Many of the baby boomers are getting ready to ride their motorcycles into the sunset while millennials are using the Uber app to get a ride into work. The knowledge gap between the two groups is causing leaders great concern because the next generation of millennial leaders don’t have the experience to effectively lead. There is a senior management chasm developing, and there aren’t enough Generation Xers to help fill the gap.
According to a Forbes article, “5 Reasons Why Millennials Are Passed Over As Managers,” published in September 2013, a survey of 1,200 business professionals reported that 59 percent believe millennials are not ready to become managers because of lack of experience. Only 45 percent of those surveyed believed millennials were team players, and 36 percent believed them to be difficult to work with. That survey is a few years old, but perceptions haven’t changed much.
In reality, millennials are smart, energetic and extremely eager to take over the reins. But their appetites are often larger than their capabilities. This doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Instead, learning leaders should build their knowledge and accelerate their real-world capabilities by putting participants in the executive’s shoes for a given period of time.
Historically, giving young managers experiences above their position introduced significant organizational risk. Further, this development strategy can be challenging to implement. But there is a way to accelerate millennials’ skills, experience and capabilities by exposing them to real-world business challenges and situations without risk and in a shortened time frame. Technology can help. Specifically, the use of computer simulations can give learners a chance to live like a leader; it’s similar to putting student pilots into a flight simulator.
Simulations are ideally suited for millennial leadership development tools because traditional development tools such as action learning, learning exchange and employee rotations, while good, can be slow to produce results. Companies need to give millennials hands-on experience in real-world business challenges to produce executive-level business acumen, seamless collaboration skills, and a deep understanding of what it means to be an effective leader.
These kinds of simulations can be very diverse. Most often they are delivered via web-based or desktop application. Though the trend has been moving away from internet or cloud-based solutions due to the security threat they offer hackers.
In most cases, participants break into teams and compete against each other in friendly, business war game-style exercises. Simulations often run over the course of a single day, and many times up to 25 employees may compete against each other in an effort to run a business, lead employees, and solve tough business challenges. The competition is an important aspect.
These tools are ideal to accelerate management growth in millennials. PricewaterhouseCoopers’ 14th Annual Global CEO Survey stated that “one of the defining characteristics of the millennial generation is their affinity with the digital world. They have grown up with broadband, smartphones, laptops and social media being the norm and expect instant access to information. This is the first generation to enter the workplace with a better grasp of a key business tool than more senior workers.”
Simulations are also excellent development tools for millennials because learning professionals can team them up with outgoing managers. The structure looks like this: If each team has five participants, combine two leaders with three emerging leaders. This creates an opportunity for both emerging and current leaders to interact. By working together, these teams can organically share deep knowledge that is traditionally hard to transfer, while having an engaging time solving business and leadership challenges and reducing the organizational brain drain that many corporate executives fear.
Getting started using business simulations for leadership development is not hard. To avoid development potholes, maintain control and save money: Keep the leadership simulation small and focused, ensure the simulation aligns closely with leadership program goals, and do in-person leadership development as companion learning.
A final bonus to using simulations is that business simulations help create training that is strategically applicable and closely aligned with strategic corporate goals. Strategic learning at this level provides all participants with an opportunity to walk a mile in a senior leaders’ shoes. By doing this, managers understand the enterprise as a whole as opposed to one business silo.
This type of training is hands on, engaging, applicable, strategic and puts millennials shoulder to shoulder with retiring baby boomers. Firing up the spirit of competition in both generations can produce organizational value that is virtually priceless.
William Hall is vice president of learning and development at Simulation Studios, a boutique corporate training firm. To comment email editor@CLOmedia.com.