Virtual Solutions for Real Problems

DDI has developed a virtual reality experience that gives employees fresh insights into workplace exclusion.

Did you even check those sources?” accused Stephanie. “You know you really need to do that.”

“Yeah those statistics don’t sound right. I don’t think you understand what a big decision this is,” says your boss, Nicole.

You sit at the conference table, surrounded by your colleagues, and your blood boils. One after another, they belittle you and diminish the days of hard work that your team put into selecting a new vendor.

By the time you take off your headset, you aren’t sure whether you’re upset or angry—all you know is, you wanted to say something to wipe that smug look off your boss’ face. Then you realize that you could have. It may have felt real, but DDI’s Virtual Reality Inclusion Experience, which Human Resource Executive Magazine recently named a Top HR Product of 2019, is merely a realistic simulation designed to make you feel empathy and awareness of being treated unfairly in the workplace.

“It’s an incredible wakeup call,” says Tacy Byham, CEO of DDI and Woodland Drive resident. “You start to realize the little things you do and your cumulative impact on people. Our goal is to impact the individual leader, one behavior at a time, to make a better world for the future.”

DDI, a global leadership consulting firm that helps organizations hire, promote and develop leaders, was founded by Byham’s father, Bill, in his basement on Colony Circle. Now DDI has offices in 20 countries, and its contributions to the industry include the invention of behavior-based interviewing, which has grown into one of the most widely used interview techniques for businesses around the world. Bill continues to be involved at DDI as its executive chairman.

“The skills we have taught for 45 years—inclusion, corporate perspective and equipping leaders with the ability to make others feel heard and valued—are not just ‘nice to do’ anymore. It’s now required,” says Tacy Byham. In fact, according to DDI’s Leadership Forecast, organizations that lead in diversity and inclusion have 1.7 times greater leadership strength, 1.4 times more sustained profitable growth, and 1.5 times stronger growth culture. Byham herself is a staunch supporter of gender equality in the workplace and spearheaded DDI’s Women in Leadership program and #LeadLikeAGirl campaign.

DDI’s VR program was one of Human Resource Executive Magazine‘s top products of 2019.

DDI is known for its training and assessment programs, many of which, including the new virtual reality initiatives, were developed in the DDI Labs innovation studio.

“We’ve been experimenting with VR for many years, but this is the first one to hit the market,” says Doug Reynolds, executive vice president of innovations and technology and Roycroft Avenue resident. “Early iterations targeted hard skills. For example, we had a factory scenario, where we trained workers to identify safety hazards and other problems.”

The idea to switch focus to soft skills, or interpersonal relationship skills, came about in August 2018. A cross-functional team including designers, psychologists, research specialists, marketers and tech professionals met regularly to plan and build the simulation, which had three versions.

“It took us a while to get what we were looking for in terms of reaction,” says Reynolds. He described the first version, which placed the subject, a woman, at a table where her male coworkers were discussing fantasy football. “But we needed a scenario where, no matter who you are, you feel you are part of the out group.”

Finally, the team created the “new vendor” scenario, described above, to meet that standard. The Virtual Reality Inclusion Experience is the prelude to a two-hour guided discussion, acting as a conversation starter and a vehicle for all of the leaders in the group to have a shared experience they can reference.

“What’s missing from most diversity and inclusion training is the emotional connection—the empathy,” says Byham. “Through the power of virtual reality, we’re able to help people feel what it’s like to be excluded and demonstrate the damage it does both to the person and to the business.”

The successful launch of the Virtual Reality Inclusion Experience confirms for DDI that the technology has a place in leadership training. Up next, DDI Labs will be producing a virtual reality leadership skill-building program that can either be paired with a DDI leadership class, or it can stand alone as a tool to practice for difficult conversations—job interviews, asking for a raise, confronting a team member and more.

“Virtual reality is an effective tool because it’s more like an experience you are living through, rather than a book you read or a video you watch,” says Reynolds. “We will continue to develop virtual reality experiences for leadership development, and hopefully move the field forward while creating fun technology for people to learn from and enjoy.”