The Morgan Samuels Perspective

With Assessments, Context Is King

Posted by Morgan Samuels on Wed, May 16, 2012

Bert C. Hensley, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer at Morgan Samuels

There’s no doubt about it: requests for executive assessments are on the rise.  Clients and executive recruiters alike are more confident in the value of assessments and are willing to pay a sometimes hefty price to avoid the higher cost of hiring the “wrong” candidate.  A good assessment tool can provide clarity and perspective that are just not possible with the standard interview process, and can even result in faster promotions and retention of executives over time.  But assessment tools are still just that – tools.  And Bert Hensley, chairman and CEO of Morgan Samuels, feels people overestimate their worth.

In Hensley’s experience, assessment results taken at face value have led to some pretty bad decisions.  “They’re a snapshot in time of where someone may be, but they’re not really reflective of who that person is in every circumstance or situation,” Hensley says.  In other words, without context the picture is incomplete.  A good executive recruiter uses common sense and intuition to catch missing information from assessment results.

Here’s just one example of an evaluation gone wrong: A client wanted to use a nationally known assessment tool for a COO candidate.  The results came back showing the candidate had very low contentment and coachability scores.  “Without context,” Hensley said, “one might look at those results and immediately disqualify him because no one wants to work with a fellow employee who’s unhappy in life, and no one wants to bring someone into a role like COO when they’re not coachable.”

Hensley understood a frame of reference was needed, so he convinced the client to let him dig a little deeper.  It turned out the candidate was, in fact, unhappy in his current environment.  Moreover, he had very little respect for his CEO or board (for valid reasons), and it’s a rare person who wants to be coached by someone they don’t respect.  Given those circumstances Hensley was able to persuade the client to reconsider the candidate; they granted him a second round of interviews, he impressed the board to the nth degree and was successfully recruited.  Better yet, in less than six months he was promoted to CEO and has been extremely successful in his new role.  Needless to say, that happy ending wouldn’t have been possible if the assessment results went unexamined.

So for Hensley, assessments are useful (especially in considering candidates for promotion), but only to a point.  He calls out Capital One as a company with a very effective assessment tool, because “it was highly tailored and highly contextual for that company and what they needed.  They invested a lot of time and energy to get it to that point.  As a result, I think they got a better perspective and clarity on whether someone was ultimately going to be the right fit.”

What’s the upshot, then?  Assessments are only as good as the people who make and use them.  Avoid empty exercises by making sure assessment tools are well-developed, tailored for the company and highly contextual.  And always remember results can be misleading.  If you have doubts, be sure to dig deep, ask questions and use the tools we all have at no cost: intuition and common sense.

Topics: morgan samuels, human capital consultants, executive search firms, top executive search firms