Mumbai: Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), India’s largest consumer packaged goods firm by sales, has been listed as “Dream Employer" for the eighth consecutive year and “Employer of Choice" for the sixth time in a row as per Nielsen’s Campus Track B-school Survey. The company has attributed the ranking to some of its campus initiatives like Enterprise Inc. and Unilever Leadership Internship Programme (ULIP). During these programmes, management trainees are exposed to various functions and roles within the company. They also get to spend time with the top leaders, says B.P. Biddappa, executive director (human resources), in an interview. Biddappa also speaks about how the company has evolved to become more relevant to the younger generation. Edited excerpts:
What does it take to make the cut every time?
It’s a privilege to be rated high. We believe students have a lot of choice in front of them nowadays. We don’t take this (rating) for granted. It’s also the legacy of the past 50-60 years. We have a very strong programme dealing with future leaders and management trainees. It’s our investment in our people that is reflected in these ratings. People are our highest priority.
Given the younger generation’s aspirations for entrepreneurship what has changed for you in terms of dealing with younger employees?
It really hasn’t been such a struggle because we believe there is a small percentage of people who actually want to take a risk and say ‘I want to step up and start something on my own.’ I think what people want by and large is the freedom and space to be empowered and take decisions early.
Every year we look at our programmes to understand ‘are there tweaks we need to make, are there any dimensions we need to change, are there any exposures we need to give?’ That’s part of our continuous learning process to make sure that every year the programme is relevant. All of us have to live in an era where there are lots of choices where decisions are going to be made much faster. So managers, leaders and management trainees alike have shifted to respond to an environment which is much more dynamic. There has been tectonic shift for talent, and senior leaders who aren’t responsive and dynamic will struggle if they are not contemporary.
Are there any areas in terms of talent management that the company is working on just to keep pace with market demand?
We continue to contemporise in the context we see our journey. So a couple of exciting things that are happening are in terms of early empowerment. We want to make sure people are able to look at business in its entirety and not just as a function—be it finance, supply chain or HR. So we make sure stints are across different functions. So on a year-by-year basis we try to make sure people are doing projects across different functions because we want to build strong general managers. We want people to have the opportunity to do these jobs earlier than in the past. So from that perspective we are tweaking the programmes around the exposures that people get. We want to make sure that they are able to pull together the skill sets that come from different functions.
What are the skill sets that the company is looking at?
Today the way the business operates is slightly different from what it used to be years ago. There is lot of competition in the digital space. We want our business to be ahead of the curve. Therefore we have already embarked on several digital initiatives and have a strong e-commerce business as well. We also need to look at what our competitors are doing going forward. Our initiatives like Winning in Many Indias approach was really about saying: Can we build nimble, agile young leaders who can respond to local competitors in any part of the market. This drive and focus on early general management is part of this effort.
What has changed as compared to 15 years ago?
Today the expectation is you need to be a general manager in the first job itself. If you are a sales manager, you cannot say any longer that my job is only sales. That’s the fundamental shift. You have competitors who are local and you have the opportunity to deploy different sets of skills in the first job.
While the title of general manager is a misnomer, we would want people to be looking at the business in its entirety and in an integrated fashion from the time they start their first jobs. Earlier what happened was—since we are a global company—competition was a mix, information was not as swift. It has evolved over a period of time.