The Absolute Best Coaching Assessment
Gather a group of coaches and ask: “What’s your favorite assessment tool?” The answers will be as varied as the group itself. We coaches love our tools and many of us are especially fond of assessments.
Some coaches state that assessments help clients improve self-awareness. Others say that assessments provide a framework to communicate effectively with a coachee. Still others say that clients expect assessments; offering an assessment elevates the professionalism of the coaching engagement. The coach’s preference for one assessment tool over another is often a reflection of what the coach believes the client can gain (Hold that thought as you read on).
With a multitude of assessments available, it’s no wonder that many coaches (especially those new to the profession) ask, “What’s the best assessment for me to use with my clients?”
As an HR leader who has evolved into a full-time professional coach, I have a great deal of experience with many assessments and a strong opinion on the very best assessment that a coach can use. That opinion has been shaped and solidified as a result of my coach-specific training and coaching experience.
So what’s the absolute best assessment for a coach to use?
The answer is simple: The absolute best coaching assessment lies on both sides of the coach’s head. It’s called the coach’s ears. Nothing takes the place of unfiltered information from the coachee. Why the emphasis on unfiltered? Because removing our filters—meaning, neutralizing the way we hear, understand and perceive information—is one of the most difficult, yet one of the most important things that a coach can do. Even though assessments have value in the coaching engagement, none of them should ever replace the coach’s curiosity, deep hearing and powerful questioning.
When we rely on assessments, especially before coaching begins or very early in the process, we introduce a potential for bias. Assessments create labels, whether we like that statement or not. He’s an extrovert. She’s a command-and-control leader. She’s a people-relator. No matter how skilled or experienced you may be, receiving this information from an assessment has very strong potential to impact your coaching.
What’s more, rater traps such as recency bias (basing answers on recent events) apply to those completing assessments. Occasionally, coachees do overthink assessment questions, answering what they think they “should” say versus responding instinctually. Although most assessments are psychologically validated and presumably account for such behavior, even the best, most highly validated assessments will be impacted to some degree by the coachee’s frame of mind when he or she completes the assessment.
Does this mean that assessment tools should never be used in coaching? Quite the contrary. Assessments can add value, but they cannot and should not replace or impede the fundamental coaching process. Assessments are most effectively used after a coaching relationship is established and as a way to augment the process. No matter when the assessment is deployed, the coach must always guard against deferring or defaulting to the information that the tool yields. View the assessment as yet another form of information that needs to be objectively evaluated and explored by coach and coachee.
Remember the statement at the end of the opening paragraph: “The coach’s preference for one assessment tool over another is often a reflection of what the coach believes the client can gain?” The choice of assessment—or even the choice to use any assessment—should always be based upon what’s best for the coachee. Ideally, this is determined mutually, after a coaching relationship is well-established.
Great coaches know that the most effective way to support a coachee is to listen for what is said and what is left out, to pay attention to the coachee’s tone and cadence and to ask relevant, probing questions. Strong coaching insights happen not as a result of reading an assessment, but when the coach is able to help the coachee see and bridge critical gaps such as intention versus impact, doing versus being, or current versus future. Assessments may help, but they can never replace your own well-honed coaching skill.