Simulating experience in a business environment
Challenging annual competition is the way forward for learning and training
In the summer of 2007, a group of four friends, who had just graduated from secondary school, signed up for the Hong Kong Management Association's (HKMA) annual business competition after stumbling across an advertisement.
'We went along to the trial with no idea of what to expect and thought it was really fun so we decided to participate. We certainly had no expectations of winning,' said Eric Chan Kwok-san, the leader of a team which comprised three other graduates from the Maryknoll College in Kwun Tong.
Mr Chan and his team members, who all excelled in mathematics at school, eventually emerged as last year's champions, outwitting older executives who had years of experience in business.
Sun Microsystems, which began sponsoring the event last year, believes the use of business simulation games
for training purposes is the way of the future with a growing number of companies embracing the concept to tackle the rapidly changing business landscape.
'Business simulation games are much more exciting compared with traditional classroom training,' explained Dennis Kwok, chief learning officer in Asia-Pacific for Sun Microsystems of California.
'The games drive participants' emotions, fuel their interest with the competitive aspects and can really get people interested and involved.
'We wanted to sponsor the HKMA game because we believe business simulation games are very effective for learning and training and we wanted to learn from HKMA.'
The technology company has been using similar games for in-house training purposes for several years. In fact, business simulation games, developed internally and with the assistance of external partners, have been built into Sun Microsystems' management and leadership programme, and its training initiative for new recruits.
'These games play a significant role in our training programmes,' Mr Kwok said. 'For example, our new and existing employees can play these games to learn about our business culture, the company's direction and vision.
'These games will evolve and will not just be used for management and leadership training. We are thinking about extending their use for technical training in the future.'
The games' concept is essentially one big test run that enables competitors to explore the dynamics of the competitive business world by allowing margin for error, without the repercussions of impacting on bottom lines.
'Participants can learn how to make high quality business decisions in the context of a defined time limit and learn the skills of business by engaging with others,' Mr Kwok said. 'It is a team approach so members of a team working together can learn to leverage on each other's strengths.'
Mr Chan suspects this may have been the very reason behind his team's win despite their lack of work experience.
'I think the way we delegated the responsibilities worked in our favour. Each person was in charge of one area and I think that really helped us,' he said. 'Good communication is crucial.'
The team members found their inexperience in business to be most problematic when confronted by situations they were unfamiliar with, such as how to determine prices of products and the amount that should be allocated towards marketing. The game, however, also gave the novices a bird's eye view of the complex business environment, and addressed specific skill sets including marketing, accounting, public relations and decision making.
'I learned a lot from the experience and really think this will help me in the future, including when it is time for me to start applying for jobs,' said Mr Chan, now an undergraduate studying actuary at The Chinese University.
He said the competition afforded him the opportunity to hone skills in mathematical analysis, economics and finance, teamwork and the ability to make decisions in a short time.
'Much of the game depends on the response of other teams,' he added. 'My advice is not only to concentrate on effective ways in which to run your team, but also to be able to perceive and anticipate your opponents' reactions. You need to identify a balance between following other teams and making your own call, but the most important thing is to not only focus on your own team.'
In Sun Microsystems' case, these games have brought together executives who are continents apart.
'One important benefit that these games have over traditional classroom learning is that they are not confined to a specific place or location. Our learners can work with other teams across the world and learn about the many different dynamic business environments and scenarios at a global level,' Mr Kwok said.
Mr Chan said he planned to take part in the competition again this year.
'Every competition and each year is different, so I don't necessarily think I would have an advantage just because I participated last time,' he said.
Classified Post is the official media partner of the HKMA Management Game.
In a nutshell
Registration deadline May 14
Game final July 26. Winners of the Hong Kong competition will go on to compete at a regional level.
Winning team Four round trip air tickets to Malaysia; The South China Morning Post Perpetual Trophy; HK$28,000 in cash
First runner-up HK$14,000 in cash
Second runner-up HK$8,000 in cash
Inquiries Contact: Mei Tang on 27748553, S.H. So on 27748550 or Christine Choy on 27748552