General Electric (GE) is a $123 billion global manufacturer of industrial products such as airplane engines, turbine generators, locomotives, and medical equipment. Over the past decade, the Boston-based company has been transitioning its businesses rapidly into a digital business – one that capitalizes on the Internet and other digital technologies. GE’s goal: help business customers dramatically improve the way they use GE equipment and run their own operations.
Create scalable and cost-effective programs that teach GE leaders from a variety of business units, functions, and professional backgrounds the skills and behaviors they need to transform the company from an industrial giant into a digital leader.
For decades, GE has operated one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated leadership development programs, spending more than $1 billion annually on it. Each year, thousands of employees come to the company’s famous Crotonville training center in Ossining, New York, to gain the knowledge and skills they will need to help GE succeed. But for a global conglomerate facing a world that is “VUCA” (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), classroom lectures had become an insufficient method to teach GE leaders how to implement change for their teams and wield influence across organizational silos.
Simulations make learning experiential, says Natalia Preiss-Seybold, GE Functional Learning Leader and Curricula Designer. “Lectures talk about doing the work; simulations allow you to do it. They let us spend less time talking about the work and more time actually doing it is key to building expertise and increasing performance,” she says.
Since 2011, exper!ence it inc. and GE have developed and delivered a range of customized and off-the-shelf simulations for GE leaders at all levels. These simulations range from in-person experiences led by a team of our facilitators (conducted over multiple days and several hours per day) to online simulations that can be completed on an iPad in just 30 minutes.
The online training has become increasingly critical to GE’s learning programs. “We can’t always fly our leaders to Crotonville Campus in Ossining, New York for five days of classes,” says Preiss-Seybold. “So exper! ence it helps us leverage new technology to develop targeted and effective leadership development programs.”
For the in-person simulations, GE weaves our simulations into its leadership courses at Crotonville. “The simulations fit like a well-engineered puzzle piece into the overall program,” says Shane Comeaux, faculty lead and programs manager at GE.
The reason they work well, say both Comeaux and Preiss-Seybold, is the strong partnership exper!ence it has built with GE.
Over the past six years, GE’s learning and development function and exper!ence it’s team has developed a tight relationship, from our founder Don Jones to our facilitators, according to Preiss-Seybold and Comeaux. This strong collaboration has enabled us to design simulations for GE that meet its precise needs, such as evaluating employee performance after participating in a simulation and providing feedback to further improve performance.
The exper!ence it designers and facilitators are collaborators, Comeaux says: “They are bringing to me this full immersion simulation that does what is very difficult to do in a learning environment: make people react to simulated situations the way they do at work.”
“When exper!ence it facilitators lead in-person simulations,” Preiss-Seybold says, “it’s easy to see the passion and enthusiasm they bring to the table. Don and his company partner so closely with us so that we’re truly sharing it. We’ve managed to work so well together that you can’t really tell where exper!ence it’s simulation begins and our class ends.”
Preiss-Seybold estimates that 25% of the GE employees who participate in an Experience It inc. simulation within three to six months receive promotions and advance to roles of greater impact. She also says that anecdotal evidence suggests that Experience It inc. programs have multiple benefits, from boosting team engagement to reducing attrition and increasing productivity and technical skills back on the job.
More than 5,000 GE employees have now participated in Experience It inc. simulations to help them become better leaders. The energy and enthusiasm of Experience It inc.’s facilitators are reflected in the above-average Net Promoter Score (NPS) that the simulations receive from GE participants.
“Experience It inc. has the ability to weave an immersive, three-dimensional story that inspires and energizes participants,” explains Preiss-Seybold. “At the end of the multi-day simulations, it’s not uncommon for participants to describe the experience as life-changing. They have a new sense of confidence. The simulation has helped them see that some of their behaviors may be harmful to their teams, and they are determined to go back to their day jobs and make things right.”
Comeaux agrees that the simulations give participants new insights into their own behaviors and reinforce the value of communication, trust, and teamwork. “Interestingly, our surveys show that the simulations have a high impact on participants regardless of culture, gender, age, or other variables,” he says. “Whether we run the simulations in the U.S., China, or India, we find that participants tend to be highly satisfied with the realizations that they achieve.”