Those who have decided to supplement their coaching process with assessment tools will find it essential to make a thorough evaluation of the tools and providers available. The following are some of the most important considerations that must be weighed.
Addressing the Question of Validity: Will the selected assessment tool help measure the characteristics that are important for your coaching engagements? Is the chosen tool reliable, in that the results it yields are reproducible and consistent? Are there benchmarks and normative data against which individual scores can be interpreted? What combination of tools will measure what you are trying to accomplish?
These questions are often addressed through the concept of validity. The validity of an assessment tool is usually measured by a statistical analysis of the relationship between the given tool and some behavioral or outcome criteria. Although significant research backs the industry’s leading tools, some assessments do not lend themselves to traditional scrutiny of their validity because the assessment characteristics are not independent.
Herbert Simon, a Nobel laureate, suggested using a “heuristic” approach to problem-solving, one based on experience and common sense when hypotheses cannot be validated in other ways (Simon 1973). This can be a useful approach to explaining the validation and application of assessments. A good assessment tool is one that generates hypotheses that can be investigated using information from other assessments or observations. A skilled coach uses his or her common sense and experience to build a conceptual map, integrating the tendencies identified through assessments and discussions with the coachee.
For example, a person who profiles as a strong “Conscientiousness/Cautious” in DiSC may also profile as high in “Consolidation” in the Workplace Big Five. This coachee may demonstrate behaviors such as detail orientation, methodicalness, analytical thinking, and risk aversion. Using multiple assessments offers stronger support upon which reasonable predictions can be made about a coachee’s behavior. Coaching discussions should reveal behaviors that are consistent with these predictions. While building the coachee’s personal balance sheet, using multiple assessments and observations of behavior will enhance the validity of the assessment information.
Choosing an Assessment Provider: A coach does not need to be an assessment research expert. Rather, the coach needs to select an assessment provider that supports his or her needs and coaching approach.
First, consider whether the assessment firm is an assessment publisher, consultancy, or software company. Each will provide different levels of academic/research or organizational development expertise. The coach’s own knowledge base and experience will dictate the type of information and support needed from the assessment provider.
Second, consider the level of customer support offered by the provider. Does the training offered initially and on an on-going basis meet your needs? What costs are involved with on-going support? Can the provider offer insights to help you review assessment results, interpretations, and programs for your clients? Are training and coaching materials supplied so that the results can actually be of use to you?
Legal Compliance: Does the tool comply with industry guidelines and with employment legislation? The U. S. Department of Labor has specific guidelines for utilizing assessments to support hiring decisions. Although these restrictions seldom impact coaching engagements, it is important to realize that many coachees embrace the assessment process and have a desire to learn more about their existing team members and job candidates. The coachee may wish to utilize the same assessments he or she experienced in the coaching process when considering potential new hires. A coach should be knowledgeable about a tool’s application before recommending multiple uses.
User Requirements: Does the tool require that you be trained or certified in some way? Based on a commitment to accurate and ethical assessments of individuals, providers use qualification systems to help ensure the right tools are in the right hands. The most sophisticated tools require a high level of expertise in test interpretation and, therefore, require licensure or certification to practice in your state in a field related to the assessment tool. Some even require a doctorate degree in psychology, education, or a closely related field with evidence of formal training in psychometric tools. Others have no special qualifications for purchase and may require a simple certification class to be able to administer the tools. Effective coaches tap into the training and support provided by the vendors and also network with other certified consultants to broaden their knowledge, develop their coaching skills, and ensure they are using the tools in the most effective manner. Note that it may be a poor use of talent or time for some coaches to become licensed, when their own strengths lend themselves to spending quality time with clients. These coaches may choose to partner with certified professionals to administer assessments, interpret their results, and, potentially, debrief their coachees in order to enhance the usefulness of assessments in the coaching process.