we value what we assess burned into stacked blocks
27 Apr 2023

The Perils of Assessments for Creativity, Innovation, and Risk-Taking

The need and popularity of three qualities in employees continue to rise as companies strive to gain and retain the next level of industry leadership. They are:

Creativity. Innovativeness. Risk-taking.

A companion on this journey is the deluge of assessments to see “who has it and who doesn’t.” Therein lies a significant danger.

Ever since the early days of the Total Quality movement, evidence has mounted that every person has the potential to be creative and innovative. With the proper training and opportunities, blue-collar, white-collar, and gold-collar workers have all shown the propensity to generate and implement ideas to improve the productivity and quality of their work. ... And with measurable savings, effectiveness, and efficiency.

As this is true with process innovation, it’s also true with other kinds of innovation. Everyone has the potential to be innovative as they do whatever tasks fill their daily work, whether their focus is on things like product development, marketing, talent development, business strategy, or customer satisfaction.

The goal now is to help people fulfill that potential– to enable innovation in every person, every job, every day. Self-awareness is a first step in that development: helping people identify their mindset, knowledge, and skills for being innovative.

That’s where assessments come in handy– or not.

To Assess or Not to Assess? 

Actually, your true question should be WHY do you want to assess? You see, assessments fall into 2 broad categories: Ratings-based and Strengths-based. The type of assessment you choose is dependent on why you want to assess in the first place. Do you want to find the few, rare innovators or develop innovativeness in the many?

Ratings-based assessments seek to identify and emphasize the innovativeness of the few, top-rated specialists.

Strength-based assessments support the goal of enabling every person across an organization to be innovative in their daily work.

The key difference can be found quite simply in 'are' versus 'how' questions. Is the purpose of the assessment to answer:

“Are you innovative?” or “HOW are you innovative?”

“Are you creative?” or “HOW are you creative?”

“Are you a risk-taker?” or “HOW do you take risks?”

For example, let’s consider an assessment for “thinking innovatively.” Ratings-based assessments give High-Low scores as an output. They say to some, “You’re an innovative thinker” while saying to others, “You’re not much of an innovative thinker.” Strength-based assessments give Preference-Tendency scores as an output. They say, “Of all the different ways to think innovatively, here are your strengths, preferences, and tendencies.”

Ratings-based assessments are the norm in our achievement-oriented society and business culture. But they can do substantial damage to the goal of bringing innovation alive throughout an organization. People get divided into “the elite” on qualities such as being creative, innovative, or a risk-taker while others are told they don’t have what it takes to excel in these areas.

We’ve often had to clean up and rectify the harm done to self-esteem, innovative productivity, and career-pathing this engenders across the population of employees within a company.

With our strength-based assessments for innovative thinking, the innovation process, human values (as motivators for being innovative), and the team climate for innovation, we’ve had great success in reinforcing the well-proven notion that everyone has the capacity to innovate, create and take risks. The only question is HOW do people express their capacity?

With that self-awareness, people can strive to develop greater versatility by building on their strengths and expanding their skills to practice and support others, using a wider range of approaches to each of those competencies.

Ratings-based assessments have their place – typically to identify people with a special talent for specific roles, such as being an intrapreneurial business-builder. But they don’t have a place when the goal is to expand the innovative practices to include employees throughout an organization, in every job, every day.

If and when you’re choosing to give a creativity/innovation/risk-taking assessment to people in your organization, choose wisely. What is your overall goal? If it’s to build a capacity across your organization, choose strength-based over ratings-based assessments and feedback. You’ll be glad you did!

Are you developing the right cultural mindset for innovation to flourish?

Values Centered Innovation can help.

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Last updated: 27 Apr 2023
Debra and William Miller
Guest Authors and Founders, VCI

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