By Michael Barna Kepner-Tregoe

 

Practice makes perfect - we’ve heard the phrase all our lives but in the information age where repetitive actions get automated and outsourced away, businesses seem to have forgotten about the value of practice.  Then when a problem is encountered, leaders can’t understand why their staff struggle to know what to do.  The good news is that the tools needed to solve this issue are sitting right in front of us: simulation and muscle memory – one of the most under-utilized tools in business.  

In modern business, the area where the need for competency is greatest are in the areas of problem-solving and critical-thinking.  Most employees have received some sort of training or have picked up some basic skills at some point in their career, but few have refreshed those skills recently or practice them regularly.   That is unfortunate because regular exercise of problem-solving and critical-thinking skills can lead to increased employee alertness to potential issues, faster responsiveness and more confident decision-making.

Why aren’t more companies using simulations today?

Many leaders don’t understand what the tool is and how to use it effectively. The purpose of simulation is not to provide scripted responses (If… then do this…) – that would indeed discourage critical thinking.  Instead, the simulations should establish complex scenarios, similar to situations employees might encounter in the work environment and provide a chance for them to practice breaking down the problem into parts, collaborating with others, evaluating alternatives (with no clear right answer) making a decision and then observing the consequences. 

The goal is not for a perfect outcome but for employees to experience ambiguity, make mistakes and learn from them.  The muscles that we are trying to build are those of deductive reasoning, stress management, interpersonal communication skills and making decisions under pressure.  The more employees can be comfortable in these skills, the more confident and prepared they will feel when a real-life scenario arises.

Where in the company is there the greatest opportunity? 

The types of situations and problems that lead themselves well to simulation are functions with an underlying process structure (that can be used to frame a scenario), places where problem-solving includes a lot of ambiguity and areas where multiple people need to work together to come to a solid solution.  Some of the common functions where these factors exist are: Manufacturing Operations, Business Continuity Planning, IT Service Management, Risk Management (Finance) and HR.

Tips for planning a successful simulation exercise

  1. Make it real – select scenarios and situations that are likely to be encountered.  Consider adding plot twists and secondary events that happen part way through the simulation.
  2. Turn up the heat – create a sense of urgency and provide executive visibility to the simulation and how people perform.
  3. Emphasize thinking before acting – there will be a natural tendency to want to act quickly. Use this to highlight risks.
  4. Don’t forget the post-game review – encourage employees to be critical of themselves, It is a learning experience after all.

Simulation and muscle memory are one of the most under-utilized tools in business – but if used effectively can lead to increased employee confidence and organizational preparedness for dealing with unknown events.  

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