Hindustan Unilever adopted a slew of measures to brand itself as an ideal employer, and attract top talent from campuses and ambitiously stepped out of their sector. The Unilever Future Leaders’ Programme brought the focus on training young talent in their formative years and proved to be a success.
Hindustan Unilever (HUL) had to consistently build their brand from scratch every year, due to the highly dynamic nature of the talent market on campuses. Additionally, the complexity of the environment and different sector emerging as new favourites made it difficult for HUL to sustain the brand it had created. As per the Nielsen Employer of Choice survey, the organization was ranked No. 2 across sectors in 2010. In the years 2003-10 HUL did not enjoy the top rank, and was not considered an attractive employer by students, thereby it lost a lot of talent. As a result, the impact of poor attractiveness of the brand image was unable to attract top talent which had a direct and significant impact on business outcomes. If the issue was not resolved, an ineffective image would have continued to impact business outcomes, and adversely affected collective performance of teams and individuals. Furthermore, since it is difficult to build an employer brand in the mid-career recruit market owing to its fragmented nature, employer brand built in the minds of students while they are on campus has a direct impact on the perception of an employer in the market.
The Chosen Method:
HUL chose to take the ambition of being the best employer brand across sectors and across functions. Essentially, this meant competing with organizations across sectors, and ensuring that the organization doesn’t become complacent being at the top in their own sector. HUL strived to attract the top talent in all functions across sectors, and the constant reinvention in Employer branding in line with the needs of the talent proved to be a key strength. Since the focus was centered on brands and people – two of the biggest assets – HUL created a platform when their position was endangered by sectors like consulting firms and banks. The organization and its line leaders put their might behind this agenda as attracting the right talent and grooming them was made every individual’s job. This also happened to be line with the company policy of leaders building leaders. Line leaders devoted sufficient energy and resources to establish this employer brand, as attracting top talent was considered critical to business success. The Management Training programme, Unilever Future Leaders’ Programme had several features that worked for it, like putting trainees being put into leadership roles directly at the end of training, maintaining a buddy or mentor system, reverse feedback, international stints to help trainees understand foreign market and cultures, rural stints to inculcate social responsibility, international and domestic e-learning developmental plans, and 100% trainee interaction with organization Board members, and a special Executive General Management for IIT graduates at IIM Bangalore, to establish an understanding of business fundamentals prior to landing full-time roles.
The policy created a pipeline of top talent to take on large jobs which helped take up big audacious goals as an organization and beat the market. Grooming the top talent for further roles was also taken into account simultaneously. HUL became one of the first companies in India to formalize the development of young talent in their formative years, by giving them big responsibilities. The management training programme, Unilever Future Leaders’ Programme came into existence to ensure all-round development of this top talent into Leaders at an accelerated pace, and the results speak for themselves. The Nielsen Report Employer Brand Ranking has been No. 1 Employer of Choice for four years in a row (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014). Additionally, HUL became the Dream Employer for sixth consecutive year from 2009 (Nielsen Report). HUL also won the Best Apprenticeship/On the Job Training Program 2014 and 2015 in the TISS-LeapVault CLO Awards. Furthermore, in the last two decades, 3 out of 4 Indian CEOs/Chairmen of organization have been products of this Management Trainee programme and 50% of the organization’s current Management Committee has grown from within the organization and started their careers as Management Trainees in the organization.
The Road Ahead:
The goal is to ensure that HUL, as an employer brand remains relevant to students. This would be achieved by constant reinvention, to meet the changing talent needs, which would ultimately attract top talent. The changing aspirations of students have resulted in an upsurge in the attractiveness of e-commerce sector as well as entrepreneurship as a career alternative, and fur HUL this has meant to continue their impetus on making the organization nimble footed, fast paced with even more vigour. An essential step would be to refresh the communications to highlight the large leadership role that management trainees get into after their training which actually make them CEOs of their areas/brands, thereby providing them with rich entrepreneurial experience, with the safety net of a large organization.