Bayer’s design-led leadership summit: building a brand from the inside out
Aiming to build its brand from the inside out, international research company Bayer took an unconventional approach to organising its most recent leadership summit. Instead of partnering with a traditional training provider, talent and organisation development manager ANZ David Lawson decided to engage design agency Hulsbosch to create a design-led experience.
Brainstorming on how best to take participants on a journey towards their goals, Lawson’s team, along with the Hulsbosch team led by creative director Linda Jukic, designed the summit around a storytelling structure on the theme ‘leadership oxygen’.
As Lawson and Jukic explain in this interview about the design process, the summit was a great success – numerous participants have even described it as life-changing.
Marketing: Can you tell us what the leadership summit was all about and why you decided to take it in the direction that you did?
David Lawson: Bayer has been on a strategic program for the last couple of years. We had a new leader that came to join the organisation a couple of years ago. We mapped out a strategic plan that is about transforming the organisation to make us more innovative and to make us the kind of organisation where people want to work. The phrase they use is ’employer of choice’ but we want to be a cool face for people that are interested in innovation and like science to cover the work.
The strategic program we created is called ‘Ambition 2015’ and it’s a three year strategic program. At the end of 2011, early 2012 we devised and announced the strategic goals. The whole design of that was quite unique and it required people to do a lot of extra-curricular activities and it certainly placed a lot of demands on our leaders as the culture was evolving. The leadership summit was a recognition of where we had been in that journey.
Along that strategic journey we defined leadership as like oxygen which was something that our leaders had created – a metaphor for the type of leadership we needed to successfully pursue that strategy. So we thought the leadership summit was a time for our leaders to stop and take a deep breath. If leadership is like oxygen we need to stop and breathe and take stock and then look forward – that kind of a disruptive moment.
As we looked towards the leadership summit there was an experience that we wanted to create for them around having them take stock, be confident about what they have done and have the courage to look to the future.
M: Had you previously done leadership summits or is this the first one for Bayer?
DL: So we’d done them before but we had done them a little traditionally before. When that strategy was devised and announced we had a summit and one of those summits is where that leadership/oxygen metaphor had come out from the group.
M: How did the idea come up that you wanted to do something different and you wanted to engage Hulsbosch to help you out?
DL: Well we knew we wanted to have a big impact and to shift the thinking. In my company and in the industry we’re in, people get to join in on conferences quite a lot so we knew we had to do something different to really get their attention. I’d met with the team from Hulsbosch to discuss employee branding a few months beforehand and something clicked when I realised we wanted to do something different.
We wanted it to be more of a brand experience. I didn’t want to go to a traditional training provider for this experience, I wanted a design and brand company. And Hulsbosch were the only ones we considered.
M: Linda, could you tell us a bit about how you came up with the concepts and what you ended up devising?
Linda Jukic: It was actually an interesting process, we began with a brief but it wasn’t a traditional brief. A brief is normally a conversation and it’s placed on paper and off we go. This actually evolved over a period of time. And I think time was really an important factor for us. It enabled things to sift to the surface and it enabled up to get under the skin of things. What was absolutely important to us in the conception of the way this played out was that the leaders had been on a journey to date. So we needed to understand and recognise that journey.
We also understood that there was this platform of oxygen and this idea that the climate’s leaders create influences in their team. So we had the fundamentals.
What was very apparent from the conversation with David was that this is the tipping point in the employee experience, so whatever we had to do had to be exceptionally disrupting and put them in a place where they were ready to move into a space where they perhaps had never been in to, which required courage.
We explored a few varieties of themes and ideas and what really resonated with the Bayer team was this notion of ‘be’. What also ‘be’ becomes is that it’s an enabler. So it’s not only about that presence but we can use it speak about courage. You know, be courageous, be visionary, be legendary… Most importantly it gave us a vehicle to create a narrative over the two days.
M: Great, so it was all about the narrative and the concept. What can you tell us about the collateral you created to support all of this?
LJ: Look, the collateral to be honest was the minor component in what we did with Bayer. We probably spent the least amount of time developing the collateral. That was just your stock standard workbooks and your banners.
This was quite a period of time; it wasn’t a whipped up project over a month or two. Most of time we spent was actually curating that journey over the two days. The Hulsbosch team started to think about – how did this two day period start to look and feel, not from a graphic design point of view from a experiential behaviour point of view. And then what are the points of engagement – whether that be speakers, exercises, workshops that enable us to take the employees through the journey. Of course we designed some beautiful banners and some beautiful workbooks and a beautiful pack but that was really supplementary.
DL: The interesting thing was that there was a turning point in the project: we’d been talking for a little while and we created a bunch of activities that we thought were relevant to the kind of experience we wanted to create, but we knew that it just wasn’t hanging together and I was getting quite stuck – I was sitting there on my own trying to create this.
Then there was this meeting that we had and Linda and I just got ‘riffing’ and we realised that this narrative needed to exist and we had to make useable of elements that needed to be in the story, that it wasn’t hanging together and I threw all that at Linda and off she went. Then the next meeting we came back together and we got things practically crafted and the experience was shaped.
LJ: Yeah, we called it a story. Just like you write a story, there’s a beginning, there’s a middle, there’s an end. And there’s a point a tension, there’s a point of resolution. We basically took the formula of ‘how do you tell a good story’. We presented it back to David as an engagement arc: a story arc that we will start here, we will take our employees there, there will be this moment, they will break through, they come out of the other end looking like this.
M: David, it sounds like from your point of view it was really helpful to have Linda in there, both as an external person viewing the problem from outside, as well as being a creative type?
DL: It was the design thinking that I really needed. It’s like telling a great story, we had all the elements of a great story, we knew what was going to happen, knew who characters were, knew what they would do but it wasn’t hanging together.
Then having a design perspective placed over that just brought it together in the way that it needed to be.
LJ: Certainly from my perspective, in the Bayer team led by David there was a transparency that I don’t often get with a lot of clients. I respected so much of that inclusiveness and transparency and I feel like that enabled us to get to a better creative result because we actually understood but we had an investment in the process.
DL: I work in this area called ‘organisation development’ and very rarely does an organisation fund you so you’ve got all the resources you need. My teammates are always my providers – the people I’m working and partnering with. So I saw Linda and the team as just an extension of the Bayer team.
M: Let’s hear about what the response was like, then. After the summit from participants what was the feedback you got?
DL: It was awesome. Just looking at my iPad, I’ve got 180 people, more than 60 of them felt the need to communicate with us and tell us that it had been life changing.
M: Was there an official survey or anything like that?
DL: Unsolicited. I’ve been involved in learning and organisational developments for about 25 years. I don’t ask for ‘smile sheets’ any more. I don’t care what you think – I know what I’m doing. This was unsolicited, and really, people were extremely energised coming back to the workplace.
It was funny, because we did it in three groups; we wanted it to be an intimate experience, and we needed to work with 180 managers so we put them into three 60-person groups. The first group was saying ‘What should we tell all the other people back at the organisation?’ And we said, ‘Tell them whatever you like! It’s not a secret!’
But they kept it all quiet, they had some kind of a ‘We don’t want to spoil it for them; we want them to have the experience that we had’. So it’s created this amazing buzz in the organisation.
I’ve had people coming to me telling me that their relationship with their partner and their children has changed, their behaviour at home and work has dramatically changed.
One of the things that we asked them to complete at the end of the experience was we asked them to declare publicly what they stood for, to answer the question ‘what I stand for’. People have made signs about it and posted it on their office walls, telling everyone in the organisation what they stand for and who they are. The impact has been enormous and I’m basically fielding calls from many of them now asking me to work with their teams now to give some of their team members a similar experience to the one that they had as a leader.
M: So are you hoping to make it a yearly thing?
DL: Well the summits will go on. Our next trip will have to be a good one, we’ve raised the bar. But we’re now working with the organisation a lot around self care and self management. There’s another organisation we’re partnering with that has some material in that area.
Looking forward to the next summit and the work that I’m doing with leaders, my partnership with Linda has meant that my understanding and approach to creating learning environments has shifted dramatically. I don’t want to go back and do training courses any longer, I really want to continue my learning around design and creative and how that feeds into the experience of learning and how people can evolve and grow.
M: Could you tell me about your thoughts on the concept that ‘the best brands are built from the inside out’?
DL: This is linked to how we how we see the brand and what that brand stands for. Our tagline is ‘science for a better life,’ but Bayer sees itself as a life sciences company and what are we doing to make the lives of our customers and the community better.
So we know we can’t have bureaucratic leaders that just want to play it safe and not take innovation to the market because we’re not honouring our commitment and our mission. We knew that this experience was part of building the capability that’s needed. It’s not skills, it’s attitude, risk-taking and courage, and building that from within so we can achieve the brand essence and the brand promise.
We have to work with a whole organisation but fundamental to that is the way that leaders behave and the way that leaders inspire other people. So we felt like making a brand promise isn’t enough, we’ve got to create this within the organisation so that we deliver on this brand. Unless our people are inspired and committed to that outcome, we won’t achieve the brand outcomes that we’re targeting.
M: Linda, what are your thoughts on that topic?
LJ: Well I think that’s why we enjoyed the process so much and why we certainly loved the collaboration because we certainly believe that brands are built from the inside out.
To me what was awesome about this particular process is that David and the Bayer team recognised that great brands are built from the inside out. So many brands think that they can do that superficial external – and it will make a shift for the brand. And it doesn’t. It does make a shift for the brand but it’s not authentic. And I believe consumers and the audience can see that. You do need to build a stronger brand from the inside out. It’s genuine, it’s strong, it’s built in a belief for common purpose and it unifies people so you end up with a stronger brand and visual identity and the brand identity is just a component of that.
DL: From where I sit, I think that people who do what I do and my marketing people are now brand fathers, we need to be working together. In my study and training, I studied both marketing and organisational theories. And I see that brand, in essence, is a promise and a relationship, but if you can’t honour that promise then it will fail. The capability of your company, the people in your company, is your capacity to deliver on that promise.
When I’m talking to my people, I’ll use maybe a well-known fast food chain as an example. You get the picture of the burger when you walk into the place and what you get in the pack is nothing like that. That’s not a quality brand experience. When you make a promise, you should do everything within your power to deliver on that promise. That’s the part that I work on – building the capability of the individuals in that company to be able to honour that promise.
The real essence – when I stop to think – it was really important to us to ensure that our leaders felt like they could act and that they had the courage to act. In the design of the narrative that we were able to create, we delivered on that. And we exceeded our expectations.