August 1, 2016

Using Role Plays in Assessing Incumbents

In many cases, assessments (including role plays) are used only when measuring competencies in external candidates.  In my experience, companies are much less likely to use these kinds of tools with individuals already in their organization.

One of the reasons why internal moves do not work out is that we often tend to over-estimate the extent to which previous performance is predictive of future performance (regardless of what Dr. Phil says!). A promotion can mean you’ve lost your best individual contributor and gained a ill-equipped manager. Even though we know that two work contexts are not the same (for example, being an individual contributor vs. being a manager), we tend to think that the skills, knowledge, and competencies that enabled the success in one should be directly applicable in the next. 

One area where role plays can be helpful is coaching. For people moving from an individual contributor role into a management role, structured coaching is often something with which they have little direct experience.  Because they have been a high performer, this person has likely not been getting much “corrective” coaching.  More than likely, they have been on a receiving end of “nice job” and “keep doing what you’ve been doing” conversations.  As a result, they may not have solid models for how these kinds of conversations should be conducted. 

If creating teachable moments and seeing how people react in real-time is what you are after, role plays are fantastic.  Over the course of several years acting as a subordinate in coaching role plays, I’ve been fired five minutes into the role play, promoted to the position ahead of the one being played by the participant, and everything in between. 

Role play can be useful in the transition from managing by observation to managing by numbers. When moving from single-site to multi-site management, managers find that the relationship between observed behavior and outcomes switch.  In a single-site role, the behaviors that lead to results can be seen, and often corrected, as they happen.  In a multi-site role, managers may not even realize there is a problem until they see the impact on a weekly report.  Once an issue is recognized, he or she must “coach the coach” – another critical difference. 

Consider role playing with the incumbent on how they would “coach the coach” after they have reviewed data and reports similar to what they would see on the job.  Be sure to have them actually act out the role play, not just tell how they would approach the conversation.  The person playing the role of the front-line manager should make some common mistakes and see how the coach addresses them.

When utilizing role plays in assessing incumbents, be sure to align the role play with the competency model for the role/level. Be very specific regarding what you want to see from a behavioral point of view (e.g., “what does good look like?”)

Role plays, used for development or as part of a selection process, can be great lenses into the assumptions and tendencies people bring with them into their new responsibilities.   

Tags: consulting & assessment, I/O psych, recruiting, executive & professional search

Author
Chad Thompson PhD

Just because Chad has a Ph.D. in industrial/organizational psychology, doesn’t mean he can’t talk to you about sports, craft beer, tech buzz or the most recent episode of The Bachelorette—a show whose outcome he has successfully predicted more times than most people admit actually watching it. In the people business—and even in pop culture—Chad uses data, tools, and his professional experience to develop and interpret insights about how to measure, develop, and retain people.

Chad joined TSP in 2011 to lead the talent consulting practice, where he delivers executive-level evaluations, both in conjunction with TSP searches and for internal client teams. He also consults with clients on a wide variety of talent acquisition and management projects.  

Prior to TSP, Chad was a consultant at Aon Hewitt, where he had responsibility for leading the design and management of large-scale selection initiatives and leadership assessment programs for Fortune 500 clients. Chad’s research on selection has been published in peer-reviewed journals, and he is a frequent speaker at national conferences. He has also been quoted in publications such as HR Magazine. Chad received his Ph.D. and M.S. in Industrial/ Organizational Psychology from Wright State University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Wittenberg University.  

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