SUPERHERO VIDEO SERIES HELPS UNILEVER TEAM SAVE THE WORLD
What needs to be achieved?
What obstacles need to be overcome?
How to maximise engagement?
How we turned insights into action
What was the outcome for the business and audience?
The Power of Agency
Working with the Unilever EST leadership team we created a series of superhero comic strip videos to engage and motivate a 300-strong team of staff and contractors.
Amongst the 170,000 employees they supported, the EST team saw a 27% increase in customer satisfaction. They went from the lowest to the highest ranked service in just 18 months and sustained this for over 2 years.
As a world class company, Unilever were keen to ensure they continued to equip their 170,000 employees with the best tools for the job. The need for more flexible, agile working combined with Unilever’s commitment to halve carbon emissions meant there was an urgent need to provide staff with a wide range of tools and training to enable them to work remotely but stay connected.
The 300 strong Employee Services Technology team (EST) were responsible for rolling all this out. It was a daunting task and we were asked to produce a series of videos to provide information and encouragement to the team.
Paulo Da Sa
VP Employment Services Technology
There was also some frustration that adoption and use of the new tools by internal customers was slower than hoped. Agile working means not only embracing new technology but also changing the way we think about work.
So, along with communicating the ongoing strategy and ensuring people went the extra mile to deliver, the leadership also wanted the team to be ambassadors for the new agile way of working. To lead by example.
The team had been working hard on various projects for some time. They had been producing some excellent work but there was a feeling that it had been a long slog and they were growing weary.
This, at a time when the team were about to be asked to do even more. We needed something that would - Instil ownership and a ‘can-do’ attitude; Relieve some stress and tension; give them an identity as a team; give them a greater feeling of agency It was clear the usual management approach was not going to be enough to engage and motivate the team to the level required to achieve these objectives.
In the first instance, it was important to engage the team. The team were so busy that anything that didn’t really grab their attention would probably only get a cursory look. We believed an animated superhero comic strip - not just another piece of standard corporate comms - would get people’s attention.
We would also make it fun. The leadership felt it was important to provide some light relief for the hard-working team. We would be careful not to undermine the authority of the leadership team but they were happy to make themselves the butt of the jokes.
There have been several studies into the positive effects of humour in the workplace and the evidence suggests humour “…is associated with enhanced work performance, satisfaction, workgroup cohesion, health, and coping effectiveness, as well as decreased burnout, stress, and work withdrawal” Jessica Mesmer-Magus, David J. Glew, Chockalingham Viswesvaran, (2012) “A meta-analysis of positive humour in the workplace” Journal of Managerial Psychology
In ‘Our Superheroes, Ourselves’ Clinical Psychologist Lawrence C Rubin in his essay “Are Superhero Stories Good for Us? Reflections from Clinical Practice” writes “Stories of superheroes, those larger-than-life figures, can inspire us by providing metaphors for overcoming obstacles, defeating enemies – both internal and external - and mastering seemingly insurmountable challenges"
We believed a tongue in cheek approach - by characterising the team as superheroes with superpowers and the complex projects they were working on as monsters to be slain - would help reframe the nature of the task they had to undertake and make it feel a little less daunting.
If the various projects were going to be delivered as required then people would have to take ownership. It was felt the best way to do this would be to give them Agency.
“Agents of Agile” aimed to change the way team members see themselves and act. Asking people to conceptualise what they are doing as part of an unfolding narrative is powerful and fulfilling.
Narrative Identity is the study of the stories we create about ourselves. We are the protagonists in our own narrative and having Agency is an important part of being an effective protagonist. Seeing themselves as superheroes fighting their own battles gave them a sense of ownership and license to do whatever it took to defeat the enemy.
Paulo Da Sa
VP Employment Services Technology
We designed a set of comic book superhero personas for the leadership team, each reflecting an aspect of their personality and of course embodying their ‘superpower’. The project was kept under wraps, with only a few members of the leadership team aware of what was being prepared.
We began with a couple of teaser videos that were emailed to each team member. These generated a lot of interest and speculation.
The project was kept under wraps, with only a few members of the leadership team aware of what was being prepared. We began with a couple of teaser videos that were emailed to each team member. These generated a lot of interest and speculation.
While the videos were going to be central to the strategy we were keen to create an Agents of Agile ‘Universe’. To make Agents of Agile part of the day to day experience we also produced a set of banners and posters for display around the offices. We designed an email template for communications. There was a printed comic strip and we produced T-shirts for team members.
Agents of Agile EXTRACTS
Within 18 months Employee Services Technology saw significant turnaround in customer satisfaction and delivered their projects on time and, in many cases, ahead of schedule.