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Boosting Leadership With Digital Role Play

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Empowering the team toward a shared objective is by far one of the most meaningful duties and responsibilities of a leader. And leading through critical conversations is probably the most direct and powerful way to share meaning and purpose with other people, especially the members of the team we are called to guide. For example, giving feedback, helping others set their priorities, negotiating goals, and delegating responsibilities are core leadership capabilities that center around conversations.

However, many leaders don't feel comfortable when it comes to sustaining a critical conversation with their reports; it requires a lot of confidence, and many tend to feel out of their comfort zone.

As a consequence, either they do not plan critical conversations when needed, or they face the conversations randomly or the wrong way, typically with little preparation and little predisposition to listening. And, of course, this approach reduces the team engagement, disempowers those going through a badly managed critical conversation, and diminishes the performance of the leader and their entire team.

Successful leaders start with thinking that a critical conversation is a great time of empowerment and learning, including for themselves. They are not scared of confrontation and play it fair and transparent, considering the other's feedback as something enriching themselves as well. To reach such a level of confidence, a leader needs to go through a lot of in-field experience, which involves a lot of mistakes and fine-tuning. And this is where getting coached on critical conversations can become a very important asset for a leader who wants to improve fast. In fact, learning how to conduct a critical conversation has little to do with knowledge and much to do with practice. Practice reinforces confidence on one side, because you gain experience, and on the other side contributes to generate new behaviors that become habits.

Role play is probably the world’s most renowned way to practice with critical conversations in a safe environment. However, since it still requires face-to-face activity, it is expensive to deploy and scale.

Enter Digital Role Play

Digital role play is a learning strategy where digital technology, often backed up by AI, meets the old but still effective methodology of role play to provide a very flexible gym where anyone can practice, as much as they want, critical conversations that make them feel uncomfortable. Each session generates a set of evidence supported by advanced metrics and data that are used to track improvements and enrich learning opportunities (such as coaching sessions and moments of training).


The main advantages of using a digital role play include making available an online solution where leaders can consistently practice at their own pace to improve conversation skills. It also provides a safe environment where leaders can improve their confidence and self-awareness. Confidence grows through the identification of key moments in critical conversations that, after being analyzed and explained in the tool, are then echoed in real conversations; meanwhile self-awareness increases through learning-by-doing and trial-and-error approaches supported by immediate and contextualized feedback.

Digital role play also allows the implementation of a sustainable and effective learning solution, both from a logistic (it can be easily shared with a geographically distributed population) and methodological (it allows learners to exploit the power of role play with unlimited access to its practical approach) point of view. Plus, it allows continuous monitoring using objective data and smart metrics to show learning ROI and impact.

Digital role play, as with any other digital learning strategy, needs to generate traffic (learners using it) to be effective. The most impactful implementations include a set of features (mostly automatic) such as scheduling, reminding, and reporting that allow learners and trainers to keep the pace of the defined learning path. The trainee receives invitations by email to schedule the meetings in their calendar, just like in real life, and receives periodic reminders to prepare. They’re also free to play the digital role play online as many times as they want, while waiting for the "official" scheduled session, enhancing their confidence so they’re ready for the appointment.


The trainer will get notified of any conversation the trainee plays, with the option to review their performance, from the macro figures to the micro details of single behaviors, and plan the best coaching strategy for the next live session.

Digital role play is a very interesting innovation trend in the field of learning and development, since it is very much oriented to practical experience and scalable in-field training.

For those of you interested in learning more about practical strategies for introducing digital role play into your leadership training strategies, I recommend subscribing to this free, online masterclass.

Want to learn more? Don’t miss the ATD webcast, The AI-Driven Digital Role Play Methodology Stripped Bare!

About the Author

As an enthusiastic technology endorser, Andrea is a serial entrepreneur who has founded several companies specialized in interactive e-learning content development and distribution. He is a strong endorser of the “human factor,” which he believes to be the added-value key element of any business negotiating process. Andrea is the mind behind the revolutionary Lifelike Interaction approach, a cognitive model and set of algorithms able to create a new training method designed to train behavior—and therefore boost performance.

As CEO and founder of Lifelike SA, a Swiss high-tech company leader in the area of learning simulators focused on user performance improvement, Andrea now leads a disruptive revolution. He is among the few world pioneers to bring artificial intelligence and interactive video into the field of behavioral learning and training.

In 2017, Andrea co-authored a paper published in the Journal of Medical Education. That same year, Lifelike was awarded the Gold and Silver medals at the Reimagine Education Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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