What are the benefits of using Simulation in Leadership Development?

Real Training, Real Learning

The leadership training business realized the benefits of using simulation and has been a keen adopter of these applications since the early years of the Internet age. Still, the quality and accuracy of virtual environments are better now than ever.

Simulation and virtual reality technology are developing at lightning speed, with the military, entertainment industry, and everyday people getting in on the action. New technologies enable us to offer web-based simulations with advanced tools that personalize the entire journey the user is going through and also be mobile-friendly. Simulations are becoming an essential part of leadership development.

Simulating the mental state

As Jonah Lehrer in Wired explained, “pilots were the first profession to realize that many of our most important decisions were inherently emotional and instinctive, which is why it was necessary to practice them in an emotional state. If we want those hours of practice to transfer to the real world – and isn’t that the point of practice? – then we have to simulate not just the exterior conditions of the cockpit but the internal mental state of the pilot as well.” A good leadership simulation has the same quality. It creates an experiential learning environment for testing (and sometimes for measuring) soft skills and exercising emotional regulation.

Defining Leadership Simulation

Leadership Simulations (or Leadership Serious Games) are online applications representing a sequential decision-making exercise structure around a business operation model. Participants assume the role of managing the simulated operation. A simulation is an approach and a tool that does possible controlled experiments based on clear rules for the player. The user makes decisions (choices between alternatives) and receives feedback conditional upon their initial choices. The game proceeds through several series of these interactive, iterative steps.

Purpose and form

Leadership Simulations put the learner in the role of a problem solver responding to realistic workplace problems or situations. The lessons are built around a series of progressively complex workplace assignments or cases. The scenario-based approach used by the Simulations is a proven method to build expertise in unsafe or infrequent tasks in the workplace or to build critical thinking skills.

Leadership Simulations are scenario-based learning software with a highly interactive course design that offers the user a choice about which direction a given segment may proceed by multiple parallel paths (story branching). Story branching occurs when a players’ decisions determine which levels, objectives, and other choices they will face later in the game and which will become permanently inaccessible after a certain point. They offer multiple endings depending on how the player performs at critical events within the simulation.

Realism and effectiveness

To maximize the benefits of simulation, it has to own the right level of realism. But no leadership simulator system is entirely “realistic.” Simulations vary in complexity and authenticity, with more complex and realistic systems producing a more realistic experience for the user. For example, the top-of-the-class leadership simulations are interactive movies using video scenarios and an engaging storyline.

The right level of realism

A good leadership simulation requires a model that reflects reality but in a simplified way. For example, the award-winning FLIGBY simulation models an imaginary Californian winery. FLIGBY’s “micro-simulation approach” depicts certain aspects of running a winery in an entirely realistic way, demonstrating the kinds of problems a winery manager will likely face. The simulation builds the characters of the management team realistically, depicting personalities and their conflicts in ways that any FLIGBY player is expected to have routinely encountered in their work life.

Six top benefits of using simulation in leadership training for the participants

Here are the benefits of using simulation for the participant of leadership programs:

  1. You can see your decisions’ real-time consequences – Simulations provide a risk-free introduction to leadership challenges. They allow managers to experience and know the impact of their leadership decisions and actions. That’s how experiential learning works. The expected outcome from a simulation comes from experience and not just reading, discussion, and testing. One of the essential basis of effective learning is the experiential component, as we know that people learn better through experience.
  2. You can try things more than once – If things don’t go to plan in the simulated environment, the result is far better than when things don’t go to prepare for your entire organization. Leadership simulation means you can have multiple opportunities to practice and hone your technique without worrying about the risk and consequences of professionally damaging the organization or negatively affecting your relationship with your followers. Simulation training allows you to practice a scenario repeatedly until you’re fully confident. And the one-on-one debriefs coaching session connected to your online program by a certified coach or trainer offers the possibility to “replay” and review your simulated “flight” or parts of it, allowing the matching of performance against criteria.
  3. You can practice unusual situations – Practicing unique problems is vital to every leadership training. Still, it’s hard to do this authentically without having the organizational setup. Simulation allows you to practice responding to challenging business conditions and interpersonal conflicts while keeping you safe from your decisions’ expensive (and sometimes irreversible) consequences. This will enable you to develop a range of complex skills you need to be a great leader. Instead of memorizing lessons on the blackboard, users must exercise emotional regulation, learning to stay calm and think clearly when bad stuff happens. Leadership simulations permit users to make and learn from mistakes without risk.
  4. You can learn more in less time – Virtual scenarios let learners gather professional expertise and experience within a much shorter time than what they would have obtained working in real jobs. Simulations can compress time to show cause-and-effect patterns that would take months to learn otherwise. For example, in FLIGBY, eight months of virtual time in the life of Turul Winery is compressed into a game of a few hours.
  5. You can train anytime – The online virtual environment is open 24/7. You decide when and from where you check in, when you return, and how much time you spend at once. It means maximum availability – simulation is not dependent on particular environmental conditions or availability of an actual corporate setup, like colleagues or specific interpersonal challenges.
  6. You can have real-time feedback – One of the primary advantages of simulations is that they provide users with practical and automated real-time performance feedback to support the learning process. This feedback can have a wide range of forms, like the changes in the KPIs of the simulated organization or the oral input of the player’s virtual colleagues. Feedback given during the simulation helps motivate users to find better solutions to the problems presented in the simulation and thus enhances their hands-on knowledge of particular subjects. The real-time continuous feedback during the simulation positively impacts the users’ cognitive learning outcomes.

Prof. Csikszentmihalyi on Serious Games, Flow, and Engagement

“When I wrote Good Business in the early 2000s, I did not know “serious computer games.” I was aware, however, that in designing video games, the industry had put to practical use my scientific description of the key elements of the Flow-generation process: Pose an attractive challenge. Make crystal clear the objective of the game and the rules to be followed. Hold out the prospect of winning something if you master the challenge. Start with simple challenges; enhance their difficulty gradually. And provide continuous feedback.”

Excerpt from the book ”Missing Link Discovered.

Six top benefits of using simulation in leadership training for the organization

And these are the benefits of using simulation for organizations:

  1. You can create an engaging and highly motivational learning environment – High interactions make learning fun and increase retention. Players must navigate their way through interpersonal, organizational, and business complexities under authentic circumstances – all the way to success! Every decision influences how their individual story unfolds.
  2. You can analyze team and group dynamics – One key benefit of simulation training is that it can be measured. Tracking, studying, and reporting users’ behavior can be part of employee assessment. Simulations create an environment that offers a new platform for observing management behavior. The user gets absorbed into the story, and since s/he is entirely unaware of how their decisions might affect the skill scores, the player unwittingly reveals their authentic self.  For example, the leadership simulation, FLIGBY, measures 29 management/leadership competencies during gameplay. After completing the game, FLIGBY’s Master Analytics Profiler provides users with an individual report on their skill set, with various benchmarking options available. Assessing individual reports on a group or organizational level offers the possibility to analyze group dynamics and how people with different skill sets work together on everyday tasks in a team.
  3. Predictive people analytics: You can identify critical organizational issues – The data collected during the simulation-based learning process helps to provide companies with more insights that can be used to identify urgent administrative matters. Collected data can predict the management group’s behavior under different strategic challenges. This sophisticated strategic modeling is becoming an ever-more important part of organizations’ strategic planning because it helps identify leadership skills gaps, one of the frequent causes of an organization’s strategic failure.
  4. You can directly address previously identified leadership challenges – Incorporating games into business programs has become ever more frequent in recent years because effective business simulation games have proven to be operative teaching and learning devices and because participants not only appreciate but also increasingly expect to encounter such games in their programs. Using a leadership simulation can be especially useful when an organization faces a new challenge and wishes to smooth the adaptation to a unique situation. Facing a new challenge often implies that specific skills are precious to successfully managing them. When used throughout the organization, simulations build organizational alignment by developing a shared understanding of new business circumstances.
  5. You can realize a high return on investment (ROI) – The quantitative benefits generally are easier to recognize and measure. It embraces time-saving, reduced errors, faster time to competence, reduced alternative training costs, and procedures performed. Qualitative benefits are the benefits that are hard to measure and transfer into monetary value. Examples of qualitative benefits include improving the unit’s performance, the quality of the work environment, employee satisfaction, the reputation of the organization, and others. Training in a digitally simulated environment can maximize your training time and minimize the money you spend by enabling you to learn basic management procedures and then master them at your organization. With online learning activities, companies do not bear travel and hotel costs associated with remote training. Furthermore, employees trained via simulations are up to speed on new tools faster.
  6. You can achieve better results faster – A successful learning curve that keeps a good ratio between the time spent on learning and knowledge retention can continually be optimized. Simulating a scenario to practice different responses and actions to a real-life situation is highly effective in knowledge retention. This is because knowledge isn’t in theory – the user must apply it in real life. Simulations offer a chance to experience real-life scenarios that depict actual events. It is a faster and more efficient way to practice and learn that helps people understand how they should act in real-life situations.

Unbiased way of profiling

The main advantage of game-based profiling is the unbiased nature of the resulting skill measurements obtained via the leadership simulation compared with the typically biased other measures generated via the organization’s survey or one of the standard surveys. The reason for the bias commonly found in those different approaches is that participants quickly learn ”to game” such surveys to their own (presumed) advantage. By contrast, a simulation can be so absorbing, and how a user’s leadership skills will be measured is so hidden that the only way “to the game” the game is to try to win it.

+ a bonus benefit: You can stimulate competition – Business is competition. Comparative settings where users work through the same scenario, letting participants compare and challenge their decisions and their results. Simulations offer participants to participate in friendly competition constructively and productively.

So the benefits of using simulation are that it will save time and money and allow everyone to manage and lead more professionally. Furthermore, leadership development conducted by a training company with simulation capabilities can provide a wide array of benefits useful for all levels of leaders, from management talent pools to the top executive officers.

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