A High-Tech Spin on Organizational Learning

By Angehrn, Albert A.; Manzoni, Jean Francois | Chief Executive (U.S.), April 1996 | Go to article overview

A High-Tech Spin on Organizational Learning


Angehrn, Albert A., Manzoni, Jean Francois, Chief Executive (U.S.)


GROUPWARE THERAPY? NEW MULTIMEDIA TECHNOLOGIES ARE HELPING MANAGERS EXPLORE HOW TO OVERCOME INTERNAL BARRIERS AND DRIVE CHANGE. AND THEY'RE HAVING FUN WHILE THEY'RE AT IT.

Ever wanted to test-drive an idea without risk before implementing it in your company? The exercise can tell you a lot-like how resistant your organization is to change, and how well your management team leads change. Most companies are surprised by what they learn.

In fact, a company's ability to change is a make-or-break proposition in today's competitive marketplace. Performance-improvement initiatives such as re-engineering, TQM, business-process redesign, and others require substantial organizational change because they reconstruct the power and influence of an organization, not only modifying how people work and communicate, but how performance is measured and rewarded. In the end, these initiatives can generate better performance from employees and allow a company to gain competitive advantage. Forcing and leading change is the most difficult challenge.

Recently developed technologies can be used to improve the efficiency and quality of management development, allowing senior managers to learn how they lead change and to alter their management skills accordingly.

MULTIMEDIA SIMULATIONS: THE EIS CASE Business simulation software is one multimedia technology that allows the user to test the effectiveness of different management strategies or tactics in a risk-free environment, similar to flight simulators used by pilots. Working at computer terminals, users are immersed in realistic business situations that require specific decisions. The consequences of their decisions are then fed back on the computer screen. In a few hours, users have learned by doing in a controlled environment, without experiencing the risks of actual decision making. The user might test pricing, budget allocation, or scheduling decisions and know the consequences of those decisions immediately. No harm done if the decisions made were disastrous.

INSEAD's Centre for Advanced Learning Technologies has developed one such multimedia business software, the Executive Information System simulation (EIS). Here's how it works: Users (managers) are asked to introduce a communication innovation (known as the EIS) into a division of a fictitious company, EuroComm. Users have up to six months of simulated time to convince as many as possible of the 24 divisional managers to adopt the new EIS. This system would make information and communication flows within EuroComm more efficient-but would require changing the status quo.

Through the multimedia components of sound and visuals (which make the experience more real), the program enables users to "discover" the company by helping them identify formal and informal communication networks; develop and implement change strategies; and influence EuroComm's managers to change their attitudes. All of EuroComm's 24 managers the users must "work with" have been programmed with backgrounds and personalities, and they each react differently to the initiatives proposed.

For example, one manager might try to avoid meeting the user, another might need convincing, but has the potential to be a champion of the change process. To navigate through EuroComm, the user must first get to know the characters (who is who? who is likely to resist? who is having lunch with whom? who is most likely to be a gatekeeper?). Screens such as the one pictured in Figure 1 allow the user to access information about the company and to decide at any time to implement change management tactics. As every initiative requires a certain amount of time, the challenge is to use the right tactic at the right time with the right people to have the largest number of adopters after six months' simulated time.

In real time, the simulation takes about three hours. After the simulation, participants can review the change-implementation process, share their successes and failures, and link their simulated experiences with actual change processes within their company, gaining insights into how to improve their effectiveness as change agents. …

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