Top Secret!

In the last two blog posts, we have discussed (1) the importance of establishing, both for the company and for the participants, what benefit they will get from your program, and (2) making participation voluntary, or at least highly engaging. Remember, you can lead a horse to water, but you have to make him want to drink. Today we’ll talk about the third secret for a successful EQ program – Privacy.

  1. Keep it private.

Executives who allow themselves to be assessed and developed place themselves in a vulnerable position. Successful change will require them to explore areas of weakness that they may have attempted to keep hidden, sometimes even from themselves. Privacy helps create the safety people need before they can truly engage in assessment and coaching.

As almost all coaches recognize, assessment results and most of what gets said in coaching needs to be strictly confidential — for the individual’s eyes only, not the company’s. But this is a hard pill for some organizations to swallow. They’re paying for the assessment, and some then feel that they have a right to see the assessment results. The problem is that if individuals know that their managers will see the results, they may not be completely candid in answering the assessment questions. The opportunity to get an accurate baseline from which to work is lost.

At least two budding client organizations put me in this very situation. I had to figure out a way to satisfy the decision makers as well as maintain what I knew was not only ethical but, just as important, essential for success. Otherwise, I might make a sale on the front end but lose repeat business on the backend when my program failed.


To solve this dilemma, I turned to a negotiating strategy called Positions versus Interests. The two companies’ positions were to see assessment results. But their true interest was higher performance by participants. Part of the solution was to simply point out (1) how privacy is essential to sustainable improvement, and (2) that the proof will be in the pudding, i.e., that they should keep their eye on performance, not test scores.

There is an additional step that I highly recommend. Following the assessment, and periodically during coaching, I and my client meet with my client’s manager. I ask my client to give their boss the highlights of what we are working on. By having the client explain, I don’t inadvertently spill something that the client wants kept private. But I’m there to ensure that the client doesn’t “gild the lily.” I then ask the manager to respond with how closely what we plan to work on matches with what the manager would like us to work on. Sometimes these become the best discussions these two people have ever had.

Illustration:  A high end office furniture dealer in New York City saw the potential for how improved EQ skills (learning) could elevate sales performance. The organization asked me to plan an EQ program to that end. At the last minute, however, it expressed the desire to view the resulting scores so it would know which employees to retain (selection). I advised the organization that the program needed to be oriented around either learning or selection, not both. The organization went back to its original assessment goal and enjoyed enthusiastic engagement, even by some who were initially reluctant.

Knowing that what their assessments showed, and what they discussed with their coach, would remain private and confidential, made all the difference. It made people feel safe, and thus more willing to be open. As a consequence, the coaching yielded better results for the employees and for the company. It was a win-win.

Next time we’ll take a look at secret number four!

Subscribe to Comment Notifications
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x