Insights from IMPACT 2018: Thriving in an Upside-Down World

Posted by Bersin insights on April 6, 2018.

Today’s HR leaders must be the trailblazers as top-down organizational models are disrupted. Empowerment is displacing micromanagement, trust is supplanting control, and experimentation is overcoming the fear of failure.

Leena Nair, CHRO of Unilever, began the IMPACT 2018 keynote, “Thriving in an Upside-Down World,” by asking the audience “to stand on your head.” According to Nair, HR professionals should change the conversation from surviving to thriving. We need to stop asking when the storm will pass and instead learn to “… dance in the rain.”

Our Upside-Down World

Source: Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Unilever, 2018.

Nair passionately expressed her conviction that “… all human beings have the ingenuity, the talent, the intelligence, and knowledge to create opportunity from all this change.” She added that her company has gotten rid of “… lists, labels, and boxes.” At Unilever, they focus on three principles to ignite the potential of every single employee:

  • Purpose gives you confidence and wings. “Companies with purpose last, brands with purpose grow, and people with purpose thrive,” said Nair.
  • Investing in learning: The model of learning in college and doing the same thing for the rest of your life is broken. Nair suggests that we need to learn continuously. At Unilever, employees are asked to learn something new every day for 15 to 20 minutes with bite-sized, personalized learning pathways.
  • Being human: Nair said that “… human beings hold the magic for companies to get better.” At Unilever, everyone is given a “purpose plan” to explore their potential for “soul work” but not potential in a narrow sense. Every story needs to be celebrated.

These principles connect to Nair’s philosophy that this is the “… age of hearts, not the age of machines.” The most effective HR leaders understand this as a call to action and have changed their mindset accordingly. The days of superheroes are gone. Evolved leaders work with tremendous humility. They are more collaborative, more fluid, and they can set aside their egos and work with others to help solve problems.

The session ended with a flurry of questions from a very engaged audience. One question was particularly distinctive: The attendee asked Nair how she thought the HR role would continue to evolve. Nair’s first response was that she had no patience for HR leaders who “… beg for a seat at the table. If this is the age of hearts, HR must lead the way.” Nair suggested we stop being defensive. Instead, she said, “… use the power of analytics to not only tell your story but to justify costs. Show quantifiable results.”

Nair ended the session on an inspirational note. She said, “HR has to be ahead of the business and laying the road for the business. There is no other competitive advantage better than the human element.”

Source: Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Unilever, 2018.
Keep up with the conversation! Check back with the Bersin blog for more Insights from IMPACT 2018.

Leave a Reply