Continuing our Critical Skillsets Series, today we’re diving into Agile Thinking & Strategic Decision-Making – why they are so important in a dynamic corporate landscape and how business simulations can help learners – in school or on the job – hone and refine these key characteristics of business leadership.
As companies strive to adapt in a frequently changing business environment, one way to stay ahead of the curve is investment in soft skill development. Traditional discipline-specific hard skills, like accounting and programming, are still important for job candidates, especially for getting in the door depending on the technical qualifications of the job at hand. But more and more, it is soft skills like agile thinking and strategic decision-making that are creating the biggest impact in today’s workplace.
For instructors in both the academic and corporate spaces, this means that finding ways to include soft skill development in learning materials is crucial. One approach is simulation-based learning. Business simulations provide an experiential learning environment where learners are given the chance to acquire, refine, and hone these crucial skillsets.
Agile Thinking & Strategic Decision-Making – Defined.
Why do employees count these among the top skillsets they look for in job candidates?
Agile thinking and strategic decision-making encompass more than the business buzzwords we’ve come to associate it with – (who isn’t talking about ‘scrum?’). These critical skills are elements of a broader overall shift in mindset that is becoming increasingly important in today’s dynamic commercial landscape.
“An agile organization adds velocity and adaptability to stability, creating a critical source of competitive advantage in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) conditions.”
– Five Elements of Agile Thinking, McKinsey & Company
Agile thinking refers to the ability to rapidly and creatively problem-solve. It’s about encouraging and appreciating value, speed, and flexibility in decision-making. Agile thinkers thrive in collaborative environments where continuous strategic development is prioritized. They are able to shift gears and troubleshoot partway through a long-term plan, lending to more responsive and flexible strategic decision-making in the company on the whole. Companies that prioritize agile thinking foster both individuals and teams that have the ability to respond strategically to changes in a business plan or product development process.
Soft Skills In Demand: A Case for Soft-Skill Focus in Learning
Business simulations as a means for skill development
Given the ability that soft skills like agile and strategic thinking have to impact business outcomes, it is no surprise that employers are looking to assess them among job candidates and employees alike. In 2018, Top MBA asked what consulting, technology, and finance firms look for in a new hire. They received responses from major MBA-recruiting firms like Goldman Sachs, McKinsey & Company, and Google. Overwhelmingly, employers noted that soft skills play a key role in the hiring process, and strategic thinking ranked highest in desirable attributes among them. However, despite its desirability, many respondents gave strategic thinking a low satisfaction score. The takeaway? Employers want strategic thinkers but struggle to find them.
To fill the soft skills gap, instructors of all kinds – from corporate trainers to business professors – have to find ways to include soft skill development in learning curriculum, even in hard skill-heavy disciplines. For example, it has become routine in many Computer Information Systems programs to collaborate with a corporate partner for internships that emphasize project management skills, along with technical skills. Students are assigned different roles in the overall app development process to better understand a project from multiple angles.
Business simulation games are another way to help students and employees bolster their soft skills development. While working through simulations of real-world scenarios, students can practice agile thinking, collaborating with a diverse team and responding to shifting outcomes. In most games, to at least some degree, learners are also tasked with making strategic decision, and evaluating those decisions in real time as in-game dynamics shift. Not only does this help to hone important skills, simulation based learning can also contribute to higher employability among recent graduates by giving candidates with little on-the-job experience a tangible example of skill proficiency.
Perhaps most important is the idea that developing soft skills like agile and strategic thinking takes time. As Susan Sandler Brennan, assistant dean at the career development office of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, explains: “I reject the idea that so-called soft skills are somehow easier — they are harder.” This means that finding teaching tools that can help instill and develop them is key – and the earlier the better. Business simulations provide a risk-free, real-world setting for any learner – from student to executive – to safely test and hone the soft skills they need and prepare for challenging situations when those skills will be put to the test.
As soft skills like agile thinking and strategic decision-making grow even more vital for commercial success, we can expect to see new emphasis given to their development in the classroom as well as in corporate training programs. Business simulations are among the leading tools for delivering this kind of competency-based learning: where learners are evaluated by the skills they acquire through the learning process as opposed to other measures. If you would like to learn more about simulation-based learning and how it can improve learning outcomes, contact us today.