Talent Management Case Study

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Talent Management Case Study



Unilever: Through the sustainability lens – leading people authentically

Source: https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/strategy/analytics/valuing-talent/case-studies

Large corporations with long historical legacies are increasingly unfashionable. According to one recent and influential book, those companies approaching $40billion are at risk of hitting a ‘stall point’ from which three out of four never fully recover.( www.valuingyourtalent.com ) Many would say it is typical of the ‘Polman era’ that just as Unilever is approaching the ‘danger zone’ of where research indicates most companies stall, the influential CEO of Unilever should set a target of doubling revenues to 80 billion euros.

The focus on improvement under Polman has been unrelenting: first, a focus on leadership; then the birth of the ‘Compass Strategy’ underpinned by the ‘Unilever Sustainable Living Plan’, where new alternative operating models were sought to avoid just taking from society and the environment; followed by the ‘turbo-charging’ of the business underpinned by making more strategic choices and a new organisational structure; with the current focus now on ensuring the organisation is fit and agile in order to double the size of revenues. Talent Management Case Study


Coming to terms with a VUCA world

According to Unilever, all this is taking place against anything but predictable conditions, with the company identifying three ‘mega-trends’ all worthy of our attention: the end of conventional capitalism and the shift to a more sustainable version of capitalism brought about by the recognition that there was and is a crisis of ethics, reflected in and probably the root cause of the financial crisis leading to the overgearing of our economy and of our planet; second, an increasing distrust of governments and large organisations on the scale such as Unilever; which, third, has led to consumers demanding change much faster than large companies can deliver it. Doug Baillie, Chief Human Resources Officer, explains:

‘In Unilever we call this the ‘VUCA’ world, which is a phrase that comes from the American army. It means the world we live in is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complicated and ambiguous. This has become the new normal. I would go as far as to suggest that if you had stable economies and stable currencies, we wouldn’t know what to do anymore because we are so used to the turmoil we now live in.’

Doing well by doing good

What makes Unilever interesting is their highly distinctive response to tackling the problems of the global economy head on. Baillie continues:

Our response to this is interesting. Fundamentally we can no longer be spectators in the world. We have got to be part of the solution. We can no longer look at the communities and societies in which we operate by taking things out of them in order to grow our businesses profitably and sustainably. We should be saying what can we put into our communities and the societies we serve in order to grow our businesses more sustainably and profitably to ensure we become part of the solution? So you have to do “more than” –which is more than run a business for shareholder value. When Paul came in he started doing quite dramatic things. We no longer give guidance. We only report profit every six months – we are running the business for the long term. Consistent, sustainable profit and growth is the metric we talk about.’ Talent Management Case Study

These are audacious plans. Not only is revenue set to double, but for a business whose products are used by 2 billion people across the globe each day, a new goal lies in decoupling growth from the impact the business has on the environment and the reduction of the footprint on sustainability by making a difference to more than a billion people in the world through social impact. This is not a branding exercise but at the heart of what Unilever stands for. As

Baillie was anxious to clarify: ‘this is our business model: it’s called the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. It’s not a CSR initiative. It’s how we run the business. Everything we do, every single part of our business goes through the sustainability lens and we drive the business through that and it touches every part of the business.’

How well?

Of course, we have been here before. Many a company has tried to hose itself down in environmental colours only to be later exposed as doing no more than ‘greenwashing’ where the operational reality underneath has been found somewhat short of the environmental rhetoric. It is here where an analytical approach has helped Unilever to reach new level of transparency both internally and externally on both a corporate and people-based level. Talent Management Case Study

In terms of the corporate paybacks, Unilever has been unequivocal in publicly stating its targets and reporting traction against them.

‘The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan has three big goals: to improve health and well-being, reduce environmental impact and enhance livelihoods. Supporting these goals are nine commitments underpinned by targets spanning our social, environmental and economic performance across the value chain. We produced an integrated annual report this year, so we not only did the financial numbers but we put all of it together in one report.

It is with Unilever’s talent strategy where the Compass Strategy really appears to be paying dividends for the company. This defines the point at which the company is integrating its Compass Strategy and Sustainable Living Plan with underpinning talent interventions.

People, place and performance: a new social analytics?

According to Leena Nair, Senior Vice President of Leadership and Organisation Development, Unilever’s HR vision calls it ‘People, Place and Performance.’ This essentially represents a three-fold challenge around how Unilever secures the best talent; how to make Unilever the best place to work; and ensuring people are performing to their productive best ‘Are they being engaged and is all of their potential being unleashed?’

Task 1.  Carry out research and try and unveil how the Unilever People Place and Performance HR vision works.  If you are unable to find it online, then put yourself in the position of a newly recruited Talent Manager in the HR department and design the strategy that will help you cover the three challenges.


People: future-proofing

There is an unrelenting analytical eye cast on the business through current, three year and five year lenses. The question under analysis, however, is always the same, as Nair outlines:

‘We have spent an enormous amount of time examining whether we have the talent engine to sustain an 80 billion euro revenue business. There is a significant amount of talent analytics done around the kinds of people we have, the quality, quantity, where the gaps are, how we’re going to close the gap, etc. We track and see how we are doing across all of these areas. We examine the skills, talent and culture to see if we have what it takes to be the 80 billion euro business we want to be. This is one of the essential roles HR plays in the business by ensuring any gaps in the skills, talent or culture across the business that might harm our 80 billion euro aspirations are covered. It’s all about three years from now; five years from now. We are future-proofing the business.’ Talent Management Case Study

Task 2.

Part 1.  Why is it important for senior management, including HR management, to focus on mid and long-term market forecasts and human resource needs?

Part 2.  What crucial information would you include in the analysis of your human capital to cover foreseeable gaps?  (Data)

Part 3. What procedure would you do to identify the existing talent in your company and what tools would you use to recruit new talent? (to correctly answer this question please see the point below.)

Place: branding the employee value proposition

A second element outlined by Nair turns on the detailed and extensive work being undertaken in the new social media analytical space to ensure the development of the company’s employee value proposition.

‘Our model is one of 70% of our talent is “built” and the other 30% is “buy-in”. We are a very marketing oriented business so our marketing expertise is leveraged to help build our employee brand in terms of it being a great place to work, with great people to work with, a winning business with sustainability at its heart.’ Talent Management Case Study

A new ‘authentic leadership’ programme with an unrelenting focus on ensuring the talent under development is aligned with the future strategy and underpinning business model of Unilever is also in place. But a global business operating in 190 countries throughout the world needs a highly diversified marketing strategy and talent, too, is incorporated into a sophisticated approach to brand development. Using analytics helps Unilever to sense-check their messages in different marketplaces while maintaining the same underlining value proposition underpinning the organisation’s overarching brand:

‘We have broadly the same story which we activate it in all of our markets. But we activate our story in different ways by making it relevant to where they are located. The core of the brand remains the same but we activate it in line with all the local nuances we have.’

Task 3. 

Part 1. What role does leadership play within an organization and why is it so crucial for Unilever and how would you describe leadership and what main attributes/values would you associate to it?

Part 2. Why is it so important to maintain the same “storyline” but adapting it to the different national cultures where this company has operations?

Part 3. Design a story to recruit talent for Egypt and explain whether it works for other non-Arab nations and why

Task 4.

Using your analytical skills, do you believe that the Unilever approach can be used by smaller and less global organizations and why?

Design a Talent Management approach for a small Unilever competitor  (it can be a fictional organization)



  1. Please ensure that your name, course and “Final assignment” appears on your assignment – recommend that you use this document as a template
  2. If you do not use this Final Assignment document as a template, then please ensure that you list the task and then develop the answer
  3. Assignments with no bibliography will be automatically rejected (will be considered plagiarism)
  4. Ensure that your answers are supported by theory
  5. This assignment seeks to value your analytical skills and critical thinking, so ensure that it does not become a “copy and paste” as this simply does not demonstrate your skills or your talent.
  6. Assignments submitted after the deadline will be down-graded and maximum grade will be a pass. Those students who request an extension should request prior to the deadline and each case will be individually assessed.

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