Development Centre (DC) have long been identified as an effective methodology to provide leaders with rigorous & effective competency-based feedback. Traditionally, development centres have been organised as a face to face events where batches of participants go through assessment exercises while being observed by a set of assessors.

However, in the past few years, development centres are increasingly being conducted virtually with participants completing some exercises online and interacting with assessors over Skype/phone for other exercises.

Virtual DCs offer several advantages:

– Higher scalability
– Reduced operational burden for HR teams
– Cost effectiveness 

However, delivering effective virtual DCs still require HR teams & consulting service providers to partner and collaborate closely on the following key aspects of design and delivery of these interventions. A general perception among talent management professionals is that virtual DCs do not have the same effectiveness as physically delivered DCs since impact is lessened when participants connect virtually. However, with enhancement in the effectiveness of tools like Skype, participant experience of interactive exercises have improved significantly in the past few years. So, while aspects like the design of DC may still need thorough focus, the virtual nature of interactions is no longer an obstacle in ensuring effectiveness of virtual DCs.

Virtual vs Traditional DCs

1 . In traditional DCs, participants complete multiple exercises within a day & therefore have a tightly packed schedule for the day. This creates a certain intensity for the process. Virtual DCs can tend to lose this intensity if not carefully managed. While in virtual DCs, participants are empowered to take control of the assessment process – when to complete an exercise, in which order to complete the exercises etc. – it is critical that participants are required to complete each exercise in a time-bound manner. In-built timers in online exercises are also a great way to build intensity into the exercise.  Also, participants should be provided clear and well-defined deadlines to complete the overall process to build further intensity into the process.

2 . The next important aspect is the operational management of the DC. In a physical DC, participant schedules are drawn up well in advance. HR team’s primary operational responsibility is to ensure participants reach the venue. However, in virtual DCs, participants complete the process only over a number of days. It is therefore important to ensure that HR teams are aware of the progress of each participant through the process at any point in time and can work closely with the Consulting team to support completion of the process. An online dashboard showing completion status of each participant is a good way to ensure steady flow of completion status info to the HR teams.

3 . Finally, the rigour of any DC process depends on the team of assessors. In a physical DC, the team of assessors works together in a face-to-face environment. In virtual DCs, however, assessors are often based in multiple locations. It is, therefore, critical that assessors are briefed properly about the process & the context and their inputs for each exercise for each participant is captured in a structured manner. This, together with a well-designed integration & calibration process, ensures that assessment feedback is rigorously arrived at and avoids most biases which typically creep in.

Virtual DC’s Today

Virtual DCs are today enabling organizations across industry sectors to scale up their talent management processes & provide a significantly larger target population with effective competency-based feedback. A well-designed virtual DC process ensures strong process effectiveness & allows participants to start new development journeys using relevant development inputs.

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