Lies, Damn Lies and Assessments?

Despite the title of this post, I believe that assessments can and do play a valuable role in many aspects of organizational life from leadership self-assessment, recruitment and selection decisions, developmental activities, and team-building support to name but a few. However, a couple of recent experiences that I've had an opportunity to be involved with also point out the perils of improper positioning and utilization of these very same assessments. The consequences of such can lead to hiring the wrong candidate for a role, reinforcing poor leadership or team behaviors, demotivating (rather than motivating) performance, and impacting the credibility of organizational effectiveness and development efforts for the organization overall.

There are a number of factors to consider and methods to utilize to get the best out of the vast array of assessments available to you as an individual and as an organization.

One. Understand your organizational context. Nothing exists in a vacuum and you may up against past (poor) history of how assessments have been used before. There may also be current cultural circumstances getting in the way of the validity and credibility of the assessment results. This came home to me recently when I was informed - perhaps from one person's perspective - that many raters might have "fudged" their input to a 360 assessment. This was ostensibly done out of concerns of confidentiality, anonymity and fear of retribution. What organizational leadership - and I - underestimated was the degree to which a culture of fear and distrust was operative in the environment. The clear outcome was far less useful and impactful data for the person receiving feedback. This then directly impacted on the quality of a leadership development plan.

Solution: Honestly evaluate the climate your are introducing an assessment process into. This may even lead you to conclude that an assessment process should not be initiated. Be clear about the limitations you are working under at the beginning of the process. Proceed cautiously.

The bigger solution: In this case, there was clearly more work required to develop a climate of safety, trust and open communication in the organization. In this case, we would have been better off to do some larger and heavier lifting before proceeding with an assessment.

Two. Understand (clearly) what you are trying to get out of an assessment. Too frequently organizations, HR departments, or leaders become enamoured of a particular assessment and fail to understand its limitations. Assessments - and there are a multitude out there - are designed with specific ends (and foundational philosophies) in mind. Be cautious of your own biased experience with them. One size does not fit all. Ensure that all stakeholders are clear about why and how the assessment results will be used. Keep aligned with that agreed upon focus. In the past, I have been particularly disturbed to have seen an assessment instrument initiated within a framework of professional/personal development later used as part of a performance evaluation process!

Solution: Use the right assessment for the right reason, ensure clarity of purpose on the part of all stakeholders, and stay focused.

Three: Recognize the limitations of any particular assessment. However, impactful any one of us may find the insights of an assessment it is only data not answers. It is only one piece of data. For the very same reason that best practice would never suggest an interview panel of one or simply relying on the quality of a cover letter to select the next leader, I would similarly recommend holding up the assessment results up to thorough scrutiny and balancing that data against other information you may have.

Solution: Don't rely on a singular source of data to draw conclusions - about others or yourself. Proceed with caution. Seek corroborating data.

Another solution: Aside from looking at past performance and related data you could consider use of more than one assessment. Depending on your need, you may find that two or more assessments together provide a better complementary mix of information for your purpose. People are complex machines and may need a variety of lens from which appropriate conclusions can be drawn.

Four: Guard against your biases. Much like reading the daily horoscope - if you are into that - we all run the risk of looking at assessment results without understanding our own filters and biases. The result - we look for what we want to see and find it. So as the person being assessed if you already strongly believe something about yourself, whether positive or negative, it will be there. Likewise for HR personnel or leaders critically evaluating potential leadership candidates, new hires or team members.

Solution: Be prepared to challenge yourself and your preconceptions. Whether you like or dislike the results of an assessment consider the opportunity/challenge. Watch your biases. Be aware of your filters.

Five: Get a proper debrief of the assessment results. Far too frequently I see individuals and organizations that fail to get/provide a proper - or sometimes ANY - debrief on an assessment that they have put good time and money into. Sometimes this is driven from a cost perspective. Other times it comes from a misplaced sense of our own intellectual capacity to critically and objectivelyevaluate the assessment results.

Solution: Work with a professional that is both certified and experienced in the particular assessments you are using. Just like any "job interview", critically assess their qualifications and experience. Get references and testimonials. Even test-drive them if you can. Qualified professionals can be a great assist to you in properly using assessments - they can just as easily cause significant damage if not qualified or otherwise suited to your organizational culture.

Six: Be prepared to develop and commit to an action plan. Flipping back to the daily horoscope comparison, and perhaps the shiny-object syndrome, one of the worst things that can come out of an assessment process is NOTHING! The effort that may have been put forward in both in cost and time of participants, which is even higher when considering 360 assessments, should warrant and demand some sort of constructive action plan. If not, then any lessons or insights drawn from the effort run the risk of having to be relearned later or casting aspersions on any future assessment and development activity.

Solution: Commit to a solid purpose and action plan once the assessment(s) are due to be completed. Create supporting structures that will help with action. This may include creating a template for a personal development plan. This may be creating milestone reporting dates for updates to be had with the individual receiving the assessment results. Ideally, you or the organization commit to making the assessment far more than a one-off event. It should fit with the bigger picture of what the organization or you are trying to accomplish. Structure, Structure, Structure. Action, Action, Action.

Seven. Prepare the ground. This could certainly tie into Number One above but as you or the organization prepare to initiate an assessment process do all you can to communicate the purpose and process for the assessment. Address as many questions as you can. Fill any information vacuum that might exist. Make any and all stakeholders true partners in the process. Alleviate fears. Build confidence. Build validity and credibility for your assessment process.

The list above may start to give you a lot of pause as you consider current and future assessments. And maybe that's a good thing. If you become more aware and purposeful in this regard that might in fact be the best outcome. Without that perspective you likely run the risk of fulfilling the fear of the title of this blog post - your results will be far less than they could have been OR they might be far more damaging than you ever imagined.

Creating and sustaining highly functioning leaders and teams is a challenging business. Assessments have their place if used appropriately and effectively. Use them with your eyes and minds wide open


Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC

President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions




Drive to Why

I have been doing a lot of work of late with organizations and individual leaders as it relates to their "why". This has can manifest as questions related to "what is our mission?", "what does it mean to do what we do?" and even "what does it matter if we deliver this or that program or service?" In all of this there is a craving for clarity, direction and ultimately a hope that, on an individual or organizational level, we are in fact making a difference. For some, this conversation becomes even more powerful when it starts to address the concept of what legacy we might leave behind. Heady stuff.

There is no doubt that this is and should be considered a critical question to address. I tend to ascribe dysfunction at an organizational level to several different factors - lack of clarity or alignment on values, lack of clarity or alignment on strategies and tactics. Lack of commitment to or understanding of Mission/Purpose is high on this list of explaining organizational dysfunction and even conflict. The same holds true at an individual level. If we start to consider some of those difficult people we have worked with - or even ourselves - we can recount many instances of individuals who seemed perpetually ornery, out-of-sorts, grumpy and otherwise unpleasant. I consider these to be potential circumstances where people are disconnected from their fundamental purpose for being - they are not doing the work they were meant to do. They are in the wrong place to make the impact they were born to make.

One of the key challenges in addressing this gap is in fact understanding what the "Why" and Mission is. All too often the approach and answer to this question is confused with What and How we do things - we start describing our purpose within the context of the programs/services our organizations currently deliver or expect to deliver. We describe our Why by our title or position and things we currently do. This is certainly easier to wrap our heads around. It takes less effort to describe what we do and how we do. And we can start to address value we believe we are delivering by the number of people served or products delivered. Another reason there may be default to this way of trying to define Mission is that it is far less challenging to organizational and personal identity. Defining Mission by describing current activities rationalizes our current work. It affirms our identity and makes us feel good. It is an exercise also fraught with risk if our environment significantly changes or some other external force changes our mandate. Suddenly our activity-based Mission hits the proverbial - and literal - brick wall. Change at the stage engenders significant conflict and resistance.

So where to better start this organizational or individual search for Mission and Purpose - the more fundamental Why? I suggest divorcing yourself entirely from the programs/services you provide or the position/title you hold Engage in the thought process that eliminates the types of things you currently do that would yet allow you to adjust, change and do something different to allow you to fell fulfilled and purposeful. Sound a bit too pie in the sky?? Let me give you my personal example.

For the longest time I fundamentally confused Mission and Vision for myself. For much of my healthcare leadership career I would have defined success and Mission with the type of role I aspired to take on - CEO of a large urban hospital. The challenge to this dream were successive rounds of reform efforts that have characterized our reality since at least the mid 1990's. The positions and realities I aspired to increasingly ceased to exist. It truly wasn't until such time that I left my leadership career behind - involuntarily - that I came to define my new personal (and organizational) mission in ways that transcended any particular role, occupation, title or even location. The result for me became:

Helping Leaders Discover, Realize and Unleash Their Potential

For me, this new sense of purpose - perhaps driven out of necessity - allowed me and allows me to live to a sense of purpose that can be realized in a multitude of ways, robust enough to respond as changing circumstances dictate. Far from being "flighty" in my work or approach to life it allows me to remain centred and be who I want to be regardless of changing context. I can live this Mission by being a Leader in the formal sense with position, title and authority - I can take on a job as I desire. I can live this Mission by being an individual or team/group coach. I can live this Mission as a consultant. I can live this Mission through presentations, teaching and speaking engagements. This Mission, This Why is not dependent on any one type of work, client or even location. It becomes THE constant guidepost for continuous learning, professional development, networking and a range of other activities. It speaks to my Passion first and any desirable outcome (e.g., earnings) second.

So that's my advice and challenge to you. Be fundamentally clear on your purpose - for yourself or your organization (or both). Be fundamentally clear on a Mission that can be independent of what you do or how you do today. If you don't know why you do what you do don't be surprised to end of up in a place you don't want to be.

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC

President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions




Choose Your Battlefield

I'm a bit of a history buff.  Others might consider that comment an understatement as they peruse the inventory of books sitting on shelves at home and at work.  E-readers and audio books?  Not for me - I need the physicality of history in my hands.  Old fashioned?  No doubt. 

One reason for this fascination with history comes from the lessons learned - and not learned - from others.  With variations on a theme, the quote "Those who cannot remember (or learn) from the past, are doomed to repeat it" resonates with me.  One of those lessons that has been the subject of explicit and implicit discussion with many of my clients is that of choosing or changing the field of battle on which you compete.  We can probably all understand and appreciate this at some bigger picture level with companies and technologies that have changed their landscape - Apple, Uber, Airbnb.  These companies and technologies did not take as given the landscape they faced and at points in time made a conscious decision to NOT compete against well-established competitors.  They radically changed the field of battle. In some cases, so radically that major competitors were put out of business.

This is not a new a concept.  For centuries, ranging back to Greek city states, the Persian empire and other dynasties, commanders and armies would maneuver for days or stare across at each other for weeks from their respective camps looking for the best place or opportunity to engage in battle.  They sought out high ground, access to water, linkage to the coast or supplies, or waiting for the sun to be in their enemy's eyes before engaging.  These ancient leaders went to great lengths to try and set the table to their best advantage, to leverage a strength or mitigate a weakness.  Alternatively, they might seek similar opportunities to diminish an opponent's strength or take advantage of their perceived weakness.  Don't have sufficient or good enough cavalry?  Choose a battleground that constrains the field of movement.  Fighting against great odds?  Choose a place where only part of your enemy's strengths can be brought to bear at one time.

So how does this relate to leadership/team coaching, organizational effectiveness, business development, consulting or other things that you might be doing?  It relates in nearly every circumstance that I work with.  Which one of these scenarios might you have experienced or otherwise be familiar with:

"I looked at the job posting and I'm missing a couple of the qualifications they are looking for so I'm not going to apply."

"He/she/they stopped me in the hallway and were looking for my input on his/her/their initiative.  I felt compelled to answer them on the spot but I don't think I gave the best answer."

"I'd like to pursue the CEO role but I'm not sure I'm what they are looking for.  I'm not anything like the current CEO."

"The client/RFP is looking for something pretty particular as far as a solution/technique.  It's not something we have do so maybe the fix is already in?"

I could go on with other samples but at the heart of these comments is a belief (or fear) that the terms and conditions of the "battle" are already set and our choice is to compete on those terms or not at all.  My suggestion is that perhaps the battle conditions are not set in stone.  You may and can have a choice as to where, how and when to engage.  How can you alter your own reality and that of your "adversary" to change the tide in your favor.  For example, if applying for a new role, how can you paint a picture that despite not having a couple of the qualities or attributes laid out that you have something different or more important to offer that the hiring committee has not taken into account?  Rather than feeling compelled to respond on the spot to a question or proposal how can you set yourself up to better respond perhaps by asking for a more considered, focused and structured discussion - one that allows you to be as prepared as your counterpart?  What makes you think that you have to lead like the last CEO?  Or that you can?  Or that you should  We are all different leaders, no clones, and certainly all imperfect.  What do you bring to a leadership role that your successor did not and that is perhaps better suited to current and future reality?

All of these scenarios - and the historical analogies of success - speak to and require several foundational realities being in place.  First, an understanding of your personal, team or organizational strengths and values.  Those (successful) generals and commanders noted earlier were completely aware of the strengths and weaknesses of themselves and their armies and those of their foes as well. You likewise need to understand your own strengths and limitations and how to make best use of those in your chosen field of endeavor.  Second, is the ability to exercise restraint and patience to seek out the right opportunity to apply your skills and abilities.  Wrong time, wrong place?  Might mean the wrong opportunity?  Third, having the courage to be bold or patient as circumstances dictate.  When pushed can you hold your ground to create the right circumstances for victory?  When opportunity presents, can you demonstrate and apply your strengths at the right time and place?  Time and tide may wait for no one.  Be clear about your objectives, your vision for success, and apply your strengths, abilities and values with confidence. 

It's About Leadership and sometimes leadership means actively understanding and creating the conditions for success - your success.

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC

President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions




Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  How does that phrase resonate with you on a personal, leadership and business level?  Over the last 20 years, and the last 10 in particular, this phrase has held resonance for me.  While I make a distinction between personal, leadership and business worlds above, those of you in leadership roles and certainly those of you who have launched and are leading your own business know that this distinction is highly artificial.  Everything we do as a leader/owner is very much about US - it is difficult if not impossible to separate our realities.

In my coaching and consulting work, I have often marvelled at the conniptions that my clients put themselves through - or are put through - in the name of "risk management".  Certainly part of that is a function of the broader society we work within and the degree of regulation that has become so much a part of our lives.  When I reflect back on my leadership career and how that world has evolved since my first leadership role in 1986 it is amazing and distressing to see the degree of oversight that has now been imposed on our systems.  Now don't get me wrong.  The increase in regulation in many parts of our lives - healthcare protocols, environmental protection, financial reporting requirements - have all been done with positive intent and, in many cases, because leaders and systems have failed us.  We have met the enemy and they are us.

A significant consequence of this evolving reality, I believe, is that it has sapped our courage and diminished our ability and willingness to experiment and be bold on the promise of greater, future success and benefit.  Rather than being motivated by possibility we seek and actively enlarge the risks, barriers and challenges that MAY be in our way.  We often give up before we start.

Whether you believe you can or can't, you are right. 

So what explains this phenomena?  Why is it that at a personal and even organizational level we can start out with such enthusiasm and passion for a project or a cause and slowly have our fears grow and our confidence diminish?  I believe at least two interrelated factors come into play and they are our emotional intelligence and organizational culture.

Considering emotional intelligence (EQ), areas such as Self-Regard (which might be equated to confidence), Independence (ability to stand alone as necessary), and Stress Tolerance are subsets of EQ that come to the fore when I consider how we might "talk ourselves out of" a course of action.  Many of us are familiar with the "imposter syndrome" and wondering what gives us the authority or audacity to advance a position or initiative.  Might not there be other better qualified or informed people out there to lead forward?  In addition, when more and more voices present challenges (rather than solutions) who am I to question their perspective?  Self-doubt creeps in and grows.  Maybe they are more right than I am.  Beyond this sense of self-confidence and ability to stand alone for something we believe in, we are all also social beings - we value inclusion, not exclusion or isolation.  Our desire to be part of the "tribe" can sometimes hold us back from leading the tribe.

And what about organizational culture?  Culture can be defined as "...the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values and knowledge which constitute the shared bases of...action.." and "...the total range of activities and ideas of a group of people with shared traditions, which are transmitted and reinforced by members of the group."  I've highlighted what I think are some key elements of the definition to help illustrate my current train of thought.  In particular, the longer an organization has been around the more likely that it will have well-established, formal and informal, beliefs and expectations that guide, motivate and constrain its actions.  Some of that same perspective holds true for sectors (e.g., government, public sector) and professions.  Over time, the motivating or constraining elements of these cultures are given voice - and authority - through policies, procedures, protocols and all the other trappings of well-established organizational bureaucracies.  And over time, even if we look to change those parameters (e.g., to support creativity, innovation), we now have to contend with a culture that has become imprinted and embedded into our collective consciousness.  The tribe and our own desire to belong and maintain status within the tribe diminishes our willingness to push boundaries.  

So our own EQ "levels" combined with strong organizational culture can effectively partner to hold us back from a preferred future in deference to a "safer" status quo option.  We can be left to lament a lack of excitement, engagement and fulfillment on a personal level.  We can be left jaded, cynical and disappointed about what our organization can or can't do.  We have met the enemy and they are us.

So how to sustain drive, energy and hope in the face of all these real and perceived obstacles?  How can we sustain the venture and the promise of success in the face of "reality".  I suggest a number of ways that I have worked with and that I have seen my clients demonstrate:

One - Be crystal clear about your own vision of success.  It's much easier to get pushed away from your personal and organizational success when you yourself are not clear about the benefits of persevering in a course of action.  

Two - Ground yourself in your values, personal and organizational.  What's really important to you both in thought and action?  Again, if these are not well articulated you may inadvertently find yourself making decisions of convenience (e.g., risk aversion) rather than of conviction.

Three - Get out of your head and test reality.  One of my favorite coaching questions is "What is the worst that can happen?"  This is usually followed up with questions around how likely is this circumstance and what is our ability to develop mitigating strategies.  

Four - Get out of your head and test reality Part II.  Discuss your vision and strategy with others.  As I was creating BreakPoint Solutions, this meant getting coached by two separate coaches on two separate occasions.  Yes, there were potential barriers and unknowns, but by working them through I determined that my future developing vision was more compelling and engaging than just "making something else work..."

Five - Prepare for resistance and setbacks.  No great thing every came without effort, work and tribulation.  You will always have naysayers, those who want to play it safe and a range of other barriers.  Circle back to your Vision to sustain you.  Measure progress, appreciate success, recognize anomalies for what they are, and press on to the next milestone. 

Making a difference at a personal and organizational level takes courage, determination and hard work.  As a famous tag line says - "Is it in you?"

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC

President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions