The Human Resource (HR) function has always played a vital role in making key talent decision processes in companies. The entire talent lifecycle of an employee’s career is essentially a roadmap carved by HR. Although not always the end decision-makers, one of HR’s key roles is to implement strategies and process to enable decision makers to make accurate judgments.
This had led to the birth of many well-known HR tools often deployed to increase the predictive validity of decision making.
One of the most trusted tools is the Assessment Centre (AC). High in its predictive validity and trusted across the globe, the practice of the Assessment Centre (AC) has now been revolutionized by technology to create the Virtual Assessment Centre (VAC).
The Edge of Virtual Over Physical
This guide takes you along the journey of the Assessment Centre’s virtualization path and shows how to retain proven validity whilst leveraging technological advantages.
The Assessment Centre
From Military Origin
One of the most in-depth books on AC “A Preparation Guide for The Assessment Centre Method” by Tina Lewis Rowe cites that as far back as the mid-1930s, Dr.Max Simoneit, a German psychologist who worked with the military wanted to find a way to overcome the disparity between what Officer candidates said they would do if promoted and what they actually did. He developed a process of observing Officer candidates as they performed various tasks and test, then rating them and using the ratings to make selection decisions.
This system used to select Officers of the High Command before WWII, at the time simply called an “assessment” by the Germans, took two days during which each candidate was interviewed, participated in athletic tests, underwent mental and manual performance test and most importantly of all the Fuehrerprobe, the leadership test.
This system proved to be so good that the British and American’s Office of Strategic Services (OSS) adopted a similar approach.
The British Oss Version Of The Assessment Centre Were Called Selection Assessment Boards.
Similar To Today’s Group Activities, They Introduced The Groupstacle With The Aim Of Determining To What Degree Each Man In A Team Of Six Would Or Could Assume Leadership Within A Group, Contribute Ideas For Problem Solving, Cooperate With Others And Share In The Dirty Work.
To Corporate Practice
Eventually, as more psychologists poured their expertise into these selection processes and more scientific rigour added, industries started the practice of today’s AC. The American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) is not only recognized as one of the first implementers of AC but also early on showed how validated AC is through actual career studies.
In the 1950s, Douglas W. Bray as a director of human resources at AT&T directed a study that lasted over 20 years and followed the careers of young business managers as they progressed up the telephone company rankings. This study showed that the assessment center method could successfully predict organizational achievement and was later implemented throughout AT&T and eventually adopted by many other companies.
In the same time, AT&T created a building for recruitment of staff which was called The Assessment Centre, perhaps the most iconic contribution AT&T had on AC practice was the name itself.
Post the AC method being used for selection much like in the case of military scenarios and the early days of AT&T, practisioner realised the results from this method could also be used to identify training needs Hence, the traditional assessment centre process started being used in professional growth and referred to as Development Centres (DC).
This paved the way for HR being able to deploy this assessing method across the talent lifecycle. A general rule of thumb is deploying this pre-hire such as hiring and graduate programs were called Assessment Centre’s (AC) and post-hire such as promotions and high potential programs were called Development Centre’s (DC).
*As this guide focuses on the practice and not the distinction, for ease of the reader both AC and DC will be referred to as AC.
Although the effectiveness of AC has been well proven and recognized, the adoption of AC varies across industries. Consulting companies were early adopters by implementing AC into their recruitment process followed by the majority of large private sector companies especially FSI’s whilst the manufacturing sector is slowly embracing the process as of late.
Of course, with adoption growing, companies also started stretching the creativity of the activities they deployed in their AC’s.
Some interesting stories include activities that:
- Stretched overnight like a military boot camp
- Were done blindfolded
- Included Lego (actuarial science role)
- Were done in the dirt (dress code was suits)
9 out of 10 employers using Assessment Centers believe they are a very (47%) or fairly (48%) effective means of recruiting staff to fill vacancies.
Clearly Defining AC
To proceed on this guide, we first need to have a common understanding of the Assessment Centre (AC) method. When it comes to making talent decisions, the definitive way to evaluate an employees’ potential for a role is to directly observe their behaviour and capability in their first few months of probation. However, this has huge risk and cost factor attached to it hence hardly any companies do this.
This is where AC’s come into play as it replicates as close as possible, in a simulated environment, the daily task, culture and expectations of the role.
In essence, an AC is a rigorous process for assessing a candidates behaviour and fit to a role. Usually designed and conducted by field experts or trained HR professionals, it can be deployed for any job role at any job level.
An AC is a combination of multi-dimensional objective assessment methods used to measure fit to a job and operate on a “cross-reference” approach – a group of candidates take part in multiple exercises and are observed and evaluated by a team of qualified assessors against a number of job-related behaviours and competencies, which leads to the talent decision-making on all the collated data.
Why Assessment Centres
Assessment Centre’s bring a lot of benefits to hiring and development processes which can be categorized into 3 main areas; Realistic Job Preview, Rigor, Validity & Objectivity and The Employer Brand.
1. Realistic Job Preview
- Glimpse into potential environment
- Preview into future job
- Preparedness for change of strategy
- Contextualising any environment
2. Rigor, Validity and Objectivity
- Multiple assessors
- Multiple activities
- Set criteria; competencies and behaviours
3. The Employer Brand
- Slice of life in your company
- Build talent attraction strategy
- Employee retention
- It’s a talent market
Understanding the Limitations of an Assessment Centre
Whilst Physical Assessment Centre’s Are Highly Valid And Reliable, Companies Are Finding The High Cost And Time Investment To Be A Limitation When It Comes To Scaling Their Use Of Assessment Centre’s.
Assessment Centre’s done physically also carry some limitations that has hindered companies from using them across the organization. These limitations are often why companies reserve AC’s for only 5%-8% of the organization.
1. Resource and Logistical Hassle
- Man-days on assessment build
- Assessors/Management/Runners during AC
- Location setup and planning
- Cost of setup
2. Commitment by Stakeholders
- Geographical limitations
- Cost increase as complexity increase
- Becomes learnt
3. Scale Limitations
- Co-design with external/internal parties
- Involvement by multiple businesses
- Securing budgets
The Virtual Assessment Centre
Due to the limitations of the physical AC, the birth of the Virtual Assessment Centre (VAC) came to place. Leveraging on technology, companies can now enjoy the reliability of assessment centres yet save time and money by deploying virtually. Just like physical assessment centres, virtual assessment centres have multiple tools mapped to behavioral competencies.
VAC’s provide holistic understanding of a candidate without compromising on the quality and standard set by physical assessment centres. The tools are administered online, followed by automated reports, thus eliminating the hassle of logistics, reducing manual effort and curbing the overhead costs in conducting an extensive in-person assessment; all this ,without hampering the standardization and accuracy of the results.
3 Key Focus Areas In Virtualization
- Replace Physical Activities with Virtual Tools
- Host Your VAC on the Right Platform
- Leverage on Big Data
Once you understand the concepts and design of an Assessment Centre, these are 3 key areas to start with to get on your way to launching a Virtual Assessment Centre
01 Reduce, Reuse & Replace Resource
Just like the famous mantra of waste management, you can optimize your resource and avoid unnecessary spend by following something similar and applying it when moving into a VAC.
Virtualization does not mean you entirely scarp your physical process, rather, look for waste to be reduced, effective resources to be re-used and non-scalable items to be replaced.
Below you will find simple questions to help understand if a resource should be reduced, reused or replaced and some examples as well.
01 Reduce: Do We Need This? How Do We Get This In A More Efficient
Resources we want to reduce often go hand in hand with the limitations of having a physical AC. We can reflect on this by looking at our process and asking at each item do we need this? And if we don’t, it can be removed. If we do, however, we then ask how do we get it in a more efficient way looking at the fact that the process is to be virtualized.
An example below is if we find we don’t need logistics and materials spend, we can do away with it by virtual administration. Yet, if we still need time investment from assessors, we can make it more efficient by on the go ratings in which they do not have to be physically present to give their ratings.
- Logistic spend
- Material spend
- Time investment
- Assessment Leaks
- Virtual administration
- On the go ratings
- Virtual security features
01 Reuse: What Still Works And Is Efficient? Can Easily Be Taken?
There may be many resources and processes that exist within your physical AC or even in your overall talent practice that can be reused in a VAC. To understand what can be reused reflect on things that still work and is efficient and also can be easily taken into a virtual process. You will find a lot of these if your company is a heavy user of talent assessments.
An example below is if we already collect data via tools such as psychometric assessments, video interviews and 360’s they can be reused by either an integration of the tool itself into your VAC or by integrating the data alone. Leverage also on current resources like your existing online branding which can easily be adopted by a VAC platform.
- Online assessments
- Video interviews
- Online branding
- Integration of tools or data
01 Replace: What Isn’t Scalable? Has A Virtual Equivalent?
The last category you may find resources falling into is the replace category, in which, certain things within our process are good but not scalable. Above that, they also have a virtual equivalent that we can replace. In certain cases, we may choose not to replace these items due to the complexity we would like from the AC with the understanding we won’t need to scale it.
An example below in terms of business case studies and physical group activities, whilst very effective they aren’t scalable exercises, but, they do have virtual equivalents. In fact, replacing these with online simulations can give your VAC scale and also faster more accurate scoring as simulations are score instantly and utilize more data points.
- Business case studies
- Physical group activities
- Face to face interviews
- Business simulations
- Virtual teamwork simulations
- Pivotal experience interviews
02 Create The Right Candidate Experience
Creating the right candidate experience does not have to mean big bold interfaces with over the top messaging and loads of free gifts. Often, companies chase these things but forget the essentials of experience and end up spending a lot on flash without no substance, leading to poor candidate experience still.
In getting your VAC candidate experience right, think first about these 4 essential components:
- Integration & Consolidation
- Candidate Functionality
Research has shown how strong employer branding has a direct impact on talent acquisition. Companies with better reputations have higher-quality and more satisfied employees. In fact, a LinkedIn study found that 69% of candidates say they would not accept a job in a firm with a bad reputation even if they would be jobless.
A VAC is one of the best tools to promote employer brand because it gives companies the opportunity to showcase its values, leadership qualities and style of working all through the VAC platform. VAC’s give room to deliver more interactive types of branding. The entire virtual experience a candidate goes through can be designed to match the desired employer brand the company wants to convey in a much more impactful way.
Integration & Consolidation
As we try and make our talent practices more rigid and valid, we tend to add on processes and often forget about continuity. This means we keep adding tools and forms yet from a candidate experience this becomes frustrating because it seems like repetition and to the admin, you start having mountains of data that do not talk to each other. In virtualization, always keep in mind integrate processes, consolidate data.
We look at consumer tech as an example, you can sign into most apps today as long as your Gmail or Facebook is logged on. This means no more new accounts, new passwords, having to input personal information repeatedly etc. Through integrations and consolidation, your VAC can be as continuous as this for both the candidate and the admin.
The easier and more flexible it becomes for candidates to work out functionalities within your VAC the better experience they have. Over merely taking assessments, a good VAC platform should also expand on the interactions the candidate can do. For example, communication features to directly link to recruiters, a self scheduler that given scheduling freedom back to candidates and removes the hassle from HR, chatbots for quick problem resolution etc.
The idea here is, the more functions are placed within the VAC, the more interactive the candidate becomes with the platform and at the same time lowers the amount of operational work HR has to do.
- Will the platform require the use of a laptop or is it mobile-ready?
- Will there be a need for a strong Internet connection?
- Will the candidate need to install further plug-ins and software?
Asking these 3 questions can determine how accessible your VAC platform is. Accessibility is especially important to achieve scale when using VAC’s as it can influence important numbers such as error pages, completion rates and drop off rates.
Understanding the demographics of your candidate pool will give you a view on how accessible the platform needs to be. The more diverse in age and geo-location your demographics are, the more accessibility impacts the overall experience.
03 Leverage On Data
“You can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data”
One of the most powerful feature that will separate your physical AC from your virtual AC is the ability to leverage on data in a whole new way. Whilst the only data taken from physical AC’s are scores used to rate candidates, there is no data that serves to improve the process in itself. In virtualizing, data will be able to improve your AC process as a whole by optimizing 5 key areas as below:
With data, everything becomes faster in a VAC from instant scoring on activities to instant talent reports being generated. Even interviews are shorted as they become data-driven. Decisions are made quicker and therefore becomes scalable.
A virtual platform allows the possibility to collate data in order to view candidates in a holistic manner. The lens through with you are able to view candidates becomes more powerful as scoring can also take things like metadata into account something that is impossible in a physical setting.
Leveraging on data you can also increase the accuracy of your entire VAC process. Combining multiple data points to increase tool validity becomes easier therefore outputs more accurate. Also, the chances of bias in the process is slim to none.
With the use of technology and wallet-friendly tools, assessing can be inclusive rather than exclusive. Your VAC process can now be used across all levels of the organisation which means talent data across the organisation is now available.
In leveraging on data and achieving speed, accuracy, holistic and scalability we are able to break the cost limitation of physical AC’s and create a wallet-friendly solution that is highly efficient, effective and reliable.
Developing A Virtual Assessment Centre
- Job Analysis
- Define Competencies
- Exercise Mapping & Design
- Candidate Experience
- Platform Setup
- Candidate Engagement
- Score Outcomes
- Cut-Off Scores
- Additional Data
- Bias & Inconsistencies
01 Job Analysis
Whether deploying a VAC for hiring or development, the core principle is finding the right person for the job, and without first understanding thoroughly the job we are trying to fill, it is impossible to know who the right person is. A job analysis goes beyond what is usually printed on a job description.
In doing a job analysis, we need to understand at the least; direct and indirect accountabilities of the job, what the job scope look likes in the lenses of the present and the future, the competencies both leadership and functional required to perform at the job, and the proficiency required amongst those competencies.
02 Define Competencies
Once the job has been analyzed, there should be a clear framework emerging in terms of competencies telling us what a high potential candidate should exhibit. Ensure to clearly define these competencies to avoid confusion. These competencies are then further explained by a set of behaviours that indicate what both positive and negative markers look like.
Further, zoom into the competencies by asking can they be measured by an assessment centre. Certain competencies will only be visible on the job or over time however most leadership and some technical competencies can easily be measured via a VAC.
03 Exercise Mapping & Design
Utilising the results from the job analysis and identification of the set of competency and criteria, multiple exercises that reflect a simulation of the target job’s key elements and context can now be mapped. The design of using multiple exercises is to have a complete picture of how candidates would respond in different scenarios and validate their performance by measuring each competency more than once.
These exercises can range from psychometric assessments, cognitive tests, business simulations, video interviews and etc.
04 Candidate Experience
Up until now all process-driven portions of planning a VAC is done. Now comes an important step that could lead to a successful or failed execution, thinking of the candidate experience. Planning this requires walking in the candidates’ shoes.
At this step, you need to think about the tone of email invitations being sent out, the length of the assessments, the time given in total to complete the process, and anticipating any problems that may happen along the way. Remember, the level of audience changes the answer to all the above. A VAC can vary between 1-2 hours for graduates to 4-5 hours for C-suites.
05 Platform Setup
Technology is a process catalyst in which if your process is right technology makes is exponentially better but if your process is wrong it becomes detrimental. Which is why we get the planning phase right before moving to the virtual platform now. Here, ensure your VAC platform is setup according to your organization needs in terms of branding, scoring, competencies, activities and etc.
Also, ensure to test and receive feedback from all your stakeholders view meaning the candidates perspective, HR’s perspective and line manager’s perspective.
06 Candidate Engagement
Candidate engagement is a metric that is essential to any HR initiative and is one way to ensure maximum ROI on VAC’s. The initial excitement during the launch of a program can be high but the real challenge is keeping that constant throughout the time.
Increase candidate engagement in your VAC’s by matching the right type of assessment to the right job level, ensuring purpose is given to the candidate on why and what the VAC is about, ensure to avoid assessment fatigue, and constantly monitor completion and drop out rates to be agile with your communication strategy.
07 Score Outcomes
An important step to high adaption rates amongst internal stakeholders is the outcomes of the VAC. Many times, off the shelf reports or scoring formats that are not contextualized to your organization tend to have low adaption rates as the interpretation of what scores mean to the company is left to the individual.
Instead, think about what reports and language are familiar with stakeholders within your company and how assessment score implications can easily be read. The easier this information is interpreted, the higher internal adaption becomes.
08 Cut-Off Scores
The benchmark at which you qualify a candidate is another important scoring aspect to look at. Without proper analysis, you could either end up setting the bar too high and have no candidates meeting the threshold or setting the bar too low and qualifying weak candidates as good.
There are various best practice benchmarks available by assessment companies you can use to start as guidance such as industry benchmarks, national benchmarks and global benchmarks depending on the company and role. Post utilizing this benchmark, do a validation study against future performance scores to understand where your cut-off sweet spot is.
09 Additional Data
The beauty of using a virtual assessment platform is having the ability to add data that can further contribute to holistically profiling a candidate. Upon collecting assessment scores, data such as performance scores can be added as well.
A strong data point to use is assessment metadata. This refers to data points collected aside from the main measures of an assessment. For example, whilst a business simulation may directly collect scores on “Strategic Thinking” ability, metadata such as speed to made strategic decisions, impulsiveness, aggressive thinking etc is also collected and can tell you with greater depth about a candidate.
10 Bias & Inconsistencies
Lastly, a final step to ensure maximum effectiveness from your VAC in order for your talent decision making process to be rigid yet fair is to put in place a check for bias & inconsistencies. If your VAC involved human intervention when scoring for things like video interviews, unconsciousness bias may have played a part. Check on this by exploring rating patterns or many virtual platforms now have algorithms in place to detect if an assessor is potentially being biased in their rating.
Inconsistencies can be seen by irregular assessment completions like time spent and extreme low scores. Inconsistencies may occur from candidates potentially not taking the assessment seriously, guessing too much, not understanding the language or task and etc.
Top 5 Learnings
Top 5 Learning From Deploying A VAC
1. Design Determines Output
- Think about what competencies are important
- Over-dependence on one tool
2. Don’t Overload Because It’s Online
- 4-5 tools in whole process
- Lasting at most 3-4 hours
3. Think About Your Audience First
- Who are your candidates?
- What level are they?
- What is the VAC being run for?
4. Candidate Experience vs Engagement
- Create a high touch around the online assessments
- Messaging and timing is important
- The larger the candidate pool the more data you hold
- Think about the sharing of your assessment process
Kick-Off Your VAC
As we have seen, moving from physical to virtual assessment centres not only offer a resource-saving alternative but also has added benefits due to technological advantages. The concepts remain similar, but virtualisation brings a whole new advantage to your assessment practice.
To kick-start your own VAC keep these things in mind: Leverage virtual solutions, host on the right platform and leverage big data.
With these VAC principles, your talent decisions will be made with the utmost of validity whilst being resource-efficient