Michigan-based consulting firm Pendaran has taken the "trial and error" approach to a whole new level with its employee-training program.

The company specializes in virtual workplace simulations, which toss employees into chaos-ridden scenarios constructed to test--and hopefully improve--their problem-solving abilities. Upon arrival at a seemingly-normal conference center, Businessweek reported:

The participants are told that they work at a golf cart factory. The laptops have special software designed by Pendaran that breaks the golf cart assembly into different tasks. Some people have to take parts from the forklift and scan them into the system, while others have to use their mouse to drag wheels onto the cart. It all sounds simple enough, but the workers must follow very precise procedures at each step along the way-;both on and off the computer. For example, they must don protective goggles and uniforms and request forms for certain operations and remember to ring the bell on the forklift, which is actually a child’s toy vacuum, when moving around.

The course is filled with fictional characters like the angry foreman Mad Max, who shouts whenever mistakes are made, and the irritatingly beaurocratic Alice the Opperator, who controls an endless surplus of hyper-specific forms for different factory operations.

This panic-inducing simulation was created by Pendaran co-founders Hossein Nivi and Carol Michaelides as way to train employees to react well under pressure in real-life situations.

“I’ve been through lean manufacturing and Six Sigma courses and all that,” one participant told Businessweek. “That stuff is easy and fleeting. To really learn, you have to be in the pressure cooker and feel the emotion and have these approaches become natural behavior. This is how companies truly transform.”

And it appears to create tangible results. The environmental engineering firm Edw. C. Levy Co. has seen a 60 to 70 percent safety improvement among teams it sent through Pendaran's wringer, Businessweek reports.

Perhaps you should consider a little tough love toward your trainees as well. But be warned: It's not unheard of for participants to quit their jobs after three days in Pendaran's hell-hole.

Published on: Jul 15, 2013