LS International speaks with Joanna Allen, Global Vice President for Hellmann’s at Unilever on the importance of a diverse workforce for successful employee attraction and retention. Joanna discusses diversity and recruitment, exploring ‘gender and sexuality, but also diversity in terms of mental processing styles, kind of different strengths and different experiences from geographies.’
During the podcast, we speak with Joanna on the following points:
Working with diverse groups of people.
The effect diversity has had on recruitment.
Unilver promoting female leadership.
The biggest challenges for business over the next 5 years.
Lauren: Hi I'm Lauren Stiebing and welcome to this episode of the career success podcast. Today we'll be joined by Joanna Allen, the global vice president for Hellmann’s at Unilever. Joanna is an instinctive marketer who relishes a challenge and who performs best under pressure to deliver transformational impact. She has a high capacity to learn which provides her with a foundation for crafting a compelling vision for the future. With a breadth of experience and food and beverages as a global and local marketer, Joanna thrives in environments that foster diversity of perspective and demand high levels of productivity. Welcome Joanna.
Joanna: Thanks Lauren, great to be speaking with you today.
Lauren: Thank you for joining us. So basically, having worked across multiple markets globally, working with diverse groups of people is something that you must know very well. What are some of the benefits that this has had on your career?
Joanna: Yeah, so certainly in roles that I've had both at Coke and Unilever, I've had the opportunity to work in roles with global scope and through this have got the privilege of partnering with an incredibly quite diverse group of marketers from developed and emerging markets, addressing quite distinct challenges and that diversity of perspective is something I've realized that I've appreciated as far back in fact when I was studying my degree at London School of Economics. That's one of the UK's geographically most diverse Universities. So, I certainly had an appreciation for it for a long time. I think from my personal career it's really made me appreciate more I would say matrix style career paths rather than kind of hierarchical ones. And so for each role I've considered as I've developed through my Career, I've always ask the question what new learning experience does this present and then what kind of unique experiences or capabilities do I bring that will add a kind a differentiated value to the role versus potentially the other candidates.
Lauren: And has this had any effect on your recruitment strategy at all?
Joanna: For sure. Earlier this week actually I was reading Wendy Clark’s article in campaign ahead of her chairing the Glass Lions jury at Cannes and she talked about nurturing mosaic teams and that was something that really resonated with me; with my own approach. And as I think about the team's I’ve lead, I've had the opportunity to recruit and work with talented marketers who represent diversity across so many dimensions. And of course gender and sexuality but also diversity in terms of mental processing styles, kind of different strengths and different experiences from geographies. I think it's easy to recruit people based on kind of natural affinity.
Joanna: But I think I would challenge a team that all kind of thinks the same way or operates the same way to really deliver transformational business ideas as they kind of say “you need a bit of grit to form a pile”. I'm a big believer in terms of actually some of that diversity can really challenge a team and make it operate at a high level.
Lauren: Sure and I know Unilever is the company that highly promotes female leaders. How do you think other companies can continue to bring diverse initiate to the forefront?
Joanna: Yeah! It certainly is and I think under Aline Santos’ leadership there’s a really strong diversity and inclusion agenda at Unilever. I think two things stand out for me when I think about the actions that other companies can take to drive the diversity agenda. I think the first is around ensuring an active mentoring program. It doesn't have to be a formal program but I think somewhere that is encouraged. If you think about the role that you can play in an organization of helping somebody reach greater heights. I think I'd say that's one of the most powerful contributions a leader can make. The second thing that I think is really important is shining a spotlight on the role models. I think there's enormous value if you can identify with someone who's forged a path similar to one that you want to take. And whilst we all aspire to be pioneers sometimes is easier if you've seen someone tread that path in front of you. I think that's easier for some organizations or even within organization, some functions more than others but I think if you don't have the opportunity to showcase great female talent internally, there is always the opportunity to show that talent outside of your organization. I think that the time now is for action rather than just talking and so I would encourage organizations to take those first even small steps today rather than considering you know talking and acting less.
Lauren: Sure. I know as well you know even from managers or mentors you know more senior people that you're working with it's always good to get some feedback. I wanted to ask is well what is the best feedback you ever been give?
Joanna: Interestingly as I think about the best piece of feedback I've received it's not coming from a colleague or a boss in the work environment. It actually came from a medical professional
Joanna: So, if you'll indulge me a little, when my son was born, he was born with a limb deficiency essentially he’s missing a hand on one of his arms and that was discovered quite early on in my pregnancy and so obviously we sort out a team to make sure that we have the right support for James once he was born. There was an amazing professional called Dr. Colleen Coulter who shared with me that I would be amazed at how adaptable James would be with what we felt was a quite a significant challenge. So I think, I mean, it certainly helps he's a very determined little boy, but as I went through that experience actually it challenged my leadership style at work as well. I really try to coach more rather than direct my teams. I’m an absolute advocate of teams asking for forgiveness rather than permission, and then, from a personal perspective, I think in the face of constraint or challenge I think about how I can be adaptable to a situation, rather than just get frustrated so we can always learn a ton of things from our kids and sometimes the teams that support them as well.
Lauren: Yeah, that's great. Well, as well let’s shift a bit just to discuss the FMCG food industry. I wanted to ask as well, what are the biggest challenges that your business will face in the next five years.
Joanna: Yeah, I think it's a challenge that is not unique to foods but in many respects food because food culture as in so much at the forefront of culture I think it's a challenge that is facing foods as much as anybody else.
Joanna: I think it's the opportunity and the challenge that comes from mass segmentation. And so whether that's about how we reach out and engage with our consumers, or say that the fragmentation of channels that consumers can purchase our products or even kind of the opportunities as we understand more about DNA for micro personalization. I think this is demanding a massive transformation of how people do business. And arguably that's tougher, it’s a tougher challenge on the more largest established companies I think, than sometimes it is of the small local businesses.
As I said it's a challenge but I think it's also an opportunity and I think the benefit of working with a very sort of future facing organization like Unilever is that everyone recognizes the need for change.
Joanna: And so, you know, just a couple of examples I think of how we are already kind of responding to that challenge, you know, because I look at How come we’re challenging ourselves to make sure our brands a fit for purpose within the eComm channel.
Joanna: Adopting platforms like Celtra or Google's Vogon platform which are now enabling you know mass customization of relatively simple pieces of content that can then be deployed from a programmatic media perspective. So, I think it's certainly a challenge. I think that they were taking some of the steps to make sure as a business that we’re fit for the future but certainly one that will transform what our organization looks like and many organizations over the next five years.
Lauren: Sure. And, I mean, there's a lot of discussion as well around the political state at this moment globally we've entered into a new age of political extremism. Do you think businesses can be a bigger force for good in society?
Joanna: Absolutely. And frankly, it's one of the many reasons I joined Unilever, it’s one of the many reasons many people join Unilever. From its very foundation Unilever is a business that talks about value and values, so the perspective that we can have this kind of compounding growth model that benefits all stakeholders not just investors. I think in the context of political extremism, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with the Edelman team who led the trust barometer and there some great information about that online even if you don't what with the Edelman team directly and I think it was really interesting to see that, you know, in the context of the political situation that we're all operating in you know in business actually is secondary to NGO’s in terms of levels of trust. While government continues to kind of be really significantly challenged, it’s exacerbated.
I think that the new context that were operating in, certainly something that people have been a lot of dialogue over and that in the last year is this sort a notion of the echo chamber where some would argue that facts matter less, that opinions become self-reinforcing. And there was an interesting piece within the trust barometer that talked about search engines. Arguably, even with their own biases, they are better at curating news than human editors. And so I think, you know, the challenge particularly for Brand marketers in that kind of new phenomenon of an echo chamber: actually, how do you connect with consumers? How do you penetrate that echo chamber?
Joanna: I think we’re just at the beginning of understanding the role that Influencers can play because often, actually, if you have shared values they can be a better forum for sharing your point of view than necessarily even hearing it directly from a brand. And I think you see that in food as much as you see that in any other category where the role of the micro blogger, the food blogger, the role of mum’s forums can be, actually, an incredibly powerful asset within your marketing campaigns beyond kind of the more traditional routes to engage in with consumers.
Lauren: Sure! Joanna all your input has been very insightful and I'm sure our listeners have really enjoyed it so thank you so much.
Joanna: It's been a pleasure, thanks for the time.
Lauren : And thanks to all of our listeners for joining us on this episode of the Career Success Podcast.
Remember telling college and high school students “You are the leaders of tomorrow” or words to that effect? Well, guess what? The “tomorrow” we spoke about then is now here! Millennials and members of Gen Z are already part of the workforce, working with Gen Y, Gen X and Baby Boomers. Multi-generation workplaces are not new; however, what is different this time is the quantum of difference that exists between Gen Z and even the immediate preceding generation, the Millennials.
These differences are primarily the outcome of the socio-economic conditions in which so many members of Gen Z were raised. Therefore, Gen Z and Millennials born after say 1995 are seen to have attitudes, values and priorities that are quite different from those of the previous generations. Corporate managers and leaders who appreciate these differences will be better-equipped to understand what motivates Gen Z, in turn helping them to make better decisions around selection, training and performance management.
While it is useful to understand what some of these differences are, it is important to keep in mind that any sort of generalisation is fraught with risk. Being truly “Digital Natives”, Gen Z expects “immediacy”- much like their expectation of instant high-speed wi fi access. In one survey, an astounding 40 percent of Gen Z reportedly ranked wi fi access as higher than working bathrooms! Early exposure to video calls on Skype, Google Duo or Whatsapp makes Gen Z arguably better at walking the fine line between synchronous and asynchronous methods of digital communication.
Managers and Leaders are expected to mentor and guide their direct reports, but with Gen Z the approach needs to be different. Gen Z can be influenced more effectively through inspiration and expertise not as much by pulling rank or throwing hierarchy at them. Gen Z is used to obtaining loads of information off the internet- so what they need is help to understand the context in which they are being asked to do certain things. They won’t shy away from asking questions- and their curiosity must be satisfied. As Ms. Montse Passolas, Vice President of Global Marketing, Rimmel and Manhattan - Coty, said to me in a recent conversation, “You have to of course, guide them (Gen Z) in their professional development, but also nourish them in their curiosity, and in the way they relate to the world and to their peers and to their families and to the work life environment”.
Gen Z also tends to think and act more entrepreneurial than previous generations. This is probably because of the start-up boom that this generation has seen over the past decade, creating so many big names that they have grown up with (Snapchat, Instagram, Netflix etc.). Those managing Gen Z employees and teams can derive significant “diversity dividend” by channelling their thinking to help teams and organizations break the mould and drive innovation. As Ms, Passolas pointed out about the young generation (Gen Z), “… they don't find something they will do themselves”.
To me, there are certain other qualities too that are important indicators of leadership potential- and these transcend generations. The most important among them are passion and compassion. Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace laureate is not yet 21 years old. She survived being shot in the head by the Taliban, and after recovering, has been tirelessly working for the cause of education of girls. Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba is another stellar example. Born and raised in China, Ma was passionate about learning English. It is said that he offered free tours to foreigners to learn English. A member of Gen X, he surmounted rejection on numerous occasions and is today among the world’s most successful business leaders.
Unalloyed joy at the success of their people/teams is another hallmark of leaders. My dad is a professional basketball coach, so I grew up watching a lot of basketball. I have seen how he handled players- both through victory and defeat- and built resilience. In turn, I saw how they simply adored him, and would try their hardest to win- for him. Isn’t that exactly how corporate leadership works too? Or at least, should?
To be honest, not everyone will have the leadership spark- even in Gen Z. So what can Gen X or Gen Y managers do to identify Gen Z employees with leadership potential? I would say that in order to spot high potential Gen Z employees, watch how they carry themselves- their self-confidence, their willingness to take responsibility, their ability to unhesitatingly acknowledge that they do not know something and above all, the air of reliability around them that screams “you can count on me”. As Ms. Passolas observed, “So, I think for me the leaders had this conviction, self-confidence without being cocky, and creation of trust”.
Macroeconomically, 2017 was better-than-expected in many ways for the US. Unemployment rates declined from 4.7% at the beginning of the year to 4.1% in the last quarter. Changes to tax rates are expected to put more money in the hands of consumers. Businesses grew, so not surprisingly, stock markets performed very well. Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey revealed that “46% of consumers are optimistic about the US economy”.
All this would normally signal good news for consumer spending in 2018, except that the picture gets fuzzier when you consider that the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index (CSI) declined in the last two months of 2017. Also, after a slight increase between October and November, the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) declined a tad between November and December. The latter is important because it is a measure of how consumers expect to feel about their spending in six months.
The mega trend - especially for Retail and CPG companies- is how American “consumers” are changing in terms of who they are and what they expect/value. In terms of the composition of the US marketplace, Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y remain significant; however, Gen Z is emerging rapidly as a major consumer segment in its own right. It is estimated that Gen Z will represent almost 40% of US consumers by 2020.
Being true Digital Natives, Gen Z consumers are completely at-ease with social media and the convenience of buying services and products “on-demand”. This gives them greater heft in the marketplace. Ms. Roopa Varghese, Sr. Director for Digital Marketplaces and New Brands at Georgia-Pacific says, “Both demographics and in store habits (of consumers) have changed. Demographically, millennials are now in their peak earning years: they actually drive about thirty percent of CPG and Retail spend today”. These demographic shifts have major implications for what products CPG companies will need to offer and how/where retailers will need to sell them. In the past decade (after the financial meltdown of 2008), technology has accelerated the move to e-commerce, but consumers have become more conservative when it comes to spending on discretionary items. Price comparison web sites only facilitate such behaviours. To quote Ms. Varghese, “Consumers are much more cautious than they were prior to 2009 and they're much more value-driven”. This partly explains why discount retailers such as Dollar General and Dollar Shave Club are doing so well. Even in the apparel space, most consumers today seem to consider “discount brands” such as Walmart or Target and casualwear brands such as Gap or Old Navy as “best fitting with their lifestyles”.
America’s multicultural texture adds an additional layer of complexity to the changing consumer landscape. A Nielsen report titled “Multicultural Millennials: The Multiplier Effect”, released on January 18, 2018, contains some very interesting information. “Most multicultural Millennials are fully ambicultural, shifting from what was once a dominant family-based culture to a posture that blends a variety of cultures into a new mainstream”, the report states. The report points also out that multicultural Millennials are first generation professionals with rising disposable incomes and are in “prime acquisition mode”. The study estimates that this segment spends US$65 Billion directly- and influences US$1 Trillion in consumer spending on CPG and entertainment! It is no surprise that retailers and CPG companies are devising strategies to specifically target this segment.
While quality and price will remain critical determinants of the consumer purchase decision even in the years ahead, product attributes such as health and wellness, social impact and safety will become important too. Transparency and customer experience will become front and centre when it comes to shopping- whether online or in-store (or in dual mode). With online shopping becoming more convenient and secure, more and more consumers will adopt- but they will also expect higher levels of customization and personalization. Many consumers will to use a combination of online and in-store purchases. All this will place a greater burden on retailers if they are to consistently deliver on their brand promise. Industry players will need to rely on not just technology-enabled insights, but also product and service innovation. As Ms. Varghese observes, “For retailers, optimizing the omni-channel experience across all of the multiple touch points of the consumer journey both in-store and online, has become really important”.
Being a recruitment and executive search professional, I frequently come across people looking to change their jobs. No big deal, you say? Well, yes, except that I continue to be struck by the reasons people commonly cite for seeking a job change. Irrespective of their roles and levels, I have heard reasons such as “tired of being taken for granted around here”; “stagnant in my role for too long” or “too many radical organizational changes”.
Reasons such as the above are often legitimate; however, is it not also possible that some of them are symptoms of individuals with the wrong attitude or being unwilling to adapt to change, thus impeding their performance and growth prospects? Moreover, what assurance does anyone have that a change will not land the individual from the proverbial frying pan into the fire?
I am not suggesting for a moment that people should not change jobs. But I do believe that job changes should primarily be driven by the “right reasons”. Examples of such reasons include the following:
The opportunity to acquire a new skill or gain expertise in a new area (e.g. someone from offline retail joining an online retailer).
A higher role even if it is in a smaller geography or division, as it can add high-impact experience to the resume/CV.
The opportunity to spearhead a new business that is viewed as a high-growth engine allows visibility with senior leaders- an opportunity that may not otherwise be easily available.
In a globalized world, emerging markets like India, China, Africa etc. are critical to organizational growth. The opportunity to gain experience in such environments can be seen as critical in the context of leadership roles.
Leading or even being a part of a cross-functional project team is another kind of opportunity that is increasingly viewed as being valuable.
The opportunity to work for a smaller rival- but at a more senior role- is something that can be immensely valuable.
Certain industries are still in their sunrise phase, so even a ground floor opportunity with companies in such industries can make someone valuable not just in a line function, but potentially, also as in a staff/consulting role (thus allowing for careers to be extended).
In an environment of rapid and often unpredictable change, employers look for people who can help the organization adapt and grow. This could be through new skillsets, or being willing to take up new roles or by exhibiting a “can-do” attitude that enables them to think outside the box and collaborate smoothly across silos (caused by organizational boundaries, hierarchies, geographies and even generations of workforce).
As boundaries between industries are blurring and being redrawn, best practices and strategies are being transplanted across industry by the potent combination of technology and analytics. A utility may learn from a bank, which may adopt the strategies of a successful e-retailer. To become even more nimble, organizations are creating smaller profit centres; conventional cost centres are being transformed into quasi-profit centres. For example, Marketing departments being asked to generate revenue by offering Digital Marketing services to business partners. Doing so needs people with P&L management experience. For someone with only cost centre experience, the opportunity to gain profit centre experience within the same organization can be invaluable; indeed, it may be just the proving ground for a future Business Head. So by all means look for a change- if it means you can acquire new skills or add to your experience.
To cut a long story short, my advice is simply this: if you are looking at a job change, make sure the change will add clear value to you as a professional. If you are looking at the change only as a way to eliminate some negatives in your current position, take a deep breath and think again- maybe there are other options open to you that can deliver the same outcomes.
There may well be different views on this important topic and I’d love to hear yours!
January 5, 2018
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