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The emergence of immersive learning

Upon hearing ‘immersive simulation’ you might think about unflattering virtual reality helmets, Sim City or any other gamer role play, but immersive learning is becoming a ‘game changer’ in corporate learning.

Immersive simulation is effective in embedding learning as it allows the learner to act in a real life situation with guidance and without all the consequences.

Employees can practice the newly acquired skills as many times as they’d like until they feel comfortable applying it in a real life situation.

We inherently learn by doing rather than sitting in front of  10 minutes of eLearning and being expected to transfer knowledge into skills so this is the closest you can get to the real thing without the risk.

A corporate immersive simulation typically involves different ‘real-life’ situations in which the learner needs to make decisions based on the learning they’ve received. It involves constructive feedback when they get it wrong and positive reinforcement when they get it right.

It’s great that the evidence demonstrates what a powerful tool immersive simulations can be, but you’re probably asking ‘isn’t implementing something like this expensive’? Investing the money upfront will allow you to reap the benefits long term. Not only does immersive simulation provide a safe environment for employees to learn from their mistakes, but those mistakes are not actually occurring in reality therefore not negatively impacting the bottom line.

As previously mentioned, the rate at which learning is embedded is also higher than traditional methods and thus you’re getting more bang for your buck.

Things to consider when setting up an immersive simulation in your organisation:

  • Make it future proof: If your company is investing a large amount of money, you want to make sure it will have a long shelf life in order to allow employees to reap the benefits for as long as possible, or at least until technology vastly evolves yet again (which is inevitable). When we worked with a client to ensure employees were ready to adopt new systems and working practices of a new company taking over, we used a designated learning space with sandboxes of the systems people would be using with experts from different fields trying out common tasks with people. It was also an occasion where leadership had a voice and additional communications reinforced behaviours to further reassure and prepare people. The tools, templates and supporting technology were reusable.
  • Involve your SMEs from the very beginning: The earlier you involve the experts, the less content reviews you will need to endure. This means a quicker and more accurate delivery of the simulation to the business which, 9 times out of 10, is needed as soon as possible.
  • Get people excited about it!: This is an exciting new tool that employees actually get to play with, so use that to your advantage. It can often be difficult to engage learners, especially with corporate material but the fact that this is gamification at its finest means there’s much to leverage here to gain user buy-in.

Immersive simulations are an up and coming tool in corporate learning and pack a huge punch when it comes to embedding learning. When looking to be innovative and cutting edge, using this tool in your organisation is definitely something to consider.

The Social Network: Discovering informal change leaders

When undertaking a change project, whether it be technological or process based, we always look to build a change network to act as champions for the cause throughout the organisation.

The obvious choices for these roles are usually senior leaders, line managers or team leaders, however there is an untapped resource hidden in the formal organisational structure.

Formal business leaders are the natural choice to be change champions but what about the influencers within teams, departments or business units? These types of people tend to be (but not always) the more experienced in the company, typically social within groups and well respected and trusted amongst their peers.

If you could identify and recruit these people to be your change champions not only would you be easing the resistance to change but you’ll be able to gain inside knowledge as to what the real issues are the need addressing.

It may sound next to impossible to find out who the informal influencers are in an organisation but the concept of Social Network Analysis (SNA) makes it a lot easier. SNA is essentially the analysis of informal and social connections between employees and when mapped out looks more like a web of contacts than a formal organisational structure.

It is a true snapshot how a group of people are interconnected and how they share information, and you may be surprised to find out that the influencers aren’t always in a management position.

Carrying out a SNA is a great diagnostic tool to understand the working environment in which you are implementing change but that is only half the battle. Once you’ve identified the key people it’s a matter of taking them from informal influencers into change leaders. A few things to consider when gaining buy-in from this group:

  1. Really help them understand the cause; create belief that this is the best way forward: Sometimes this will be met with resistance, just remember to listen to their concerns and perhaps there may be points that you could act on. Involving the change leader in this will likely lessen the reluctance.
  1. Engage with and involve them on a consistent basis: There is no point in recruiting these influential employees if you don’t nurture the relationship and keep them in the loop. They need to be equipped with the right tools and know that their opinion matters.
  1. Not all influencers will make good change leaders: Keep in mind that although they may have some pull in an informal network, that person may not be suitable to be a change leader. They may not have the willingness to do the extra work or may not be able to see the benefit of the change.

Identifying change leaders through SNA is a great tool to use to get under the hood of an organisation and although this method has been around for decades in an anthropological way, it will prove to be revolutionary in the corporate arena as it can provide insight into the root cause of issues and the informal connections that happen behind the scenes just waiting to be leveraged.

Mindfulness as a must-have in change management

Change is tough on people. So how can change management, with its focus on people, use mindfulness to encourage awareness and involvement?

I was recently given a book as a gift written by ABC journalist Dan Harris titled 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works-A True Story.

My first thought upon receiving it was ‘this is just another one of those fads that will be forgotten about in 2016’. However anything that claims to reduce my stress grabs my attention so I decided to read it.

Not only did this book make me see the benefit for me, but what a difference this practice could make to businesses and people during change.

Stress at work

Can you think of a time at work when you had so many plates spinning that the resultant anxiety made you become inert? This happens to so many of us on a daily basis and can seriously hinder performance and general wellbeing and also the business’s bottom line.

What is mindfulness?

Oxford dictionary defines mindfulness as “A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique”.

Applying it to business change

Resistance to change – Awareness

Practicing mindfulness allows you to become aware of what you are feeling and your reactions which subsequently increase self-awareness and emotional intelligence (EI) in general which is a prevalent factor in effective leaders (Sadri, 2012).

One of the most difficult times in the change journey is when people feel overwhelmed and they commonly lose heart during the so called trough of the change curve where real despondency can hit.

Encouraging people to reflect on change allows a level of distance and objectivity. It allows the individual to see the condition as temporary and also accept the way they feel and normalise this period of ill adjustment that could otherwise alienate them from change and cause resistance in the long term.

Face to face interviews between the change team and those going through the change can cultivate awareness. Your team doing the communicating should use their empathy at this point to bring out greater awareness.

 

Leading change – Focus

When faced with complex change, taking a break to sit quietly (leave the emails alone!) to clear your mind can conjure up new ideas and a new perspective. This is also a great way to spark creativity and innovation. Blocking everything out and focusing on one key thing lets you think creatively about a solution.

Putting across this focus in your communications also drives clarity and commitment around a vision. Execution of change starts with focus. What’s the real driver for change, the idea outcome? Keeping focused on this puts a strong central message out to the business and focuses your thoughts on how to best reach your goal.

A close focus on the real driver for change, the real desired outcome, throughout execution – from planning to delivery to stakeholders – will keep the benefits in sight and keep the big vision compelling throughout change –a huge advantage in elevating your programme above the noise and chaos of change taking place every in business.

 

Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for employees as it can increase creativity, innovation, reduce stress and increase collaboration. Not only is this beneficial for the individual but the increased productivity and wellbeing can positively impact the business change outcomes.

This isn’t a new concept however we have just scratched the surface as to how mindfulness can play a key part in business success so expect to see much more on this topic in the future.

References

Sadri, G. (2012). Emotional intelligence and leadership development. Public Personnel Management41(3), 535-548.

Recommended reading

Hunter, J. (2013). Is mindfulness good for business?

Harris, D (2014). 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story.

Is resistance to change really a bad thing?

Research states that the failure of many change programmes can be traced directly to employee resistance to change [1]

It is not uncommon to see the topic of ‘how to minimise resistance’ on the agenda of kick off meetings in an attempt to thwart the beast that is the challenging employee.

But what if I told you that resistance to change can be a healthy and necessary part of the change process?

When a new process or technology is introduced the impact of this change can greatly affect the end user. It’s these employees whose day to day work life will often change the most. It’s important to listen to their feedback even if it’s negative as it often is.

Although negativity can just be a symptom of uncertainty it can also uncover some genuine concerns that perhaps were not considered by management when the change implementation plan was first drafted.

Capturing those genuine concerns

It’s been said that humans inherently don’t like change but I would debate that statement. We adapt to change every day in one form or another, whether that be rescheduling a business meeting or dealing with a road closure on our way to work that forces us to take a detour.

We have an amazing ability to overcome and adapt but we need context, we want answers as to the why and the how.

Inquisitiveness and questioning is often viewed as resistance but these questions and concerns can be extremely valuable to change champions: They can highlight problematic areas not previously thought of.

In order to properly capture these concerns there needs to be a well-publicised available channel that the employee can raise their apprehensions with the confidence that they will reach the right person and be actioned or at least considered.

Avenues through which this can be achieved are company forums, departmental workshops that the change champions attend, or having departmental employee representatives involved at the beginning of the planning stage.

Involving people early on

Involving employees early on in the planning stages of any change is crucial in change management. Kotter, one of the change management gurus consistently delivers this message in his many books and articles regarding how to successfully implement change.

Not only will you be gathering a holistic view of what issues need to be considered in each department, but you will also be gaining buy-in from the employees.

They are more likely to embrace the change and become champions of the process if they feel included and have an understanding of the overall vision for change.

Resistance should be leveraged rather than dismissed or feared when a business is going through significant change.

It not only captures all elements of the business that are to be considered but also gains buy-in that is so important to building a powerful coalition.

In the words of the Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown “we fear what we do not understand”, so to all the change practitioners out there please take a moment to understand the source and theme of the resistance as this may give you valuable insight as how to make change stick.

[1] Maurer, R. (1996), “Using resistance to build support

for change”, Journal for Quality & Participation,

June, pp. 56-63

 

Further resources: Check your change readiness in this quick online change readiness assessment

Download our internal communication channel guide here

Measuring the right thing in performance management

Ever feel like your performance management is a bit of a box ticking exercise?

You’re not on your own. A Towers Watson survey of 100 UK businesses in December 2013, revealed that 96% believed that Performance Management is important for their organisation, yet only 64% reported having either an effective or very effective approach.

People and their ongoing performance and development are crucial to profit. A growing understanding of this means a tick box approach to people appraisal and management isn’t going to cut it anymore.

What is performance management?

As defined by Michael Armstrong of the CIPD: “Performance management is a process which is defined to improve organisational, team and individual performance and which is owned and driven by line managers”.

Performance Management (PM) practices have been an integral part of most business models for decades and were traditionally a one-dimensional and isolated system managed by Human Resources.

Why is it so important?

CEOs now have a keen eye on how robust our PM systems really are and how closely linked they are to the overall business strategy.

Why is this? In the last 20 years or so, applied psychologists and professionals have been able to prove a direct link between people management and profitability.

Increasingly, many firms are moving toward rewarding development and innovation as there is now a realisation of just how important and influential employees can be to an organisation’s growth and ultimately its bottom line. PM systems are no longer a simple HR activity.

Subsequently millions of pounds have been invested into revamping organisation-wide PM approaches. The idea is if you invest in your people, you will gain a competitive edge, as well as benefit from increased profitability.

Updating your approach

In the past, most companies measured their employee’s performance based on their hard skills such as sales targets, volume of work etc. Generally any type of skill that could be tangibly measured and produced hard data. This was quite easy for line managers to appraise, you either met your targets or you didn’t. But now there is growing appreciation of soft skills and other less quantifiable behaviours and their role in performance.

It’s trickier to assess the more intangible or soft skills such as teamwork, cooperation and generally any trait that can be associated with Emotional Intelligence. How do we ensure that these skills are fairly and objectively appraised?

Although not as exact as the data produced by measuring hard skills, there are ways in which you can provide the most consistent and objective feedback possible as an appraiser:

360 degree feedback

Gaining feedback from the employee’s peers, customers, direct reports and superiors gives a well-rounded view of the individual and may provide valuable information on their competencies and soft skills and how they work.

Goal setting

Creating goals and milestones with the employee not only motivates them throughout the year but it is also a way to obtain data from the development of soft skills. For example, if there is a need to develop teamwork skills, you could create a goal with the employee to get involved with a least two team based projects a year. Linking some of these goals to the overall business strategy ensures that every person is ultimately working towards the same objectives.

Regular meetings throughout the year

Not only does this build a good rapport between you and your appraisee, it also increases their motivation to perform well. It is important to always ask them to send you the topics they would like to discuss in your meeting, as well as sharing yours. Having a combined agenda such as this brings structure and an appropriate level of expectation to the meeting.

Performance Appraisals and Performance Management systems in general are very complex yet desirable subjects to understand, especially by senior executives. As managers and appraisers, it is difficult to master the appraisal process. However, with increased self-awareness and consistency, along with some of the tips mentioned, you’ll not only make the process more efficient for you and your appraisee, but also hopefully more enjoyable!

MOOCs – The future of social learning?

A 2014 Future Workplaces survey found 70 per cent of HR professionals planned to integrate MOOCs into their learning programmes.

We now want information at our fingertips, on the go and catered to our busy schedules; so could MOOCs, a new form of social learning with a low delivery cost and high accessibility, be the answer?

Admittedly business has been slower than education to adopt MOOCs but we’re seeing them grow in popularity.

For example, if you use SAP globally then you may opt for Open Sap which helps learners adopt SAP through gamification and connecting learners with each other and SAP experts. Elsewhere, Google is training huge amounts of digital specialists with its online education courses. And MOOCs lead to real business results: McAfee saw large increases in sales after it put its employees through a MOOC on training for new employees.

What are MOOCs? 

Short for Massive Open Online Course, a MOOC has the capability to enrol large amounts of delegates, thousands even, onto a course and they are open online to anyone. It is essentially a semi-synchronous online classroom where the materials and assignments are posted on a general forum where you can learn at your own pace.

At the end of each week, next weeks’ materials and assignments are made available online. The trainer and fellow learners are available throughout the course to liaise with through forum-like discussions which also acts as a great platform to pose any questions and receive extra help.

What can MOOCs do for the corporate world?

Access and flexibility

MOOCs provide the flexibility needed in a fast paced environment as, let’s face it, many of us find it difficult to carve out a few hours in our work day for professional development.

Setting up a MOOC gives all employees access at any point in the day so they can work to their own schedules.

On a global scale, they provide consistency and accessibility to employees around the world and appeal to the masses. For example, they can be used to instil a particular process or accreditation globally.

Minimising costs and disruption

They involve minimal ongoing teaching expenses and cost the same to run no matter how many employees enrol. External courses may however charge but can still represent a more cost effective solution than classroom training as at the very least you are saving time and money on travel and potential accommodation.

Innovation and continuous improvement

The interactive element of MOOCs which connects people and drives conversation allows employees around the globe to share advice and ideas – it’s the two way communication between colleagues that can build skills and knowledge effectively.

Tracking and measurement

Progress can also be tracked in real time by the employer which is extremely valuable data and can be used for course improvements in identifying the sticking points for people in particular modules.

As with all learning MOOCs must be linked to strategic business objectives, but if well-chosen can have a very positive effect on the skills of a workforce and the market competitiveness of a business.

MOOCs are a step closer to giving the employee control of their own training in regards to where and when they learn. As corporations continue to globalise, social learning needs to follow suit and MOOCs are the easy choice when it comes to providing accessibility, consistency and flexibility for both the employer and the learner.