Leadership Development Business Simulation
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Business Simulations Are a Great Tool for Leadership Development – But Be Careful

This is an article I wrote for Forbes in 2020. Posting here for convenience. Enjoy and hope it helps! Photo by Serpstat from Pexels

In full disclosure, I run a company that creates business simulations. These simulations are used in the leadership-development programs of some of the largest and most successful gobal companies. Though business simulations are among the most powerful development tools available, this article might actually talk you out of using one. The goal here is to ensure your success if you start down this path.

When used properly, business simulations are remarkably powerful tools to use in leadership development. The key phrase is “when used properly.” Too much of my work is focused on working with new clients after they have invested time and money in failed leadership development simulations. The simulation solution they initially implemented lost its focus and wound up turning into a monster the client couldn’t control, and one that didn’t align with their training goals and objectives. In most cases, this occurred because firms within my own industry went rogue. These firms are not entirely to blame, however. A partnership takes two, and the partnership can get out of control due to a lack of definition or focus, and an inability on the buyer’s part to say no.

According to research by John Kenworthy and Annie Wong, simulations and games are significantly more effective than traditional managerial training methods. However, effectively implementing these tools can be tricky, complicated and expensive. Due to costs, business simulations for leadership development have traditionally been reserved for the largest global companies. Things have gotten better over the last few years, though. The cost of development has dropped significantly as development tools and platforms have matured. This cost reduction is fantastic news for smaller companies. These tools are now more accessible than ever. However, as I noted above, the key to success lies in effective implementation.

Here are the top five tips to effectively implement a business simulation within your leadership-development program.

1. Start Small. The single most important pearl of wisdom I can share is to start small. At first, the leadership development simulation should be a small portion of your budget and program time. Experiment with something that is ready to go or requires minimal tailoring. You can take on something larger after you’ve gained experience and have seen where expansion is justified. In this instance, small also means a highly focused simulation program. I have yet to see a need for a simulation that requires multiple facilitators over multiple days. If it required multiple facilitators over multiple days, it was most likely far too large.

2. Practice Extreme Focus. The importance of staying focused is in keeping with starting small. Leadership-development managers often call with a laundry list of requirements from the business simulation. It is critical that you sit down with a piece of paper and write down the goals and objectives of your leadership-development program. The simulation needs to align behind these learning objectives and not stray from the path. This will help your training participants better align with the training goals and allow them to apply the content more effectively in their day-to-day work. Avoid expansion or scope creep.

3. Consider All Modes. When people think about business simulations, they visualize amazing digital tools. The computer-based solutions are exciting and they sizzle. This is great and can sometimes be important (did someone say buy-in?). But don’t discount the effectiveness of simple paper-based solutions. In many instances, computer-based simulations get in the way of effective learning. Participants get so distracted by the excitement of the computer solution that they forget to practice and apply the leadership-development content.

4. Stay in Charge. Most companies contract an outside firm to create leadership development business simulations. These are complicated tools and it takes a lot of time to create simulations that are effective. But remember, you are in charge. There is too much arrogance in the business-simulation industry (much of it unjustified, in my opinion). When you work with a firm, don’t get persuaded to go out of your comfort zone. Remember, these firms are working for you and you are the boss. Many will say, “I want to hire a firm that just does everything.” This is understandable, but no matter how high-powered the firm is, you should always feel you are in charge. They might drive the solution, but you are the lead of the project. At the end of the day, the simulation should fit your program, not the other way around.

5. Be Comfortable With Your Simulation Provider. This may seem like common sense, but it’s surprising how often I clean up problematic programs because a company chose a provider that was “the best in the industry,” but that they felt slightly bullied by. Often, this is because these solutions are complicated and there’s a tendency to say, “Okay, they know best.” Pick a provider to whom you can relate easily. You should be completely comfortable asking any questions that arise. You should feel a sense of deep collaboration, and know the team has your back no matter what.

Business simulations for leadership development are incredibly effective, and are more affordable than ever. However, it’s important to stay absolutely focused on the goals of the simulation, say no to scope creep and ensure you are comfortable with the solution. In the end, the leadership-development simulation is just a part of your overall development program. It should act accordingly. Always stay in charge and ensure you are comfortable with your team. Finally, start small and grow into the larger solution you might crave today. Employing these simple tips will help ensure you are set up for success. [End of published article]

Hope this helps! You can always visit business simulation eBooks and articles for more information. Another option is business simulation and leadership development related articles, and other resources. Happy Simulating :^)

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