What is the key factor that determines whether we’ve delivered a successful leadership assessment centre? In my opinion, it’s about how we engage with our participants and help them feel comfortable. It’s crucial that we create an environment in which leaders are willing to discuss their problems. It is also vitally important that the way we interact ensures that participants feel open to hearing suggestions when it comes to tackling those problems.
By Vicky Lim Saw Hoon, Cubiks Malaysia
You may say, “Surely all assessment centres are the same; assessors have to make sure they engage with candidates of all levels”. And you’d be absolutely right. But there are some key aspects to consider when working with people in more senior roles.
These individuals are likely to have attended a lot of assessments in the past. They’re often extremely busy, and they need to feel that the process is a valuable use of their time. Also, they tend to be highly experienced, and therefore need assessments and assessors that match their level of expertise and can appropriately challenge them.
Hence, engagement must start from the very beginning, even before the assessment centre. Here are a few tips on how to achieve this.
4 Tips for engaging leadership assessments
1. Get to know your candidates
Make an effort to really get behind the objectives of the assessment; to understand your participants, their professional background, industry and what motivates them. You can learn a lot from the information you receive prior to the assessment. Prepare for the fact that different people are engaged in different ways. You can use the information you already have to help tailor your approach by exploring the type of leader an individual might be.
2. Make a positive impression
First impressions always count. Within moments of meeting an assessor, participants may decide all sorts of things about us; from status, to intelligence, to conscientiousness. This may be especially true for senior leaders, who feel they have achieved a lot and have already proved themselves through experience.
If someone we're trying to convince doesn't trust us, we’re not going to get very far. Therefore, it is crucial we demonstrate our sincerity when we first meet the candidate. This helps us create rapport from the very beginning. Start by finding common ground to connect on, then you can further build the relationship as you move through the assessment.
3. Establish a connection
Connecting with participants is the focal point of any good assessment centre. Assessors should build a mutual understanding by sharing their world view and being open to exploring the participant’s perspective. It always helps to look for opportunities to create connection, by listening to what the candidate says; verbally and non-verbally. The little details matter, and we should be looking out for them. Whether we agree or disagree with a person’s views, we should listen openly and hear their thoughts. This will always increase their level of engagement.
4. Empathise with the individual
Empathy is achieved through actively listening to others, hearing them, and attempting to see things from their perspective. Learning about our participants is an easy way to demonstrate that we care, and we genuinely want to know more about them. Through this behaviour, we’ll positively impact the attitudes and motivations of our participants during their assessments.
Openness to the leaders’ feelings, compassion for their trials, and taking care when addressing sensitive issues are all essential soft skills assessors need to deploy to get buy-in.
At the same time, empathy is not capitulation. Listening and understanding doesn’t mean an assessor should change the objective of the assessment because, for instance, a candidate responds negatively to something. While being empathic, assessors should at all times maintain the integrity of the assessment.
Engagement soars when it’s a priority and when it’s considered with purpose and intention. With the right amount of preparation and the right level of engagement, you’ll be surprised at the additional insight you can gather from your senior candidates, as well as how much more value they will gain from the experience.
Vicky’s background is in Business Administration and Management Psychology. She’s got lots of cross-cultural experience and regional exposure. Vicky has an extensive track record of delivering multilingual assessments at all levels across a range of global organisations in the Asia Pacific region.