In addition to the saliency of the client’s performance goal situation, and the sign (positive or negative) of the feedback content as well as perceived credibility of the feedback source, another major factor affecting clients’ motivation for assessment feedback is the client’s personality and individual difference factors. For example, studies show that people high in emotional intelligence are more open and receptive to feedback (e.g. Goleman, 1998), as are those who possess a “feedback orientation,” defined as as “overall receptivity to feedback” and a propensity to like, value, and seek feedback (London & Smithers, 2002, p. 82). Likewise, people with high self-efficacy for development (Maurer, Weiss, & Barbeite, 2003), and those with a learning goal orientation (Avolio & Hannah, 2008; VandeWalle, 2003) may be more responsive to feedback. Other studies suggest that some people prefer internally vs externally-generated feedback (e.g. Herold & Fedor, 1998). It has also been suggested that, while most clients respond well to positive feedback, type A leaders may tend to discount positive feedback unless it is accompanied by measurable evidence (Ludeman & Erlandson, 2004).
Thus, when considering the use of assessment tools in coaching, it is likely that clients will more readily accept positive than negative feedback, and will more readily accept feedback from sources they perceive as credible. Negative feedback will be more readily acted upon when it comes from assessment sources which provide more direct evidence, such as 360 or assessment center feedback, rather than feedback from sources which provide less direct evidence, such as personality tests. Clients with a feedback orientation and high emotional intelligence will likely be open to all kinds of assessment tools, while clients preferring internally-generated feedback may be less likely to be receptive to assessment tools. Type A clients, and those with skeptical personalities, are likely to respond better to multiple assessment tools containing measurable and direct evidence.
Decision Framework for Using Assessments in Coaching
Taken together, literature pertaining to assessments used in coaching as well as feedback processes in organizations suggests some decision parameters for executive coaches to keep in mind when considering the use of assessments in a particular coaching engagement. The following 5-step decision framework is offered as a result of this review.
- Step 1: Clarify the intent of the use of the assessment.
It is clear from the literature on feedback in organizations that assessment feedback is useful for a variety of purposes, including providing information relating to the extent to which clients are meeting their performance goals. While assessments may be used to provide goal-related feedback, it is anticipated that coaches may use assessments for other purposes, such as for opening dialogue between the coach and client, helping the client achieve general self-awareness goals, or even as an exploration tool. Whichever purpose, or set of purposes, the assessment is intended to serve, it is important for the coach to have a clear sense of this purpose before using the assessment.
- Step 2: Evaluate the usefulness of the assessment tool, in light of its intended purpose.
Assessment tools vary widely in their administrative requirements, ease of use, cost, what they measure, and most importantly in how well they measure the focal construct. It is important for coaches to evaluate all these factors before deciding on a particular assessment for use in a coaching engagement, since poor measurement or erroneous feedback can do more harm than good for the client.
- Step 3: Ensure the client’s readiness for the assessment.
Gauging the various factors which can affect a client’s motivation to seek, accept, and respond to feedback is an important step when deciding whether and how to use a particular assessment in a coaching engagement. There may be times when it is anticipated that a client will be quite resistant to the feedback from a particular assessment, yet the feedback is critical for the client’s forward progress. In these cases, careful planning of the client communication regarding the assessment is imperative. Consideration of the assessment in conjunction with other assessments is also important, especially when consistent messages from multiple sources may be helpful in helping the client accept and intend to respond to the feedback (see step 5).
- Step 4: Plan the assessment debriefing.
When deciding on the use of an assessment, it is also important to consider the role of the debriefing process in this use, and to plan accordingly. Best practices in debriefing include providing a context and information about the assessment measurement itself, asking the client about their perceptions of the results, asking the client for specific examples from their work situation which relate to the assessment results, and asking the client about coaching goals which emerge from the assessment feedback process.
- Step 5: Consider assessments wholistically.
While it is important to consider each assessment tool on its own merits and in relation to a client’s specific goals, it is also useful to consider each assessment tool in the context of the entire coaching engagement, the self-awareness levels and goals that emerge for the client during this engagement, and the other assessments that may be useful in this context. One assessment tool, such as a personality assessment, may be particularly useful and effective in the context of other assessment tools, such as 360 and assessment center tools.
Assessment tools may serve many purposes in coaching, and provide valuable feedback for clients to help them move forward in their coaching goals. While there are a plethora of assessment tools available to coaches, care must be taken when deciding on the use of a particular assessment to ensure its utility for the client goals in the context of a specific coaching engagement. It is anticipated that additional research regarding when and how to use specific assessment tools, for specific coaching objectives, will become available in the future as more coaches share their expertise and experiences in using assessments.
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