Unilever’s keys to leadership success

Daan Van Den Broek, vice-president human resources for Unilever ANZ

One of the biggest challenges for learning professionals when it comes to leadership development is that they can lose focus of the bigger strategy picture and their functional expertise may unintentionally obstruct business drivers, according to Daan Van Den Broek, vice-president human resources for Unilever ANZ.

“At Unilever, we make sure that the strategy for leadership development and any supporting activities are intrinsically linked to our overall business strategy – if leadership activities don’t serve that businesses strategy, then they don’t have a place on the agenda,” she said.

At its most fundamental level, Van Den Broek said leadership is about providing the clarity to navigate through new, rapidly changing environments at its most fundamental level.

“Leaders that are purpose-driven, authentic and want to leave a positive legacy for future generations will play a huge role in achieving our sustainable growth ambitions,” she said.

With 173,000 employees globally, Van Den Broek said one of the most meaningful ways Unilever goes about retaining talented people and leaders is to ensure their career and personal goals are as closely aligned to their work as possible.

“Our best talent helps to create their own development plans, so they have a mutually agreed and managed pathway that shows how they can grow and develop towards their future ambitions,” she said.

“Leaders that are purpose-driven, authentic and want to leave a positive legacy for future generations will play a huge role in achieving our sustainable growth ambitions”

The business has a range of leadership development programs, which are underpinned by a principle that is not about conforming to a “type” of leadership, but “really about expressing your natural strengths, what you thrive on and get energy from”, said Van Den Broek.

The programs utilise a blended approach of leaders teaching leaders, senior executive sponsorship, academic rigour and application through job experience, mentors and coaches. 

Unilever also has a number of leadership programs that deal with challenging scenarios, and one program, for example, uses real case studies from the Unilever business to highlight some of the challenges it has faced in the recent past.

“We turn these into ‘action learning’ scenarios with actors, to retrospectively play out the situations and demonstrate practical, tangible solutions,” she said.

“We also run a business simulation that demonstrates the world 10 years from now. It lets our leaders experiment with their decision making safely, and at the same time, see the impact that the decisions they make now will have on the future.”

For the full interview with Van Den Broek and feature article on how top companies build great leaders, see the current issue of Inside HR magazine.