How Immersive Leadership Training can Improve Employee Retention

What can immersive reality bring to the table for traditional leadership training?

Maybe you have a really strong workforce. You have bright, dedicated employees who consistently generate excellent ideas, but without leadership, these ideas fall off the production line. This could be because leadership isn’t taking the time to listen and communicate with employees, or maybe it’s because leadership hasn’t set reasonable expectations among staff. Either way, there’s a disconnect here that, more often than not, can lead to low employee morale, slower production, and even a decrease in retention.

They say that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses. So, what can companies do to strengthen leadership and keep employees engaged? According to a joint study by the Conference Board and Development Dimensions International, 81 percent of employees reporting to newly trained managers said they were more engaged in their jobs. This study also found that the organizations surveyed reported a 70 percent lower turnover rate, 90 percent lower absenteeism, and 114 percent higher sales.

Based on these figures alone, one could make the argument that leadership training played a pretty significant role in producing these percentages. So let’s further explore this argument as well as continue our exploration into the implementation of immersive reality in Learning & Development. This article is going to delve into the fundamentals of leadership training and how immersive leadership training can improve employee retention.

Let’s first take a look at what leadership training looks like.

Leadership Training 101

Have you ever heard that Vince Lombardi quote? You know the one, “leaders are made, they are not born.” To some capacity, he is right. Anyone can be developed into a leader, especially in the workplace, if they are given the tools and environment to do so. But how exactly does that work? What should the main objectives of leadership training be?

McKinsey conducted a survey to discern what sets of performance interventions appear to matter most to drive effective leadership programs. Their research reported that programs should be most concerned with:

  • Focusing on leadership behavior most critical to performance 
  • Ensuring that leadership development interventions cover the whole organization
  • Reviewing current formal and informal mechanisms for building leadership skills
  • Encouraging individuals to practice new behavior that contributes to being a better leader

Great! But what does this mean? Let’s break this down. 

If a company focuses on leadership behavior that is most critical to performance, this might look like implementing mentorship programs to help build their leadership skills. 

Company leaders are responsible for driving the mission and energy of a company as well as maintaining good relationships with staff. If these responsibilities become skewed, companies are at risk of decreasing retention. Harvard Business Review lists three main reasons why employees leave companies:

  • Current Leadership or Management
  • Lack of Development Opportunity
  • Better or Higher Paying Job Opportunities

Mentorship programs can directly address the first two of these three reasons to increase retention.

MentorcliQ collected data that found a “13% retention increase among employees who have participated in just one mentoring relationship. Bump that up to two mentoring relationships and retention increases by 18%. Of employees with 2 years or less at their current organization, the turnover rate for those without a mentor is 26%, but for new employees with a mentor that number drops to 8%.

Mentorship programs can serve as a sort of symbiotic relationship that both managers and employees can benefit from, all while acting toward maintaining employee engagement and retention. Not only do mentorship programs strengthen working relationships, they are also learning opportunities for both participants. 

For example, someone in leadership may not understand the trials that employees face day-to-day, e.g., task difficulty or problem-solving issues. By fostering a close relationship with an employee, leadership may be able to better understand hindrances to progress and be able to practice conflict resolution with their mentees. On the converse, mentees can learn critical skills, both soft and hard, from their mentors, thus creating an engaged workplace mentality. Essentially, mentorship offers the opportunity to build better relationships between managers and staff.

Building off this point, companies can also encourage investment in training that promotes collaborative, cross-functional communication between managers and employees. In a year-long study conducted by Allan Wallis of the University of Colorado Denver, Wallis developed a leadership program designed to promote collaborative, team-based approaches to improve nurse retention within health care organizations. The training program, titled Leadership for Resilience (LR), was delivered through four-day residential retreats in which four main content areas were covered:

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Collaborative Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Systems Change

Wallis writes, “[the LR program] was designed to achieve change on three levels: on the individual level, in the form of improved personal understanding and comprehension of leadership behaviours, including one’s own; on the team level, in the form of an improved ability to work effectively in teams; and on the organizational level, in the comprehension of organizational change dynamics, specifically as applied to introducing a change that could improve nurse recruitment and retention.” This training focused pretty heavily on encouraging individuals to practice new behavior that would contribute to becoming a better leader, as well as focusing on leadership development across the entire team/organization.

The study found that of the five teams evaluated, two teams performed very well thanks to leadership responsibilities allocated to more than just one senior member. These teams experienced growth and enhanced self-confidence, and the senior members commented on the efficiency of work when they allowed other members to take on leadership responsibilities. On the other hand, two of the remaining three teams struggled immensely. Their retention problems were a direct result of a toxic work environment that the groups mirrored within themselves. One participant said, “[the leader generated] a lot of negative energy…We had meetings about our energy drain. We thought we had gotten [her] on board…but then she kept stressing what she did vs. the team’s effort.”

Most of the issues with retention in this study were largely due to a lack of both emotional intelligence and effective communication. To avoid a decrease in retention, companies could deploy leadership communication training to aid managers with both verbal and non-verbal communication skills. There is more to communication than just speaking, and leaders must have a good grasp on elements of communication:

  • Listening
  • Speaking intentionally/giving clear direction
  • Complimenting/positive reinforcement

Roundtable learning has developed several eLearning courses coaching management in leadership communication. For example, we created a leadership course designed around gaining an understanding of different staff personality-types and how best to communicate with each personality type. 

In this course, leaders are required to observe how other team members communicate, e.g., are they more assertive or are they passive? Leaders are then given appropriate communication methods to address each of these individuals in a manner that will best suit their communication style. With this training, leaders are able to focus on behavior most critical to the performance of both the individual and the team and collectively move toward building team unity. 

The Case for Immersive Leadership Training

We’ve discussed what good leadership training can do for retention, but why level-up to immersive leadership training? As aforementioned, employees do not feel compelled to stick around in environments where development opportunities are not offered or where management is disengaged. Traditional leadership training can certainly help with that, but we’re going to make the case that the nature of immersive leadership training can provide a more empathetic, compelling training experience for leaders.

For example, Roundtable has developed an immersive leadership training course where the learner is placed in a scenario in which they must have a difficult conversation with one of their employees. After putting on the goggles, the learner finds themselves in an office setting where they witness an employee making an explosive phone call with a coworker. As the learner watches this situation unfold, they are faced with choosing the right language to communicate with the employee in order to de-escalate the situation and determine how to best address the employee’s needs. 

The purpose of the virtual reality experience in this leadership training course is to allow the learner to physically experience a situation they might have to address in the real-world workplace. The nature of the VR environment allows for the learner to practice elements such as noticing and addressing non-verbal communication, sharpening emotional intelligence, and effective verbal communication in a risk-free environment. Essentially, immersive reality leadership training allows leaders to face a situation before it actually happens and equips them with the necessary methods and experience to make informed decisions when a similar situation arises. 

So much of emotional intelligence stems from the ability to empathize, and immersive reality can offer a more empathetic experience than traditional eLearning or instructor-led training courses. In a study arguing the ability to learn empathy through VR, Phillippe Bertrand writes, “users know that they are not ‘there’ and that the events are not happening, but they feel as if they are, leading them to adopt behaviors as if they were really inhabiting the virtual environment. The interrelation of presence, engagement, and empathy has been observed in immersive VR experiences that teletransport the user to the environment of one emoter.”

In the case of immersive reality for leadership training, a more empathetic, true-to-life training scenario can boost traditional leadership training programs and focus on retaining your talented workforce. 

Conclusion

In all, leadership training programs can contribute to increasing retention. They can focus on the needs of both employees and leaders to combat a receding workforce, but immersive leadership training can take these programs to the next level by providing a fuller, more empathetic experience.

Want to know how you can level up your leadership training? Get in contact with one of our learning consultants to see what immersive reality can do to strengthen your team.