When employees of SES, a satellite company headquartered in Luxembourg with an office on Research Way in Princeton, needed to learn about the performance evaluation process, they didn’t get a lecture from managers. Instead, they sat down to watch a movie parody in which James Bond goes through a performance evaluation with M.
“That was one way to make the really boring topic of job competencies interesting and fun,” says Douglas Clayton, senior vice president of talent management, learning, and development at SES. Clayton has made many other films for SES over the years, including a “Godfather” parody about company values, a “Mission Impossible” parody about a management initiative, and a short comedy about cyber-security.
Clayton will give a talk at the Human Resource Management Association of Princeton on Monday, December 11, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Salt Creek Grille in Princeton Forrestal Village. Tickets are $55, $45 for members. For more information, visit hrma-nj.shrm.org.
SES is a global company with employees spread out over North America, Europe, and Asia. It has found that when it needs to teach something to its 2,100 employees worldwide, there is no better medium than video. Clayton has made his videos on a shoestring — no more than $50 for his early efforts — though now he spends as much as 20,000 for a high-budget movie, where the message is important to the company. Nowadays, anyone with an iPhone can shoot and edit a high-quality movie.
Clayton believes that video is highly effective in getting messages across to employees, and that’s not just a hunch on his part — he has the data to back it up. He has a doctorate in corporate learning from the University of Pennsylvania, and for his doctoral dissertation, he conducted a study on the impact of video on memory. The five-month study used video for a change management class and included 350 employees at 10 different companies. Some workers saw a movie about the process, and others did not. Later they were quizzed, and sure enough, the movie-watchers remembered the class much better than the control group who only had conventional instruction, even if the videos were of poor quality.
The study also yielded lessons about which types of video are the most effective:
Shorter is better. Clayton says two minutes seems to be the optimal length for a video. Shorter videos (30 seconds) and longer ones (five minutes or more) seemed to be less effective.
The Language Effect: Videos proved especially useful when teaching employees who spoke English as a second language. This is useful for global companies that have workers who speak many languages but must do business in English. Video provided a statistical boost for these employees versus conventional instruction. “Our theory is that because English is their second language, they needed that boost of film to help them retain the information,” Clayton says.
Signaling Effect: Retention is increased when words appear on the screen as an overlay (not subtitles.)
The Leader Effect: Having corporate leaders, especially the boss, play a part in the movies also helped. “It doesn’t matter how low quality the film,” Clayton says. Managers who saw videos and took a quiz learned the information much better when it was presented by a higher-up. Clayton speculates that this may be because they knew the boss personally. But there may be a benefit too, for front-line employees, to see the head of the company on screen. Especially in a large organization, they may not get a lot of face time with corporate leadership, and a movie can be a good way to portray them in a positive light. Clayton had the SES CEO star in the “Godfather” parody, and a British-born employee play James Bond. In fact, all of his movies have featured employees, with no outside actors.
Clayton’s fascination with video and film goes back to 1969, when his third-grade teacher called his class into the auditorium to see what they thought would be play about Robin Hood. Instead, he showed them a movie, starring the school’s sixth-graders. It was a magical moment. “We were going crazy. We were jumping out of ourselves. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing,” Clayton says. “It was one of the most memorable movies I have ever seen in my life.”
From then on, Clayton understood the power of movies to capture the imagination. Clayton grew up in Collingswood, one of seven children. His father was a salesman for a printing company, and it was his mother, a homemaker, who nurtured his love of movies. “We would watch movies on TV, and she had a really good knowledge of trivia and things like that,” he says. His brother would film the family during the holidays, giving him some early hands-on experience. Clayton went on to earn a master’s in human resources from Villanova and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.
His knack for movies isn’t confined to his day job. Clayton has shot a documentary called “Dovere for Camden” will have its first showing at the New Jersey Film Festival. The film follows a small group of people who returned to their hometown of Camden to turn an abandoned bar into a theater.