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.Lauren: Sure 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 Lauren: OkayJoanna: 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.Lauren: Okay.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.Lauren: Sure 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.Lauren: Okay 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?Lauren: Sure!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.
It’s been three years since I started LS International, an executive search business that operates in Europe, Asia and the USA. These three years have no doubt been challenging and a lot of hard work, but they have also been fun and hugely instructive. Through this article, I want to share my key learnings, which I believe are as relevant to entrepreneurship as they are to organizational careers and indeed, life.
I am a woman from a small town in the suburbs of New Orleans. I didn’t grow up in a big city, but I have always had high ambitions and set high standards for myself. To be honest, I had never thought of myself as a business owner- and certainly not in Executive Search. Now, I must admit that Executive search isn’t a profession about which you learn very much when growing up, but there’s a time in all our lives which, usually in hindsight, you recognize as a turning point. Mine was when I got into Head Hunting. It excited me more than anything else I had done before as it provided me with the opportunity to connect with people from different backgrounds. After understanding their career goals, to be able to go back to them with opportunities at some of the best companies globally was just amazing.
As I gained experience and started understanding the nuances, I realized that I was pretty good at it. At such a stage in life, to give up a job with a decent salary and take the plunge into entrepreneurship was something else. I wavered, but eventually gathered the courage because of the love and support I got from my parents, husband, friends and other members of the family. Thanks folks!
Here are six lessons that I believe have helped me and LS International get to where we are. I genuinely believe they will be relevant and useful to you as well.
Lesson 1: You must be passionate about it
Only when you are passionate about something will you be good at it. That might sound counter-intuitive, because conventional wisdom is that you start to like what you are good at. But that’s the trick. When you are passionate about something, every waking moment (and often, sleeping hours too) is spent in thinking about how you can get better at that something. In my case, it was Head Hunting. I found new ways to get in touch with executives and talk to them about the wonderful new opportunity that was just waiting for them- even when they were not really looking for a change. That’s how I honed my skills and expanded my understanding of the fascinating field of Executive Search.
Your commitment to your job will also be shaped by how passionate you are about it. The more passionate you are, the greater the difference you can make.
Lesson 2: Fear of failure is natural, but you need perseverance to overcome it
While passion is a necessary condition for success, it is not sufficient. That is to say, passion alone won’t cut it. You must be willing to work hard and learn to take it on the chin when things don’t go the way you want them to. The past three years have been anything but a bed of roses. As a young entrepreneur, I made mistakes. I was scared of making more mistakes. There were days when I felt I had erred by choosing to become an entrepreneur, and thought of getting back to a “regular job” but then I told myself: “My family trusted me to pursue my dreams… I can’t let them down”. I could not bear the thought of having to explain to my loved ones why things didn’t work out. “Failure is not an option”, I’d tell myself! It is this fear that gave me the courage, energy and forbearance to remain steadfast on the path I had chosen. Hindsight is a wonderful thing because it is after the fact. Looking back, I am so glad I persevered. At the time, certain decisions had unknown (even unknowable) consequences. I was this close to giving up. But I stuck on. Now, I realize that even if things hadn’t gone the way I expected, it would not have been the end of the world. I would have been able to bounce back. And in any case, failing isn’t as terrible as you build it up to be in your own mind; besides, the lessons you learn are invaluable.
As you grow in your job, you may be asked to take up new challenges- moving to a new division or being asked to head the business in a new country or whatever else. Fear will only paralyze you. Free yourself of the fear and unshackle your potential and watch what miracles you can create.
Lesson 3: Dare to get outside your zone of comfort and you will be surprised by how much forward movement is possible
As an entrepreneur, I was constantly navigating new waters. I did not have a large client base to begin with; neither did I have a well-known brand name. I therefore had to try different things and sometimes do things differently. Some of what I tried worked, while others did not. The simple point is that I overcame my fear of trying new things. It wasn’t that I was not nervous or uncomfortable. But I knew that I would perhaps be no worse off if things did not work- but if they did, I would achieve breakthroughs. I was able to identify new sources of value for prospects and clients- and business grew.
As part of your job, you may encounter challenges that you (or even your boss) has not encountered before. Taking the “I don’t know how to deal with this” will not help you much. But what if you were to come up with some plans and seek your boss’s approval to try it? You may not succeed, but if you do, you will be seen as a leader everyone looks up to. It is this willingness to innovate and push the envelope more than one thought possible is what separates “high-potential” candidates from the rest of the pack, right?
Lesson 4: 100% love for your work creates your luck
If you want to be truly happy and successful at what you do, you must love it 100%. People can sense your love (or lack thereof). This cannot be faked. On the other hand, this love will help you innovate new ways to achieve your goals. Even when I first started selling my services, I was so sure that I could make a real difference to people’s lives and careers. This love manifested in my enthusiasm and unflagging energy. Even today, I feel blessed to have so much love for what I do because it is this that gets me out of bed every morning with a fresh resolve to be better than I was the day before. And it is this same love that my clients perceive when I interact with them. Indeed, it is perhaps not wrong to say that my clients buy my love for Executive Search because true love does not fail!
Call upon this same love to help you propel your career forward. When you love your work, you will find new and better ways to do it- isn’t that what innovation is?
Lesson 5: Help others
This probably goes without saying but I think the point needs to be made. I see so many people so consumed with their own day to day hustle that they don’t take the time to stop, look around and see what is right in front of them. You can help people in so many ways- by volunteering, cooking a meal for a friend in need, mentoring someone or a start up. I have found so much joy in helping others and in return, I have got back so much too. I have learned more about myself (self-awareness and emotional intelligence), besides improving my skills in communication, leadership, anticipating the future and so much more. When you help others, you end up helping yourself.
This is an important lesson even if you are in a job. After all, team-work and collaboration are all about helping one another to achieve the organization’s goals, isn’t it?
Lesson 6: Never stop learning
We live in a world that’s changing so rapidly. Unless we consciously find the time to keep abreast of new developments, we cannot be effective in growing ourselves and our businesses. For example, if you do not learn about Digital Marketing, you may not appreciate the power of LinkedIn- not just as a repository of people, but as a phenomenally powerful tool to make connections and grow your business. In my line, I get to work with companies whose business models are changing. Unless I keep myself informed of these changes, I will not be able to a good job of getting them people with the right skills to manage and grow their businesses. The same applies to you, irrespective of your line of work.
Even if you are in a job, you need to keep learning so that your skills are updated and you remain relevant. In a knowledge economy, how you apply your knowledge to deal with new situations is far more important than how old you are or how many years of experience you have. Therefore, do not stop learning. Grab every opportunity to learn- whether it is a new technique or a new language or understanding of a new market or even the experience of a role that’s different from what you have done for so long. [As an Executive Search professional, take it from me that companies are always looking for talent with the willingness to apply their skills to new areas].
As I look back at three awesome years of my journey with LS International, I wish to thank all those who have played important roles- my parents, my husband, my colleagues, my business partners, my friends and not the least, all my clients who continue to repose their trust in me and LS International. I take this opportunity to rededicate myself to LS International being a proactive and productive partner in its clients’ progress over the next three years and beyond.
The pace of change in the world is undoubtedly accelerating, forcing leadership teams to devote more and more resources (people, money, management attention) to effectively managing change in their organizations. The current wave of change is being driven by external forces such as technology (e.g. AI), regulation (e.g. GDPR), emergence of new business models (e.g. online only retailers) or even geopolitical considerations (e.g. trade wars/embargos) as well as internal imperatives (e.g. a new purpose or vision).
Over the past three decades Change Management has been extensively studied and many different frameworks and best practices have been developed. These are intended to help organizations plan for change, implement it, communicate it, help people to adapt, and measure the impact. Most large-scale organizational changes impact processes and their technology underpinnings (the systems, their user interfaces, what data is fed in and when etc.). Of course, policies and procedures also often need to be amended. But the ultimate burden of “living the change” falls on those people who are tasked with driving and managing the change and those who are called upon to make small or large adjustments to their attitudes, habits, mindsets and managerial/leadership abilities.
As Mattia Aste, Global Manufacturing Excellence Lead at Monsanto says in a recent LS International Podcast, “… a transformation is a transformation… only if it's really touching the full operating model, so you really take care of process, system and people at the same time”. So how can change in organizations be led more effectively, so that the goals are achieved with minimum “collateral damage” in the form of customer loss, employee attrition, non-compliance or other forms of resistance to change that might disrupt business?
Clearly, it’s best to start at the beginning, which is understanding why a certain change is needed and why now. All worthwhile organizational change must be around improving performance, an objective that can be achieved in many different ways. For instance, revenue from existing products could be grown faster by enhancing the efficacy of targeted marketing so that first-time purchases as also repeat purchases increases. A similar outcome is also possible through product innovation and compressing the time needed to launch them. Cost reductions could be achieved by using technology to raise productivity of employees or processes or changing mindsets so that “waste” such as excess inventory can be eliminated (the holy grail of Supply Chain transformation over the past two decades).
But not all change is about increased revenue and/or reduced costs in the short term. For instance, a merger could also be a trigger for massive enterprise-level change; in such a situation, while fresh revenue streams, synergies and cost-saving opportunities are important, perhaps even more important is the need to evolve a new culture that combines the best from the merging organizations. Such situations offer leaders an unprecedented opportunity to create something that is far better than either predecessor organization was. As a result of this headline intent, multiple functional transformation programs are identified and implemented. For example, a smarter, leaner supply chain or a more collaborative R&D network that is more tightly integrated with Marketing (to sense and respond to changes in customer preferences for instance).
As Mr. Aste points out, “A transformation is always designed around your customer”. It is important is for leaders to articulate a compelling vision of the change and why it is needed now. This needs to be communicated across the organization in ways that make sense to employees at every level. Often, large-scale change programs are encapsulated in slogans and posters. These are undoubtedly aides to spread the message, but what is also needed is a series of conversations between the leaders and those below. The first round of these conversations is too important to be delegated and must be led by the highest echelons of the organization. At one level, these conversations must be aimed at informing the middle levels and the rank and file of the proposed change and its contours, including the rollout plan. At another level, they must be forums for debating and discussing concerns and fears that, if unaddressed, could derail the program in the days ahead. This also serves to finesse the business case or plans by factoring in additional information from closer to the trenches. Additionally, such a step helps individuals to buy into the change program and take ownership. Personal commitment to change helps build accountability, which is critical to garner commitment and unleash the power of innovation.
Arguably, it is easier to drive change when the organization is doing well, as the pain associated with the change can be somewhat cushioned, but it may well be more important to drive the change when the organization is losing its competitive edge and ceding ground to competitors. Depending on the situation the organization finds itself in, leaders must convert the stark reality of under-performance (or the promise of a tremendous opportunity waiting to be tapped) into a powerful motivator for organizational change. They must infuse confidence across the organization by communicating and reinforcing important messages:
There is a clear set of reasons for the change and this is the best time to make traverse the leap across the chasm;
Necessary resources in the form of money, technology, people etc. will be made available;
The road ahead will not be easy and progress will depend on a unity of purpose, the “collective intelligence and will” of the organization;
Perseverance in the face of setbacks that may force course correction; and
Leaders are personally committed to the success of this change and will lead by example.
The process of employee engagement begins during the search and interview stages but really kicks off in earnest when s/he formally reports for work. For every new hire, irrespective of seniority, location and role, the first few days are vital. This is the time when s/he meets new colleagues, peers and team members and starts to get a feel for the new workplace, its culture and policies. What the organization, represented mainly by the Hiring Manager (and assisted by HR and other support functions), does to make the first few days smooth, easy and memorable for new hires is the essence of “Onboarding”.
Here are two data points quoted in https://blog.octanner.com/editor-picks/an-onboarding-checklist-for-success-infographic that reinforce the importance of onboarding:
Up to 20% of turnover happens within the first 45 days of employment; and
69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experience great onboarding.
Although organizations have been paying a lot more attention to on-boarding because they realize how critical the early days are to forge strong bonds between the new hire and the organization, the process needs to be constantly reviewed and tweaked as the workforce becomes more multicultural, multilingual and gender-diverse. The fact that work forces now include a mix of generations makes the task more challenging simply because employees from different generations have different degrees of comfort with digital technology, sticking to rules etc. On-boarding is important not just for senior hires; even more junior recruits need to be on-boarded with care and diligence.
On-boarding programs must be efficient, effective and personalized. Hiring Managers must take the lead in ensuring a pleasant on-boarding experience for the new hire(s). This needs Hiring Managers to do the following:
Paint an honest picture of the organization’s culture and ways of working during the interviewing phase, so that new hires do not experience dissonance caused by a reality that is different from what s/he expected.
Ensure that the new hire is made to feel welcome. This means having office seating, stationery, configured laptop and mobile phone, email id, etc. ready.
Introduce the new hire to his/her colleagues, managers and reports. If a buddy or mentoring system exists, facilitating such introductions should also be part of the onboarding process.
After allowing new hires a day or two to get physically settled in, Hiring Managers must spend enough time briefing the new hires on the business strategy, organizational culture, team goals, KRAs/expectations etc. Needless to say, what is covered and the level of detail will depend on the new hire’s role and seniority. Relevant documents must be shared to allow the new hire to study them and ask questions, offer suggestions etc. In fact, this is a great way for the Hiring Manager to walk the talk by showing the new hire that the organization values new ideas or that open and honest communication is encouraged.
According to research, “companies that invest in on-boarding experience 2.5 times the revenue growth and 1.9 times the profit margin of companies that don’t. (source)
Just as there is a lot of effort taken to harmonize other processes globally, on-boarding too needs to be standardized across all locations, so that new hires everywhere will have a similar experience. It may therefore be useful to have people from the HR team specialize in on-boarding. Empower them to build networks across other support functions in the organization so that they can get things done quickly. If your organization operates across countries, find out what they do so you can adopt and adapt best practices.
Here are some practices that can easily improve your organization’s on-boarding processes:
The Hiring Manager must ensure that someone from the HR team is specifically available to meet the new hire when s/he reports to the reception and helps in completing all administrative formalities (e.g. ID, biometric access, business cards, IT systems and access, bank accounts for payroll, application for corporate credit cards, cafeteria cards, parking slots etc.). Obviously, the specific tasks will depend on the new hire’s seniority, role etc.
The HR point of contact must escort the new hire to his/her Hiring Manager’s desk/room.
Hiring managers must ensure that they personally meet the new hire on the first day. If a personal meeting is unavoidable, a call is essential, and must be followed by a personal meeting at the earliest opportunity.
Ideally, on the first day itself, the Hiring Manager must send out an introductory email to people in the organization who will eventually become key members of the new hire’s professional network. This should be done after the new hire’s email has been activated so that s/he can respond and start integrating with the organization.
After the new hire has spent a couple of weeks in their role, the Hiring Manager must meet with him/her to find out how they’re settling in and if there’s something more they need. Having been told of any “gaps”, the Hiring Manager must make all reasonable attempts to plug them. If there are specific reasons why such gaps cannot be filled, s/he must close the loop with the executive. This might not sound like a big deal, but is an example of the “honest and open communication” that the candidate was told to expect.
You can read some truly fascinating statistics about on-boarding here.
An ancient saying reminds us that even a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. So also, the journey of employee engagement begins with on-boarding. It would be naïve to expect high levels of engagement (and hence, loyalty and performance) from employees whose on-boarding experience was disappointing.
August 20, 2018
LS International Global Compensation Survey
Check out the 2018 compensation survey from executives across the consumer goods industry.