The Hands-On Path to Skill Development
Simulations are a powerful learning tool, used by pilots, doctors, surgeons, and other professionals who need to quickly gain experience handling challenging situations. For more than 20 years, WholeWorks has pioneered simulation-based leadership training, earning multiple awards and long-term relationships with top-tier multinational companies.
Why do we focus on simulation? The short answer is that it works. Our clients report that WholeWorks program participants don’t just learn new competencies – they put them into practice, and become more effective leaders.
More broadly, it’s well-proven that learning by doing, in a low-risk environment where mistakes are OK, is an efficient path to new skills. Read on for all the details about how WholeWorks programs build new competencies with unmatched speed and effectiveness.
Custom Simulations to Meet Your Strategic Needs
We develop three types of simulations, each focused on a different objective:
- Behavioral Simulations - role-playing for management training
- Strategy Labs - testing of strategies and process improvements
- Leadership Practice Fields - total-immersion simulations for leadership development
WholeWorks captures the essence of your business's strategic challenges through data gathering and interviews with key managers and stakeholders. This allows our business ecosystem models to reflect the unique dynamics of your industry and organization. The verisimilitude of our simulations enables highly realistic exploration of scenarios and deeper conversations about strategy.
A manager’s day is filled with complexities that require intellectual and emotional intelligence – and our Behavioral Simulations are, too. Learners assume roles and sort through emails, memos and reports as they respond to strategic and tactical challenges and cultural tensions. It’s a realistic way to practice new thinking and cultivate skills.
Example: A Sustainability Integration workshop exercise invited participants to play the role of Chief Sustainability Officer at a multinational, and pitch a new sustainability initiative to a skeptical CEO. Working in small groups, participants set priorities with a Materiality Matrix Assessment, and mapped connections between their initiative and the company’s business strategy and financial results. They learned to distill a clear business case for their proposal, and express it effectively.
Strategy Labs are fast, affordable tools for testing strategies, exploring scenarios, and anticipating impacts of change initiatives. Insights emerge faster when complex business systems can be boiled down to their essence, using well-chosen modeling tools; we typically use either System Dynamics or Process and Discreet Event simulations, depending on the situation.
System Dynamics Simulations offer high-level modeling of complex systems, based on the visual language of “stocks and flows.” Rather than recreating every detail, they focus on key causal relationships between parts of the system (e.g. feedback loops). Our easily understandable visual mapping approach facilitates collaborative modeling by participants. Diverse perspectives make the models better, and simplify the process of winning buy-in. This approach is particularly useful for quickly testing alternative business strategies under differing scenarios.
Example: We helped a solar materials company evaluate strategic options and assess risks and rewards during a period of industry growth. Partnering with The McLean Group, we used System Dynamics to model the client’s supply chain, and explore a range of future scenarios. Result: better understanding of financial risks and new insights into competitive strategies.
Process and Discrete Event Simulations. provide detailed understanding of processes, such as product development, manufacturing, or order fulfillment. They’re ideal for visualizing process flows and analyzing statistical properties of variable populations. Different methodologies allow tracking of individual objects, or exploration of interactions between objects.
Example: An equipment manufacturer wanted to address root causes of defects and delays, and was readying process changes to improve delivery, reduce rework, and cut costs. But would the changes disrupt their plant's operations? Partnering with the McLean Group, we created a visual simulation of project flow through the plant, illuminating the initiative’s risks and benefits in ways that standard presentations could not.
Leadership Practice Fields
Leadership Practice Fields are full-immersion business simulations. Teams of your managers pursue challenging objectives for a fictional organization modeled on your business, using computer simulation, realistic branded information (e-mails, memos, reports), and interpersonal activities. Just as in everyday life, both “hard” and “soft” skills impact one another and play into the development of strategic decisions; the simulator tracks each team’s financial results, stock price, and other metrics. Because participants receive immediate feedback from the computer model and one another, this approach is particularly useful for training and leadership development.
Example: Nike's top executives wanted managers across the organization to make fact-based decisions that would create shareholder value. Working with Organization Systems International (OSI), we created a simulation that challenged worldwide teams of managers to apply financial acumen to realistic business challenges – and the resulting Line of Sight program ushered in a new era of prosperity at Nike.
Example: Starwood executives wanted to introduce new franchise property General Managers to the power of branded guest experiences. Two custom WholeWorks hotel simulations (created with OSI) provided hands-on experience selecting and leading property-level creative initiatives while improving bottom-line results. And participants are successfully applying the lessons at their properties. (See video at top of page.)
For an attractive introduction to simulation-based learning that’s more economical than a custom program, we offer off-the-shelf options. Often when participants run a virtual business that’s different from their own, they feel liberated to experiment strategically without getting mired in detail. The Rio Negro Pulp Mill and Paper Nation simulations provide rich experiences with relevance for a wide range of industries and types of company.
Rio Negro Pulp Mill Simulation
Our newest full-immersion simulation, based on an extensively researched case study, invites participants to transition a fictional pulp mill in Uruguay from a traditional business model to a more-sustainable approach that supports financial success.
The simulation’s sophisticated computer model cultivates critical management competencies needed to lead change in an accelerating world:
- Systems thinking. The simulation models the pulp mill’s larger business ecosystem, including environmental, economic, and social impacts. With a 20-year time horizon, participants see long-term consequences of decisions on the local community and natural systems – as well as the bottom line.
- Collaboration. In addition to internal management roles, the simulation features external stakeholders – the local mayor, NGOs, technology partners, etc. These players offer new opportunities and challenges, with success depending on management of multiple (and often conflicting) perspectives and development of collaborations across boundaries.
- Sustainability Acumen. The Rio Negro simulation teaches participants to utilize sustainability in support of long-term value creation and profitability, using principles and tools like the Triple Bottom Line (people, profit, planet), Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), and multi-stakeholder engagement.
- Leading Change. If your team needs experience in rethinking business models and realigning resources, the Rio Negro simulation is a great fit. Participants face declining demand for virgin pulp and growing pressure to operate more sustainably; to succeed, teams must work together to capitalize on emerging opportunities outside their immediate industry.
- Business acumen. Managers need good decision-making skills, and Rio Negro (like all WholeWorks simulations) makes them a priority. Drawing on detailed output reports that include Key Performance Indicators, dashboards, financials, and operational updates, participants learn to connect the dots between their role-based decisions and key drivers of shareholder value.
- Global Mindset. Most large companies today have facilities or suppliers that are located in regions that are far removed geographically and culturally from the home office. Set in rural Uruguay, the Rio Negro Pulp Mill simulation provides local challenges that require participants to rethink some of their assumptions about employees and community members.
Gallery of Images from the Rio Negro Pulp Mill Simulation
Paper Nation Simulation
This rich multi-day business simulation, originally developed for Dow Corning Corporation, has been used by hundreds of managers and business students at top corporations and universities to build new competencies and develop their own style of effective leadership. It has received high praise from client organizations, and been awarded the Excellence in Practice Citation by the American Society for Training and Development (now ATD).
Participants assume senior roles in Paper Nation, a fictional global pulp and paper manufacturer, working in teams to pursue a six-year goal of doubling sales while increasing shareholder value. To succeed, they must coordinate decisions across functional areas, review and interpret comprehensive reports and financial statements, and combine “hard” business strategies (including financial acumen and systems thinking) with “soft” leadership skills.
In addition to feedback from the simulation, participants get input from one another and coaching from program facilitators. They learn to work with an expanded circle of managers on strategy development and implementation, challenge fundamental beliefs, and use dialogue to resolve conflicting views.