In a world of their own

Liz Dean, management development and education consultant with the Abbey
National Group, explains why the company chose Impact Development Training
Group’s business simulation, Simpact, to prepare its graduates for future key
positions within the firm

Simpact

Designed and delivered by: Impact and Simulation Training, Cragwood House,
Windermere, Cumbria, LA23 1LQ Phone: 015394 88333
info@impact-dtg.com
www.impact-dtg.com

On test

Abbey National recruits between 50 and 100 graduates each year within
several different areas of the business, and brings them together for their
core induction programme.

The induction process for any graduate is a key stage in meeting the longer-term
business needs. It introduces new recruits to the business as well as preparing
them for future key positions within the company.

The Abbey National Group was looking for something a little bit different to
assist in the development of the company’s graduate intake of 2001.

Design brief

Abbey National worked alongside Impact to design an event that would ensure
the graduates had an opportunity to solve problems, think strategically, plan
for business results, consider cost efficiency and network with colleagues, as
well as giving and receiving feedback.

Impact has developed a ‘real world’ business simulation programme called
Simpact, in conjunction with a partner organisation, Simulation Training.

The simulation provides a genuine emphasis on both soft and hard management
skills within an authentic business context, by combining the power of
experiential learning with the business focus of a rigorous computer ‘business
simulation’.

The programme creates a challenging, realistic and yet safe environment in
which participants can practice their skills and receive powerful feedback.

Impact adapted Simpact to meet our needs and a five- day programme was
designed to be delivered over three events. Abbey National staff delivered the
first and last days, effectively topping and tailing the events, while Impact
was responsible for the middle three days.

Leading up to the first event, regular meetings took place between the two
organisations to ensure there was enough time to pay attention to the small details
necessary to make the events a success. This partnership meant that the
business simulation was specifically tailored to challenge and develop the
graduates.

Preparation

The first morning engaged the graduates in several team exercises, beginning
the process of understanding team dynamics and preparing delegates for the
intensive team work that would follow.

The afternoon saw the introduction of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator¨
(MBTI¨), a psychometric used throughout each event, enabling individuals to
understand themselves and others, and to appreciate differences.

Delegates also used part of the first day to clarify their own personal
learning objectives in small groups before committing them to paper. These
personal objectives provided an excellent starting point for the business
simulation, with delegates introducing them and looking at how they could meet
all of the needs of the individuals in the team.

The central three days threw the graduates into the simulation and the
running of their ‘virtual’ businesses. As is the way with many management
challenges, the graduates were faced with the day-to-day issues of running a
business while still having to take new information on board.

The simulation’s backbone is a manual containing much of the necessary
knowledge which was given to the graduates the previous evening. This gave them
limited time to prepare for the challenge ahead.

Very early on in the programme, teams were asked to undertake a joint SWOT
analysis, which indicated their understanding of the competitive and strategic
position their ‘company’ was in. Each company was also asked to agree its
culture and values which provided some interesting discussions. Individuals
expressed what was important to them personally and then tried to incorporate
these factors into an agreed way of operating as a whole.

Simulation

Each team managed a ‘media business’ at both a strategic and operational
level and each half-day of the simulation equates to a year in real terms. A
sophisticated computer model provided the financial and market background
against which the simulation is played out. But unlike other simulations,
business decisions made at board level must actually be implemented by the
production team. Each ‘year’, companies receive their financial results,
customer and staff feedback, as well as a market and news summary.

Each business consists of five board members and five members of the film
crew and these jobs are rotated each year to ensure that individuals are
provided with different learning opportunities. The board roles allow
individuals either to feel the pressure of being the managing director,
fulfilling a challenging role within HR or making strategic financial decisions
as the finance director.

The HR role is key, with each company being given an opportunity to earn
Investors in People (IIP) during the simulation. Earning the award relies on
the company knowing clearly what each individual is actually learning and being
able to clearly explain this to an Impact facilitator.

It is the role of the operations team to create and deliver specific video
footage to meet their news contracts each year, as well as producing any video
footage for the chosen markets that they have strategically decided to
diversify into. This produced some brilliant and very creative work, which was
shown at a festival-style presentation on the evening of the fourth day. It
also created much amusement as it also provided an opportunity to watch
competitors’ efforts.

During the progression of each event, business inputs helped the graduates
make sense of some of the dilemmas they were facing. These inputs allowed the
teams to experiment and make a difference to their team’s performance with some
of the knowledge they had just received, thus making it appears more real and
immediate.

The inputs on our events focused on developing a strategy, empowering staff
and being creative and innovative, but they can also be tailored to meet other
specific learning requirements.

The business results for each team were presented at the end of each year,
in front of their competitor teams, thus building the engagement across the
group as they realised how they were performing against each other. Each team
was asked to talk through their annual performance.

Challenging the graduates to meet strict deadlines in delivering their video
clips ensured the events were engaging and demanding, often pushing individuals
to achieve new levels of performance.

Team review

At the end of each year, individual teams took part in a review. These were
a key component of the design of the programme and ensured the learning was
being transferred back to the workplace. Reviews were specifically designed to
focus on the areas of learning outlined in the objectives. They were expertly
facilitated by Impact, providing an appropriate atmosphere in which individuals
could express their opinions and appreciate others’ points of view.

At the beginning of each year, teams had the opportunity to meet their
actual client, a member of the Impact team, who had watched their video clips.

This provided a real opportunity for the teams to practice their client
relationship skills and receive feedback on the quality and creativity of their
operational team’s output.

Feedback to individuals about their personal performance was always designed
to be a central theme of the programme. Halfway through each event, every
individual was given some feedback outlining a key interpersonal skill they
should focus on for the rest of the event. This was an excellent approach as it
provided individuals with an opportunity to work on behavioural development
during the event and not purely receive feedback at the end.

On the afternoon of the fourth day, a more detailed feedback session
conducted in an open and supportive environment allowed each individual to
clearly understand others’ perceptions of them. Before the session started, the
Impact facilitators ensured everyone understood what feedback was all about, why
it was being given and to allay any fears. The feedback sessions provided the
detailed information with which individuals were able to put together an action
plan in preparation for their return to the workplace.

Verdict
Experience pays off

The graduates found the experience
both challenging and rewarding. For many it was the first time they had been
involved in such a session. The experiential nature of the events provided a
stimulating and powerful learning experience, which will live in many minds for
years to come.

We were delighted with the way Impact worked in partnership
with us to produce some exciting results in relation to improving commitment,
skill and motivation.

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