Let’s smart up assessment

15 07 2011

I know, I know, “smart up” isn’t a real phrase. What else do you call the opposite of “dumb down”.

(It can’t be “smarten up” – that sounds like Tom Sawyer white-washing his Aunt’s fence…)

My point is just this: the use of assessment in a whole range of settings has only ever been pretty dumb. It would be hard to take it further south. I have, for example, in this column talked about organizations “buying team-building by the cubic yard, like cement”. Here is another one I have been hearing about recently: MBA and other post grad courses in Business Schools.

Assessment is a known “good” (like apple pie, Mom and communicating by means of endless bullet points projected on a wall*). That must be why so many MBA and other business school programmes begin with a day / half-day of assessment and games.  But once completed, and without further reference of any kind to the results, ever, the programme proper commences.

A colleague told me about one of his colleagues who had just attended a course for Finance Directors. Everyone completed an MBTI, someone came in to give them their four letter codings, explained what they meant, led them in some fun games and then… someone else said,  “right that is over with, let’s start the programme. The name of this programme is…”

What on earth is the message here? Are we saying that professionals are so starved of self knowledge that any time you managed to get a group of them in a room you should feed them some hearty assessment results before you let them get on with the course, like a soup kitchen outside a 1930s construction site handing out bowls of broth to those hoping to be chosen for a day’s labour? Or is it just that fundamentally we all think assessment is interesting enough to do but practically irrelevant?

Some assessments probably are about as useful and reliable as a Cosmo quiz, but what we are describing here is a huge lost opportunity. What is the alternative? Find an assessment that not only informs the individual but also illuminates organizational dynamics, culture and performance, and then leverage it like mad to support the achievement of your objectives.

Moore Business School (Darla Moore School of Business at University of South Carolina) has been integrating the Birkman Method® with their flagship professional development programme for some time. Instead of it being the ice breaker before the course proper starts, it is the backbone of the whole 40-hour programme. Does it make a difference and deliver outcomes? In the area of student internships and placements for example, since they started using Birkman in this way, they have achieved 30% increase in placements made, along with a significant increase in student satisfaction regarding their placements. Seems fairly concrete to me…

Even this may only just be scratching the surface. Birkman gives you a straightforward, non-prescriptive and powerful model to explore organizational culture, performance, group interactions (including external relations and public communication) etc etc. So why not start with learning about self and then take that same model all the way through as an armature on which to hang all the learning you want to accomplish around organizations and their life and development?

* This being so, why do we never see a slide on the dining room wall that saysPowerpoint slide of bullet points about apple pie