Busting three myths about talent assessments

In a recent discussion with our client's CEO, we became aware that an executive leadership team assessment project typically seeks to provide answers to one of two questions: either what can be accomplished with the current team or who is required to implement strategic plans or achieve a CEO’s vision. As that organisation attempted to use a widely known personality questionnaire to, rather unsuccessfully, address both those questions, we realised that despite the numerous organisations that offer executive leadership assessment services, there are still prevalent misconceptions in this area that we would like to explore and debunk.

Myth 1: Assessing senior executives can be done using the same tools used across the organisation.

One of the common myths surrounding the assessment of senior executives is that it can be done using the same tools and methods used for assessing other employees or team leaders. However, senior executives require different skills due to the scope of their roles, which demands specialised and nuanced assessments to understand their leadership potential truly.

Using a generic questionnaire or a competency-based interview for senior executives can result in incomplete or inaccurate assessment results, which can be detrimental to the organisation's performance. It is crucial to recognise that not all assessment tools are created equal. Selecting the appropriate approach is essential in identifying the right candidates for key leadership roles and ensuring the organisation's success. This consideration is even more crucial when identifying potential successors.

While cost may be a factor, it should not be the primary determining factor when selecting an assessment tool for senior managers. Investing in high-quality assessments specifically designed for senior leaders can provide significant benefits to the organisation in terms of identifying high-potential candidates. Indeed, you wouldn't buy a toy saucepan instead of a full-sized one just because it's cheaper, would you?

Myth 2: Assessments done using online psychometric tools will not provide relevant decision-making information because the desired outcome is easily manipulated.

One of the common myths surrounding the use of psychometric tools in assessments is that the results can be easily manipulated, making them unreliable for key decision-making (and what else could be more important for the CEO or the Board of Directors than the leadership team appointments?). While it is true that some candidates may attempt to manipulate the results, it is important to note that modern psychometric tools are designed with built-in safeguards to prevent or limit such behaviour. And also, some advanced cognitive assessments are not subject to manipulation due to their nature.

Moreover, while psychometric tools can provide valuable insights into a candidate's personality traits and cognitive capabilities, they ideally should not be used as the sole basis for making hiring or promotion decisions. Other factors, such as motivation and experience, should also be taken into consideration.

To ensure the reliability and relevance of psychometric assessments, it is important to work with professionals who understand the nuances of different assessment tools and can recommend the best ones for each specific situation. Advanced cognitive capability assessment tools, in particular, must be used carefully and with the guidance of a trained professional to ensure accurate and meaningful results.

Myth 3: Some companies believe that the more assessment procedures there are, the better the results.

Contrary to what some may believe, using a complex approach involving multiple assessment tools and methods does not always lead to better outcomes. It is essential to use the most relevant tools for the specific situation, considering factors such as whether the candidate is internal or external and whether the assessment is for a senior leadership role potential or for a current role fit.

For example, a client recently asked us to assess a candidate's fit for a commercial director position using just two online psychometric tools. These provided reliable results while saving costs compared to a large assessment centre involving many observers and assessors. On the other hand, another client in the energy sector, prior to engaging us, decided to use an inexpensive online assessment tool that only highlighted behavioural risks when assessing the managerial potential of engineers, which resulted in an incomplete picture of the candidates' potential.

So far, using too many assessment tools can cause information overload and may not lead to better outcomes. Instead, a thoughtful and strategic approach to executive assessment tailored to the unique needs and context of the organisation is crucial for obtaining reliable and valid information that can help make informed decisions about hiring, promoting, or developing leaders within the organisation.

Pavel Charny, ORTALEX, Managing Partner, Dubai