You’ll find that our competitors emphasize their vehichle (a game, a simulation, a gimmick) over your desired destination (measurable success).
I attended the class with the hopes of learning about our business generically. What I received is how our products, culture, communication, and business impacts our strategy on a micro and macro level. I endorse the class so much that I think it should be mandatory for all associates.
Why not a game?
Instead of dumbing down your business and spending valuable time teaching people how to play a board game, we teach people substantive things – a deeper understanding of how their company makes money and the skills needed to play a more meaningful role in that money making process throughout their career.
Everything that’s good about games is what makes them wrong for business acumen training.
For example, too often gamification is all about making something tedious into a game. Whoa! Stop right there. Your business isn’t “tedious” to us, it isn’t “tedious” to your executive team, and it shouldn’t be “tedious” to your employees. But if you recommend a game to teach employees business acumen, you’re sending a very dangerous message that your business is slow, dull, and monotonous and that the only way to make the journey exciting and invigorating is to make a game out of it. That’s a mindset that can be hard to root out of an organization’s culture.
To us, business acumen training, done right, is an opportunity to turn someone who thinks business is uninteresting into a someone who’s excited to be part of it.
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Gaming taps into our “natural” impulses to compete, earn points, and get rewards. In other words, we want to win the game. So we “naturally” start trying to figure out the game’s rules, we size up the competition in the room, and we look for shortcuts, advantages, and maybe a loophole or two. When it’s all said and done there are winners, but there are also losers. Hmmm.
Instead of getting wrapped up in a game, we want our participants thinking about your business strategy. We want them figuring out how their ideas and decisions impact metrics that are important to the business. We want them spending time thinking about how to beat the real competition, not their colleague across the room. We want them to return to work eager to help your company win in the real-world.
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Games are designed to engage people, but when we interviewed a facilitator candidate, whose primary responsibility was teaching a business acumen board game for his employer, he confirmed what we’ve heard from others – the vast majority of participants sit back and observe the game being played. Only the most competitive participants really get into it. So you have to ask yourself if a game will have a real measurable impact on behavior when participants return to work - where it really matters.
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When participants walk into a classroom and they see a game board, fake money, and chance cards lying out on the table, what message does that send to them about their ability to understand your business?
If there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s this, your employees, junior and senior leaders, want to make good things happen for your company. They want successful careers and they want to contribute in more meaningful ways. They appreciate being treated like professionals and being trusted to take on important challenges. Millenials and frontline employees are especially thirsty to learn about your business and make a difference. Cheapening the experience with a generic game can get in the way of the results your CEO is trying to accomplish.
If you treat your employees like they’re vital to your business – they’ll be vital to your business. If you let them know that you take their personal development seriously – they’ll take their personal development seriously. Don’t make a game out of this important initiative. The development of business acumen is too important.
Why not a sim?
Simulations, like games, are typically reward oriented and so there’s an immediate interest in doing better than your peers. Competive participants can’t help but focus on “winning” and less competive participants are all too happy to sit on the sidelines and watch their competive colleagues battle it out. Ask anyone who’s facilitated a simulation; we’re willing to bet that managing this dichotomy is one of the biggest hurdles of the job.
By their very nature, simulations focus learners on concepts and ideas that have been programatically set, and the richness of the sim is dependent upon how many variables have been developed. If there’s not enough variables then the experience is going to be rudimentary at best and you simply won’t produce a measurable behavioral impact.
And if you do decide to open up the coffers to develop a fully customized business simulation with thousands of variables, remember that with every innovation or strategic move your company makes, your expensive sim becomes more out-of-date and irrelevant. That is until you invest more money to update your simulation.
A really good (really expensive) simulation is intended to give someone a life-like experience in preparation for doing something in the real world. Think of a flight simulator. Here’s the difference with us, we’re developing real action plans in class. We’re discussing your latest business numbers in class, not the dated or theoretical numbers loaded into the sim. We’re wrestling with your strategy in class. We’re not preparing people to work on your business, we’re actually doing real work in the classroom.
If we need to discuss a particular role and how it impacts your business, we can do that. If we need to play through how a real project will impact the top and bottom lines, we can go there – because we’re not bound by the dictates of a simulation. And we have time to unravel a concept and go down an unexpected, but valuable, learning path – our time isn’t constrained by a simulation’s learning curve. We’re spending all our time on your business, and no time is wasted learning how to run a complex simulation. You can rest assured that relevant learning happens from start to finish in our customized business acumen courses.
Having my MBA already, I appreciated that this was specifically customized to Aetna's financial statements and strategic priorities. I’ll be recommending this course to my colleagues in I&DS.
Why not a professor or university?
Most highly praised academic types have never run or owned a business. They’re quick to point out what you and I as businesspeople are doing wrong and can pontificate for hours about case studies they’ve written, but they’ve never felt the pressure of managing inventories or the weight of risk that comes with a new initiative. They’re not experts in business, they’re experts in case studies. And case studies are backward looking documents that examine the obvious failures of others. There’s a time and a place to look through the rearview mirror, but we’re more interested in helping your employees drive the business forward. Relying on outdated models and too many lessons from the past isn’t going to develop the energy and business sense needed to lead your company into the future.
Academics have it easy because they have nothing to lose. There’s a tremendous risk to us if we share bad advice or incorrect information – our business depends on getting it right. Our livelihood is at stake everytime we walk onto your corporate campus. Teaching business acumen successfully means everything to us. The stakes are much smaller for academic institutions. The “Univesity of whatever” isn’t going out of business if they do a poor job.
The bottom line is this, we’re businesspeople just like you. We’ve learned from our mistakes and we know what it’s like in the trenches. Those working for that high-priced academic institution on the hill have learned from studying other people’s mistakes.
To move the needle, your employees need “roll-up-your-sleeves” business acumen training, not “theoretical” business acumen training.
Why not my internal finance team?
It's not finance's job to run an employee training program and when they try to they're not usually very good at it. Most finance people are simply not that good in front of a classroom, especially a classroom of non-financial leaders. It's an uncommon talent that we even have a hard time finding.
Even if you're lucky enough to find that special talent – is it really a viable long-term solution? Will he or she be able to spend the time necessary to not only get up to speed, but also stay current on your business, your industry, and your competitors? We require 3-4 hours of preparation per class. Can they commit to that? And for how long?
The reality is… it isn't the finance department's job to teach business acumen to their colleagues. They're not going to stress over adult learning best practices, and ADDIE and rapid prototyping are as foreign to them as debt financing and negative working capital are to you.
A boring lecture that goes over most people's heads isn't going to cut it, but that's what you're typically going to get if you rely on your finance team to teach employees business acumen.
We're a better solution and most finance teams are happy to have us do it – especially after they've attended one of our courses.