With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many of us into full-time remote working, and businesses still needing to move forward in recruiting and developing their leaders, our partner firm Kiddy & Partners have received a sharp increase in demand for and questions about virtual leadership assessment. Indeed, you could argue that developing and supporting leaders is most critical now, in a time of change and disruption. So, what are virtual assessments and why bother using them?
What are virtual assessments?
Regardless of online or in-person, impactful leadership assessments are designed to identify where and how you can bridge the gaps between the potential you have and the future capability you need. To evaluate an organisation’s leadership capability virtually, this typically involves in-depth interviews and business simulations conducted over video-call and our web-based assessment platform.
We use business simulations to create a learning and assessment environment that replicates the leadership challenges in your business. When participants undertake the various tasks, meetings and presentations set within a business simulation, this gives us tangible and observable insights into how their leadership stacks up against your future demands. What we find particularly useful using business simulations is the immediate and highly specific feedback we can give to leaders in a way that other assessment methods don’t allow for. On a virtual assessment and in-person, this means scheduling in time straight after each exercise to debrief.
Are virtual and in-person assessments comparable?
By this, we mean do they offer similar insight, and do leaders feel they have been fairly assessed?
In short, yes. In our impact analyses, we have found no difference in participant or client feedback on the accuracy of our conclusions, the depth of our insight or the utility of our recommendations between the two methods.
However, there are some nuanced differences to be aware of. In analysis with partner firms in the US, Hong Kong and Australia, we have previously estimated a 10-15% drop in the ability to assess interpersonal skills virtually. Put simply:
- People build rapport and open / close meetings differently.
- Non-verbal cues are restricted; you often only see the shoulders upwards.
- Internet connectivity issues can impede the ease of the interaction.
But, before you are alarmed, the magnitude of the drop depends on the extent to which participants are used to interacting virtually. Importantly, if virtual working is increasing, there is no better way of assessing how well an individual can turn up and show emotional compassion over the internet: it is a valid piece of feedback.
Alongside the obvious financial and environmental savings from not travelling, another nuanced difference and benefit is the opportunity to assess candidates more objectively. Virtual assessment enables us to use a wider range - culturally, geographically - of assessors who need not be in the same location as each other, or the participant.
What are the risks and how can they be mitigated?
While some of these may be obvious, there are key risks to mitigate to ensure the process is as well-oiled as an in-person assessment:
- You are reliant on multiple technologies working together, so technical checks in advance are critical.
- While we are now all used to dogs barking or deliveries arriving mid-meeting, they can affect assessment performance. Give the participant time and support if they encounter issues; we adopt a fair and reasonable approach.
- Group exercises simply don’t work as well as in-person, especially if they are usually conducted in a larger group. Switch to smaller groups or remove them altogether.
- Participants don’t receive the same level of human touch. We have a neutral colleague start the day before the assessors join to alleviate participant concerns and settle them in. They then check in several times throughout the day, the same way a facilitator would.
- Participants may be unclear on the process if they have never completed an assessment virtually before, causing nervousness. Take key steps to alleviate anxiety:
- Make sure you assess the candidates in their time-zone.
- Send out clear communications on what to expect, and provide a way of asking questions beforehand
- If this is your organisation's first foray into assessments, control the positioning and start small. Consider an approach with 360-degree feedback, light-touch psychometrics, and an interview. You can build up to a more comprehensive assessment (time, budget and appetite willing) over time.
This pandemic is an incredibly rare opportunity to challenge the way things are done. Businesses who were planning to work more remotely ‘within the next five years’, have had to accelerate that to ‘within the next 48 hours’. Use this opportunity to try the new, the different.