Don’t Let Assessments Distract You From Success

We are growing

The landscape of coaching has transformed drastically over the last decade. The field is burgeoning. What started as a last resort relationship-focused intervention, is now a mainstream initiative leveraged for selection, development, and high-potential growth. The increase in popularity is accompanied by a growing need for scalability. In the search for increased efficiency and effectiveness, economic buyers and coaches alike are drawn to the power of leadership assessments. These powerful tools fit well within the business arena. They are concrete, measureable, and effective. However, over-reliance on measurement instruments limits coaching success.

Assessment Delivery Should Be Handled CarefullyIn the last few years I have watched many of my colleagues drastically alter their coaching practices. They have embraced a new coaching model, one that limits 1-on-1 coaching sessions, introduces assessment data in the first meeting, and values assessment results over individual perceptions. My colleagues report this assessment-focus is the “wave of the future.” 

While my peers are committed to this approach, I do not believe they are achieving maximum results. As a result of this myopic push toward assessments, my colleagues have given up the most critical component of coaching success – the relationship.

Let’s turn to the data

In the last 10 years, researchers have produced six well-known studies evaluating the specific mechanisms of coaching success. Remarkably, no study has identified assessment administration or assessment feedback as a significant aspect of a coaching intervention. The research shows that assessments cannot stand alone. Without the support of a comprehensive coaching program, assessments do not make a significant difference in client outcomes. Conversely, all six studies reveal the power of the coaching relationship[1]. The connection between coach and client was shown to have a universal impact on coaching success, with or without the influence of other coaching factors. This data suggests that coaching outcomes are dependent on the quality of the relationship. 

How to proceed

Assessment results, when delivered carefully and appropriately, provide immeasurable benefits to individuals and organizations.I am not arguing for the abandonment of assessment tools. When used correctly, they carry a remarkable amount of value. Leadership assessments can facilitate feedback and enhance a client’s self-awareness. However, coaches must be thoughtful when employing these powerful tools. 

The key to effectively leveraging assessment data is two-fold. First, coaches must know the client well enough to present uncomfortable results in a non-intrusive manner. Second, the client must feel supported enough to securely receive the data. The foundation of this interaction is inarguably the coaching relationship. It is the lens through which assessment results can be constructively given and received. 

Coaches must learn to rely on available research to guide methodology, not a drive for efficiency. Empirical studies show that, on average, profitable relationships with clients are forged over the course of three meetings[2]. Accordingly, coaching programs must be structured to accommodate this critical phase of relationship development. Instead of leading with assessments, executive coaches should delay assessment feedback until the third meeting. This allows rapport to develop prior to feedback. With a client feeling understood and supported, the results of an assessment become significantly more impactful. 

As the coaching industry continues to grow, coaches must return to their relationship-focused roots. By leveraging the relationship to navigate all components of the coaching process, coaches can truly offer clients the best opportunity for success. With emphasis placed on outcomes versus scalability, coaching will remain a mainstay in leadership development into the future.   

How do you structure your coaching programs?

[1] Scoular & Linley, 2006; Stewart, Palmer, Wilkin, & Kerrin, 2008; Baron & Morin, 2009; Boycee, Jackson, & Neal, 2010; De Haan, Culpin, & Curd, 2011; De Haan, Duckworth, Birch, & Jones, 2013

[2] Luborsky, 1976; Hartly, 1978; Horowitz et. al., 1984; Marziali, et. al., 1981).

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  1. Melinda Brown's avatar
    Melinda Brown
    | Permalink
    Completely agree, David. I believe assessments - which are valuable and can be extremely helpful - are tools to complement coaching. It will be hard to replace the benefits a person will get from 1:1 individualised coaching.

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