Using Simulations to Study, Assess, and Grow Managers

Topic: Assessment, Training
Publication: American Psychologist
Article: Developing Managerial Talent
Through Simulation
Authors: G. C. Thornton, J. N. Cleveland
Reviewed By: Rachel Marsh

Simulations are replications of essential parts of a job and have been utilized by organizations for over 55 years. They are used to study, assess and develop talent, especially managerial talent, and offer more information about assessees than questionnaires. Job simulations can range from being low fidelity and very simple (e.g., asking employees what they would do in certain situations, to very high fidelity and quite complicated (e.g., behavioral simulations that include analyzing many different aspects of company information).

Standardized simulations are often performed by trained assessment center personnel who can quantify the actions of employees into usable data that is based upon the performance of managers or managerial candidates who have gone through these simulations in the past. Because trained assessors perform the simulations in a controlled setting, there is also more control over the different variables the managers must deal with in the job simulation. This allows the organization to make a simulation very specific for each position or employee/applicant.

The general assumption regarding simulations as an assessment tool is that employees will behave similarly in real work situations as they do in the simulation, thus helping companies make better hiring/promotion decisions. When used in a training and development context, simulations help identify competencies that need improvement so that a specific training plan can be developed for the employee, saving the company time and money.

In their review article, Thornton and Cleveland suggest that in order to best utilize simulations for training they should be used in conjunction with other training methods such as lectures and demonstrations, and that employees should start with the simplest methods or training, then move to more complex methods. Constant feedback should also be included in the training process to ensure employees’ optimal learning from the training. In order to best utilize simulations for research and assessment, the authors suggest that several different methods of simulations should be used, as this will ensure companies get the most accurate employee information.

Thornton, G. C., & Cleveland, J.N. (1990) Developing managerial talent through
simulation. American Psychologist, 45, 190-199.