Executive Assessment

Assessments with senior and top management (“executives”) are used – like all management assessments – to select and fill management positions and for individual development, i.e. to determine potential.

As executives in senior and top management are subject to special requirements and have often demonstrated their strengths and skills in the course of their career to date, there are particular challenges when conducting executive assessments.

Above all, the specific new requirements for filling the position in question must be worked out precisely during the preparation phase. The “Leadership Passages” model described below provides a helpful structure for this.

Don't have much time to read? Here is the summary:

Executive assessments are based on the methodology of management assessments, but pose special challenges for the psychological consultants carrying out such an assessment: top managers(executives) have already demonstrated many skills ( e.g. teamwork, analysis of business data, decision-making ability) in the past.

The first step is to identify the specific challenges involved in moving from one senior management position to the next.

The assessment of these skills not only requires a different approach in the assessment(diagnostics at eye level, no artificial exercises), but also a great deal of experience and understanding of the business environment in which top managers have to prove themselves on the part of the psychological consultants.

However, the objectives of the executive assessment are the same as for all assessments: to avoid wrong decisions, to identify areas for development and to identify risks and potential.

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What is an executive assessment?

Executive assessments are assessments with managers in an “executive” role. But who and what are “executives“?

Definition of "Executives"

According to Peter Drucker, executives are the managers who make decisions that have an impact on the performance and results of the organization as a whole. This definition is somewhat vague, as even employees who are not managers can make decisions that have an impact on the performance of the entire company (such as a developer who develops a new product).

There is also no good German translation of the term “Executive”. In German companies, we generally speak of “executives” and “managers” (this distinction is also not clear in German) or “division managers” and “business unit managers”. In German, the Anglicisms “Senior-Manager” and “Top-Manager” correspond most closely to the American “Executive”.

Difference between management assessment/executive assessment

Basically, top managers are first and foremost managers and executives. Therefore, many of the requirements apply equally to both groups – they must be socially competent, intelligent and performance-oriented.

graphic General areas of competence for managers
General areas of competence for managers

Nevertheless, there are some special features and challenges with executive assessments – both in terms of what is measured (i.e. which characteristics and skills) and how it is measured (i.e. the content of the executive assessment)

What qualities do executive-level managers need? What competencies are recorded in the Executive Assessment?

A helpful model for understanding the competencies required by executive-level managers is the “Six Leadership Passages” according to David L. Dotlich and colleagues, which include the critical incident at different career levels of managers:

graphic Six Leadership Passsages
Six Leadership Passsages

Management of a business division

The first levels will not be discussed here, but the special challenges from the level of “managing a business unit“: here, a manager who was previously responsible for a functional area (e.g. as head of production) is responsible for an entire business unit (e.g. a plant).

This is where candidates need strategic skills for the first time and have to think in a cross-divisional and long-term way, i.e. not just find functional solutions (e.g. “How could we increase the number of units in production?”), but think in economic terms (“How can we improve the plant’s business results?”).

This requires strategic and entrepreneurial skills that were previously not needed to the same extent.

Management of several business units

In the next career step, the management of several divisions, candidates need even more extensive strategic skills. They must use the available capital in such a way that the strategic objectives are achieved.

And they must inspire the managers reporting to them with enthusiasm for the strategic goals, identify entrepreneurial potential in their employees – but also recognize their own deficits even more clearly (and compensate for them through delegation).

Management of several companies (group)

Values are even more important here. As theCEO of several divisions/companies, you no longer make many decisions, but the decisions you do make are extremely critical to success.

You need to have a feel for markets and social trends, identify talented people with the right skills and maintain an overview of the organization’s high level of complexity. At the same time, you have to develop visions that spark enthusiasm among managers and employees and be a role model for the desired culture.

graphic Leadership passages and additional skills required in each case
Leadership passages and additional skills required in each case

Executive assessment: How do you record competencies?

Leadership behavior is less important

In principle, an executive assessment is also a management assessment. However, the focus here is less on leadership – because people who are at executive level have fewer classic management tasks than those who lead a team of employees.

Executive assessment is more about the skills of developing visions and strategies, recognizing potential in other managers and being able to think in a networked way.

The top manager usually leads a team, which is why team leadership skills are more important than motivational skills. As a manager, he is mainly dealing with highly motivated and competent employees who are also successful managers or top managers.

Values and visions

In executive assessments, it is important to identify the values (especially the leadership values) of candidates. At executive level, everything a manager does shapes the culture, as employees closely observe the extent to which the behavior of top management corresponds to the values of a company.

The visions that these managers develop must also be authentically exemplified. This question of values and personal attitudes is worked out in the assessment, primarily through interviews.

Fit more important than suitability

In the management assessment, candidates are always assessed with regard to two questions – how suitable are they for a job and how well do they fit into the respective company?

The basic suitability is beyond question in the executive assessment, because this one leader at this level has already proven several times that they have the necessary skills and competencies. All candidates in an individual assessment are good managers. Executive assessment is more about the specific fit of a candidate with the strategic goals of the company.

Executive Assessment

Preparation and concrete fit of a candidate to the strategic goals of the company.

Diagnostics "at eye level"

What is fundamentally important in management assessment is a central requirement for the design of the procedure in executive assessment: a Assessment at eye level, in which the manager is not in the role of the person being assessed and the assessors are in the role of the assessors, but the psychological experts and the candidate work out together how he or she fits into the respective role and which competencies are still missing.

Top managers rightly expect them to demonstrate some skills in the assessment (e.g. analyzing business figures, making presentations): Analyzing business figures, presenting, conducting employee appraisals) in the form of “artificial games” (i. i.e. classic assessment center exercises).

That is why the executive assessment is more about finding out together, on an equal footing with the psychological consultants, in which environment they feel comfortable, can ideally demonstrate and use their skills, what values drive them and how they fit in with the respective company or task.

In addition, executive assessments require psychological experts with a lot of experience – not only in conducting assessments, but also with an understanding of the respective business. The consultants also need an in-depth understanding of the living and working environment of senior management – ideally from their own experience in business.


Even if Executive Assessments the methodology of others Management assessments there are important differences both in the “what” (What are the critical requirements for the respective role in top management?) as well as in the “like” (How do the consultant and participant jointly come to an assessment of the participant’s suitability and fit for this role?)

The competence and experience of the psychological expert is therefore particularly important in order to conduct valid executive assessments on an equal footing with the candidates.