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Upskilling managers with VR-based soft skills training

Soft skills
Professional development
min read
Woman in a blue blazer wearing virtual reality headset in front of a tall office building

Upskilling managers is essential to team and business success. Traits of a great manager include the ability to instill confidence, demonstrate exceptional communication skills, and motivate others to engage and perform at their best. Confidence can be contagious, and may inspire employees to embark on a managerial track themselves.

But many managers, especially new managers, are promoted for their “hard” skills on the job as an individual contributor. Managers often lack experience in one or more of the soft skills that lead to team success. How can companies build confidence and skills to develop great managers?

Despite the valuable opportunity to network, engage in scenario roleplay, and ultimately receive feedback from your peers, in-person training is not scalable, nor is it viable in today’s environment.

Some companies are starting to invest in virtual training events. However, these virtual trainings lack the experiential component: actually getting to practice skills, receive feedback, and gain confidence.

The need we had was to immerse people in an experience with a customer before they could actually practice it on the customer. We looked at the time we spent practicing role plays and simulations and we saw that we weren’t having that consistent and sustained adoption of the skills that we wanted our front line to have. So, that’s when we considered Virtual Reality.

Cleo Scott
Director of Global Learning & Development, Verizon

Enter immersive learning

Due to the constraints of traditional manager training, many companies are turning to immersive learning.

Managers can now put on a VR headset and become immersed into real-world simulations. They can practice their soft skills in a safe, engaging environment. They learn, solve problems, speak out loud, and watch/listen to the playback of their performance.

Through repetition, immediate feedback, and the use of real-world inputs, immersive learning is more effective and memorable than traditional approaches.

Immersive learning also provides a wealth of valuable data about attention, engagement, and verbal analytics. This data helps paint a more complete picture of managers’ skills in the context of their actual roles.

Are they good communicators? Can they manage through crises? How well do they handle peer-to-peer conflict?

Through immersive data, we learn significantly more than we would with role plays or videos and paper assessments.

How to upskill managers with immersive learning

There are a variety of immersive learning use cases for leadership and professional development that are helping companies upskill new and existing managers.

01. Coaching & mentorship

Snapshot from Strivr's off-the-shelf VR training course, Coaching 1:1 Conversations

As a coach, managers are responsible for team performance, which includes resolving conflicts between colleagues, providing constructive feedback, and sometimes just listening. With immersive learning, managers get reps going through coaching scenarios on-demand until they feel comfortable and confident.

In a module Strivr created for a global leadership consultancy, learners sit across from a direct-report who is struggling to work effectively with a colleague. As the learners speak out loud providing their feedback to the employee, their speech, head, and hand movements are being recorded. Then, learners have an opportunity to watch and listen to themselves for self-evaluation, an important tactic for long-term retention of the material.

02. Crisis communication & difficult conversations

Managers must lead the way through difficult situations. Rather than wait to see how they react in the moment, VR prepares them today to handle difficult conversations with empathy, thoughtfulness, and tact.

Since VR makes learners feel like they’ve “been there before,” they can lean on their training when unexpected and challenging situations arise. They’ll learn and practice communication techniques that help them stay on message and learn how to handle questions appropriately.

03. Customer de-escalation

The angriest and most frustrated customers typically ask for a manager, and it’s up to the manager to de-escalate the situation and preserve the customer experience. In VR, managers go through immersive simulations where they practice de-escalating angry customers in a safe space. They can work through mistakes with immediate feedback and without worrying about affecting the customer experience.

Verizon case study

Customer de-escalation training in VR worked wonders for Verizon’s customer service team in terms of building confidence to say the right things and truly serve the customer. Watch our on-demand webinar to hear directly from Verizon's Director of Global Learning & Development, Cleo Scott: Elevating Verizon customer service with empathy training in VR.

The employees were much more confident because they were aware of themselves in how they were handling the customer

Cleo Scott
Director of Global Learning & Development, Verizon

04. Workforce reductions

These conversations will always be challenging. But empathy matters, especially in terms of how the news is delivered. In VR, learners get the physical, mental, and emotional repetitions that help lead to better real-world performance. This comes to life when they’re able to look people in the eye, treat them with dignity, and speak gently and smoothly.

A new direction

VR presents an opportunity to upskill managers who are confident and able to lead in volatile business climates and inspire employees. As companies chart out their ability to educate and retain leaders, solutions like VR provide an engaging experience that prepares a manager for likely scenarios that they will encounter at work.

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