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A Review of Neuroscience-Based Assessment Tools

When it comes to assessments and diagnostic tools, Difficult Change presents us with unique challenges. People may:

- try to give the "right" answers. - not trust those leading the change and avoid being honest. - be insufficiently introspective.

These and a myriad of other obstacles will limit the potential benefit of using assessment tools to support the success of teams and individuals. Neuroscience-based assessment and diagnostic tools overcome many of these obstacles in ways that are built-in the tools themselves and are well worth knowing about!

There is no shortage of brilliant Neuroscience research, which can be both exciting and overwhelming. The sheer amount of new findings is sometimes difficult to consume. After certifying and training hundreds of change leaders, one of the things that seems to come up frequently is applicability. It can sometimes be unclear how to apply this new vast knowledge in ways that provide value in real world-settings.

The purpose of this article is to review one specific application area where Neuroscience findings have crystalized into powerful, tangible application models: assessment tools. In particular, I'll review and compare three leading neuroscience-based assessment tools, looking at their significant contribution to facilitating change in general and difficult change in particular from my subjective perspective as a change facilitator, "user," and Certifying Partner.

How Do Neuroscience-Based Assessment Tools Support Difficult Change?

While Neuroscience-based assessment tools have obvious benefits for other purposes (like recruiting), this article specifically explores the benefits they offer when it comes to difficult change:

  • Goal-setting: A powerful diagnostic tool is an extremely powerful "partner" when it comes to defining deep, meaningful goals that support individuals and teams by seeing the whole picture. It is also particularly valuable when individuals and teams are not sufficiently introspective or mindful, when they draw faulty conclusions about what their goals need to be, or when they are uncomfortable talking freely about the real issues. All three assessments support the ability to define powerful unbiased goals.

  • Know before you start: When it comes to difficult change, the speed of collecting data about how people will respond to the change and what they need in order to complete it successfully, is critical. If we spend months coaching an individual or a team and only then discover specific ineffective response patterns to discomfort, we've just put the success of the change process at higher risk. Waiting to gather this information later, when it comes up, creates complications and at that point, with too much emotional involvement and often resistance already active, it's often hard to go back and untangle things by providing much needed skills. Knowing how people will respond to the discomfort associated with the change before we start (which is something all three assessments are great at), and providing those skills upfront, creates a much needed platform for successful implementation.

  • Predictability: One of the most important elements to support people through difficult change is trust. Unfortunately, in most difficult change efforts, trust may be the most sorely missing component. Predictability (which also implies accurate projection) is particularly important in the context of difficult change because when a change facilitator can communicate with great accuracy up front, it builds trust and makes it possible to move forward with confidence and clarity.

  • Development language: The way assessments are presented plays a very big role in the success or failure of difficult change facilitation. It is harder to initiate a transformation when diagnostic reports present parameters as if they are set. While some elements of who we are as humans are more set than others, Neuroscience-based tools properly treat most aspects of who we are as things we have lesser or greater mastery of, things we can stretch or minimize. This is particularly important when it comes to difficult change because it opens the conversation, makes us shift away from a more fixed-mindset and focuses the change on development and growth.

Top 3 Neuroscience-Based Assessment Tools

Three excellent Neuroscience-based diagnostic or assessment tools that can support change in general and difficult change in particular are:

  • Axiology-based assessments

  • PRISM Brain Mapping assessments

  • Solution Assessments

Why These 3 Assessment Tools?

These were chosen for their use of Neuroscience in:

  • The criteria they are measuring (the categories measured are mapped according to how the brain works - for example, prefrontal cortex functions are distinguished from basal ganglia and amygdala functions).

  • The way the test itself is designed (the process of answering questions and the way questions are phrased and designed).

  • The way data from the assessments is then processed.

But also because of their ability to target and support unique difficult change challenges and because of their high validity and reliability.

What Do These Neuroscience-Based Assessments Have in Common?

  • Preference: People have different subconscious perceptions of the world, unique thinking habits, different ways of processing, reasoning, and responding. These are reinforced as synaptic pathways in the brain and create patterns. These tools emphasize the brain's plasticity and identify which practices people prefer to reinforce. The focus is not on set personality traits.

  • Root causes: These assessment tools highlight the root causes of people's preferences. They very accurately show causality, pinpointing why certain preferences were adopted by an individual or team in the first place. This is extremely important in the context of change, because, it clarifies what blocks people. For people to adopt change into practice we need to truly understand the uniqueness of complexity of each individual, team, and organization.

  • Changeability: These three assessments clearly identify how people respond to discomfort in general and to discomfort associated with change in particular, which is critical input to have at the onset of difficult change processes.

  • Prescriptive: While most assessment tools in the market are descriptive, these assessments identify what we currently reinforce and what we need to reinforce more or less of - making them the only change-related assessment tools I know that validate the prescription (What can we do about it?), not just the description (What do we have here?).

  • Situational: People are not as one dimensional as assessments can sometimes draw them out to be. These three assessments provide clarity about the complexity of individuals and teams. They present a nuanced picture of how people would respond in different situations.

  • High validity and reliability: All three assessments use very high standards of internal reliability and have extremely high validity which makes them accurate, nuanced, and specific.

How Are These Three Assessments Different From One Another?

  • Self-reporting bias: Axiology-based assessments and Solution assessments are free of self-reporting bias. This means that the degree to which people believe they are "good/bad" at something, their perceptions of themselves, and any attempt to "fool" the tool won't influence the accuracy of the report. This is particularly valuable in the context of difficult change when there is low trust at the onset or when people are not sufficiently introspective or "objective" about who they are or what they are good at. PRISM assessments are more vulnerable to self-reporting biases.

  • Areas of Anxiety and Frustration: PRISM assessments identify how we naturally interact with the world and compare that with how we feel we should perform. The gaps between these expose areas that lead to frustrations (in the cases when we use very little of our natural potential) and anxiety (when we need to stretch too much to keep up with current perceived demands). This is hugely beneficial to identify because the tension between our natural preferences and our reality, as we perceive it, creates the type of stress that blocks us from optimizing our performances and minimizes our well-being. Axiology-based assessments and Solution assessments do not focus on this distinction.

  • Preferences between feeling, thinking, and doing: Axiology-based assessments address the nuanced way in which people respond to the world by distinguishing between three dimensions: 1) Intrinsic (feeling) - emotional and interpersonal. 2) Extrinsic (doing) - focuses on the practical, concrete, real-world side of things. 3) Systemic (thinking) - focuses on how we process information, organize our thoughts, solve problems, as well as follow rules and structures. PRISM assessments and Solution assessments do not outline the dynamic between intrinsic, extrinsic, and systemic dimensions of thought , although these can be inferred to a much lesser degree from their reports.

  • Validation of needed skills as part of the tool itself: Solution assessments were primarily designed to validate which skills people need to gain greater mastery of in order to successfully achieve desired outcomes. These assessments identify which deep, emotional skills would better support responding effectively to discomfort (per individual and team). While Axiology-based assessments and PRISM assessments shed light on which skills would be helpful (and both are brilliantly illustrative), validating which skills need to be acquired to achieve desired outcomes is not the focus of these assessments.

How Long Is Each Assessment?

All three assessments are available online.

  • Axiology-based assessments take about 20 minutes to complete.

  • Solution assessments take about 45 minutes to complete.

  • PRISM assessments take about 45 minutes to complete.

Which Is The Best One?

At KCI, we believe it is most beneficial to combine all three tools. They compliment each other beautifully (providing unparalleled insight into the why and the how), and as importantly, combining them increases their already high reliability to "rock solid."

Would you like to learn more about these three tools? Do you know any other fabulous tools that can specifically support difficult change challenges? Have you used any other excellent Neuroscience-based assessment tools I'm unaware of? Would love to hear all about it!

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