That’s Some Bad Learning Event, Oho Oho!

I was forwarded a YouTube video by a colleague, who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent. The header was “Does this remind you of anything?”. Ten seconds in, I could feel a wave of cringe spreading across my face and shoulders as I recalled one of the epic fails in my learning & development career. Oh yes, this video did remind me.

If you have a spare five minutes, click here to watch the video. If you do not have the stomach for it, here’s a summary: Siemens wanted to launch a new internal campaign to change their corporate culture. The theme was to transform Siemens Healthcare into healthcare pioneers, or “Healthineers”.  This culminated in a massive outdoor dance party. The Healthineers song, a combination of Ace of Base and DJ Bobo, was performed. Leadership swayed awkwardly as the lyrics “We are, we are, Healthineers! Oho oho!” splashed up on the massive LED screens. Dancers in head to toe blue and orange spandex played air guitar and clapped. The audience stood stunned. Turns out healthcare engineers are not big ravers.  

The video first appeared on Reddit and was quickly picked up by satire sites. It then migrated to major news sites, like the Irish Times who declared, “Siemen Healthineers sing away 120 years of self-respect”. Ouch. Efforts to contain the damage were made and the video was deleted several times from YouTube. This whack-a-mole strategy did not work and clips are still available. Incidentally, a review of the comments left by viewers makes for extremely fascinating reading on how people feel about corporate culture, if you can handle the salty language.

I do not throw any stones at Siemens for this atrocity, especially since I live in a HUGE glass house on this one. I completely (and regrettably) understand how an idea can get so out of control that you have no power to extricate yourself from the tsunami of cringe. Luckily, mine occurred before the days of iPhones so the evidence is well-buried.

Face to Face large scale learning events are a rare breed. The costs are high and are usually reserved for company-wide transformational initiatives. Having run many of these types of events these are some of my observations:

  • Know thy audience – Yes, this is a basic in L&D, but it is quickly forgotten when the excitement of a new product or innovation is on the table. Determine the general mindset and culture before considering your plan. To build momentum and energy, you need to engage at a common level. Tone is critical, as evidenced with Siemens.
  • You are not the audience – Be the wise advisor to the gung-ho leader who wants to put their spin on everything. While rock climbing may be a passion of the CEO, it may be petrifying to others. Anyone remember the plethora of abseiling or walk-on-hot-coals experiential courses from the 90s? Sadly, I do.
  • Bonding does not happen by force – Sure, the quirky photobooth or round of improv theatre appeals to many, but do not forget your introverts. Facilitate opportunities to connect and engage on meaningful levels.

Lastly, when it comes to these types of events, the line blurs rapidly into marketing and event management. Whenever possible, engage areas who have that expertise. Share the sandbox.

While I am super relieved that my embarrassing L&D moment will never again see the light of day, Siemens is a cautionary tale. A wide scale L&D event can instantly cross-over into the social media space, impacting brand and reputation. And when in doubt, a song is never a good idea. Oho Oho!