Mark Zuckerberg announced last Thursday that Facebook’s new name will be Meta, thrusting the word—and concept—”metaverse” into headlines and social media feeds around the world. Zuckerberg’s definition of metaverse is an “embodied internet.” And Facebook is not alone. At the 2021 Microsoft Inspire partner event, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella introduced the concept of an enterprise metaverse, complete with simulated environments and mixed reality. But before there can be a true metaverse—enterprise or otherwise—there must first be “digital twins”.
NASA is credited with creating the concept of a digital twin. It turns out that performing tests and modeling “what-if” scenarios on a digital model of a rocket is a lot less costly and labor-intensive than testing dozens—if not hundreds—of physical spacecraft. Today, digital twins are commonplace across industries like manufacturing, product design, and logistics. Anheuser-Busch InBev has created a digital twin of its entire supply chain—from the wheat field to the bottle. But we’re now seeing that the applications of digital twin technology extend far beyond simulating heavy machinery.
The possible applications of digital twin technology are infinite, and will no doubt have implications for leadership development.
How Digital Twins Will Revolutionize Learning and Development
Most digital twins in an organizational setting mirror business processes, but there is untapped potential when it comes to creating digital replicas of individual employees. After all, an organization’s people are its biggest competitive advantage, especially in knowledge work. And the old way of training and developing employees (i.e., one-size-fits-all one-time events) just isn’t working in the new world of work.
So what data might comprise a manager’s digital twin, for example? All of this and more:
- Personality assessments (e.g. DISC, Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, Big 5)
- Strengths (e.g., CliftonStrengths or VIA)
- Recent employee engagement survey results
- 360 Survey results
- Learning style
- Resilience profile
- Growth mindset
- Existing certifications and developed skills
- The competency model of the organization the individual works in
- Role in the company (front-line manager or senior executive)
With a digital twin model of leadership or an entire workforce you can quickly see benefits on many levels:
- You could receive hyper-personalized nudges based on your unique digital twin
- You could receive tips and training on how best to communicate with your manager, your peers, your direct reports (based on everyone’s digital twin)
- You could receive advice on how to individualize your leadership based on the digital twins on your team
- You could receive career path recommendations that better suit your strengths, personality, and experience
- The company could receive forecasts of increased turnover in certain business units
- The company could identify personality profiles that statistically correlate to higher performance (note that Google has long tested applicants for high levels of conscientiousness)
It may sound futuristic, but some companies are already using digital twins for skills and leadership development. One pharma company has created twins of their sales reps and managers based on role, DISC assessment, situational leadership, EQ, and coaching models. Support for stages of resiliency is being added in the new year.
Digital Twins and Privacy
Remember that with gathering and storing personal data comes privacy concerns. In most cases, data that would power digital twins already exists. Employees are already completing behavioral assessments, 360-surveys, and various training programs. The key is to be totally transparent about how the data will be used, who will have access to it, and consider granting the option to opt-out (as required to comply with GDPR in Europe).
The Future of Digital Twins for Leadership Development and Culture
As digital twin technology gains a foothold in leadership development and organizational culture, the applications and use cases will only continue to increase. Imagine if you could optimize scheduling a learning and development conversation for the exact time of day when an individual is most receptive to new information. Or if you could simulate culture fit—how seamlessly a new hire would “mesh” with existing team members based on personality and workstyle before sending an offer letter. Or being able to digitally “map” the culture to see what skills, competencies, and personality types the organization lacks as a whole.
The “metaverse” may be on the way, but digital twins are already here. The organizations that learn how to harness digital twin technology for leadership development will have the ultimate competitive advantage: people who grow and develop at the speed of innovation.