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, but the quality and accuracy of the virtual environments are better now than they ever have been before.

benefits of using simulation

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 important part of leadership development.

Simulating the mental state

As Jonah Lehrer in Wired already 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 in some of the cases 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 model of a business operation, in which participants assume the role of managing the simulated operation. A simulation is an approach and a tool that makes possible controlled experiments, based on clear rules for the player. The user makes decisions (choices between alternatives) and receives a series of feedback that is conditional upon his/her 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 situations. The scenario-based approach used by the Simulations is a proven method to build expertise in tasks that are unsafe or infrequent 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 paths that run parallel to each other (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 key events within the simulation.

Realism and effectiveness

To maximize the benefits of using simulation, it has to own the right level of realism. But no leadership simulator system is entirely “realistic”. Simulations vary in complexity and realism, with more complex and realistic systems producing a correspondingly more realistic experience for the user. For example, the top-of-the-class leadership simulations are interactive movies using video scenarios and an attractive 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 a fully realistic way; to demonstrate, the kinds of problems that a winery manager is likely to face. The simulation builds the characters of the management team realistically, depicting personalities and their conflicts in ways that any FLIGBY player is likely to have routinely encountered in his or her 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 of leadership challenges. They allow managers to experience and see the impact of their leadership decisions and actions. That’s how experiential learning is working. The expected outcome from a simulation is one that 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 end result is far better than when things don’t go to plan at your real 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 gives you the opportunity to practice a scenario over and over until you’re fully confident. And the one-on-one debrief 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, allow matching of performance against criteria.
  3. You can practice unusual situations – Practicing unusual situations is a vital part of every leadership training, but it’s hard to do this in an authentic way without having the organizational setup. Simulation allows you to practice your responses to challenging business conditions and interpersonal conflicts whilst keeping you safe from the expensive (and sometimes irreversible) consequences of your decisions. This allows you to develop a range of complex skills you need to be a great leader. Instead of memorizing lessons on the blackboard, users are forced to exercise emotional regulation, learning how 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 at any time – The online virtual environment is open 24/7. You decide when and from where you are checking in, when you are returning and how much time you are spending at once. It means maximum availability – that is, simulation is not dependent on particular environmental conditions, or availability of a real 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 are able to 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 feedback of the player’s virtual colleagues. Feedback given during the simulation helps to motivate users to find better solutions to the problems being presented in the simulation and thus enhance their hands-on knowledge on particular subjects. The real-time continuous feedback given during the simulation has a positive impact on the users’ cognitive learning outcomes.

Prof. Csikszentmihalyi on Serious Games, Flow, and Engagement

“When I wrote Good Business in the early 2000s, I had no knowledge of “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 the organizations:

  1. You can create an engaging and highly motivational learning environment – High levels of interactions make learning fun and increase retention. Players must navigate their way through interpersonal, organizational and business complexities under very real circumstances – all the way to success! Each and 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, analyzing, and reporting users’ behavior can be used as a part of employee assessment. Simulations create an environment that offers a new type of platform for observing management behavior. The user gets totally absorbed into the story, and since s/he is completely unaware of how his or her decisions might affect the skill scores, the player unwittingly reveals his or her real self.  The leadership simulation, FLIGBY, for example, measures 29 management/leadership competencies during gameplay. After completing the game, FLIGBY’s Master Analytics Profiler provides the user with an individual report on his/her skill set, with a range of benchmarking options available. Assessing individual reports on a group or organizational levels offers the possibility to analyze group dynamics and how people with different skill sets work together on common 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 critical organizational issues. Collected data can predict the management group’s future behavior under different strategic challenges. This kind of sophisticated strategic modeling is becoming an ever-more-important part of organizations’ strategic planning because it helps to 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 have 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 it wishes to smooth the adaptation to the new situation. Facing a new challenge often implies that certain skills are particularly valuable to successfully managing them. When used throughout the organization, simulations build organizational alignment through the development of a common 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 timesaving, reduction in errors, faster time to competence, reduction in 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 the improvement of the unit’s performance, quality of 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 actual organization. With online learning activity, companies do not bear the costs of 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, one that keeps a good ratio between the time spent on learning and knowledge retention, can always be optimized. The process of simulating a scenario to practice different responses and actions to a real-life situation is extremely effective in knowledge retention. This is because knowledge isn’t in theory – the user needs to apply it in a real-life situation. Simulations offer a chance to experience real-life scenarios that depict true events. It is a faster, and efficient way for practice and learning that helps people understand how they should act in real life situations.

Unbiased way of profiling

The main advantage of the game-based profiling is the unbiased nature of the resulting skill measurements obtained via the leadership simulation as compared with the typically biased other measures generated via the organization’s own survey or one of the standard surveys. The reason for the bias typically found in those other 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 game” the game is to try to win it.

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

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