“Leaders Into Action” is the highest-profile program targeted at developing the behaviors within the Leadership Growth Profile. Unilever’s top 1,000 managers are going through this five-month program in groups of 28 to 35 people. “Leaders Into Action” combines virtual training, both individual and team-based, with concentrated face-to-face sessions, supported throughout with internal coaches. In the first eight weeks of the program, individuals learn and work virtually in an online community and have access to e-learning programs from Harvard Business School Publishing.
Unilever offers two programs: one for individuals and one for natural work teams. In each case, once the group has completed the first virtual module, they meet for 10 days, and each participant defines goals at four levels: personal, personal in business, business and community. In the team program, natural work teams merge together the personal in business and business targets with even more significant results achieved.
After six additional weeks in a virtual team environment, the group spends a final week together, finalizing the business project for presentation to senior executives. If approved, the project is funded and implemented.
When head of e-learning Ron Edwards went through the “Leaders Into Action” program, he experienced firsthand how the e-learning component set the stage for the entire program. Edwards’ team saw an opportunity to stretch one of Unilever’s existing products into a new product line and identified that as their business project. The plan was subsequently approved by senior executives. The project accelerated the establishment of a new product line by six months, bringing 6 million Euro in revenues to the company sooner than if the product line had been created and rolled out through traditional channels.
Numerous other projects have also been approved, accelerating new product introductions, improving processes and reducing costs to fuel future growth. There are currently 20 active projects arising from the program, and 2003 has seen two products generate first-year sales of 6.4 million Euros in the United Kingdom alone. It’s anticipated that two further product launches in Europe will generate more than 200 million Euros in additional sales over the next three years. More than 300 graduates of the program now operate in the business.
“‘Leaders Into Action’ is in its third year, and it’s proving to be an effective way of delivering growth to our business through the development of our leadership capability,” said Tom Cummings, head of learning, Global HR Centre of Expertise. “Not only are we getting spectacular and innovative ideas from the projects, but the approaches and methodology used to bring them to fruition is being taken back into the heart of the organization to continue that momentum.”
While measuring cultural change is not easy, the program is yielding tangible results. Individuals and their line managers both detect improvements in the Leadership Growth Profile, and a survey done last year indicates that graduates are firmly focused on growth, look at things from different angles, are more aware of themselves and others, are more empowering and delegate more, are better at holding others accountable, are courageous and persistent, are more open and trusting, are more collaborative and are better at coaching.
“A comprehensive culture change in an organization of our size can be difficult to implement as well as measure, but we’re finding change occurring in many ways,” said Cummings. “For example, some of our senior executives are now working online to collaborate across time zones in ways they hadn’t before considered. The impact of this relatively small change can be enormous, and it fosters even more support for the changes Unilever seeks to implement over the next several years and beyond.”
Susan Rozmanith is a publicist with Harvard Business School Publishing, publisher of e-learning programs for management and leadership development. See www.elearning.hbsp.org for more information.
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