MANAGERS and employees need to understand the "big picture" to effectively contribute to the overall success of the company.

Company leaders want chief learning officers to align educational offerings with the organisation's strategic objectives. That is not an easy challenge but developing strategic alignment and business acumen is critical to improving a company's bottom line results.

Business simulation

Books and lectures can help. But business acumen is best developed experientially. Learners must be able to analyse situations, ask questions, discuss issues with other learners, consider options, make mistakes and see results.

Although there are a variety of ways to accomplish this kind of experiential learning, leading corporations have found that simulations, which mirror reality and allow learners to experiment in a safe environment, are among the best methods.

There is a rising trend in companies of using business simulations to communicate their strategic direction and to teach employees about cross-functional collaboration.

As Confucius said: "Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand."

Characteristics of effective simulations
1. Learn by doing

When you need people to understand new concepts, change behaviour and improve performance, put away the manuals and cancel the slide show.

People learn by doing. You need to develop tools that make difficult information easy to understand. Customised simulations recreate genuine corporate challenges and situations so people have a chance to test new skills and explore new concepts in a realistic but risk-free environment.

2. Discovery approach

Users begin the simulation without a great deal of prior knowledge about the process. They may have received the context around the initiative at hand, background information on the simulation storyline, a description of issues currently facing the simulated company, and perhaps a tutorial on using simulation features.

They may go through a series of profiling questions or other type of assessments to determine their knowledge or experience. Once in the simulation, users decide on a particular role to play in the simulation, and then enter the storyline. This approach allows users to move through the simulation and "discover" what they know or don't know. If they need help, or are unprepared to continue, they may access supporting resources or use additional tools.

3. Behavioural change

What's the point of running someone through a simulation if their performance does not change? There is a need for instructionally sound simulations that focus on motivating behavioural change. Simulations should support a desired change of behaviour that affects a particular initiative, process or system.

4. Consistent feedback

Feedback is one of the defining characteristics of simulation. Users are immersed in a storyline, and have control over their progress. Therefore, it is critical that they receive consistent, high-impact feedback on their progress, the results of their actions, and opportunities for improvement. Feedback is provided so that users can assess their current situation, analyse their options for moving forward, and measure the results of their actions.

Better approach

Well-designed simulations have capabilities that are far greater than those of other learning and communication methods. For example, simulations offer the ability to:

* Anchor an initiative or a new business process throughout the workforce in a way that is fast, consistent, and compelling;

* Evaluate the "as-is" state and plan the "to-be" state, to communicate, to provide context, to integrate - all in the service of getting the desired results from a particular business transformation or initiative;

* Be used at every level of the organisation; and

* Monitor performance to gauge how well a team, unit or organisation is adhering to a new process and the level of teamwork.

The bottom line

Now is the time when this type of training solution and people development is most needed. Successful companies must focus on sharpening the strategic alignment and business acumen of their managers and employees.

A simulation promotes better transformational decision-making skills development and helps to break down the undesired silo mentality or internal functional barriers. The customised simulation programmes help managers to understand the big picture; it also provides a safe environment within which to experiment with innovative ideas and bold strategies.