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Business Prof's Online Simulation for Teaching Change Management Proves Popular

Change is among the biggest challenges any organization faces, and difficult to prepare for.

William Judge, E.V. Williams Chair of Strategic Leadership and a professor of management at Old Dominion University, has researched leadership and change in organizations for more than 20 years. He created a simulation for students (and business leaders) to practice bringing about change successfully within organizations.

And in 10 months, his "Change Management Simulation: Power and Influence" has become the second most downloaded teaching simulation offered by Harvard Business Publishing.

"Education is moving rapidly in the direction of experiential learning techniques, and this experiential simulation is all online, which makes it easy to incorporate in synchronous and asynchronous learning environments," Judge said.

In the single-player simulation, students play one of two change agent roles at a sunglass manufacturing firm and face the challenges associated with implementing an organization-wide environmental sustainability initiative.

"Sustainability is one of the most important changes that many organizations will face in the next number of years and this simulation provides a safe environment in which to practice and learn what to do and what not to do in attempting to bring about change," Judge said.

He has used a version of the simulation in his classes since arriving at ODU in 2006, and is developing a graduate-level course for the M.B.A. program. The simulation logic and calculations used to be done manually, but that was too labor intensive. As a result, Judge partnered with a technology company in California to create the online simulation, acting as "game designer" by creating the various impacts and effects of decisions made by the user.

The simulation includes up to four scenarios with different combinations of two important contextual factors for creating change: (1) the relative power of the change agent, and (2) the relative urgency associated with seeing results from the change. In each scenario, students choose among 18 different change levers in an attempt to persuade key members of the organization to adopt the change initiative.

Judge said the simulation exercise is valuable because change is a difficult leadership practice to teach in the abstract. The challenges associated with it typically aren't comprehended until the difficulty of the change is felt by members of the organization, and many veteran executives have not experienced successful change in their own careers.

"If you're educating students that have never been involved with an organization-wide change initiative, they have no sense of the intellectual challenges and emotional fear and confusion that goes on. This tries to simulate that chaos in the organization," Judge said. "It's a messy process, and not entirely rational."

Judge said the simulation is also helpful for managers with business experience because they can use it as a learning exercise to glean tips and advice for the next time a change is being managed.

This article was posted on: September 29, 2011

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