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Hosting a virtual assessment centre at executive level – lessons from Petrofac

Making the switch to a virtual assessment centre is something we help clients with regularly. But how does it work for senior candidates? Can virtual assessments at this level be marked fairly by assessors? Won’t they miss out on networking? To answer these questions, Sova client Petrofac joined us to talk about digitising their executive talent development programme.

For this online event, Sova’s Dr. Alan Bourne was joined by David Wigfield, Head of Talent Management at Petrofac who runs the programme for senior internal talent.

To begin the discussion David explained how Petrofac’s business strategy feeds into talent strategy which is in turn interpreted through Petrofac’s behaviours for success. These are at the core of the executive development programme. Factors including a move towards renewables and the expansion and contraction of the market have highlighted the importance of behaviours as well as technical capability.

“This is not just about delivery but what it takes to be able to deliver. Different people have different ways to get things across the line.”

About the development centre

The development centre assesses internal talent to determine whether it’s the right time to move already senior leaders into the top 150 roles in the business. The centre is an interactive day for candidates who have been through a talent review process and been recommended by their line manager. As such, the centre needs to be an opportunity for developmental feedback as well as an objective assessment for roles.

Accessing the executive development centre

Having entered the development centre through an interactive homepage, candidates spend the day with Petrofac’s executive leaders working through a series of individual and group exercises. Ranging from a SWAT analysis to a committee exercise and one-to-one interview there are opportunities to work with the senior team and peers. There are also individual tests such as numerical reasoning.

Assessors score candidates throughout the day on screen. The platform produces a report that combines outputs from all exercises and tests. This report can be reviewed and edited by David’s team and it then forms the basis of a one-to-one feedback session.

The business case for virtual

“Before the pandemic I’d wanted to do this. But there were concerns, and there was value attributed to showing up physically at the centre. The crisis allowed us to re propose a remote approach”

How has the virtual development centre benefitted the business?

  • Inclusion: “Because of the way society has assigned gender roles it’s is sometimes easier for men to travel. We have senior women who want to have a great assessment experience as well. This has levelled the playing field.”
  • Fairness in scoring: Assessors have experienced how much easier it is to observe and score a group discussion virtually: “You don’t have candidates sitting in a circle so you can see all of them, not just the back of some heads. You see every smile, every nod, every eye contact.”
  • Cost: Both financial such as travel and hotels and opportunity cost: “Candidates find it less stressful. We have given them back their time.” Plus, the cost of hosting the centre: “We’ve invested in the centre but now we can run it again and again.”

What’s missing? The unplanned social opportunity: “That feeling of staying in the hotel together, let’s have dinner, we are all from different parts of the world, but we are all here together.” However, candidates gained in other ways such as not having to make a time zone adjustment, or to attend the centre feeling tired having got on a plane.

A lasting legacy for talent strategy

David concluded the session by sharing plans for the future – a more virtual future now that senior colleagues have experienced the benefits of remote programmes.

Developing local talent is an area in which virtual assessment and development will support Petrofac’s talent strategy. In countries where Petrofac operates but employs few country nationals, a virtual approach to identifying and developing talent will enable them to invest in the local workforce. Remote assessment means that location will be no barrier to progression.

Remote assessment and development are playing a role in increasing diversity too: “We are seeking to adjust gender balance at the top of the organisation, and we have set a 2030 target”. David believes that more remote working and the opportunity for training and upskilling remotely, will support Petrofac’s gender balance goal.

About Petrofac

Petrofac is a global service provider to the energy industry. The business, which has 31 offices in 29 countries, designs, builds, manages maintains infrastructure for the energy industries. Established in 1981, this relatively young organisation has grown rapidly and is ranked as #20 in the ENR Top 250 International Contractors of the World.

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