How To Effectively Use A Business Simulation In Today’s Business Acumen Training

Thought leader in Business Simulations, Strategy Execution, and President of Simulation Studios where he advises top companies globally.

In full disclosure, I build and facilitate business simulations that are used within leadership development and other training programs globally. With that said, I’m often asked, “What is the best way to use a business simulation within business acumen training?” This is a good question, and the answer isn’t as easy as one might think.

This might sound strange, but using a business simulation within business acumen training is not always a great idea. Yes, these tools are extremely engaging and can help effectively reinforce the business acumen training. But these tools can also turn into an unmanageable distraction that can turn perfectly good business acumen training into a program of mass confusion.

In short, business simulations for use in business acumen training can get complicated. In my experience, learning managers often go overboard with the simulation before taking care of the core requirement: extremely aligned and focused training content. Companies may hire an outside business acumen training firm to take care of the training because they believe they don’t have the necessary skills to do this internally. Coupling training that isn’t created in-house with a business simulation that may be homegrown or brought in from the outside firm can very quickly create a disjointed, overly complex and overly detailed business acumen training program that results in reinforcing details that are simply too complicated or not relevant to the learners’ jobs.

Your Roadmap To Effectively Using A Business Simulation Within Business Acumen Training

Step 1: Assess the real business acumen training need of your audience.

Of course you do this, but the challenge with business acumen is people often immediately assume financial statements. I can almost guarantee the needs are far broader than this. What is probably needed are income statement management, strategic thinking, cross-functional collaboration, innovative thinking, organizational resilience and effective leadership. As you can see, deep financial acumen is often too deep and not necessary.

Step 2: Build the training or find a provider who can easily tailor it.

Building today’s business acumen training is not as hard as it sounds. In the past, building advanced financial statement training was tough. But you probably already have most of what today’s new definition of business acumen training needs. Many organizations already have or have access to leadership development training content. Simply flip this upside down, remove or slim some components and add income statement management and strategic thinking to the content. Harvard Business Press has a strategic thinking book and a finance-for-managers book. If you go outside for business acumen training, make sure your provider isn’t just teaching financial acumen with a strategic thinking and simulation add-on. These are often afterthoughts and marginally effective.

Step 3: Build the business simulation or find a provider that can.

This one is tricky. Yes, building a business simulation can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be. Creating deep discussions about business acumen cases is a simulation and these work very well. Three tips to building a business simulation for business acumen training are:

1. Think paper. Some of the best simulations are paper-based. Don’t feel the pressure to build a computer-based solution. A case study of your organization is a great place to start.

2. Think small. A simulation should only reinforce what you are teaching and no more. Keeping your sim small will ensure it’s applicable and manageable.

3. Think 80/20. When it comes to a sim, it should be no more than 20% of the program’s time and no more than 20% of the program’s budget. In many cases, if it’s more, the sim is probably too big. If you must go outside, the same rules probably apply. Just make sure to work with a sim provider that can tailor the solution to your program’s exact needs (and nothing more).

Building today’s business acumen training program is far more doable than even a few years ago. Is it easy? Nope. Is it doable? Absolutely. There is a high probability that you can take components of training you already have or have access to and combine them with approachable resources to create a great business acumen training program.

An important note: The business simulation is only a reinforcement tool. The single biggest mistake I see with business simulations is allowing the sim to become the training program. This is where things often fail. It is important that the business simulation be extremely aligned with the goals and objectives of your business acumen training program as a training reinforcement tool. Here are three other Forbes articles I have written that also might help with designing your business acumen training program(s):

• Create Strategic Thinking And Mindset In Your Workforce

• How To Deliver Business Acumen Training For Today’s Learners

• Using Business Training Simulations And Employee Development For Strategic Change

Taking the time to ensure you have the right business acumen training topics is key. Creating the content and the business simulation reinforcement tool is simply a matter of examining what you already have and taking the time to create a simple tool for reinforcement. Most of this is more doable than you probably think.


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