The Tangible Technique versus the Fuzzy Technology for Using Assessment Tools

Ralph H. Kilmann, co-author of the Thomas-Kilmann Instrument (TKI)

It seems so natural to focus on specific people (with our five senses) rather than give the necessary emphasis to the larger surrounding systems (the big-picture intuition that grasps the context and the process for managing change).

Along these lines, I have often found that people focus on the assessment tool itself (such as the TKI, MBTI, DiSC, etc.) rather than improving the process that first identifies the need for an assessment tool, introduces the assessment to a person or an audience, creates the atmosphere for encouraging participants to take that assessment tool accurately and honestly, helps people interpret their results in an effective manner, and then encourages people to make good use of what they learn—back at work or at home. 

In my experience, the tangible assessment tool (the paper booklet or the online version) represents "the specific technique," which is about 10% of the "whole technology" for bringing about awareness and effective action (the entire process, from beginning to end, for effectively using the technique with people in an organizational or other context). All those process steps constitute the other 90% of what enables people to actually learn from an assessment tool and then implement what they learn in some other social context. 

Indeed, there can be a very valid assessment tool, but the manner in which it is introduced and used does not result in effective learning and action. But there can also be a less validated tool, but the way it is presented, discussed, and used in an organization can still result in significant improvements in people lives. 

Naturally, I am all for valid assessments...thus making sure that we provide the best of what can be done with that 10% of the whole technology. But we must also make sure to learn how to manage the intangibles of using assessments...the other 90%.

Just by the numbers, I would suggest we have probably focused too much on developing and validating assessment tools relative to developing a valid and engaging process for making use of assessments with people and organizations. Or, at a minimum, we find ourselves focusing on understanding the technique per se and we don't spend our time documenting the many subtle ways we have found that best serve the implementation of that technique: the critical success factors that are beyond the technique. The assessment might be "standardized," but the intangible process for using it may not receiving much discussion or attention.

Maybe it's time to focus on the intangibles so we get the most out of any assessment tool! 


Kilmann Diagnostics offers a series of online courses: (00) Expanding Consciousness (a six-hour course); (0) Quantum Transformation (a five-hour course); (1) BASIC Training in Conflict Management (an eighty-minute course), (2) GROUP Training in Conflict Management (a three-hour course); (3) ADVANCED Training in Conflict Management (an eight-hour course), (4) Culture Management (a six-hour course), (5) Critical Thinking (a six-hour course), and (6) Team Management (a four-hour course). These courses make expert use of the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) and other assessment tools. Since these courses are recorded, they can be taken on any day, at any time, and at your own pace. For more information, visit: Kilmann Diagnostics.