Watterson & Associates BLOG

Information, musings, and brain bites from an I/O consulting firm

Assessment vs Evaluation

By David Watterson

Many of us flinch when we hear that we are going to have an assessment done – on us. We most often interpret it as being an evaluation, and we are challenged with the awareness that we may come up short. At WAI, we are committed to at least having the discussion of clarifying the distinction of assessment vs evaluation. Without this, there is much needless confusion of purpose and outcome.

When we assess an individual, we are simply collecting relevant information about a person’s skills, abilities, personality, interests, etc. In essence, we are taking a personal inventory of these characteristics. Evaluation is then the assigning of a value to these dimensions in relationship to a goal, objective or outcome. None of these characteristics are positive or negative until you have declared your destination or purpose. Where are you going? What are you planning to do? Nothing is good or bad about a maple tree until you say what you are planning to do with it. Planting it in NE Ohio for shade purposes might be good, but in Arizona, not so much.

Often when I sit down with someone to do an assessment, I will ask what they are anticipating in the experience. They then comment that they are being evaluated. It is here when I explain that it is important that we put it in context. Is this for a specific job? How does this line up with their own career objectives? Is this for an overseas assignment? What works in one setting or for one purpose, may not be as productive in another setting or business challenge. What may be a strength in the morning in one meeting, may be a liability in the afternoon. What is most critical, is do we know who we are, and how do we manage who we are in relationship to being successful in all the different settings in which we find ourselves. That is just one of the advantages of being assessed, we are better at then managing who we are without worrying about what we have (or don’t have) that might fall short.

We do quite a bit of work in leadership assessment and development. We insist on having the individual and organization put into context what does their definition of leadership look like. William Shackleton was a great leader in a crisis when his ship (a three-masted schooner) was trapped in the ice on an Antarctic expedition. He led his men through two years of endurance to finally get to safety; however, he was consistently unsuccessful in business ventures back in his British homeland.

Our goals in assessment and evaluation are to increase self-awareness to better handle the situations that we are facing to be more effective and have more fun. We are not interested in fixing and changing, as much as, we are looking to create awareness and to teach skills to use the assessment to better evaluate life’s challenges in a productive context. We encourage the organizations that we work with to do the same.  

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