Korn Ferry assessments have been shown to be valid and reliable predictors of future performance of leaders, so they are often used to inform decisions about hiring and promoting leaders thus improving “hit rate” and return on investment.
In addition, because of the rich personalized insight they provide, assessments are also valuable tools for development. The development literature suggests that less than 30% of single-vevent learning gets used on the job. To ensure that the assessment translates into valuable change in behavior, organizations need to create a culture of learning to ensure they are getting the most out of the development assessment process.
The current study
A global technology company with 35,000 employees worldwide was interested in determining the return on their assessment investment as well as how they could enhance the value of their investment.
Korn Ferry worked with the organization to put a measurement system in place to study their learning culture, using our development pipeline constraint model.
The study focused on over 300 middle managers working in North America and assessed by Korn Ferry for more than three and a half years. Data was collected from two sources—the leader who was assessed, and their manager—about six months after the last assessment was completed.
The first data came from leaders who were asked about their experiences during the assessment as well as their development since the assessment, to measure the cultural enablers of learning. We measured the following components:
- Insight—Do people know what to develop? Being able to identify whether the assessments provided the relevant and required information for development is the first component that needs to be in place for a learning culture. Most organizations take this first step but might not put processes in place that ensure effective use of this information.
- Motivation—Are people willing to take the time and energy needed to develop themselves? Through management practices and creating opportunities for growth, organizations can create a climate where individuals want to learn. Knowing if this exists is important for learning to occur.
- Capability—Do people know how to acquire the skills and knowledge they need? Clearly communicating and providing opportunities to learn new skills is another important element to creating a learning culture.
- Real World Practice—Do people have the opportunities to try their new skills at work? Creating a culture where individuals feel comfortable trying new skills and experimenting with new approaches is another way to foster a learning culture.
- Accountability—Are people held accountable for meeting their objectives and delivering on commitment? Finally, having to meet specific goals with accountability to the organization is essential to successful development.
The second set of data came from bosses, who were asked about the current job performance of the leaders who were assessed. We obtained usable responses from 155 leaders and 142 bosses.
Findings from the study
The corrected correlation between overall assessment ratings and bosses’ ratings of performance was .42, comparable to the best estimates of assessment validity (.38 average in Gaugler, et. al., 1987 ) available in the literature, indicating that the assessment was a good predictor of these leaders’ future performance.
Of the enablers of a learning culture, the two lowest rated areas were capabilities and accountability, i.e., people were not sure of where to obtain skills and knowledge and were not held accountable for meeting development objectives. On the other hand, motivation was very strong, and Insight and real-world practice were solid as can be seen below.
Enablers of a learning culture measured in this study
Surprisingly, while 80% of the leaders thought the assessment was helpful in identifying strengths and weakness, only 65% had development meetings with their bosses following the assessment and only about 56% thought that the assessment helped them create a realistic development plan. This indicates a significant drop between those who gained insight and those who followed through with action.
In exploring the drop in the number of leaders who thought the assessment helped them create a realistic development plan, we separated out the individuals who had a meeting with their boss with those who did not. We found that of those who met with their boss, 68% created a realistic development plan. But of those who did not meet with their boss, only 30% created a realistic development plan.
In addition, these two groups (those who had a development meeting and those who did not) differed significantly from each other on all of the learning enablers, with the largest differences in the areas of capability (knowing how to acquire skills) and accountability (being held accountable for meeting objectives) as seen in the graph below.
Comparing participants with and without a development meeting
We can conclude from these findings that those who met with their boss to discuss their development were much more likely to create a realistic development plan, were clear about how to acquire the new skills, and felt more accountable for meeting their development objectives.
These finding suggest that demonstrating a clear interest in and commitment to development and holding individuals accountable for their development significantly increases the effectiveness and value of an organization’s investment in leadership development. While conducting an assessment to identify strengths and development needs is an important first step, it is also essential to help leaders translate the results into actionable information and create a development plan that can be mastered. In addition, it is critical for the organization to establish processes to measure and monitor the leader’s development—whether this is through the boss, an HR partner and/or an internal or external coach.
In summary, while implementing development assessments (or other development initiatives) within an organization it is important ask the following questions:
- What are the expected outcome of the development initiative, and how will the outcomes will be measured?
- What are the responsibilities of the various stakeholders: the individual, the boss, HR, external consultant?
- What are the immediate next steps after the initiative takes place, and who is accountable for making them happen?
- Who will meet with the leader after the assessment to help them create a development plan?
- After establishing the individual development plan, what is the ongoing process to ensure accountability and success?
Based on these findings we recommend that organizations should ensure that development assessments are a process that includes a multi-step follow-up (through a boss, HR or an internal/external coach) rather than a onetime event. This will help strengthen the development value that assessments can provide to a company.
In addition, as a result of this study other similar studies, Korn Ferry in 2010 modified its assessment process to include the completion of a draft development plan in a development assessment before leaders finish their assessment experience.