Our Challenge

Cabaret! Learning comes to life at Unilever

Ever felt like nodding off in a lecture or talk?

If so, you'll already know how important it is to engage people's full interest. Unilever posed this challenge to Maynard Leigh - to bring alive an important learning event it was planning for its supply chain managers from around the world.

For a company like Unilever, supply chain logistics are everything. With annual UK sales of over £2.3 billion from their household-name brands, including Persil, Flora, Magnum and Lynx, they faced rising competition and increased power from supermarkets, who have final control over how much exposure their brands would receive.

Unilever realised that if they could have their products permanently on the supermarkets' shelves, never running out of stock, this would radically affect their bottom line. So the company embarked on re-educating all managers directly or indirectly connected to supply chain.

Creating a performance

The company invited managers from different cultures and countries to London for a week-long learning event. Over the week they would share knowledge and be exposed to the latest techniques and thinking. 

Unless this experience changed how people acted, they would not return home and drive innovation. The event had to be a success.

Our challenge was to bring alive what threatened to be a dry and abstract learning process, and turn it into a vibrant learning community. Working closely with Unilever, we decided to present best practice through the spectacle of Cabaret. We gave support in helping them present their message, providing costumes and props, and guided them to devise their performance.

The result was a kind of roving theatre that took place at the venue, in which people chose different places to perform and share their knowledge. One group performed at the bar, another by the pool, and another by the fireplace. The performances brought to life dry information. Throughout the week, Maynard Leigh's associates sat in on the lectures, improvising ways for people to have fun learning and understanding the core messages.

On the final day, we helped people devise metaphors and stories to communicate to visiting senior managers what they had learned and what needed to happen next. For example, one group used a golfing metaphor: "If you tee off from here, you need to use iron to get there." Another preferred a cooking analogy: "To bake this kind of cake successfully you will need these kinds of ingredients."

The Maynard Leigh approach has been so successful that Unilever has repeated it several times over the last three years. The company has found it has helped people understand the learning process and develop a more creative way of sharing knowledge and best practice.

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