Unilever’s CEO on the ‘new mode of leadership’

As the world adapts to new ways of working, Unilever boss Alan Jope says leaders today must learn to master their “inner game” before they can focus on driving business performance.

Source: Unilever

Unilever chief executive Alan Jope believes a new leadership model is emerging in response to changes brought about by the pandemic, which places equal weight on personal and external performance.

Speaking at the Unilever ‘Future of Work Summit’ today (2 December), he said: “At Unilever, our view on leadership is that there are two components to it: your inner game and your outer game, and they’re sequential.”

In order to “master” their inner game, he said leaders must be comfortable with “incredible uncertainty and ambiguity” and work from a sense of purpose. He said leaders must also be very clear on managing their emotions and energy levels.

“Only once you’ve mastered your inner game are you able to really operate your outer game – driving business performance, inspiring people, attracting talent and creating strategies,” he added.

“Of course, they integrate. When your outer game is running smoothly it certainly fuels up your inner game. That’s the model we believe is the right model of leadership for now. But of course it will keep changing.”

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The future of working

Jope noted the pandemic has presented “simultaneous crises” in health, environment, social equality and the economy and because of this people are reassessing their priorities and what they expect from employers.

“People increasingly want to work for companies that take into consideration their whole lives,” he said. “Their work [as well] of course, but also their wellbeing, their family responsibilities, their growth, their identity. And they’re voting with their feet.”

The ‘great resignation’, as it has become known, has seen millions of people quit their job in search of a greater work/life balance as a result of the pandemic. Jope cited US government data, which shows 4.3 million people left their jobs in August in the US.

The best way to be ready for the future is to be part of shaping it.

Alan Jope, Unilever

“The future of work is now much more than just the relationship between technology and humans. It’s about completely new ways of working. It’s about the need for belonging. It’s about creating value – for the individual as well as the organisation,” he added.

Guiding principles

Figuring out future work models will provide companies with a “strategic competitive advantage”, according to Jope who said Unilever is looking to achieve this through five guiding principles: flexibility, inclusion, purpose, sustainability and connection.

Flexibility is key as he said results can be achieved or even surpassed without everyone under one roof. “We don’t have to be together to work together,” he added. But it’s still a work in progress, with employees now demanding a departure from the 9am to 5pm model and 40-hour working week.

To improve inclusion Unilever aims to promote and hire more women, people from BAME backgrounds, those with disabilities and from the LGBTQI+ community.

“There is a price for failing to create a culture in which people feel they belong,” said Jope.

Being more purposeful is another way Unilever hopes to attract and retain staff. The brand found almost half (49%) of staff that attended purpose training reported “higher intrinsic motivation” and resulted in a 25% bump in declarations of being able to “go the extra mile in their job”.

Purpose also runs in developing people and Unilever has committed to reskilling all staff by 2025 to soften eventual redundancies from advancing technologies.

Making operations and its supply chain sustainable is another key principle for Unilever. Jope warned this will result in job losses in some sectors of the economy, but said it will be matched by job creation in others.

“The trick is in the transition. A just transition. A transition that supports those who stand to lose economically, while sharing the prosperity that the new economy will bring much more fairly,” he said.

Lastly, Unilever will be looking to connect people through technology, which is leading to better collaboration and will feed into the other four guiding principles.

“We want to harness the creativity and ideas of different businesses, governments and NGOs from multiple countries across the globe,” added Jope.

“The future of work will be different. And the best way to be ready for the future is to be part of shaping it. We believe in shaping a future of work that is flexible, inclusive, purposeful, sustainable and connected.”