eSimulations

Blueline Applies its “Secret Sauce” to Booz Allen Hamilton’s Award Winning Onboarding Program

If you recall in a previous post we shared the “secret sauce” that distinguishes the onboarding experiences Blueline creates for its clients.  Now let’s look at how the four elements we identified amount to a “quadfecta” and form an award-winning onboarding program for Booz Allen Hamilton.

1. ContextBlueline created two immersive classroom-based experiences for Booz Allen new hires. First, a Blueline Blueprint learning visual engages new hires in a visual and interactive tour of Booz Allen’s history and culture. Learners work in teams to answer questions, move along a visual timeline of events, and interact with illustrated data.  They see the “big picture” and gain insight into the core values, seminal events and cultural underpinnings of this distinguished organization.

Next, a simulation situates participants in the role of a consulting project team at Booz Allen. Through competition, experiential learning and teamwork, they make decisions and experience consequences that fast-forward them through the learning curve of “what is it like to work here?”

2. Impression – We never get tired of hearing participants in the onboarding programs we create use words and phrases like: “Wow” or “I’ve worked at a lot of companies and have never experienced something like this…” or “This really demonstrates a commitment to employees that I’m excited about.” Blueline and Booz Allen have had the pleasure of being awash in these comments every time this program is run.

3. Engagement and fun – Koosh balls and Lincoln Logs may equal fun in some training experiences, but to what end? Booz Allen new hires represent some of the most experienced and intelligent former military, corporate and government talent in the world. Blueline’s definition of fun in this, and frankly, all of our efforts, is much more sophisticated. In Booz Allen’s onboarding program participants debate ideas (that’s fun for geniuses), compete (of course), and explore information (root cause analysis anyone?) in ways that keep them wanting more.

Teams move along a “game of life”-type visual; making decisions based on knowledge they acquire in experiential activities. Decisions affect consequences that earn or lose “chips.” These chips amount to points accumulated against three key dimensions that represent real-world success at Booz Allen. Events intervene, setbacks occur and promotions and accolades accumulate. We have to practically force them to take breaks!

4. A Culture Focus – There are few corporate cultures we have encountered as diverse and inclusive as Booz Allen Hamilton’s. An administrative new hire from Mumbai may be seated in the onboarding classroom next to a former full-bird Colonel. Blueline and Booz Allen collaborated intently to be sure this experience represents and includes the myriad of roles and textures that make up the Booz Allen organization. The Blueline Blueprint learning visual grounds each new-hire in the cultural foundation of the organization, then allows every participant to find him or herself in a character or a role represented in the simulation.

Stay tuned for the “rest of the story.” In our next blog we’ll share what has happened at Booz Allen since our intervention and where Blueline is going next in this dynamic onboarding space.

The Crashing of the Wave

In May of 2009, Google announced their “next big thing” Google Wave. It was touted as the next generation replacement for email. As it became available outside of Google offices and moved into the public realm, there was much speculation as to just what Wave was and how people would use it. Sadly, on August 4, 2010, Google announced that they are pulling the plug on Wave. It just never gained enough users for them to continue to invest in its development.

Wave never moved out of beta and as I posted earlier was not quite ready for prime time. Some of what it enabled users to do though is address very real and growing needs. What most people came to realize is that Wave was not a replacement for email, but rather a powerful collaboration tool. It provided for easy, real-time collaboration on everything from meeting notes to drafting research papers.

Here at Blueline we found it a useful tool for capturing conference call notes, drafting proposals, and quickly bringing someone new into a project or client conversation. The ability to “play back” revisions to a document or set of notes allowed a new team member to not only see the current version of a document, but follow the progression of the thinking that led to it.

The need for better tools for real-time collaboration that Wave tapped is now showing up in other tools such as the new version of Microsoft Office, and web-team tools such as Sync.in. Passing around a document via email is inefficient and lacks the “personal touch” of real-time collaboration.

From a learning perspective, these new tools for remote collaboration open up new avenues for peer learning and mentoring. More and more the future of learning in the workplace seems to be moving from the classroom to learning within the context of the work itself, whether that be through sophisticated Level 4 eSimulations, or just-in-time peer-to-peer learning.

As designers of learning experiences, we need to not only use these tools, but think strategically about them and how they can be leveraged to achieve the learning and business objectives of organizations. While the Google Wave may have crashed, the larger tide of more collaboration and team learning is still coming in.

How to Maximize the Effectiveness of Live Role-Play

Live role-plays are not inherently better than eSimulations, there are some conditions that must exist to make this type of practice effective:

First, the role-play should be well constructed to reflect real-life situations that the learner is likely to face, but not be so complicated that individual aspects of a skill cannot be isolated for practice and feedback.

Second, the quality of a live role-play is very dependent on the quality of the “other party,” with whom the learner is interacting. Effective role-play construction can minimize this, but there will always be some variability in the quality of the experience.

Third, and perhaps most important, the effectiveness in improving performance will greatly depend on the quality of the observer/coach and the feedback they provide. Developing competent coaches is paramount to any live role-play scenario.

One way that my designs ensure a good experience for each learner is to provide multiple role-play opportunities with multiple parties being the “other” and “coach.”

Point/Counter Point: Live Role-Play vs. eSimulations

Point: Robert Coates

The latest “craze” with social and mobile learning will not replace classroom training any more than books replaced lectures, television replaced radio, or video tapes and DVDs replaced movie theaters. Each new innovation in technology provides additional ways of communicating, but doesn’t totally supplant the old ones.

My position is that, as good as eSimulations have become, there are still some aspects of live role-play based skill practice that can’t be duplicated or replaced. What eSimulations excel at are providing opportunities to evaluate a situation and weigh options for responding. It’s at the level of “human” communication, rather than decision-making, that they can’t yet replicate.

Albert Mehrabian and others have investigated the non-verbal aspects of human communication and are often quoted as saying that the meaning of a communication is only 7% the words you say, 38% the tonality, and 55% the body language. Actually, Mehrabian concludes that those percentages are the formula we use for resolving the meaning of inconsistent messages (see Silent Messages 2nd Edition pages 75-58). The point that How you say something is just as or more important than What you say is almost axiomatic. Just changing what word is emphasized in a sentence can completely change its meaning.

It is in this critical non-verbal area of communication that I believe live role-play excels. Subtle communications like tone of voice, timing, eye-contact, and body language play a huge role in our interactions with others. These are also behaviors that can be practiced, improved upon and coached. Currently, technology does not allow us to evaluate the learner’s use of these through eSimulation.

Counterpoint: David Milliken

Just 10 months ago I would have agreed with Robert. But today, because of the many advances that have occurred in eSimulations, for many applications they are actually better. Here are a couple of reasons why:

  1. Level 4 eSimulations (using a rules-based gaming engine) are extremely realistic. Now that developers can create hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of video-based nodes, eSimulations can accurately reflect small changes in tone and body language. Throw in the use of voice-recognition and you have an unparalleled user experience!
  2. eSimulations deliver a consistent experience for every user. Notice that I didn’t say the same experience. That wouldn’t be accurate because, in theory, depending on the number of nodes, hundreds could face the same choices and have the same opportunities, but because of the decisions they made, have a completely unique experience. eSimulations eliminate the variability inherent in a live human role player and can be scored in such a way that they eliminate rater (coach) bias as well.
  3. eSimulations can provide for significantly more practice opportunities than classroom based live-role play. For each live role-play you need to engage two people and optimally three, who often then rotate roles. In the same or less time, all three people could accomplish three rounds of practice each, and probably more, through eSimulation.

However, eSimulations still aren’t for everyone. While development costs have dropped dramatically as developers have improved processes and tools, the relative value of this technology is still dictated by the volume of users who can benefit. While some off-the-shelf solutions can serve small numbers of users cost effectively, if you need to develop something custom, typically you need an audience of 100 or more users for it to be cost effective.

We want to know what YOU think! Lend your voice to the conversation.

What can we learn from the world’s best business schools?

What’s the one thing that everyone with an MBA shares? — One or more experiences with team-based simulations. They are perfect for the B-School environment:

  1. They facilitate team-building,
  2. They provide a quick and effective means to assess the strengths and weaknesses of other students,
  3. They are fun and engaging,
  4. They are an outlet for extremely competitive students, and
  5. They teach practical application of a broad range of skills: business strategy and finance, project management, brand management, leadership, market strategy, sales strategy and trust.

Until recently, these simulations ranged from “simply elegant board games” to sophisticated LAN-based computer simulations with unique information presented via “dash board” for each learner to analyze, make and communicate decisions.

Remote team-based activities and simulation

This summer, the Wharton School of Business presented a case about the effectiveness of team-based activities run remotely — either synchronously or asynchronously — at ASTD’s National Conference. Wharton’s experience (with their Executive MBA Program) was that, in addition to significantly reducing travel time and cost, learners retained more and were more productive when they had more time between sessions to digest and apply information. Their typical design approach incorporated a series of individual and group exercises. It included podcasts, webinars, white papers, remote office hours, and a remote group activity followed by a capstone live classroom experience.

While there have been notable exceptions in our past (e.g. broadly successful roll-outs of Simulearn’s Virtual Leader) historically, for most organizations, distance learning has meant delivering PowerPoints via webinar.

However, that’s no longer the case. Blueline recently launched: Enspire’s Business Challenge. Business Challenge is a web-based, single or multiplayer simulation in which participants take the helm of a virtual business and compete for market leadership. The simulation is set up and debriefed remotely via Webinar. At the client’s option, it can also be supplemented with a series of case-based elearning modules called Fluent in Finance. It presents a unique combination of elearning, simulation and virtual classroom in its design.

Today, we live at the intersection of technological innovation and learning. We feel that the ROI on remote team-based activities and simulation is so compelling, that we regularly include elements of it in the work that we are proposing and designing for clients this fall.