Absolutely. There are a range of ways to drive positive culture change, and the importance of behavioural assessments for recruitment and promotions should not be under-estimated.
In the early 2000’s promotions candidates consistently struggled to effectively demonstrate certain elements of the Personal Qualities and Attributes, the framework then used to measure standards of performance. This continued to be apparent for the next few years during use of National ADCs.
The behaviours candidates tended to demonstrate less effectively were:
The implication of this was that these behaviours were not being particularly emphasised in the workplace at that time, which is why candidates struggled to demonstrate them in an assessment context. If Group and Station Managers weren’t fully role modelling these behaviours, how likely was it that supervisory managers would be embedding them into their own leadership style?
An argument might be that it was the exercises being used which didn’t lend themselves to those behaviours, or that candidates were unprepared for the assessments and therefore not sure how to demonstrate them in an assessment context. These factors aren’t an issue if a) exercises are properly designed and b) candidates are properly prepared, as per best practice guidelines. Even if there were questions over these two areas, the fact that the same issues were apparent across a range of assessment exercises, over a number of years, and at different levels and in different FRS suggests the issue was in fact the behaviours.
Fast-forward twenty years and there has been some really good progress in most of these areas.
So, what has changed?
Steps to using Assessments to deliver change
Candidates are assessed using a behavioural framework of attitudes, values and characteristics important to the FRS- essentially a list of ‘what good looks like’. They understand what services are looking for.
They are assessed using managerial based exercises. Conclusions can be drawn that if someone doesn’t seem to see the value of, or demonstrate these behaviours in this context, they are less likely to apply them in the workplace either.
Candidates are evaluated by independent assessors, so it is only performance of the exercise which is taken into account, which is fair to everyone irrespective of experience, relationships etc.
They are assessed on various criteria and exercise types for a well-rounded assessment, where performance is measured on a continuum rather than a ‘right or wrong’ approach.
Candidates receive feedback on their receive feedback on their strengths, development needs, an explanation of how they were evaluated and why.
Successful candidates receive development related to the next role, with behavioural elements covered via leadership and management training courses.
Performance assessment is the first stage of a culture change approach. But unless there is clear follow up of this information, the opportunity to proactively support both successful and unsuccessful candidates to meet behavioural standards can be wasted.
Post-assessment, unsuccessful candidates can be left to their own devices as to where to go next. But this is where it is interesting, because even without clear development pathways linked to their assessment outcomes (often for reasons to do with resourcing), many candidates take on board their feedback, and act on this. Realistically, the motivation may not be solely about becoming a better leader! But, the more you apply these skills, the more intuitive they become, and the better the chances of demonstrating effective behaviours at the next round of promotional assessments. Candidates may up-skill to secure a promotion, but in doing so, their approaches change, and the ripple effect is an increased number of ‘desirable behaviours’ in the workplace. And slowly, this embeds new norms and cultural change.
Deliberate change delivered via best practice methods
With a system like VCA’s Career Progression Gateway, there are additional steps to make sure culture change is not just a by -product, but a significant part of promotions (this also applies to recruitment i.e. selection from applicants from outside of the organisation). This includes:
Providing pre-assessment e-learning which highlights and explains the importance of key behaviours and how these can be demonstrated – preparing the candidates’ understanding and ability to demonstrate these in advance.
Designing exercises which are realistic job simulations, bespoke to the organisation, so the behaviours are assessed in a relevant context, improving the applicability of the behaviours to the work environment, and increasing acceptability to candidates.
Using two different types of exercises so similar behaviours are assessed across two very different formats (i.e. a written response plus a face-to-face interaction) to ensure a rounded assessment which allows for different strengths and preferences without disadvantage.
Assessment criteria is carefully adapted to be specific to each exercise, and applicable to both exercise performance and how this may be applied within role.
Development statements are included as part of the assessors’ comments to provide guidance to candidates on how their performance may apply in a work context.
Additional development guidance is provided to offer suggestions of learning opportunities which would embed positive behaviours into workplace practice.
A video call feedback sessions with one of the assessing psychologists to explore how to build on strengths, find opportunities to develop effective behaviours and work with line managers to ensure progress continues. (This call can also be supportive of well-being in circumstances where candidates were unhappy with results or are feeling burnt-out.)
Assessment exercises are consistent across different versions, so results are comparable across organisations, levels, and time.
Annual reports are provided to clients to explore internal performance and provide comparisons with other similar organisations. This management information can be used to inform training, development, accelerated progression and succession planning.
Coaching training is provided for line managers to support candidates post-assessment and provide suitable learning opportunities and developmental support to meet team as well as individual needs.
To further support cultural change, assessment information should be consistently used to create clear development pathways. Line managers should be involved, so an individual’s development is a collaborative process, with leadership behaviours supported and evaluated on-going within the workplace.
Not all internal assessment processes follow these steps. To positively influence culture, it could be time to do so.