world.

Download The Value of Assessment: Prediction Validity and Business Impact to learn more.

Matt Paese, Ph.D., is vice president, succession management & c-suite services, DDI.

Posted: 30 Sep, 2014,
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