Successful transformations demand new capabilities.
To build them, experiential learning leverages the intimate link between knowledge and experience.
There is an intimate and necessary relation between the processes of actual experience and education.
- John Dewey (Experience and Education, 1938)
Leading organizations in every walk of life have already had to cope with more change in this millennium than was seen in the entire second half of the previous century.
Most global companies have undergone more than one technological and workforce reorganization in the past decade.
Launching one change program after another, they have had to embrace automation and digitization, shared services, lean operations, and other transformative innovations.
The prognosis for business planners: more transformative change. On the horizon, for example, is the full digitization of economies on a national scale, with big data, advanced analytics, and the “Internet of things”—where connectivity goes beyond company and consumer, to interactive smart products and services.
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The job market’s most sought-after skills can be tough to spot on a resume.
Companies across the U.S. say it is becoming increasingly difficult to find applicants who can communicate clearly, take initiative, problem-solve and get along with co-workers.
Those traits, often called soft skills, can make the difference between a standout employee and one who just gets by.
While such skills have always appealed to employers, decades-long shifts in the economy have made them especially crucial now. Companies have automated or outsourced many routine tasks, and the jobs that remain often require workers to take on broader responsibilities that demand critical thinking, empathy or other abilities that computers can’t easily simulate.
As the labor market tightens, competition has heated up for workers with the right mix of soft skills, which vary by industry and across the pay spectrum—from making small talk with a customer at the checkout counter, to coordinating a project across several departments on a tight deadline.
In pursuit of the ideal employee, companies are investing more time and capital in teasing out job applicants’ personality quirks, sometimes hiring consultants to develop tests or other screening methods, and beefing up training programs to develop a pipeline of candidates.
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"…but training must work. We spend millions on it every year!"
Over the years, the answer to many operations challenges and failures has become "training". Trusting conventional wisdom, operations managers, HR managers, and execs at all levels turn to training as the panacea. Dr. Hossein Nivi, CEO and co-founder of Pendaran, Inc. has taken an irreverent approach to corporations' natural tendency to turn to training as the magic wand.
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One job-training program has an innovative new approach: Toss employees into the fire to keep them from getting burned.
Michigan-based consulting firm Pendaran has taken the "trial and error" approach to a whole new level with its employee-training program.
The company specializes in virtual workplace simulations, which toss employees into chaos-ridden scenarios constructed to test--and hopefully improve--their problem-solving abilities. Upon arrival at a seemingly-normal conference center, Businessweek reported:
The participants are told that they work at a golf cart factory. The laptops have special software designed by Pendaran that breaks the golf cart assembly into different tasks. Some people have to take parts from the forklift and scan them into the system, while others have to use their mouse to drag wheels onto the cart. It all sounds simple enough, but the workers must follow very precise procedures at each step along the way-;both on and off the computer. For example, they must don protective goggles and uniforms and request forms for certain operations and remember to ring the bell on the forklift, which is actually a child’s toy vacuum, when moving around.
The course is filled with fictional characters like the angry foreman Mad Max, who shouts whenever mistakes are made, and the irritatingly beaurocratic Alice the Opperator, who controls an endless surplus of hyper-specific forms for different factory operations.
This panic-inducing simulation was created by Pendaran co-founders Hossein Nivi and Carol Michaelides as way to train employees to react well under pressure in real-life situations.
“I’ve been through lean manufacturing and Six Sigma courses and all that,” one participant told Businessweek. “That stuff is easy and fleeting. To really learn, you have to be in the pressure cooker and feel the emotion and have these approaches become natural behavior. This is how companies truly transform.”
And it appears to create tangible results. The environmental engineering firm Edw. C. Levy Co. has seen a 60 to 70 percent safety improvement among teams it sent through Pendaran's wringer, Businessweek reports.
Perhaps you should consider a little tough love toward your trainees as well. But be warned: It's not unheard of for participants to quit their jobs after three days in Pendaran's hell-hole.
Pendaran, home of the Virtual Workplace Simulator, is now offering free tuition to U.S. veterans transitioning from active duty and preparing for civilian careers.
“We want to give back,” said Founder and CEO Hossein Nivi. “Pendaran has had the privilege of working with Department of Defense Maintenance depots over the past several years. Our team has developed a deep appreciation for the sacrifice being made by those who serve in our military and this is something we can do to show our gratitude.” The Virtual Workplace Simulator is a bootcamp for business. Students and teams learn by experiencing the failures and successes of running a complex operation. Unlike traditional Power Point training, the Virtual Workplace incorporates an innovative experiential learning approach that combines the attributes of “business boot camp” in a flight simulator-like environment, leading to deep discovery and sustained learning.
Everything in the workplace involves teams, formal or informal. We have grown accustomed to this structure and most of us believe we know very well how to get work done in a team environment. But do we?
Formal teams are established for multiple reasons. Sometimes it is because one person alone cannot complete the amount of work to be done. Often, the task at hand requires expertise from cross disciplines. Or maybe the responsibility for the end product is shared across departments and organizations and all must have input into the way the work is to be done. Informal teams, on the other hand, most often evolve out of necessity. “I can’t get this done alone.” This may still include all the same reasons for creating the formal team: too big to complete, need varying expertise, joint responsibility for the outcome. However, informal teams tend to be more flexible, more productive, and develop and disband, based on the work to be done, not going on forever to become an organizational burden in and of themselves.
Hossein Nivi is attempting to disrupt education and training through Pendaran. Imagine a cross between a flight simulator, a boot camp and a business school and you have a highly effective training model that’s been used within a number of corporations. And if Hossein’s surname is recognizable, it’s likely because you’ve seen the work of his sons out in San Francisco, Babak ("Nivi"), the founder of AngelList, and Farbood, the founder of Grockit.