Social distancing—or "compassionate spacing," an alternative framing—is resulting in multiple compare-and-contrast armchair experiments. Is online shopping better or worse? Is video messaging grandparents a satisfactory way to connect? Are virtual hangouts as good as hallway conversations? Results vary by personal opinion, but in the area of assessing leadership readiness via simulations, research provides an objective comparison.

Given the unpredictable nature of the novel coronavirus outbreak, it is important to reaffirm that simulation assessments given virtually are both as valid and as valuable as those delivered in person. Until the advent of technology-enabled remote simulations leadership simulation assessments were done in-person, composed of interviews, tests, and a variety of live interactive business simulations. However, this can be time-consuming—not to mention logistically challenging during a global pandemic.

Virtual delivery, on the other hand, “is more efficient, offers more flexibility, as well as time and cost savings from travel,” says Stu Crandell, senior client partner and assessment leader for Korn Ferry’s CEO and Board practice. 

Virtual assessments have grown in popularity or interest over the years, in part due to the changing nature of work. “Most executives have more distributed teams, a global workforce, and are leading and managing virtually all the time,” says Crandell. “(But) the need for virtual delivery that provides comparable quality with more flexibility, time savings, and health precautions is accelerated with the pandemic.”

In the report, “Equally Robust: Virtual vs. In-Person Simulation Assessments,” the Korn Ferry Institute shows how virtual simulation assessments can deliver comparable participant experience, predictive power, and developmental value for individuals and their organizations. To ensure that participant satisfaction and score comparability did not change when virtual assessments were used, Korn Ferry also studied 168 face-to-face participants and 947 virtual participants employed at a global communications company.

The mode of assessment differed only for the leadership simulations (including a simulation of a direct report meeting) and an interview. A composite of these scores served as the outcome variable of interest. The control was the components completed via computer by all participants, including personality and derailing trait measures, an in-basket exercise, and a participant background questionnaire.

The results showed that virtual assessments are comparable to face-to-face assessments. In fact, participants rated the virtual assessment experience as more engaging and reported that it presents a more realistic business situation. “Nine out of ten participants found the virtual assessment to be engaging and valuable,” says Evelyn Orr, chief operating officer of the Korn Ferry Institute. “And, nine in ten managers said it provided focus and useful strategies for development. These tremendous reviews attest to the high-quality participant experience.”

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