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How Unilever keeps human at the heart of organisation

Sonal Khetarpal     December 14, 2020

The common perception is that technology is making us less human. But, counterintuitive as it may sound, consumer goods company Unilever is using technology to make its workplace more human.

"Digitalisation allows organisations to use technology for scale and offers personalisation at scale too. Therefore, it lets you be more human as it gives you more time to be human (by taking up repetitive tasks) and builds more human experience, and a personalised experience is a more human experience," says Leena Nair, CHRO at Unilever.

Nair was speaking at Society Human Resource Management (SHRM) India's Annual conference & Expo 2020 in a conversation with Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., President & CEO, SHRM.

Unilever has digitised the entire recruitment process end-to-end where the candidate goes through a series of online games/assessments followed by a couple of online interviews with virtual avatars of senior leaders at the firm in the initial rounds. And, if they clear these online stages, they are up for the face-to-face interview with the leaders at their Discovery Centre.

One of the biggest reasons behind digitisation has been to manage volumes at scale. "In a year, two million people apply to us for 12,000 jobs.  No matter how many recruiters there are, it is impossible to look after each profiles," says Nair.

In a normal scenario, the candidates would get an automated reply from the firm thanking them for applying.  

However, due to technology, they offer each candidate who applies at the firm a personalised experience rather than a uniform blackbox reply. "All two million people now get a chance to participate in at least three stages of the (recruitment) process. Most importantly, each of them gets a personalised feedback letter telling them the outcome of the first three steps of the interview," says Nair.  

It is a human experience because the candidate gets a change to participate in the process and get personalised reply, she adds.  

Another example of using technology is by leveraging chat bots. Unilever uses chatbot Una that answers HR queries for employees on a variety of topics, including allowance and performance appraisal form.

"Una hub is like a google search for HR at Unilever and Unabot is the employee's personalised assistant," says Nair. The bot has allowed the firm to leverage scale in transaction answering. She explains, the bot has taken away the chore from HR teams of answering transactional queries of around 1,60,000 employees and has enabled them to do more important work.

"By using this technology, we have taken time away from the HR person, in some cases, as high as 1 hour a day, that usually they would spend in resolving queries and given them the time to do things that drive business performance which is doing interventions for teams, getting people focused on the big things to do," she says.  

Digital tools also enabled Unilever get employee productivity data and allowed them to offer programmes to support employees as they transitioned to the new way of working.  

"I have full details today that 90 per cent of our people are working harder, 49 per cent of them are working 16-hour a day. Around 80 per cent of those 49 per cent happen to be women from XYZ countries," says Nair.  

"Our productivity, collaboration and external orientation have gone up, all of this in COVID times, all because of the data I get," she adds. The data helped them create employee experiences that are meaningful and relevant.  

For example, as they figured out that parents were having a tougher time during COVID-19 as most cities were under lockdown and schools were closed, they introduced a programme called Thriving Parents to help them balance their work and life during these unprecedented times.  

"That is the power of thinking about every point of interaction with an employee, bringing technology to personalise it, bringing insights that make the personalization even more effective, and then measuring ourselves and ensuring that employee experience is not just best in class but it's better than before," says Nair. 

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