Unilever is a global company selling fast-moving consumer goods, whose purpose it is to make sustainable living commonplace. You will recognize consumer brands such as Axe/Lynx, Ben & Jerry’s, Dermalogica, Dollar Shave Club, Dove, Hellmann’s, Knorr, Lipton, and Magnum. But what about the employer brand?
Anuradha Razdan is Vice President HR, Home Care and Head of Global Talent Attraction and Employer Brand at Unilever. In this interview, she talks us through the culture and purpose of the company, and about how they recently developed and launched a new employer value proposition (EVP).
When I joined Unilever, surprisingly, I didn’t know much about the company. Only that it was the most aspirational employer that came to hire at our campus. It was the company that everyone wanted to be a part of, sure I knew some of the consumer brands but not the intricacies of the business. Anyone who made it through the Unilever interview process felt so thoroughly selected, the interview process was a success in itself.
Why I’ve stayed on is another matter. First and foremost, this is a business that cares about making a difference. Of course, we want to create results and profits, but we also want to create a better world, and we want our employees and stakeholders to be part of this journey. The values and professional ethics that stem from the legacy that Unilever has, and that has kept us with the larger purpose, it spoils you. It’s a culture that makes you want to come in and give your best every day. 20 years down the line, I’ve been through so many experiences and roles, and yet there has been no sense of fatigue & boredom, and that has kept me going.
How is sustainability part of the business strategy?
What is unique with Unilever is that the business strategy has sustainability at its heart. The way we build our brands and the way we craft processes across the business are all sustainable by design. We have a clear roadmap and goals that we have set across the next four or five years. It’s at the heart of everything we do, and everyone who is a part of Unilever is enrolled in this, feels bought into this and feels proud of this.
What talent challenges are you faced with?
Today our attractiveness as an employer is at an all-time high, as we measure it through campus surveys, university scores across the world. We’re the #1 employer of choice in more than 40 markets where we hire.
But even as we raise the bar on our attractiveness, our talent context is being disrupted, just like our customers and channels are being disrupted. The talent canvas is no longer homogenous, and the talent needs in different parts of our business are different, and therefore there is no one-size-fits-all. Hence, there is a need for us to be able to shape and deliver a talent strategy that can be successful in a world of seeming paradoxes. On the one hand, you have surplus talent as technology seeks to replace people. Equally, you have talent shortages in areas where you want to ramp up skills, whether it’s digital or precision marketing – these are where we need to build skills for the future, but yet there are gaps. There is a dichotomy of too little and not enough at the same time.
Tell us about your employer brand strategy?
The employer brand strategy draws from our talent challenges; the need to be attractive in a world that is increasingly disrupted. There is no one employer brand campaign or message. Of course, there is a core EVP but other than that; you can’t have one global employer brand and rest on that. Every employer brand battle, every talent challenge is won in the market, that’s where the moment of truth is. That’s at the heart of our employer brand strategy.
Equally, it’s moving away from a view where you want to win everywhere to winning where it matters. From a consistent approach to a differentiated approach depending on what the specific micro-segments you want to hire are.
It’s no longer about one top-down campaign and attractiveness that is communicated by the company. That is no longer the single source of truth. Talent is everywhere, and there are conversations about you, around you that you don’t control. Therefore the employer brand strategy has to be something which is very consistent with the real employee experience. And thus it’s not an outside-in, but an inside-out employer brand strategy.
How did you develop the new EVP?
Unilever is a company that builds excellent brands; our employer brand has to be a reflection of this. We approached this employer brand development just like we craft any of our product brands. We completed an exhaustive piece of research, covering 300 internal and external voices, we benchmarked our competitors, and other employer brands we think are aspirational. And we extensively tested and validated this with talent internally, externally, marketing leaders, our different target audiences, and in that process, we learned that for an employer brand to make an impact, it has to be credible, relevant, differentiating and aspirational.
What is the new EVP?
Unilever is a business that genuinely cares about making a difference, and this is at the core of our employer brand and EVP. When you join Unilever, it is not just a job; you are joining a movement to create a better business, a better world, and a better you. You are more than your job title because you create a much bigger impact in the world through the work that you do.
At the heart of our value proposition is that we build leaders… we develop leaders for Unilever, and Unilever leaders go on to be leaders elsewhere in the world.
What pillars underpin the EVP?
Purpose Power – sustainability is at the core of everything we do. The power of purpose is at the heart of our employee experience, where we say that you are empowered to make a positive impact on the world and our business, by bringing your purpose into action. This is more than a job; this is an opportunity to make a difference by doing something you’re passionate about.
Be the Catalyst – you can be a catalyst for change in the world, you can unleash your curiosity, you can disrupt processes, you can use your pioneering spirit to make things happen.
Brilliantly Different Together – like our product brands are all different, and yet they come together under one Unilever umbrella. As individuals, we are all different and yet; we can bring our real selves to work. In Unilever, we can combine our differences to achieve greater things.
Go Beyond – this is not just a company, this a place where you can go beyond, with the quality of experiences, the quality of interactions and when you give more, and you get more.
These four pillars make the EVP uniquely Unilever, especially Purpose Power.
How do you communicate and activate this?
It’s very easy to come up with a statement, a few words which we all get excited about. But at the end of the day, it has to be translated and has to help us win the best talent in the various markets where we win the employer brand battles. What’s happening next is that we will deploy a number of global and local channels; digital, face-to-face to give a wider reach to our employee value proposition.
We also created a hero campaign which is designed to boost brand awareness, it’s called “You’re more than your job title,” and it brings out this whole notion of purpose power which is so core to us as a brand. And we believe this will generate a lot of conversations and serve as a vehicle for employee advocacy.
Finally, we’re not the people who build the employer brand. It’s our employees, it’s our employer brand managers in over 50 markets, and they will work with us to tailor strategies and local activation ideas to bring this to life.
What hard lessons can you share with us?
One can take attractiveness of a company, of an employer brand for granted until it goes away. I was part of a business which always enjoyed the position of being very attractive and getting the best of the best talent. We heard conversations in the business along the lines of “is this effort really worth it, why should we put so much budget and resource into employer brand?”.
And that is the point where you’re really at the edge of the cliff, and that’s a real watch out. In that business at that point in time, we took our foot off the pedal, and nothing happened in the first few years because obviously, the power of an employer brand is not something that fades in a year or two. But slowly and slowly we started seeing the impact in the quality of talent that would turn up for interviews, in the number of people who would accept other offers and who would list other competitors as dream employers. We saw rankings beginning to dip, and more important than any ranking is the quality of talent that you hire.
This is not something that shows up immediately, but luckily for us, some of these indicators gave us a real jolt, and we reset and came back with a bang. That was a real moment of humility, and it’s a real lesson I will not forget.
How do you measure ROI on employer brand?
The return on investment of an employer brand is bigger than what one might see through metrics and measurement tools. It’s the intangible impact which is the biggest.
How would I know this? If you want to measure the impact of an initiative you have to look at three things:
What are the conversations in the hallways?
What is the external press saying about this?
What are the metrics saying?
We look at metrics such as the volume of applicants and how many accept offers etc. One very interesting measurement is the Employer Brand Index which listens to social media and conversations taking place online, to come to a compositive view of what the success of the employer brand is, and this is something we can track over time.
What are your top 3 tips to employer brand managers?
Only take this role on if you feel real passion and if you feel it in your bones. Because employer brand is a thing you cannot do as one more thing, it’s not just a job you have to feel true passion for this. Have a clear rationale as to why employer brand makes sense to your business and stick to that no matter what the challenges or questions might be internally.
Learn from the marketers in your business. Use the same techniques and build a science around employer brand, it’s not just a thing that’s fluffy and creative.
The more you enroll employees and business leaders to take ownership of this, the easier your work becomes because then you create a cascading impact which is far greater than the effort you have to put in.