Aptly used, corporate acting, role playing in corporate situations to be more precise, is a powerful tool to address a host of people issues - both within the personal and professional sphere. The essence is in re-creating business situations based on client specifications to unearth the elusive human element wrapped in business interactions, finds Sudhir Raikar.
More often than not, the patterns that emerge out of a role playing session challenge convention and fuel innovation. Measurable business value is guaranteed, provided the “learnings” are conveyed to the target audience as an integral part of the enactment, carefully plotting the refinement road map for individuals/groups.
TYPICAL ROLE PLAY DESIGNS INCLUDE
Talent recognition & Management - Developing sensitive, focused and business-centric interviewers, bridging the academia-industry divide to enhance classroom-to-workplace transition.
Addressing conflicts & challenges - How to convey the “bad” news with grace, how to minimize the “stress” associated with an “exit”, how to inculcate the right work culture, how to promote ethics at the work place, how to eliminate acrimony among groups and improve camaraderie for effective performance management.
Change management - How to inculcate the desired culture across the enterprise in ripple-causing situations like M & As, takeovers, technology adoption, diversification and business fluctuations.
CRUX OF THE MATTER
Corporate acting runs the risk of being reduced to a ‘fun time’ exercise in the absence of adequate care and precision. The sessions conveying the importance of brevity and preciseness of role play sessions to participants need to be made as elaborate as possible. Else, many participants seem lost on defining the purpose of the role play session.
Role players need to be conveyed with more clarity that this platform is not for displaying their acting prowess, but for “living” the role of a guinea pig which subtly helps participants understand the umpteen hidden aspects of human interaction.
Since the employee participants are the ambassadors of the program, it would be a good idea to recognize and reward good performance, such that the good word spreads across the organization. This will help convey the message that role plays deliver measurable business value and help mitigate the popular contempt against this tool of being a “non-business” pastime.
Even though the role players need not grasp the depth of the domain/technical knowledge, a curtain raiser can be arranged by the facilitators for a quick summary of the essence of the role.
The observers – both actors and participants - can be powered with more authority to be able to control and monitor off-track and derailed situations rather than citing them in offline conversations.
CORPORATE ACTORS – SPECIAL NEED, RARE BREED
The actors play a vital role as conveyers – they have to “breathe” the roles they play – whether a disgruntled employee, pompous manager, matter-of-fact project manager or a patronizing business owner. The art is to release enough clues through the enactment such that the session is not subjected to sudden jerks, periods of lull or derailment. If the actor “plays to the gallery” or is seeking applause, the session becomes self-defeating.
It’s imperative that the actors should be well aware of the dynamics of corporate situations – routine and otherwise. An emphasis on grasping the domain and technological specs of the work environment proves highly rewarding – as the participants gain momentum only when the actor begins to “speak their language”. A good actor salvages a near-hopeless situation by shrewdly keeping the conversation on track with a great sprinkling of wit and wisdom. A good actor subtly helps participants with clues for better performance.
So, where does one find such actors? More often than not, one has to depend on the mini markets masquerading as mega disciplines; including acting and personality development institutes, on line and offline catalyst organizations, audition facilitators and scores of lateral companies claiming to employ theatre techniques for effecting and facilitating learning & development.
The most glaringly disorganized of the whole lot is undoubtedly the audition market which simply cannot rise above vital stat measurements and Bollywood-brand look tests. On the demand side of this bazaar, we have desperate wannabes of different shapes and sizes, from all corners of the country, waiting only to be the next Khan, Kumar or Kapoor. On the supply side, there are scores of dreadful agents, without the slightest idea of their principle duties, entrusted with the critical job of talent recognition and acquisition. Hiring a product of this bazaar will only prove self-defeating.
Most of the personality development organizations pride on a silver bullet fondly referred to as “soft skills”. Try scouting for an actor (finished product) there and they’ll ask you to enroll for their forthcoming life-changing seminar. Among the acting institutes, where content is often overshadowed by presentation; most of the student actors feel they have already arrived and dictate their terms even before you have spelt your need.
Look for actors working with companies claiming to specialise in drama techniques and you have to face a different flavour of melodrama. Many among these providers are busy flaunting the “overseas” connection and the borrowed wisdom, one that appallingly ignores the dynamics of region-specific culture sensitivities. Their actors are conditioned in the embedded learning; they will instinctively try and force-fit a one-off experiment done in the corporate environment of some western country into the work settings of a SME firm in New Mumbai. And when the recipients look sufficiently dazed, they call it a ‘learning gap’.
Ideally, the above mentioned talent providers should collaborate with each other to deliver corporate acting projects by creating a pool of trained, incisive actors suitably exposed to the realities of the corporate world as also the finer aspect of acting. As of today, such value chains are only a distant dream. One has to necessarily go through the grind, training employees of client organizations, handpicked for their felicity of expression, if not flair for acting. When measurable value is at stake, a compromise is always better than experimentation.