How to Make High Quality Assessments

High Quality Assessments

In my last Leadership Insights article I discussed the challenge of assessing whether a project is on track. In fact, I highlighted the focus in many projects is on the wrong thing. They focus on making the results look good instead of on the quality of the assessments. If you focus on making high quality assessments, the results will take care of themselves.

The quality of assessments varies

If you agree with my point above, then you are probably interested in learning how to make high quality assessments. My point implies the quality of the assessments we make varies considerably. Assessments are subjective and are affected by the level of information available, and many other factors. They are also impacted by the skill and experience of the person making the assessment. If you are feeling unwell and ask for my advice, I’ll give you my opinion but it will be less reliable and helpful than that of a doctor.

If the quality of assessments vary, how do we judge the quality of each one? I recommend a simple four step process I learned from Bob Dunham who leads the Institute of Generative Leadership. I’ve outlined each step below:

#1 What are we assessing?

This may seem obvious but I assure you it is not. I have witnessed so many spirited conversations where the participants are not on the same page about what is being assessed. Let’s say you are assessing the performance of Bob. That sounds pretty clear, but are you talking about his performance today, last week or last year? And what performance are you assessing?

#2 Why are we making the assessment?

This question helps us further understand the context of what we are assessing. In the example, if Bob’s performance is critical and the implications of failure are severe, we may be making the assessment to prevent a future life threatening issue. That would focus the mind much more so than a trivial assessment. It also begs the question if the assessment is trivial, is it worth doing the extra work to assess its quality?

#3 What is the basis of the assessment?

By this I mean what measures or standards will you rely on in making your assessment? In the example above, on what bases will you assess performance? This is most likely related to the expectations placed on Bob and what are those based on. If this isn’t clear there is little chance we will reach agreement on the quality of the assessment.

#4 What evidence exists to support the assessment?

We can now build off of the foundation created in steps 1-3 and seek impartial evidence to support or challenge our assessment. Relying on evidence encourages us to let go of our implicit biases and instead make the best assessment possible.

If done well, you will often come away with a very different perspective than before you followed this process. It reminds me of the saying, don’t believe everything you think. We will always be better off challenging the quality of our thinking and the resulting assessments we make.