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DDI Pioneers Groundbreaking Virtual Reality Experiences to Transform Training for Leaders

DDI launches pilot programs in Australia for virtual reality experiences that help leaders create a more inclusive environment and learn to become better coaches
SYDNEY – Could stepping into a virtual world be the secret to becoming a better leader in the real world?
Dubbed by Fortune magazine as the ‘VR experience that could change corporate America,’ leadership consulting firm DDI is pioneering new virtual reality (VR) training experiences that help leaders to develop their soft skills. Now available in Australia, DDI’s VR scenarios deliver powerful, memorable experiences that help leaders develop and practice critical leadership skills such as empathy, communication, and coaching in realistic scenarios.
“Virtual reality has the power to help leaders experience and manage emotional leadership situations in a way that no other tool or learning technique can,” said Ryan Heinl, director of product management and leader of DDI Labs. “Whether the goal is to help leaders have empathy for what others are feeling or to give them a safe space to practice emotionally-charged conversations, virtual reality changes the learning experience in a way we’ve never seen before in the industry. It’s a game changer.”
These award-winning VR experiences are developed by DDI Labs, which is DDI’s innovation studio focused on integrating cutting-edge technologies with leadership experiences. Working in partnership with top VR companies Strivr and Friends with Holograms, DDI offers VR experiences spanning several applications, including immersive experiences that help leaders understand diversity and inclusion, and interactive environments where leaders can practice skills such as coaching and having tough conversations.
Using Virtual Reality to Drive Diversity and Inclusion
For most organisations, creating a diverse and inclusive culture is a high priority, but difficult to achieve. While most companies focus on creating awareness of why inclusion is important at an intellectual level, a rational understanding is often not enough to create measurable change. Because actions are primarily driven by automatic, emotional cognitive processes, leaders may struggle to translate intellectual understanding of the concept into action, particularly if they’ve been part of the “in-group” of the organisation. DDI’s VR experience is designed to motivate behavioural change by having leaders feel, rather than merely understand, the need for inclusion.
Recently awarded as a top HR Product of 2019 by HR Executive, the experience enables people to feel what it’s like to be marginalised and undervalued at work through an emotionally potent situation where the participant feels how frustrating it is to be outside of the ‘in-group.’ The scenario is designed to be part of a larger session in which colleagues can discuss their experiences, share honest insights, and generate a commitment to model and promote inclusive behaviours.
“While most leaders don’t intend to exclude others, it’s a natural human tendency to be pulled toward people like yourself – which in turn results in workplace bias,” said Andrew Warren-Smith, managing director of DDI Australia. “VR is an ‘empathy generating machine’ where people can truly feel what it is like to walk in another person’s shoes – and in this case, experience at an emotional level how it really feels to be excluded and its negative effects. This is a huge opportunity for organisations to uncover untapped potential in people who may have been overlooked because of bias.”
Practice Tough Conversations in a Safe Environment
Few leaders feel truly prepared for the difficult conversations they need to have, especially with their direct reports. While strong leadership skills can help these conversations be successful, leaders often feel unprepared for them, particularly at the emotional level. While traditional training programs offer highly effective preparation by guiding leaders through role-playing scenarios with a partner, VR creates a new opportunity to prepare for emotionally charged conversations in a psychologically safe environment where leaders aren’t afraid to make a mistake.
“In traditional skill practices where you’re paired with a practice partner, it’s unlikely that your partner is going to begin crying, become extremely defensive, or get angry,” said Heinl. “But these things happen in real leadership situations, and leaders need to be prepared for that. In the virtual world, we can prepare them for the worst possibilities in a safe environment, making them feel as confident as possible about going into the real thing.”
VR also offers the potential for on-demand practice outside of the classroom. Many leaders find it helpful to practice with a colleague right before a tough conversation, which may not always be possible depending on the availability of a peer or the private nature of the conversation. For example, one scenario has leaders don the VR headset and to talk to a ‘virtual’ employee who is struggling with a chronically late team member. For practicing situations like this, VR offers something humans can’t: constant availability and privacy.
“We are thrilled to be testing and implementing this cutting-edge technology to create better leaders for a better future,” said Warren-Smith. “We can already see exciting advancements among early-adopter clients. VR is changing soft skills training as we know it.”
VR is just one component of DDI’s learning design which is a philosophy geared toward meeting the diverse, individual needs of modern learners. Based on extensive research, DDI has identified four key pillars that are integral to creating an effective learning experience; the need to make it immersive, personalised, relevant and to have an emotional connection for learners.
“Technology is key to both supplementing and advancing formal leadership development, and DDI is excited to be exploring and testing a range of other solutions that are aligned with our learning design,” said Warren-Smith. “The sky is the limit when technology is implemented in a meaningful way with the leader front of mind. Equipping our leaders with a purposeful mix of learning modalities is critical for achieving true behaviour change and maximum business impact.”
Read Human Resource Executive’s take on the future of VR for leadership training and how it can inspire better managers
Want to experience it for yourself? Bring a VR pilot to your organisation.
About DDI
DDI is a global leadership consulting firm that helps organisations hire, promote and develop exceptional leaders. From first-time managers to C-suite executives, DDI is by leaders’ sides, supporting them in every critical moment of leadership. Built on five decades of research and experience in the science of leadership, DDI’s evidence-based assessment and development solutions enable millions of leaders around the world to succeed, propelling their organisations to new heights. For more information, visit
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