In depth

Virtual assessments: the value and the risks

Kiddy & Partners

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With the C-19 pandemic forcing many of us into full-time remote working, and businesses still needing to move forward in recruiting and developing their leaders, we 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 crisis. 

In this article, we have drawn on our experience of assessing over 1000 leaders through our virtual assessment delivery platform – KaPture - and input from a recent roundtable on the topic, to share  answers to the questions we’ve received.

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. We strongly believe that virtual assessments offer similar and comparable value to in-person ones. 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, open and close meetings differently when they are face-to-face in comparison to videoconferencing.
  • Non-verbal cues are stunted as you can often only see from the shoulders upwards. 
  • People are more likely to launch straight into the purpose of the ‘meeting’.

But, before you are alarmed, the magnitude of the drop depends on the extent to which: 

  1. Participants are used to interacting virtually.
  2. You are assessing interpersonal skills in your criteria.

Therefore, we expect this drop to be diminishing, and the playing field to be levelling, day-by-day in the current climate. We’d also encourage you to consider: 

  • Are insights into how an individual builds rapport virtually important?
  • How often will your participants need to build rapport virtually vs. in-person?

We feel this insight is just as valuable. It’s a valid piece of feedback. What’s more, if virtual working is going to be new normal, there is no better way of assessing how well an individual can turn up and show emotional compassion over the internet.

Another nuanced difference and benefit, alongside the obvious savings of cost and time in travel or scheduling, 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: 

  1. You are reliant on multiple technologies working together; the assessment platform, the video conferencing, WiFi. Get participants to do technical checks in the same location, with the same device, on the same application, before joining the assessment.
     
  2. Participants are more distracted when they aren’t in a cooled, controlled meeting room. 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.
     
  3. 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. 
     
  4. Participants don’t receive the same level of human touch. Replicate some elements of the in-person facilitation process. We have a neutral colleague start the centre before the assessors join to alleviate participant concerns and settle them into the process. They then check in several times throughout the day; the same way a facilitator would. 
     
  5. 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 candidate in their time-zone.
    - Send out clear communications on what to expect, tips, 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 centre (time, budget and appetite willing) over time.
     
  6. There are key cultural differences in how participants approach timing in assessment centres; some may expect more breaks and, as an assessor, you may dial into an empty chair while the participant has popped to grab a coffee. Ensure you are clear upfront about the timings of the day. 

Then comes the more insightful question for those who are naturally inquisitive…

Should we be assessing the same criteria virtually as we have done previously face-to-face?

We question if a C-19 or post-C-19 world necessitates different behaviours, skills or traits from our leaders.

Your leaders have just been thrown into a situation that the best assessments aim to simulate. We encourage you to reflect on whether the leaders you previously identified as high potential are the ones shining in this crisis. Humility, the ability to show emotions, the propensity to check in with people more are some of the behaviours increasingly important today. 

But, are you assessing for these when identifying your future leaders? And will they be behaviours that are here to stay? We will address this question in a future article.

Challenging the way things are done

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.

For more information on how we can assess your leaders virtually visit our leadership assessment page, or contact our expert listed below.

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