Unilever is well known for its ubiquitous brands: Dove, Lipton, Hellman’s, Axe, Ben & Jerry’s. Powered by 140,000 employees in more than 100 countries, the consumer goods company must adapt continuously to countless competitors, complex supply chains, and shifting consumer preferences.
To keep up, Unilever’s people are always learning. That used to be expensive and inconsistent at such a scale. But the company has transformed its learning strategy in the last three years, and the results are impressive.
Nicola Braden, Unilever’s global learning innovation director, summarized how she led this shift in five strategic steps at a recent Learning Technologies summit.
1. Start With the Why
“We are really passionate about helping people have sustainable livelihoods and sustainable careers,” Braden said. “For a company of our size and scale, if we were to rely on the old ways—selling people some courses and mundane team learning—we would need an army of people. And we still probably wouldn’t meet the need.”
To understand how to serve its workers at scale, Unilever listened. Employees wanted to learn but said that opportunities were inconsistent and inaccessible. After that outreach, Braden and the learning team knew why it was time to change and how to go about it.
2. Address the Barriers
Employee feedback made it clear that Unilever’s learning offerings were too confusing. The company needed a unified learning ecosystem—a central hub that would make it easy to access anything. For that, they invested in an LXP.
Braden had a bold vision but moved cautiously and deliberately. “We needed to be careful that we didn’t overwhelm people,” she recalled. “You do this in stages. You’ve got to help them understand how this is going to help them.”
3. Be Brave. Be Humble
Unilever’s learning team had to humble themselves and shift their mindsets as they released control to workers outside of human resources. In an online learning ecosystem, everyone can monitor their learning, add content, and assess their progress.
But the learning team also had to be brave since the new platform was meant to catalyze profound change throughout the company. The key was strategically aligning the learning technology stack.
The technology was designed to serve the individuals and the organization. Employees experienced better career development, which powered Unilever’s strategic workforce planning.
4. Create an Experience
Some initially worried that digital solutions would dilute the learning experience. To address this, Unilever made sure that its new learning ecosystem was even more immersive and connective.
A centerpiece of their strategy was creating learning groups called tribes. “We’ve done this around skill areas and what people have in common with each other,” Braden explained. “It could be that they sit in the same place geographically, that they’re the same function, or focused on a particular business initiative. They’re getting that sense of being part of a movement, something more participatory than individual training courses.”
5. Build the Partnerships
Braden is constantly looking at learning data, which she shares widely. “For us, that was about opening things like dashboards, metrics, and feedback. They can see for themselves what’s going on. They can see their progress and spot what areas they need to focus on.”
The results speak for themselves. “We do an engagement survey every year,” says Braden, “and the question around the accessibility of learning this year showed the second-highest increase of positive feedback of any question in the survey.”
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