Future of leadership development: Virtual reality & corporate training

We’re a complex bunch, us humans. There’s so much more to our leadership style than simply the words we choose to use.

Our mannerisms, eye movement and even heart rate all impact the way we lead our teams. We may act one way in Scenario A and a slightly different way in Scenario B. Developing predictable, consistently high leadership skills has become a challenge for organisations, which are having to deal with increasingly difficult pressures in order to stay competitive and relevant.

This is where virtual reality (VR) can help. Its potential has not gone unnoticed by businesses. The current demand for VR in corporate training has resulted in a dramatic increase in the market globally; it’s now projected to reach $2.8 billion by 2023.

Here at CJM, we recently released VR training or “Practice Rooms”. So now is a great moment to explain exactly how virtual reality training helps to improve the performance of business leaders like you and your team.

How does virtual reality work?

In the academic world of organisational behaviour and human resource management (OBHRM), scholars now believe greater attention has to be paid to the influence that neuroscience has on our behaviour and attitudes at work.

Virtual reality offers a unique opportunity to simulate real-life professional situations to a degree where the brain and the body respond as though they’re the real world. This allows you to fully prepare prior to the main event.

VR is a total immersion experience. With the help of goggles or a helmet, everywhere the wearer turns, moves or looks appears to be a different world.

The wearer’s behaviours, attitudes and beliefs can be transferred from reality to virtuality, and vice versa, in a spontaneous, unconscious, unaware manner. As far as leadership development training goes, this provides unprecedented benefits.

“They can make mistakes and learn from those mistakes without any of the negative consequences associated with them, like tripping over your words, losing your train of thought, or panic”

Benefits of VR in leadership development

1. VR can provide leadership training in a safe, practice environment

This is the most obvious benefit of using VR. It provides opportunities for training leaders in safe, secure practice environments. It allows leaders to practise leading a meeting, for example; or presenting to a large audience.

VR lets users experience the same stimuli as they would in real life. They can make mistakes and learn from those mistakes without any of the negative consequences associated with them, like tripping over your words, losing your train of thought, or panic.

Intelligent tutoring systems can be used, which adapt the virtual situation in real-time according to user’s behaviour — just as in real life. This allows leaders to act, respond and progress a situation as they would do in a real-world context.

2. VR creates life-like situations in which to assess your leadership

One of the greatest challenges in training leaders is assessment. How do you measure a leader’s skills without the pressures and stimuli of genuine scenarios?

VR is now being investigated as an effective way to address this issue. Specialised virtual environments can create real-life situations arising in performance-based assessments. Researchers are then able to observe leadership related behavioural patterns within VR’s realistic, complex and dynamic scenarios.

These virtual reality systems can track user responses, both at a behavioural and neurophysiological level. This makes it possible to measure behaviour in real-time as they’re experiencing and performing in simulated scenarios. Non-verbal expressions can be tracked during VR-mediated interactions. Even gaze activity can be analyzed, which provides valuable information about cognitive states. And miniature wearable devices can obtain psycho-physiological signals.

This data can be processed to paint an accurate picture of an individual’s leadership competencies. It’s the future of corporate training — watch this space.

Public Speaking

3. VR generates empathy, which makes you a better leader

Empathy is described as the missing link between cognitive ‘concern’ and emotional ‘action’. In other words, empathy motivates action. It’s an active state, rather than the more passive state of sympathy.

The Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) defined empathy as, “the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experience of others. Empathy is more than simple sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity”. VR is incredibly effective at generating empathy, which according to CCL is essential for a good leader.

CCL published a white paper 10 years ago that showed the relationship between empathy and job performance. It demonstrated that managers who were empathetic towards their direct reports were viewed as better leaders by their bosses.

Empathy is about being able to “step into another person’s shoes”. This is also known as role modelling (or “vicarious learning”). And that’s where virtual reality can help; it’s a particularly powerful form of vicarious learning.

Using VR to train your team

Another benefit of VR as a training tool is that it’s more interactive and enjoyable!

Naturally, it appeals to millennials, who are the largest demographic of today’s workforce. These younger generations grew up using technology. They understand and relate to it. They’re used to it and consider it as much a part of their personal and professional lives as computers.

Because of this, VR can be an incredibly powerful way to train your team and improve their performance. Walmart is one enterprise that’s leading the way in this regard, using VR for the L&D of its shop-floor staff. The American retail corporation uses 45 VR programs to simulate common Walmart store scenarios, from slicing deli meats to re-stocking shelves, to prepare employees for the real thing.

The future of leadership training

Strong leaders really do impact business results. Today, leaders must possess or develop a set of diverse and complementary leadership skills; problem-solving, creativity, status-quo questioning, effective communication, to name a few. It’s important that business leaders continue to practise and develop these skills.

In order to do that, they need an accurate gauge on what level their skills are at right now.

As far as assessment methods go, traditional techniques based on interviews and self-reports are being called into question. In fact recently, Lazlo Bock, senior VP of people operations at Google, is reported to have said, “Assessing leadership skills is much more difficult, and it is something that is almost impossible to find out in an interview.”

Virtual reality is a crucial experimental tool for businesses to train their people and improve assessment. To join hundreds of other organisations using VR to develop strong leaders, find out more about our ground breaking entry into VR – THE PRACTICE ROOMS.

The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their leadership skills with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.

Alison Carter

Alison Carter is a facilitator and coach at The Colin James Method® and Inner Profit Pty Ltd, a vibrant leadership development company in Australia. She is a qualified Chartered Accountant who has spent over 15 years in senior financial and communication roles. She now loves to share her passion for the design and delivery of effective and engaging communications.