7 Golden rules for assessing leaders

7 Golden rules for assessing leaders

02.03.2016 By Tomorrow.People

Leadership assessment is a high stakes game. Employers need to get their selection, development and succession planning processes for these senior positions just right. Providing a highly professional experience for participants and delivering insight that resonates is crucial to building trust and credibility. Here are a few tips from our team to help you avoid the pitfalls of leadership assessment.

1. Really know the role

To accurately evaluate the extent to which a candidate fits the requirements of a leadership role, assessors need a deep understanding of multiple factors. These include:

  • The key objectives that the job holder will be expected to achieve
  • The timeline they will be given to deliver on these objectives
  • The day-to-day activities that they will undertake
  • The target audiences that they need to influence
  • The prevailing business culture in which they will operate
  • Plus other peripheral factors and sensitivities that could impact their success in the position.

While existing experience in an industry sector will always be a benefit for an assessor, nothing is as valuable as a constructive and well-directed briefing interview with the incumbent’s manager to really ‘get under the skin’ of a role. Carrying out an assessment without this perspective is far from ideal.

2. Know the nuances of leadership levels

The key challenges faced by individuals at different leadership levels can vary significantly. It is important therefore that assessors really understand what differentiates effective performance across these tiers, in order to make an accurate judgement on the candidate’s suitability. For example, while a business unit leader will typically be required to promote the talent agenda and create development opportunities at individual and team level, executive leaders need to look through a wider lens and embed a learning culture across the entire organisation. Furthermore, assessors need to understand and be able to articulate the transitional challenges that individuals often face when moving between levels, as this will help them to accurately evaluate an individual’s potential and the likely support they will need from the business in the years ahead.

3. Be credible

Assessors should always be prepared to explain what qualifies them to make a judgement on the future career of a high performing individual. To be taken seriously by senior candidates, assessors need a convincing and compelling story to tell that reassures their counterpart that they are dealing with a like-minded professional who can empathise with their challenges. A solid academic background will be important, but should not be over-emphasised at the expense of hard won business experience. Critically, the assessor should not give the impression of feeling defensive when explaining their credentials as this will immediately alter the assessment dynamic.

4. Be challenging

In most cases, the candidate will already hold a role that is demanding and time-pressured, and so will have had to create time in a busy schedule to accommodate the assessment. If the experience feels routine, generic and straightforward, they may wonder why they have bothered, and will most likely give their thoughts to the employer. Strong candidates will expect to be tested, and will value the insight gained from a challenging experience. Be prepared to push them, though in a balanced way to avoid making it feel like an ordeal.

5. Bring insight that adds value

To justify the time and cost of the assessment, assessors need to bring something extra to the discussion. Specifically, they need to provide the employer with accurate and deep insight into what drives the individual and how their style will play out in the position they are being considered for. A good assessor will not just describe an individual’s key strengths but will also explain how these can be best leveraged in the role. Equally, when covering any development areas, assessors must be able to explain the extent of the risk, the likely impact if the development area is not addressed, and provide tangible and realistic suggestions to help the individual close the gap.

6. Prepare to provide meaningful feedback

In many cases, assessors will expected to deliver feedback to the candidate a short while after the meeting takes place, and usually once the client team has received a thorough debrief. When delivering feedback to the candidate, it is critical that the assessor conveys a sense of honesty, accuracy and relevance so that the individual feels that they have been treated fairly and that they’ve learned something from the experience.

In many cases, it will be just as important for the candidate to not over-use an existing strength as it will be to close a development gap. Therefore, assessors must be well-versed in this area and able to explain to candidates how their leadership style could derail their progress if unchecked. When delivering feedback that is particularly challenging, assessors need to have the courage of their convictions and calmly provide evidence that supports their observations. Therefore thorough preparation for these discussions is key.

7. Deliver on time

Given the importance of the role in question, the client organisation will often want to make a quick ‘Go/No Go’ decision, particularly in recruitment situations where the candidate is known to be talking to other employers. Therefore, assessors must be prepared to commit to delivering their verbal feedback and subsequent assessment report in very short order after the assessment. Delaying these outputs can lead to a loss of momentum and give the impression of detached ambivalence to the client situation. If it is important that the outputs are reviewed by colleagues for quality assurance and calibration purposes before they are submitted to the client, make sure that colleagues are well informed of the situation and know when they need to play their part.

While there are no hard and fast rules that can be universally applied to leadership assessment situations, following the steps laid out above will help to ensure an insightful and high impact experience for all parties. Cubiks can help with leadership assessment; for recruitment, promotions and development situations. Our expert consultants can provide an end-to-end process and we can also offer online assessment tools designed specifically for use at senior levels. Get in touch with your local Cubiks team to find out more.