Using simulations to train nearly 10,000 senior managers on a new corporate strategy.
By Margery Weinstein
Sodexo, a 14.7 billion-euro on-site services and employee motivation solutions company with more than 380,000 employees serving 50 million people daily, realized a strategic shift was in order last year. As recently as 2005, Sodexo was still known primarily for food services, despite citing itself as the third largest outsourcing company in the world. For it to grow, the company realized top Sodexo leaders would need to quickly embrace a strategy to push them beyond their comfort zone in food services, to become a valued service provider for all non-core client services.
To meet this challenge, Maria Outters, vice president of Senior Executive Development and HR Development, decided to engage the 9,540 global senior managers in a three-language program to "live and breathe" the new strategy in less than 30 months for the rollout. A business simulation provided by learning vendor BTS Group was one of the core elements. This was the first time the organization ever attempted a worldwide development effort at this level of the organization with a single curriculum, Outters notes.
The curriculum included information on businesses across Sodexo, gleaned from more than 30 subject matter experts across the company, as well as leadership skills modules. The finished program, CLIMB (Change, Leadership, Implementation, Behaviors) included e-learning; self-assessments; peer coaching; face-to-face sessions; international virtual meetings; and, to integrate and test participants' successful application of the new knowledge, a customized, competitive simulation called VirtuoSo, developed with BTS.
"The simulation had to mirror our company's businesses with integrated knowledge of different product lines, countries, cultures, and in three languages, to engage high-level executives who might be skeptical of exogenous ideas," explains Sodexo Management Institute Director Adam Charlesworth. He says the company felt comfortable working with BTS, as the solution the vendor provided featured "a highly customized simulation with a sophisticated, compelling competition."
Here's how it works: CLIMB participants are organized into large groups of 100, which each complete a four-month course of e-learning, self-assessments, and preparation. They then participate in the heart of the program, VirtuoSo, a virtual and onsite simulation. VirtuoSo simulates a three-year lifecycle of an enterprise modeled on Sodexo, for which the teams serve as chief executives. Teams develop business plans and choose to invest in a series of strategic initiatives, all the while mindful of profitability, cash, customer satisfaction, and employee retention. The teams get a realistic opportunity to practice the new Sodexo strategy during a three-day live session.
"The VirtuoSo simulation," says Charlesworth, "was a safe environment within which learners could take risks with business decision-making, see decisions in real time, and be competitive so they were engaged, involved, and committed."
Outters says initial feedback after the learning indicates that 84 percent "ranked the learning experience highly effective for their development, and increased their understanding of the company strategy implementation." In addition, Sodexo has experienced increased acceptance of blended and distance learning for executive learners. The simulation was enough of a success that corporate support was gained for this learning methodology to be deployed more broadly in the organization. "Moreover," adds Outters, "CLIMB participants, one year later, are far more engaged, and have higher employee satisfaction than non-CLIMBers."