Secrets of Employer Branding Leaders: Unilever

August 21, 2012

Is your company considered a great place to work? Pay attention, because it can make all the difference in your quest to recruit the right people for your organization. Our latest research proves that a strong employer brand attracts and retains top talent, reducing both recruiting costs and attrition rates.

But how exactly does a company build such a brand? This is the first in a series of interviews we conducted with customers who are attracting interest on LinkedIn for all the right reasons. Unilever is near the top of the list, so we sat down with Paul Maxin, Global Resourcing Director, who has been with the company since 2006 and has 25 years of experience working both with agencies and in-house.

How would you describe Unilever’s company brand and how does it relate to your employer brand?

[caption id="attachment_5092" align="alignright" width="215"] Paul Maxin, Global Resourcing Director, Unilever[/caption]

Unilever is comprised of 400 powerhouse brands yielding €46.5 billion in annual sales. We are in seven out of 10 households worldwide, and we spend about €1 billion per year on research and development. Product innovation and sustainable living are at the core of our business, and thus at the core of our brand. This is inextricably linked with our employer brand: we consider ourselves the outstanding employer of choice for people committed to ‘working on the future’ in a sustainable way.

How has the focus on employer brand changed over time?

Recently we set a goal to transform our business from €40 billion to €80 billion while reducing our environmental footprint. This called for a different talent and organizational strategy, and thus a better aligned employer brand. Now our mission is to deliver it into the marketplace.

How would you describe the impact of a strong employer brand on Unilever’s business, and how do you measure that?

We are the #1 employer of choice among consumer goods companies in 14 countries, as measured by external research firms in those markets.  Our goal is to be #1 in 20 countries. We target where we want to be in those markets, for instance with students, or in areas such as leadership, and we use third-party indices as metrics.

Who are the main employer brand stakeholders at Unilever?

It starts at the top: our CEO and his leadership team visit university campuses each year, not only for recruitment events, but also to put Unilever on the curricula. They engage with institutions where we recruit great talent, and their investment sends a message that our employer brand is a critical asset.

Our culture also encourages employees to be talent scouts. For some employees, we incorporate talent scouting into their development plans. We also offer online courses for managers to learn how to be more effective brand ambassadors. New hires are made aware of and encouraged to use these training opportunities.

Larger organizations can be hesitant to involve employees deeply in social media. What’s Unilever’s philosophy?

We see the enormous benefit of tools such as LinkedIn because they enable employees to interact with their networks while representing Unilever. The overriding principle applicable to all media is not to say anything that will bring the individual or company into disrepute. But there is freedom within the framework, so an employee can still have a personal Twitter handle, for example.

In the age of social media and with sites like Glassdoor out there, ensuring brand authenticity is all the more critical. Candidates and employees no longer tell one friend about their recruitment experience with Company X; they broadcast it to everyone they know instantaneously.

LinkedIn is a great vehicle to enable everyone, not just recruiters, to engage with future employees. We are just starting to use it more strategically, but one reason we have so many company followers on LinkedIn now is that we’ve been engaging with the marketplace via our current employees.

How exactly are you driving more followers on LinkedIn?

We’ve rolled out buttons in email signatures, so there is a call to action to follow Unilever in every message. We went from about 40,000 followers to about 235,000 in 10 months. And we know these followers are relevant because we’ve seen an exponential rise in career page visits, and a significant increase in new hires from LinkedIn.

We have five different career sites on LinkedIn, each rendering themselves appropriately to different profiles. So there’s a general page, and then pages tailored to specific audiences such as marketing professionals. We post both general updates and targeted updates to specific profile types and/or geographic regions.

Lastly, more than 30,000 Unilever employees have LinkedIn profiles. There is so much potential and we’ve only just started to mine that data to better target talent, and engage with relevant communities and groups.

[caption id="attachment_5094" align="alignleft" width="300"] Unilever's 'Made By You' message speaks to the opportunity for employees to drive the growth of powerhouse consumer brands while developing lasting, challenging careers.[/caption]

How have you implemented a consistent employer brand for such a large, global organization?

We pulled together a cross-functional team with representatives from human resources, the corporate brand team, and emerging and developed markets, and we did a significant amount of research. We conducted surveys and focus groups with current employees, candidates, and new hires, from interns to managers to senior executives. New hires are a unique sub-set because they are fresh enough to remember the promises from the recruitment process, but have a taste of the real job experience too.

We validated the output and further refined the results. Regional input was key in order to create the right messaging and to select the right stories. We will continue to roll out more stories and share best practices across markets.

How often do you undergo this full research cycle?

We hadn’t done this type of exercise in about five years, but there’s no set rule. The impetus for this round was setting the goal to double in size while reducing our carbon footprint: it impacted both the corporate and consumer brands, so naturally it affected the employer brand too.

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve faced related to employer branding?

In some markets, our target candidates don’t know the connection between our consumer brands and the company that is Unilever. Dove is very well known in North America, for example, but its association with Unilever isn’t as strong. As we work on further aligning our employer brand with our evolving corporate brand, we will reduce these disparities.

Key Takeaways

1.    Ensure brand authenticity: don’t promise externally what you can’t deliver internally.

  • Conduct research to define and validate your employee value proposition: what you say about your company must be true for your employees and reflected in their experiences.
  • Test and refine research findings, and tailor to different talent levels and geographic markets. Analyze input from veteran employees, potential candidates, and new hires.
  • Re-evaluate your employer brand when business goals change and monitor its alignment with the corporate and consumer brands.

2.    Empower all employees to be brand ambassadors.

  • ‘Roll out the buttons’ on employee email signatures to grow your relevant follower base and talent pool.
  • Analyze your employee profile data on LinkedIn: target ads, updates, and career pages to engage with potential employees.
  • Offer training to teach employees how to leverage LinkedIn and other social media to build their personal brands and to deliver the employer brand messaging.
  • Tailor development plans and incentives to motivate employees who are high-potential talent scouts.

Do you have a best practice to share? Tweet your thoughts with #employerbrand. We want to hear from you!

Catch Paul onstage at Talent Connect Europe, LinkedIn’s conference for talent acquisition leaders, on October 23rd in London.