Unilever: Professional development in a global giant

“The Institute’s Professional Qualifications have shown they have the ability to change behaviour, which is a powerful outcome and one not easily achieved”

Institute member and FMCG giant Unilever employ thousands of people across the globe and manage a portfolio of brands, 12 of which boast individual turnovers in excess of €1billion. This case study explores why the Institute's Professional Qualifications are an essential ingredient to their success. 

Why the Institute?

The Institute’s qualifications were chosen after a market scan had been completed to find the best fit with Unilever’s business objectives. In particular within the Supply Chain, Unilever was looking for a way to professionalise the customer service function and give it an external recognition that had not previously been available. Unilever has a framework for creating a customer service mindset within the organisation and the Institute’s qualifications were a good fit. In addition, delivering excellent customer service is seen by Unilever as a driver for business growth and one of their key strategic aims.

Each year Unilever takes part in an externally run benchmarking survey, which measures the way service is delivered to their customers using a number of criteria. Therefore the Institute’s Qualifications Programme is well positioned within Unilever’s business priorities. In addition, all employees discuss development needs at their mid and end of year reviews and have a development goal in their targets each year. The Institute’s qualifications and coaching are often included in these targets as coaching is also seen as a development opportunity and transferable skill for those aiming for a future role in management.

Progress so far

Unilever started using the Institute’s Professional Qualifications in the UK and Ireland in 2008. Since then 105 Professional Qualifications have been achieved with seven people going on to complete a period of continuous professional development. Staff in a number of different sites have taken up the challenge of doing a Professional Qualification, supported by coaches. As the programme has developed, some practitioners have been coached remotely, using telephone, live meeting, Skype and video conference for coaching sessions. Currently over 40 people are working towards a qualification.

Approved Centre Accreditation

Just over a year after starting the programme, Unilever applied for and achieved Approved Centre Accreditation, which has subsequently been renewed twice by the Institute. This accreditation shows that Unilever is running the programme to the quality standards required by the Institute and is held in great regard by Unilever as it underpins the credibility of the programme and the professional recognition achievers are receiving.

Feeling the impact

Unilever has found the results of the qualifications programme very encouraging. Many people demonstrated positive and sustained changes in mindset and behaviour, both towards how they viewed their roles and delivered customer service.

“The Institute’s Professional Qualifications have shown they have the ability to change behaviour, which is a powerful outcome and one not easily achieved” commented Marilyn Smith, supply chain skills and capabilities advisor.

“Individuals have shown a better understanding of how, what they personally do, impacts not only on the customer but also the business. Practitioners comment on how they feel more valued and rewarded for what they do and the qualifications have also helped their self esteem, in several cases leading to an increased motivation to work for Unilever.”

Unilever has also observed the Professional Qualifications helping people to prioritise their personal development and encouraging them to give this more emphasis than they had previously.

Additional benefit

Within the organisation, several people have been promoted either whilst doing their qualification or shortly afterwards. The recruiting managers within Unilever have recognised that those who have completed qualifications show a markedly higher understanding of customer service and the ability to identify their own development needs than those who have not been involved in the programme.

Coaches are also able to develop their own skills by motivating and inspiring others to achieve, especially if the practitioner’s motivation was lacking at the time. By coaching colleagues to be customer service professionals, coaches are able to achieve a change in attitude and mindset, which is personally rewarding but also makes a positive contribution to the business.

New and improved

Unilever is now using the Institute’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to deliver the qualifications. “This has been enthusiastically received by coaches within Unilever as it has significantly reduced the time they used to spend on administration and allowed them to concentrate more on the value adding task of coaching.” commented Marilyn. “The VLE will also help us to facilitate the future roll out of the programme to other countries around the world”