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Benefit Games: Unleashing Leadership Potential Through Experiential Learning

Executives from Benefit Cosmetics pose for a picture after participating in a Taekwondo experience.

Benefit Cosmetics recently hosted its Global Leadership Conference in Berlin, bringing together 120 executives and senior leaders. This year’s theme, “Benefit Games,” was inspired by elite athletes from all across the globe. As part of their People Day, Nina Walters (Director of Global Talent and Organizational Development) partnered with WDHB to bring leadership to life through experiential learning. In this article, Nina reflects on the impact and outcomes of her collaboration with WDHB, ultimately broadening perspectives and strengthening leadership skills for the future.

Article written by Nina Walters

Six months after stepping into my new role at Benefit Cosmetics, I was faced with an exciting opportunity. In just a short time, Benefit would be holding a Global Leadership Conference in Berlin for 120 leaders across our brand. The goal of the conference was to align on our strategic long-term plans and regional priorities, as well as focus on people development.

I was still getting familiar with these leaders, who were each in different stages in their career journeys. With leadership as the topic – which is already so broad – and only a three-hour window to work with, I was determined to find a learning format that accounted for our amazing variety of people, yet gave each participant something palpable to walk away with. Most importantly, I think we were all craving to see and show a different side of ourselves at Benefit. 

Making Learning “Sticky”

My task was to find a way to turn a great conference into an unforgettable one. To do this, I wanted to make learning more “sticky,” with lessons that were very hands-on, immersive and impactful. I wanted to put power back into the hands of our leaders, showing that these “a-ha” moments can happen outside of a traditional classroom environment. I thought back to a conversation I had with Morgan Yeargan– Client Success Partner at WDHB– and realized they could help me bring this vision to life. Their belief in unconventional, experiential learning really resonated with me, and they also happened to have unique experience partnering with elite athletes as a metaphor for leadership. I thought this would be perfect for our high-achieving leaders, making for a stand-out experience that no one would forget.

Crafting the Game Plan

We had a very short timeline to pull this off, but talk about being able to deliver! Morgan went through several different iterations of sports and athletes that we could offer and collaborated with me in such a supportive way where she was able to bring my ideas to life and even surpass them. Morgan and the rest of WDHB’s team made the entire process really easy, and together we planned highly interactive and inspirational sessions using the metaphor of elite athletics. I really appreciated everything that I got to learn from WDHB’s collaborative style and approach to experiential learning.

In the final iteration, we ended up with five simultaneous breakout sessions led by elite athletes from around the globe. Our leaders were broken up into small groups for breakdancing, archery, rowing, guide running and taekwondo. Through a facilitated dialogue, the athletes shared their experiences and stories, then our leaders had an opportunity to engage in conversations, humanizing these incredible athletes and providing organic connections back to leading at Benefit. After that, they participated in the sports activity and experienced the leadership themes first-hand, which translated into powerful takeaways.

The Crowd Goes Wild

The feedback for these experiences were pretty remarkable. Leading up to the conference, we did our best to keep this a surprise. And to be honest, I couldn’t even hear what words were coming out of my mouth when I was trying to announce the names of the athletes on stage because it was so loud in the room. I heard later that there were tears, as well as this overwhelming sense of joy and shock.

Immediately following the conference, we received very positive feedback, especially in terms of our experiential approach to leadership development. I think we can all agree that no one likes to be talked at, especially a group of senior leaders coming together from all over the world for an event like this. They needed this experience to be a moment of coming together with peers, which we were able to provide. The participants also genuinely connected to the stories of the athletes, whose stories reflected a human experience with ups, down, high, lows, twists and turns. And of course, giving someone a chance to move their bodies after sitting for a couple of days in a conference is always a good call. Being able to get up and get that stagnant energy moving really sealed the deal.

Overall, the Benefit Games was a total success, completely surprising and delighting our leaders. The energy and spirit of our people shone through because WDHB understood our culture, how we like to communicate and how we engage with our work. WDHB’s facilitators did a great job of making sure all of the content fit naturally without making anything feel forced or rushed.

The most beautiful part is that everyone walked away with something personal that they can take back to their teams and implement immediately, no matter what their leadership background is or where they are on their unique development journey. I’m so grateful that we were able to partner on something so transformative, and I look forward to the incredible moments in learning we’ll experience in the near future!


Nina Walters

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