Transitioning to Virtual Assessment

The need for attracting and promoting top talent never slows down. Rigorous, defensible assessments continue to be the best way to equitably identify individuals with the highest potential for success.

But, your in-person assessment center schedule for a high-potential cohort is on hold indefinitely due to the current health crisis. The imperative to accelerate readiness and identify future leaders, however, only continues to grow as organizations place a premium on building a talented workforce able to thrive in an uncertain and highly dynamic business environment. While the assessment center has traditionally been the foundational component for identifying and developing the high-potential population, you now start to ask yourself and your team the “new world” question…

“How do we transition our assessment program to a virtual delivery format, while still providing the same level of rigor, objectivity and results as before?”

If you are facing this situation, you are not alone. For traditional learning, this trend has been underway for some time. This type of scenario is playing out in different ways across organizations of all types. Given budget constraints, a geographically dispersed workforce and the current emphasis on remote working conditions, many CHROs and CFOs are requiring that assessments, traditionally delivered in person, shift to a virtual focus – we have already seen a 91% jump in working from home in the last 10 years, and expect that these numbers will continue to climb.

In this environment, virtual delivery solutions represent an opportunity to significantly enhance the participant experience and the face validity of the initiative through the heightened fidelity of the simulations and business challenges presented. Greater ROI can also be expected through reduced delivery and labor costs, greater efficiency, reduced assessor workload, and faster access to relevant insights necessary to drive decisions. This also advances the inclusiveness agenda of senior leadership as a virtual delivery component and can provide access to assessment and development programs to a wider pool of participants.

It is critical to remember that the fundamentals of the assessment program do not change, and the assessment methodology still needs to be based on sound science to produce objective data. Critical elements such as job analysis, research support for design and development decisions, incorporating a multi-trait/multi-method approach, collecting validation evidence, generating stakeholder buy-in, and proper program evaluation are not minimized in a technology-enabled virtual delivery format.

Many organizations are seeking a better understanding of strategic and tactical considerations when planning to transition from in-person assessment delivery to virtual programs (e.g., video, phone, technology enabled).


Embracing Technology

How will this work? Prepare a process flowchart documenting the entire assessment experience from the perspective of each associate interacting with the delivery of the assessment program, including administrators, participants, assessors, coaches, and managers of participants. This will help outline the areas of focus and potential implications of any changes. How will we ensure a seamless technology experience? Collaborate with IT counterparts very early in the process to outline the specifications that are necessary for delivery in multiple geographic locations and across time zones. Plan technical support for administrators, participants, assessors and coaches. What happens to the data? Outline the data management workflow that documents what data is collected, where it is located, who has access, when and how it is protected, and when data is updated. Work with IT and legal partners to align the data privacy, storage, access, and security specifications with GDPR and other regulations. What else can be delivered virtually? Participant orientation, role-play exercises, participant interviews and coaching feedback can all be conducted virtually. Use any of several commercially available video conferencing software programs with strong video/audio and recording capabilities.


Assessment Development, Revision & Implementation

Can we upgrade our participant experience? The assessment itself can be a personalized web-based virtual experience interwoven with role-play exercises, in-box activities and situational judgment items. As participants move forward in the integrated simulation, they watch videos, meet with role-players (video or phone-based) and respond to telephone calls/voicemails all centered around business challenges in a fictitious environment. This represents an opportunity to enhance face validity and create an immersive multi-media experience that is contextualized to your work environment, business challenges and competency model. What will our assessor experience be like? Update assessor and coach training programs to align with any virtual changes. Consider how assessors are going to access assessment data in a single location (e.g., simulation observations, third-party test results, interview notes, ratings). Identify how assessors or coaches will store completed reports. Implement an audit strategy to verify that all data is in the correct location and that correct user access is maintained. Should we record it? Consider recording all interactions (e.g., role plays, interviews, presentations) to allow assessors to review for rating and evaluation purposes. This can also be a very powerful feedback tool with participants and support future rater calibration exercises. Recordings can also be used to standardize the messaging presented to participants by leveraging tools like a video “trailer” for orientating participants to the process. How can I mitigate risk and ensure that the solution is still valid? Collaborate with appropriate subject matter experts (e.g., industrial/organizational (I/O) psychologists) who can evaluate the impact of any changes on the integrity of the assessment solution and the need to update the job analysis and collect additional validation evidence. If the assessment data is being used to inform selection and promotion decisions, please remember this is considered a selection procedure under the federal Uniform Guidelines for Employee Selection Procedures (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) which govern the defensibility of selection procedures. Note this also includes algorithms based on artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data. How can we ensure successful implementation? Consider the CHRO or another executive sponsor as an initial pilot participant. Take time to anticipate risks, mistakes and low-probability events. Build contingency plans to offer real-time solutions (e.g., no connectivity, hosting issues, inappropriate data access, firewalls, distractions in the assessment or feedback environment), and create checklists & tips for each administrator, assessor, coach, or role player.  Consider working with a consulting firm or assessment provider who has proven the concept and demonstrated a track record of success. Are we meeting stakeholder expectations? Focus attention on measuring the ROI of the initiative. Determine how the program currently, as well as in the future, will define and deliver value to stakeholders within and outside the company. Evaluate how the measurement strategy may change given the transition to a virtual assessment approach.

Changes in delivery format can create an opportunity to gain further support for the initiative. These changes also introduce variables that can create a more negative view of the solution if ignored. We suggest anticipating the impact of how changes to the process and program are going to be experienced by key stakeholders (e.g., participants, managers, talent management, finance, senior leaders) and designing from their point of view.

As you consider next steps in your planning, remember to keep your standards high and maintain your focus on executing the fundamentals!

Do you have a tough question you are wrestling with?

Please let us know, and we may include it in future installments of this series coming to your inbox soon. In the meantime, we invite you to watch a preview of a Virtual Simulation to Assess Senior Leaders, and to reach out to us to learn more about using technology to blend video, job-relevant stimuli, and virtual assessments to build leaders that are ready for the future.