I often say that my job in sales was a marriage of convenience where love developed. I always knew that one day I wanted training and coaching to be my main gig. I'm a lifelong learner, and I always get a buzz when helping others by teaching. Now that training is my core business, I've realised that giving folks new facts and figures is not enough. To see real behaviour change, you must add assessment to the mix. And without feedback, assessment is useless.
If you're a trainer, your job is to teach someone a skill. How do you know they "got it"? Assessment. How do they know they got it? Feedback.
Over the years, I've seen many organisations so focussed on providing professional education that they totally miss the assessment and feedback pieces of the puzzle. The emphasis is often on demonstrating what topics are covered and proving who attends. Frankly it can look like a "box ticking" exercise to show management that the education was provided or the training budget was used. In my experience, assessing participants’ learning in these scenarios is sketchy, and telling them about their performance is rarer still. How useful is that to the participants? Not very, in my view.
Why do people shy away from performing assessments and giving feedback? Because assessment is another way of saying "test" and feedback feels like a grade or mark. It's natural to feel reticent about being either the judge or the judged. Yet without either, how is an individual to know how others perceive them?
Can you assess yourself? Sure, especially on topics where you are the expert, like your feelings or values. When you are not an expert on the subject, it's often useful to find someone who is. I regularly succumb to the temptation to diagnose my own medical conditions on WebMD......and then go to a real doctor for proper advice!
People often worry about giving or receiving feedback because they assume it will be bad. Useful feedback helps people understand what behaviour is hitting the mark, and points out blind spots offering opportunities for improvement.
Have you ever been in a fire drill? When the stakes are high, training, assessment and feedback are vital. In real disaster situations, outcomes are better when folks have been taught what to do, given a chance to practise, been observed, and been given pointers on how to improve next time. Take prospective university students as another example. In different parts of the world, most will sit some form of high stakes entrance exam. Typically, they attend training sessions, then sit a mock test, which is marked, and then the results are shared with the student. This feedback is vital for the students to adjust and improve in anticipation of the real thing. What if the History experts marked the Maths exams? What if the most qualified assessors in each subject marked the test, made suggestions for improvements, but didn't tell the student? Useless on both counts, in my view.
If you've stayed with me up to this point, you may be wondering how this connects to my area of interest, interview coaching. You can and should train yourself before an interview. You can google common questions, practise answers, even video yourself. In terms of how others experience you, can you realistically assess yourself, and provide accurate feedback?
In a perfect world, an interview is a conversation between equals looking for a mutual exchange of value. All too often, the reality is that an interview is an assessment. If you are job hunting, consider getting the training, assessment, and feedback about your personal presentation before the "high stakes test" of an interview. A new job is a potentially life changing opportunity; give it your best shot!