Making VR a Reality in Business Classrooms

Lessons from INSEAD’s Executive Education Team

Put on a virtual reality (VR) headset, and you are immediately immersed in the sights and sounds of a retail showroom, a hotel front desk, or a tense boardroom negotiation—or, perhaps, transported to a state-of-the-art assembly line or a bustling city market miles away. For years, corporations such as Walmart and Hilton have explored the uses of VR technology in employee training, and we are now beginning to understand its potential for business classrooms and executive education. Questions remain: How does VR technology work in the business classroom and where does it fit into the future of online and in-person executive education?

New Full Day SVEE Program – ‘Climate Change and Business Strategy’​

Climate Change and Business Strategy (CCABS)

Who should take this 1-day program?

CCABS is intended for organizations and teams with an interest in how climate change is impacting business, and how business sustainability depends both on mitigating climate impacts and on adaptation to ongoing climate change. While the program does not shy away from using scientific terms, the material is easily accessible, and no prior familiarity with climate science is assumed. The program examines a range of approaches to business sustainability in the context of a changing climate, the actions that business can take to improve the climate outlook, and the emergence of a climate-aware economy.

What is the focus of this course?

CCABS is an optimistic take on the daunting issue of climate change, and maps how business can play a definitive role in addressing the problem of climate change. In terms of balance, the program addresses the business implications of climate change (80% of the day) integrated with a bit of Climate Science for grounding (20% of the day). 

What are the skills that this program is intended to develop?

  • Understanding and communicating the business implications of a changing climate.
  • Developing strategies for business sustainability in the context of a changing climate.
  • Defining and carrying out the actions businesses can take to improve the climate outlook.
  • Helping businesses prepare for the emergence of a climate-aware economy.
  • Engaging with changing consumer expectations in the context of Climate Change.
  • Responding to the demands that Climate Change place on corporate strategy.

Program summary

CCABS addresses a range of topics that cover the principal elements of how business is affected by climate change, and how changing business practices can improve (or worsen) the climate outlook. 

For more details, email [email protected]

Northwest Insights: As a Leader, Why You Should Let Others Lead


Originally published on May 5, 2022

One of the most difficult tasks that leaders face is the ability to follow others. In the presence of a leader, businesses run smoothly. However, even if the leader is not present, the businesses should still be capable of performing well. To fully instill such effective leadership skills in peers, it is critical for leaders to delegate authority to others and let others lead, take charge, and decide what is and is not good for the organization. A capable leader will aid others in honing their professional skills. It also boosts the company’s productivity and, as a result, profitability. The role of a leader is to serve as a role model for employees, providing guidance, and encouraging employees to further their education and professional development. As a result, it is critical for leaders to comprehend why it is critical for them to let others lead. 

Here are some compelling reasons why effective leadership necessitates delegation of authority: 

It instills leadership qualities in peers

Your coworkers look up to you not only as a leader but also as a role model. One of the most important responsibilities of leaders is to teach their peers about the importance of leadership and to instill leadership skills in them so that they are able to take responsibility. Allowing your team members to take the lead gives them firsthand experience with what the responsibility entails and what is expected of the holder. This assists your peers in growing and improving their performance by providing them with a practical approach to workplace challenges.

It enables them to make future plans

Aspiring for a higher position is common among employees. What is frequently overlooked, however, is that a higher authority brings along increased responsibilities. To let others lead means giving them firsthand experience of the responsibilities that come with a higher position. This allows employees to rethink their capabilities and identify areas where they need to improve in order to be effective in the role they aspire to fill and work on themselves accordingly.  

It teaches them the value of delegation

Delegation is important not only because it is a part of effective leadership, but it is also important for increasing employee contributions and increasing team productivity. Delegation promotes time management and ensures that tasks are completed on time. Everyone has their own area of expertise, and it is true that putting one person in charge of a job that requires a specific skill makes the task easier; therefore, delegation is critical. Individuals are empowered by delegation because it allows them to demonstrate their ability to take on new responsibilities. It encourages people to feel more committed and involved by allowing them to see what contributions they have made to the team. As a result, leaders must delegate authority to peers and let others lead. 

It encourages a positive work environment

Aside from getting all of the work done, one of the most important responsibilities of leaders is to create a positive working environment for their employees that allows them to easily achieve their professional and personal goals. Instead of relying on their leaders and managers for help, it is critical that team members feel empowered to solve the day-to-day problems that arise in their current positions. This increases their self-assurance, knowledge, and problem-solving skills, all of which will be important when they take on a leadership role. You can successfully support your team members’ personal growth by providing lessons and space for them to develop personally, developing a culture of working together and cooperating.  

It aids you in recognizing your peers’ unique strengths

Giving your coworkers responsibility is the most effective way to recognize their unique strengths and abilities to solve problems. Everyone approaches challenges differently, which is how leaders learn which domains an individual excels in and which domains they struggle with. It is critical to get to know your team in order to effectively lead them; thus, if you let others lead and delegate authority to deal with situations, you will improve their efficiency. 

It can be difficult to relinquish a leadership position and move on, but it is necessary for the team or individuals you are mentoring to progress. The aforementioned reasons demonstrate why it is critical for leaders to relinquish control of their authority from time to time and let others lead, allowing peers to learn and grow.

About Northwest 

Northwest Executive Education delivers comprehensive global executive education programs offered by the world’s best universities.

Learning Agility

Learning Agility is knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.

Leadership that Truly Inspires: Results-Driven Strategies for a New Uncertain Age

In the post-COVID era, it’s common practice to say certain things are “more important than ever before.”

And common as the saying may be, the sentiment is absolutely correct.

Family. Wellness. Mental health. Governance. Supply chains. Corporate resilience. All these have revealed themselves to be even more critical to our collective survival than we ever thought possible.

The same can be said for business leadership.

Even as the ground shifts beneath us and antiquated notions of “work before wellbeing” fall away, executive leaders still have a crucial role to play in guiding employees and refining organizational skillsets. C-suite leaders, including CEOs, COOs, CHROs, CTOs, and beyond, can still exert tremendous positive influence, helping to further develop sales and optimize daily processes overall.

They just have to start thinking a little differently.

Below are three best leadership practices that can encourage better sales results and help promote a healthier company culture in the post-pandemic age.

#1: Transform “top down” into “fire up”

Not much is certain in 2022, but here’s one thing that’s become abundantly clear:  

The notion of the executive ivory tower is now completely outdated.

In our current landscape, business ideology has transformed from “top down” to “fire up,” meaning leadership is no longer a matter of influencing from above, but rather inspiring from within. This requires leaders to break down traditional hierarchies, take an active interest in everyday processes, and get in the weeds with their sales managers as well as other revenue-facing team members.  

Indeed, Stark and Associates President and CEO, Suzie Andrews, a sales and leadership development specialist, recommends company leaders venture “out in the field” with their salespeople to get an accurate reading on the state of business affairs; demonstrate a compassionate interest in team members’ personal aspirations; formulate plans for growth; and provide invaluable support to representatives on the ground.[1]

Bridging the C-suite-to-sales-team gap in this way is key, if only because conventional corporate ladders can seriously stifle leadership success. In fact, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, warns of a troubling disconnect between old-school leadership “dogma”––which ostensibly relies on theory––and the practical applications of real-world experience.[2]

It’s an idea echoed by Nitin Rakesh, CEO and Managing Director of Mphasis, who notes:
“Leadership, in my view, is a contact sport––if company leaders are out in the field with clients and partners, proactively creating opportunities, as well as synthesizing trends, it becomes part of the firm’s fabric and enhances [the] competitive moat.”

Note: The operative word here is “proactively.”

When leaders log hours in the field (engaging with reps, speaking to clients, shadowing calls, etc.), they’re able to take a proactive approach to their business. They can gauge what’s working and what isn’t, highlight areas for improvement, and inspire teammates on more immediate terms. And perhaps most importantly, they can prepare for next steps to help propel the company forward.

Such active participation at the C-suite level can light a proverbial fire for employees, inciting them to develop an “owner’s mindset” (as described in Zook and Allen’s The Founder’s Mentality[3]), chasing their professional goals as if there were something much more personal at stake.

In other words: Proactive involvement from C-level executives can inspire a company-wide push toward more wins and greater impact.

#2: Look to influence from all angles

If you’re hoping to inspire with a proactive spirit, however, you can’t limit yourself to only one or two spheres of influence.

Instead, you should seek to offer guidance and support from a variety of angles, including technical training, behavioral modeling, narrative strategy, and in-the-trenches engagement.

You should also make sure this multifaceted approach speaks to as many employees as possible, meaning your methods should take different learning styles and sensibilities into account at all times.

This concept is underlined by Debbie Lawley, CEO of leading UK e-learning company, WillowDNA, who notes that sales––and, by extension, sales leadership and development activities––reflect “a combination of multiple competences,” covering everything from selling techniques to product knowledge and systems deployment. Lawley adds:

“The reach of [learning and development] has to be broad enough to cover all these areas… Blended learning programmes bringing together experts, stories, competitor knowledge as well as systems and sales support are key to impactful outcomes.”[4]

Your reach as a leader should be similarly broad in scope, harnessing the collective powers and experience of all C-suite players to motivate activities both behind the scenes and out in the consumer-facing market.

Some examples of this kind of multi-layered outreach can include:

  • Sitting in on practice calls to offer insightful tips re: efficient sales tactics (you can even sit in the hotseat yourself to lead by direct example[5])
  • Creating and managing a workshop for improved cross-cultural messaging
  • Developing a plan for continued education across all departments

#3 Educate to empower

With that last point in mind, consider both Lawley and Pfeffer, two out of four experts cited here, express real concerns about today’s educational modalities.

To recap:

Pfeffer fears leadership development is too narrowly focused on conventional ideas of what leaders are “supposed to do,” where it should instead focus on applied, real-world experience.

Meanwhile, Lawley cautions that sales L&D programs aren’t comprehensive enough to produce well-rounded salespeople (or sales managers) who possess both the knowledge and techniques that are necessary to succeed.

If we take Lawley and Pfeffer to heart, we can safely assume corporate learning––for leaders, managers, and salespeople alike––is falling short. Leaders are held back by abstract theories of what constitutes effective leadership, while managers and “lower-level” employees lack the holistic tools they need to refine their skills and secure more deals.

Still, there’s hope.

Newer, savvier models are emerging. Marked by out-of-the-box thinking and fueled by hands-on learning, these systems leverage current social and technological trends to break traditional constraints and empower innovative action at every turn. They feature:

A contextualized approach that addresses the various needs of each individual “student,” while tailoring lesson plans to the express requirements of each new business challenge. Such plans incorporate digital learning tools like virtual simulation as well as interactive, real-world-scenario testing.

A results-based curriculum that drives learners toward concrete victories rather than wasting time on purely theoretical materials that don’t factor into everyday sales/sales leadership activity. This curriculum looks to recent findings on the benefits of micro-learning, engaging “bite-sized” learning sessions for maximum retention.[6]

A pared-down model that respects the modern workday schedule, streamlining programs to work with leaders and employees, not against them. These learning systems take advantage of on-demand services such as online courses and offer compact, scalable lessons (in the form of webinars, graphics, etc.) to help hone company-wide skills.

Armed with these three strategies, leaders can expand their spheres of influence and help maintain a culture of proactivity without resorting to older, hierarchical methods that can sow division and slow company growth.

Or, put another way:

“…If one is able to look around corners and anticipate the shifting trends and make some bold big bets early on, it may be possible for teams to construct proactive wins in situations where you are able to get a seat at the table …” – Nitin Rakesh

In the wake of COVID, the need for inspiring leadership hasn’t disappeared: it’s merely changed shape. Your ability to redefine with the times will help secure the ongoing success of your business––at a moment where longevity and sustainability are more important than ever before.







Guest blog – From Pandemic to Permanent

From Pandemic to Permanent: Using the Hybrid Work Model Effectively in Your Organisation

Written by Robert Kovach. First posted January 14, 2022.

Over the last two years, we’ve obviously moved aggressively and suddenly from on-site work to remote work. And although work from home arrangements were already growing rapidly before the pandemic, COVID-19 wildly accelerated that trend. And I do mean wildly, as in somewhat unplanned, mostly reactionary and not without a bit of chaos. This isn’t meant to blame anyone – a rapid response to a public health emergency was far more important than thoughtful, planned schemes to shift a workforce from offices to dining tables. But it’s clear those temporary changes have hardened into a new reality. Employees are not nearly as willing to be in a five day a week office role as they were in the past. Part of that is ongoing concerns about COVID. Part of that is a shift in worker expectations. But there’s no going back, according to research predicting a future workplace that looks very different.. For those who are responsible for running organisations, it’s time to not only accept the demands coming out of The Great Resignation, it’s time to lean into them. But a full time, 100% work from home organisation is not optimal – or even feasible – for many employers. However, a hybrid work model is very likely the future for many companies, at least for some employees.

The hybrid work model can be a win-win situation for employers (and employees).

Thinking permanently, not pandemic-ly. Do a full assessment of the changes you have made during the last two years to accommodate the sudden work from home arrangements. Now is the time to actively adjust your operations and your culture to make those new arragements permanent. Some changes can simply be left as the new status quo. Others are probably too expensive, too unreliable or just not the optimal way of meeting the needs of your clients and suppliers long term.

One size won’t fit all. One of the first steps of re-assessing your workforce and your operations is to review all the roles in the business. Determine who must work on site and who can work remotely. Think aggressively about the first category in terms of “must”– the last two years have redefined what has to happen in person. The Great Resignation is proving that on-site employment opportunities will be the hardest to fill. The leaders who embrace virtual ways of doing things, and learn to do them well as an organisation, will thrive in this new moment, as well as long term. Can they be on-site part of the time, or do work in shifts so that there are fewer people in the office (or warehouse or wherever) at the same time? The hybrid work model doesn’t have to mean full days on and full days off. Think in terms of activities, not people. Can part of the role be performed remotely?

On the other hand, when it comes to who can work remotely, think aggressively in a different way. While many workers right now want to work from home full time, there will be a point at which some of the disadvantages of losing in-person interactions will be felt. This is where hybrid work arrangements could be better than fully working from home. Do this smartly, in a way that works for both the organisation and the individual. For example, many people are moving farther away from city centers so they can find more affordable and more spacious housing. Before the pandemic, the average commute in the U.S. was 50 minutes round trip; in the U.K. it was an hour. But that was based on commuting twice per day, five days per week, 45-50 weeks per year. What if you only need people in the office three days per week? Or even two days per week? If you offered an employee a schedule of Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the office, then even a one hour drive each way feels far less arduous.

Make hybrid worth the hype. Employers who go all-in on the new way of working should be broadcasting these changes as a way of attracting talent. That is yet another new dynamic for employers — learning to pitch the advantages of working for your company. We’ve spent most of human history with the employment relationship relying on two things: 1) money to be the incentive for working and 2) retirement to be the time for prioritizing personal interests over professional. But people are valuing different things now – time with their loved ones, opportunity to explore other interests, and generally enjoying their personal interests now, not after their working years are over. I have written before about the importance of demonstrating . Employers who articulate how a hybrid work model will allow people to enjoy the important emotional and logistical advantages of being in the office, while also articulating a culture that recognises the value of working from home are likely to find a competitive advantage in recruiting and keeping talent.

Hybrid work models require changing attitudes, not just locations

Corporate culture also must reflect a commitment to a hybrid work arrangement. This means changing policies and benefits to support (not just accommodate) team members who are splitting time between an office site and a home office. That might mean giving people subsidies to help create a permanent home office workspace, or moving from gym membership subsidies to offering at-home equipment corporate discounts. Implement new policies that reflect at-home employment – for example, you could hold all key meetings between 10 and 3, when most people with school age children will be less distracted. Invest in technology that makes sure out of sight doesn’t lead to out of mind. And make sure that time in the office leverages the very real benefits of human contact. Team bonding, mentoring and building relationships do get a boost from in-person connections, so make in-office days more than just an extension of the work people are doing from home. Maybe some teams only need to be in the office one week per month instead of two days each week. Involve your teams in these decisions – it communicates the organisation’s commitment to this model. Commit to your talent, and they will more likely return the favour.


Humility vs. Confidence: Which Wins in 2022 and Beyond?


Written by Rob Brodo, from our partner Advantexe (Dec. 10, 2021)

It was one of the most fascinating learning moments of the year. And this year has been like no other in terms of incredible learning moments.

Immediately after one of the top-performing teams in the week-long, multi-year digital business simulation experience finished sharing their update to their Board of Directors, one board member turned the other board member and said, “Wait, did that company just go bankrupt? I thought they were doing so well.”

They were doing well. In fact, they had the highest revenues, the highest profits, and the highest stock price out of any of the other teams in the market. As part of the Board of Directors simulation debriefing, several of the board members (experienced executives who sit on “real” board in their “real” lives) gave the teams feedback. One shared, “When you have a great quarter and things are going in the right direction, you celebrate. You let the world know about your accomplishments.” Interestingly enough, that feedback didn’t seem to hit the mark. It was actually the opposite. The participant responded, “That’s not our style. We have been raised to be humble and not to brag. What you saw was what we were comfortable with.”

That comment then opened up a vigorous debate that got a lot of interesting dialogue going. There were some who were on Team Confident and some who were on Team Humble.

The Right Balance

During my career, I have had the chance to work with thousands of executive and senior-level leaders. I have viewed every interaction with them as part of my ongoing classroom experience. Based on what I have observed and experienced, I believe that leadership is a delicate balance between absolute self-confidence and authentic humility.

That balance encompasses understanding the significant value that you, as a leader and contributor, have in any position within an organization. It is the realization and self-awareness that your perspectives are important and that others will follow your direction, or make their own decisions based on how you have developed the team. You believe that it is appropriate to challenge your teams in a respectful way with a drive to always do the right thing, rather than trying to always prove you are right or better than others.

Being self-confident means recognizing you aren’t the fastest, smartest, or best communicator in the room. It’s the ability to be comfortable with who you are and who you see in the mirror.

This time of self-confidence driven by self-awareness is not political or self-serving. It is driven by a desire to be a great leader who wants to make a difference.

Balanced with this self-confidence is authentic humility. Humble leaders are trustworthy and authentic. They understand that they are not more important or better than anyone else. These types of leaders never forget where they came from, or take themselves too seriously. They foster teamwork and recognize others for their accomplishments.

Five Rules of Balance Between Confidence and Humility

Know the strategy – When you know that strategy and plan, it’s easy to find the balance between confidence and humility. Great leaders understand their own company’s business strategy and have the skills to execute and the humility to lead others to support the execution.

Set clear direction – Executing the strategy is only accomplished by leading others. If leadership is equal to the execution of your strategy through people, then you need to set the right goals with the confidence that they will be accomplished and with the humility to lead people to accomplish them.

Values – Values are the glue that keeps the execution of the strategy together. Different people will have different perspectives and values and you must have that right balance to confidently create and support them and the humility to live them every day.

Communicate – As with most things leadership, communicating is an essential element to getting things done. In our new normal of hybrid and remote work, the challenge of communicating has never been greater. And so has the capability and skill set to find the right balance of communicating with confidence and humility.

Embrace change – The pandemic has taught us many things including that even a nightmare scenario from science fiction books can come true. We are now forever in change mode. Leaders will only survive if they have the skills to embrace the chance and the leadership capabilities to lead change with confidence and humility.

In summary, the key learnings from earlier today and the debate of confidence versus humility were short-sighted. This is clearly not a case of either-or; it is a classic case of both and if you really think about it, confidence plus humility is what leadership in 2022 and beyond is going to be about.

About The Author

Robert Brodo is co-founder of Advantexe. He has more than 20 years of training and business simulation experience.

IEDP Editorial: “Impact Drivers vs. Impact Destroyers”

In revisiting HBR’s challenging 2016 article ‘The Great Training Robbery’, Cranfield University experts Wendy Shepherd and Mark Threlfall reveal seven bad practices in executive development that stifle impact—and five key drivers for improving it.

Published: Thursday 04 November 2021


“By investing in training that is not likely to yield a good return, senior executives and their HR professionals are complicit in what we have come to call the ‘great training robbery.’”— Harvard Business Review, 2016.

In their incendiary 2016 HBR article, Michael Beer, Magnus Finnstrom, and Derek Schrader, decried the lack of real impact and ROI provided by large swathes of executive education provision. It is was a vital, discomfiting read, and the implications are as important today as they were then.

Five years on, what are providers and clients doing to improve the impact of their interventions? How has the industry evolved to confront the issue of impact—and are we in a better place now, than we were? As buyers of executive development in the corporate world, what steps should we be taking to ensure real return on our investment, and what common missteps should we be wary of?
The post-pandemic, ‘build back better’ imperativeto reset agendas and welcome progressive ideas, across so many sectors of business and society, offers an opportunity for all sides of the executive education industry to revisit its thinking and practice around impact.

This was the theme of a recent webinar hosted by IEDP, in which experts from Cranfield University School of Management set about these important questions; debunking bad practices, highlighting common value destroyers in executive education, and providing a framework of five key drivers to supercharge impact.

First: the bad practicesthe value destroyers that too often hamper and derail even the best-intentioned learning initiatives. Mark Threlfall, Director of Executive Development at Cranfield, highlights the key issues to be aware of:

Bad practices that undermine impact

  1. Context trumps design and delivery
    Fixating on the design, mode of delivery, and the provider—important areas of focus—at the expense of truly understanding the context into which a program will be delivered, can lead to failure. An initial understanding of the learners’ situation, environment, and organizational context is crucial.
  2. Failure to prepare the learning landscape
    For an executive development intervention to deliver impact it needs to land on fertile ground. It needs to connect to the whole organizational ecosystem into which it is set. This takes preparation, and the clear communication of roles, responsibilities, and expectations for all stakeholders, to win buy-in and engagement.
  3. Configure to context
    The commissioning agent and the provider should ensure a receptive landing ground before configuring the program to suit it. The program configuration should be context-led rather than content-led. All too often the opposite is true.
  4. Action learning projects as substitute for real impact
    Action or enquiry-based learning, through cycles of doing and reflecting, is widely used in executive education. To have real impact it is important to clearly establish if such interventions are vehicles for learning (which is fine) or quasi-consulting engagementsin which case the client needs to build this aspect into the learners’ day-to-day tasks.
  5. Content driven vs process driven interventions
    The pace of a program can be dictated by the inclusion of too much content. It is important to be sensitive to the ‘learning journey,’ and pace interventions to allow for reflection and assimilation.
  6. Alignment and engagement of key stakeholders
    Organizational impact from learning interventions very much depends on the commitment and buy-in of the learners’ supervisors and superiors—the senior executive team and the relevant line managers. Planning and communications should keep this aim front of mind at all times.
  7. Distinguish between learning interventions and change interventions
    Executive training and skills development can be important as part of managing a change process. However, change involves much more than learning alone and it is a mistake to overburden learning interventions with expectations they cannot deliver.

Beyond these systemic issues, some more basic derailers can also hamper or dilute impact. For example, the lack of quality and relevance in program content—something providers should proactively call out. Or the lack of learner support. Or a failure to provide the psychological safety that allows learners to try new things and give feedback to the organization.

Better ways to measure impact

Dr Wendy Shepherd, Director of Individual and Organizational Impact at Cranfield, has a passionate belief in the value of executive development, founded on her own extensive personal experience. Shepherd is clear that measuring how impact occurs at an organizational level is a complex task, but certainly not an impossible one.

Shepherd’s own research into learning interventions in large organizations highlights a range of effective ways to measure ROI. She explains that using financial measures alone to track impact is insufficient. Any financial upturn coinciding with a learning intervention is unlikely to be solely due to the learning. Good work done in other parts of the organization will have played a part.

To look beyond financial measures and ensure vital learning and change capabilities are being measured and captured, Shepherd has developed a framework of five key mechanisms that her research shows to demonstrably link learning interventions with organizational level outcomes.

Five key drivers of impact in executive development

  1. Conversations
    The quality, nature and content of conversations are vital to achieving positive outcomes at the organizational level. Are you having better conversations as a result of your learning interventions?
  2. Sensemaking
    Learning interventions can lead to changes in the way learners think about problems. A logical mindset might be broadened by exposure to ideas around emotional intelligence, for example. Changed critical thinking impacts performance.
  3. Alignment
    Changes in priorities and better alignment with organizational requirements.
  4. Engagement
    Changes in discretionary effort and commitment.
  5. Relationships
    Changes in networks and relationships as a result of learning interventions.

By focusing on these impact drivers, it is possible to gather data that can lead to a greater understanding of what works, for whom, and within specific contexts. This in turn will present opportunities for clients of executive education to work with providers and program designers to develop interventions that can be more accurately measured in terms of impact and ROI.

Five years on from HBR’s ‘Great Training Robbery’ article, impactand oftentimes a misalignment in the measurement of itremains a crucial issue for the sector to tackle. The good news is that, through thoughtful research, design and best practice, the top University-based executive development providers today are far better attuned to the precise needs of their clients, and based on some of the ideas presented here, are better able to plot, measure, and demonstrate real impact from the learning interventions they offer.

Proving that Virtual Learning is More Engaging

Over the past several weeks, SVEE partner Advantexe has conducted 14 virtual learning programs for 393 participants. virtual-business-acumen-learning

The topic areas have included Business Acumen, Business Leadership, and Strategic Business Selling.

During these programs, they conducted several experiments including asking participants their pre- and post-confidence levels and tracking their physical engagement in the learning process for the purpose of identifying key trends for sharing and process improvement.

In tracking the physical engagement of participants in the programs, they tracked the following criteria:

  • Was the camera on?
  • Were they observed to be active listening?
  • Were they participating in conversations and decision-making?

In summary, they observed that 90.28% of all participants going through these programs were actively engaged and learning for an average of about 16.45 hours per person

At a 90.28% effective engagement rate, that is a net of 5,837 pure hours of focused and intense learning. In addition to the observations of engagement, they have also been polling participants before and after the learning to gauge their increases in confidence and skills. The cohorts in the survey reported:

  • 68% of all participants had an improvement in their confidence.
  • 51% of participants had an improvement in skills that will lead to better decision-making and results.

Virtual Learning Design Best Practices

What are the best practices of designing engaging and interactive virtual learning that leads to these types of results? During the same time, they have been tracking the data above, they have also been working with participants to identify the best learning configurations to optimize their experiences. Here is current thinking for best configurations based on the data and results:

  • Total learning hours to be effective: About 18-20
  • Number of “Connections” of learning to be effective – 5 (a connection is a virtual workshop that features content and application)
  • The average length of connection 4 hours
  • The ratio of content to application: 1-3 (for every hour of content, three hours of application
  • Distribution of learning connections: Thursday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday of one or Tuesday – Thursday week one, Tuesday – Thursday week two.

Content to Application

“I don’t think there is anyone on the planet right now who thinks the most effective way to learn is being talked at by a talking head in a virtual training room. What people may not realize is that there are great ways to learn by doing including case studies, role plays, and digital simulations.

As a digital simulation professional, it’s been the joy of my career to watch learners engage and learn by doing,” said Rob Brodo, Co-founder of Advantexe.

There are three different types of business simulations that have become popular and can increase confidence and skills in the same manner as our survey:           

  • Business Acumen Simulations – Small teams run their own simulated company setting and executing the strategy through operational decisions. In these types of simulations, participants manage the complete operations of the simulated company including all the functions.
  • Best Practices Simulations – smalls teams take on the role of a character weaving through different scenarios making decisions and building their leadership behaviors.
  • Blended Simulations – small teams go through a simulation that blends the hard skills of business acumen with the soft skills of business leadership.

In summary, while many feel that we will soon go back to traditional classroom learning, we think the data speaks for itself and the conclusions are obvious. Virtual learning is more effective and productive.

why business acumen matters
Robert Brodo

About The Author

Robert Brodo is co-founder of Advantexe. He has more than 20 years of training and business simulation experience.

How to Lose Control – Managing the Environment Instead of Controlling the Situation

By Dr. Robert Kovach and Robert David

For most of us, when we recount a stressful situation, we emphasize the things that created an emotional response. We’ll not just talk through the substantive areas of a negative work assessment; we’ll mention how it was in the middle of the day, wrecking our focus for the rest of the afternoon. We don’t just explain a team member’s disagreement with us on a specific issue; we’ll describe their tone, or mention who else was in the room. Our primary – or even primal – reaction is how it made us feel. Usually, we feel threatened. On a subconscious level, that leads to a fight or flight response – either of which are really about regaining control. You aren’t going to punch a colleague or flee the room (let’s hope), but your brain is distracted because . . .well, it really, really wants to. In the workplace, executives and other senior leaders will sometimes accommodate this reaction by trying to control the situation. They become preoccupied with how things are happening. But it’s more productive (and more emotionally pleasant) if one can focus on the desired goals and whether they are achieved – what could be described as managing the environment. It isn’t easy – but the more aware you are that you’re hard wired to fight back, the more likely you can let go.

Are you managing the environment or controlling the situation?

Out of control. There have been some reports in the business press about Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon’s encounter with a junior-level banker from his organisation last year. Reportedly this person was having lunch at the same restaurant as Solomon in the Hamptons — during the workday – and approached him to say hello. Goldman Sachs employees were largely working from home during the pandemic; Solomon has gone on the record repeatedly saying that he does not envision remote work as a long-term solution. According to some accounts, Solomon was incensed by a number of factors, including the age of the banker, the exclusive location and the . . .uh, confidence (?) with which he approached Solomon. Apparently, Solomon has recounted the story numerous times, as an example of why employees must go back to the office. But is it?

Whatever your view on remote work, most agree that there are, in fact, valid reasons for wanting employees back in the office. For example, there’s informal mentoring that happens organically when people are physically together. There’s also impromptu idea sharing, rapid resolution of questions and an acceleration of team building dynamics (for example, you start to read your colleagues’ personalities and work styles better). But a young banker being at lunch during the workday isn’t actually proof that employees need to go back to the office. All it proves is that their movements weren’t being as strictly controlled by their managers as a traditional in-office environment. A recent article came out on the side of the banker, while conceding the merits of in-office work: “Wall Street’s chieftains may have a point about the value of staff gathering in person. It supports a common culture and is essential to training young workers. But the tone of chiefs is too often arrogant and unseemly.”  In other words, maybe Solomon had a point. But his tone shifted the focus from valid reasons such as corporate culture or productivity and turned it into a conversation about tone and power.

Guardrails, not guidelines. One way to think about this dynamic is to separate “managing the environment” from “controlling the situation”. If you are a parent of more than one child, it’s likely you’ve already done this at home. You may set general rules for how your children have to treat each other. For example, you may say no hitting, no cursing, no setting things on fire (or whatever). But you may find that you often don’t intervene if your children are simply bickering. You create an environment that puts guardrails around the range of acceptable outcomes. Ideally, your children learn to resolve conflict amongst themselves, but due to those guardrails, they incorporate into those resolutions the values of non-violence and respectful language.

Your colleagues, no matter how young, should not be treated like children (obviously). However, as a leader you should find ways of empowering your team members to have control over situations and decisions that are the mere tools to produce the outcome you want, as long as they reflect the values and mission you establish. This can be more difficult than it sounds, especially if you are a Gen X or Baby Boomer executive. Traditionally, the most experienced person in the room was deferred to on both form and substance, rightly or wrongly. And, for a long time, in-person work was the only option. And therefore mentorship and corporate culture were only experienced in-person. Someone who had been doing the same thing a long time probably was the appropriate authority. But that’s not necessarily true now. In 2021, can you find mentors, resolve problems impromptu and absorb the corporate culture via Slack and Zoom? Unclear if David Solomon really knows. More importantly — Solomon doesn’t need to. The person who actually has the most to lose is the younger employees who don’t go to the office and discover they are missing opportunities or making mistakes because they’re not there in person. If they don’t meet the goals set for them, they are likely to self-correct.

Thinking clearly – crystallized intelligence. There’s another reason senior leaders should focus on managing the environment more than controlling the situation. It’s the idea of fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. These are two different ways in which we synthesize information and solve problems. Put simply, fluid intelligence is learning how to do things based on facts on hand, as opposed to prior knowledge – figuring out a new app based on a YouTube video, or identifying patterns. Fluid intelligence was originally believed to peak in early adulthood; some now believe it peaks around age 40. Crystallized intelligence is making decisions based on experience – including the variety of outcomes and the different inputs that led to each outcome. This includes things like hiring decisions or creating a budget. Crystallized intelligence reaches its apex as late as your seventies. As a senior leader your strength is to leverage your crystallized intelligence – for example, no one knows how the economy will recover post-pandemic. But someone with thirty years’ experience in the financial markets is more likely to have seen multiple disruptive events and at least anticipate possible likely scenarios and ways to accommodate them.

Managing the environment makes you less of a boss and more of a leader.

Combining a philosophy of not trying to control every situation with a focus on objectives that require a lot of crystallized intelligence have two advantages. It cannot only help executives better utilize their team’s strengths, but frankly, take some of the emotion out of it. It also shifts a mentality from being the boss (“I dictate where you physically perform your job.”) to being a leader. Your average Gen X or Baby Boomer executive would have grown up (professionally) in a time when their bosses were respected partly out of fear. As one (Gen X) Bloomberg reporter opined about the Solomon incident “If you are a midlevel investment banker . . . hav[ing]a long leisurely lunch at a Hamptons restaurant, and you see the chief executive officer of your bank sitting two tables away, what is the move? My instinct is definitely along the lines of ‘put on a hat and sunglasses, scuttle to the bathroom with your head down, climb out the window, catch the next helicopter back to the office and never eat lunch again,’” Controlling the situation might scare people into compliance – but as Robert wrote recently, now is a time when leaders can improve their organisation, not be held hostage to it. But this also isn’t about giving in – it’s about being more self-aware and finding productive ways to get the outcomes you want at work. Wherever “at work” might be.

Dr Robert Kovach is a business psychologist who spent 14 years working in Cisco’s executive assessment and development group. He is currently an advisor to companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership and team effectiveness ( He divides his time between the US and London.

Robert David has spent 40 years in the tech industry and held most every position in a workplace (from entry-level to CEO). Now, drawing on his experiences and life-lessons to cover talent development and the future of work, he’s currently Executive Director for an HR non-profit and on the Faculty for Silicon Valley Executive Education. He resides in Half Moon Bay, California.