Episode #22: Unilever on Social Inequality and Future of Work
Unilever breaks new ground on addressing social inequality and the future of work!
This week we have job title envy, as we meet with Patrick ‘Paddy' Hull, the Vice President of the Future of Work at Unilever. We discuss the recent Unilever announcement that sets a standard for how large corporations address social inequality. Join us to hear about the exciting path Unilever is taking and for a quick dive into one of the pillars of that effort, the Future of Work.
Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
References & Resources:
Unilever main website - https://www.unilever.com
Patrick Hull on Linkedin - https://www.linkedin.com/in/patrick-hull-98602210/
Conscious Capitalism main website - www.consciouscapitalism.org
Bregman, R. (2017). Utopia for Realists and How We Can Get There. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Bregman, R. (2020). Humankind: A Hopeful History. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Mackey, J., Sisodia, R. (2014). Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. Harvard Business Review Press.
Sisodia, R., Gelb, M. (2019). The Healing Organization: Awakening the Conscience of Business to Help Save the World. HarperCollins Leadership
Sisodia, R., Henry, T., Eckschmidt, T. (2018). Conscious Capitalism Field Guide. Harvard Business Review Press.
Timothy: Hello, everyone, and welcome to Episode 22 of the Conscious Capitalists with myself, Timothy Henry, and my partner in making the world a better place through business, Raj Sisodia. Hi, Raj.
Raj: Hi, Timothy. Great to see you again. Boy, the weeks are just flying by in 2021 here.
Timothy: Yes, they are, aren’t they. We’re on to Episode 22, quite incredible. And today we have a very timely episode. And we’re very fortunate to have the guest we have with us today. And the timeliness is because last week a major corporation made what I think is a groundbreaking announcement in terms of some of the things we’re going to talk about today. They came out with the statement that we’re going to help build a more equitable and inclusive society and actually put some meat behind that. In fact, their CEO said and quoted in this announcement, “Decisive and collective action is needed to build the society that promotes cohesion, embraces diversity, nurtures talent, offers opportunities for everyone and helps to improve livelihoods”. And today we have someone who is an important part of that work, and that’s Patty Hull, the VP of the future of work. No I have job envy and title envy when I hear that – the VP of the future of work. Hi, Paddy.
Paddy: Hey, Timothy. Hey, Raj. Great to be on the show and looking forward to telling you a bit about what it means to be the VP future of work.
Timothy: Love it. Love it. So maybe we can begin with maybe just an overview of the announcement and the main parts of it that Unilever’s committing to take action on over the coming years.
Paddy: Yeah. Great. Thanks, Timothy. Will do. I think the other thing our CEO Allen Joe said when he was making that announcement is that there are two great crises affecting the world at the moment. One is around climate change, and the other is around social inequality. And last year, actually, we made some commitments around climate and the natural environment and how we’re going to look after that in our operations. And this year we felt it was really appropriate that we talked about our social commitments, what we’re doing around that social inequality space. And it does also all relate back to a real multi-stakeholder approach to doing business, which I think fits in well with the Conscious Capitalism approach. We believe that when we look after our people, our consumers, our customers, our suppliers – then the stakeholders will benefit and will do well by doing good. This is a bit of an expression of that. And there are three main commitments that we’re making: one around raising living standards. This really relates to commitment to work together with our suppliers and everyone who directly provides goods and services to Unilever to ensure everyone’s paid a living wage across our value chain, which is more difficult than it seems. So there’s a lot of work to be done there.
Secondly, around creating opportunities through inclusivity. And again, this is using the power of Unilever through our advertising to make sure we are using positive role models and all the efforts that are representative of all the communities we serve. And also working with our suppliers to ensure that we are working with a really diverse range of suppliers and helping support small and medium businesses to grow.
And then my space, preparing people for the future of work. Big commitments there really around making sure people have got the skills and experiences and opportunities to work how and where they want to in flexible and new ways. This construct that we’ve had with us for a long time of the 40 hour, 40 week, 40 year working life is due a remodel, shall we say. And I think our thinking around preparing people for the future work is all about that, making sure we can help people thrive in a changing world of work.
Timothy: Love it. Love it. And, of course, I said I have title envy. And so I’m curious, of course. And I’m sure a lot of our listeners are. How does one get to be the VP of the future of work? Tell us the story. How did you get there?
Paddy: Sure. Well, I’ll take you back to a conversation I had in and around 2015 with my then boss, Lena Nair, who is now our CHRO. And I had just come off a leadership program which helped me discover my purpose. And this is a program that we’ve had running across Unilever for a number of years and in earnest been spreading it around the organization the last three years. I’ve had 57,000 people go through it so far in the organization, which is really amazing. It’s probably one of our most demanded and most successful programs. And the recent it is is because it just spends time on you as a person, giving you that opportunity to think about yourself, what makes you unique, what are the unique skillsets that you’ve got and strengths that you can bring to your roles. So it helps you navigate the kinds of work that you would thrive in. And so I’ve been on this program and came up with this rather nifty title I thought for my purpose, which was to bring the essence of Pollyanna into the room. And I think Pollyanna is in the English dictionary now as someone who is excessively optimistic. It’s based on a story about a young girl called Pollyanna who plays the joy game with her father. And I realized that throughout my life I’ve tried to be someone similar to that. I’ve been inspired by that Pollyanna story. And I found that I always loved injecting energy, enthusiasm, joy into any conversations or situations I was in. I would struggle to see the negative. I’m always to find the positive, the silver lining, in something.
But I’d also spent some time in my corporate career maybe hiding that part of myself a bit. I didn’t think it was appropriate to not act professional enough. And going through that workshop really made me realize actually being who I am, who I am created to be, is so important. People appreciate that. That’s what makes me unique, makes me have a difference. So newly emboldened with that, I went to see Lena. And I said, right, if you want to get the best from me, put me in jobs and situations where I can motivate and inspire people, where I can design interventions that help people see things differently from different perspectives, and so innovate and drive different ways of working. So, to her credit, Lena agreed and put me into a role where I was looking after leadership development in Unilever so that I could motivate and inspire our leaders. And, obviously, in that role, I was also in touch with a lot of the latest thinking and trends and came across this idea around the future of work. An industrial revolution and what’s coming. And I though, wow. This is a fantastic area I’d like to actually spend even more of my time in, helping our business and our people think about how we can respond to this and actually be proactive in figuring out what we do about this.
So I wrote a job description for it, handed it in to Lena, and again, I always give her credit. After a few chats, she said, right. Let’s make you the VP future of work and make sure that you lead and create the social commitments for us. Yeah, that’s the story.
Timothy: Wow. I love it. I love it. I love that you’re finding your sweet spot that way. Declaring, here’s my purpose, here are the things that really excite me in the world, and how can I bring my talent and capability to the table to define a role and actually write your own job description. And then be in a position where you can have such a big impact on things. I just love that. It’s a great story, Patty. Thank you very much for that.
Paddy: No worries. And the beauty of the purpose workshops is it works for everyone in that way. It just helps you navigate things from a different angle, and we’re very passionate about that. We also think – sorry – just quickly on the future of work, that people spend a lot of time talking about how we need to reskill and upskill people because the robots are coming and all of this And it’s quite a scary sort of scenario that gets painted. And we also think it’s a scenario that treats people sort of ass widgets, like that they just need to be reskilled or upskilled and then they’ll be ok. But people are farm more complex than that, as we all know, and need some motivation and sort of the will to think about this whole reskilling, upskilling journey, if that’s something they’re going to go on. And we think spending a lot of time with people focused on purpose first and trying to understand what they really want from life – their career, the sort of skills and things that they’re interested in, is such an important starting point because they you can go and look at the reskilling, upskilling opportunities with that frame and mind.
We had a woman recently who was actually looking at moving out of the organization, etcetera, and she wanted to do dog training, which the thought was quite a big leak from the professional corporate role that she was ding, but then discovered that she had this massive passion for dogs, would go to regular shows with her dog, and all this kind of thing. And realized that is the kind of training that we should invest in with her because that is going to lead to her living a purpose, and she’s more likely to be successful in that space than if we try to box her into some other corporate role. So, it’s a really powerful thing.
Timothy: Love it.
Raj: I’d like to go back to the living wage initiative, because I do think that is huge, as you said. You identified that as a crisis for humanity at the level of the climate crisis, and I agree with that. I think this is the tinder box behind all the populist movements and all the unrest and everything else that we have seen. So, now, Unilever is not new to this. I think Unilever has been practicing that for at least five, six years. How far back does that go, the living wage?
Paddy: Yeah. It goes back a while. I don’t know the exact dates. But what I do know is that all of our employees are paid a living wage. So we have verified that across our entire – everyone who is a full time employee of Unilever. But it’s been work. We’ve had to do over those years. Again, it’s not an easy journey, actually. So making this commitment now to go after it in our entire value chain is one of the reasons we’ve given ourselves to do it, so til 2030. And we know it’s going to take a lot of advocacy as probably a starting point because we need to work together with governments, together with our suppliers, and help find ways in which to do this. Again, still in an equitable way. One of the debates we had internally was that before making this commitment was that one of the potential negative consequences of this something like this? Because one of the risks was you ask your suppliers to do this, they just automate their operations. And those people who were working now actually have no livelihood because they just get automated out of the business because suppliers think that’s an easier way for me to get around this. So we need to really work with our suppliers, take this in a wholistic way, to help ensure that we can do with without negative externalities, do it appropriately, do it in the right way with the right level in each country. So it really is a complex systemic change that ‘s going to take time. But what an exciting journey to go on, and a worthwhile one.
And we did have a session with a number of our suppliers, especially our large suppliers. And they’re all up for it. They just said, please just work with us. Let’s work together to make this thing happen. So that’s going to be the basis.
Raj: And then on the purpose work, I’ve never seen another company scale purpose the way Unilever has. 50,000 people have gone through that. Is ithat all done wih technology, or is it an actual life experience with people as they go through the Purpose Discovery process?
Paddy: Yeah. It’s a live experience. It’s all done by internal people. So we run train the trainer workshops and our own people facilitate the workshops, which is really great. And it used to be always face to face until COVID hit. Then we, again, had a few debates internally whether this would actually work virtually or not. We did a couple of pilots and realized actually it works just as well in a virtual environment as it did face to face. So we’ve pivoted, and now we run the workshops virtually. And that’s actually enabled us to even accelerate the implementation across the world. So that’s been very exciting. But, yeah, it’s all about – it’s a very intimate workshop. You spend most of the workshop in a small group of four people, sharing your stories about hobbies you used to have, what you used to enjoy doing as a kid, your proudest moment, your crucible moment, these kinds of things. And through those stories, we find the common theme that’s running all of them that alludes to something that’s unique about you and how you handle these different things.
Raj: So I’m assuming that’s not open to our site people. But is that something, the methodology, that you share with other companies if they want to do it as well?
Paddy: Yes. I was actually just on a call today with our chief learning officer and a whole bunch of chief learning officers in other organizations where Tim Mandanu, our CLO, was offering to run a train the trainer for this to take it beyond our walls and share with others. So, yes, we are actively looking at that. And also as part of our youth employment commitment, one of the things we do there is that we run purpose workshops for the young people who want to come in and get some experience because we really see that as a key enabler of helping people on their own journey towards employment – that if we can start with purpose, help build that confidence, build that clarity on direction, then they’re going to choose the right set of opportunities.
Raj: So is that the 10 million young people? That’s the program. So let’s talk a little bit about it.
Paddy: 10 million.
Raj: So these are what ages? And then they don’t have to have any connection to Unilever, right? They could be just fresh out of high school, graduates, college?
Paddy: Yeah. Absolutely. So 16 to 25 year olds is the group we’re targeting. So, yes. So the school leavers to university graduates or college or whatever – or not in education, employment or training. That’s actually who we really target are those who haven’t had the opportunity for any of that. And we’re seeking to do that through a number of ways. We’ve already got a lot of initiatives going on around the world. But one thing that we’re trying to do is really scale that impact. And at the moment, we’re piloting a platform in South Africa called Level Up, which is an online platform where we try to bring together a number of these things, whether it’s a purpose workshop that we run virtually through the platform. We’re sharing a lot of great training content through the platform, not only purpose but also things like interview skills. But also digital literacy, and also some vocational skills training around sales and that kind of thing. We’ve partnered actually with Microsoft and Pearson at the moment to provide some accredited training as well so they can get that kind of thing through there. And then we provide volunteering opportunities through the platforms. There is a lot of research showing that if you’re not in education, employment or training – actually volunteering again helps build confidence, build skills, experience that can then help you when applying for jobs. And because our brands are doing so much good work in various social areas, we’ve got a lot of opportunities for young kids to contribute into some of that work with our brands. And so we promote that on the site and our NGOs that we connect with.
And then finally, we provide an opportunity for them to register in a talent pool so we can push them opportunities around work experiences, be that part-time, full-time, internships, apprenticeships. And we’re looking to expand also to our suppliers and distributors – have them also promote those sorts of things through the platform so we can widen the talent pool for everyone.
And one of the things we learned in South Africa is launching this data is really expensive. And South Africa is one of the most expensive countries in the world. So again, one of the things that opened up to us the need to partner with others to make things work. Otherwise no one was going to come to the site if data was an issue. So we partnered also with the local telecom providers to make sure that access on the site is for free – that the data used on the sites is for free. So, yeah, we’re trying to use this combination of an online approach together with a lot of the offline stuff that we’re doing. We’re sort of mirroring the two to try to use that to expand the scale and reach of our youth employment programs. And particularly targeting those not in education, employment and training.
Timothy: I love it. I love it. And I love the other aspect you were talking about which is finding new ways of working in the sense that there’s this idea of the gig economy. And right now the whole idea of the gig economy is there’s a shadow side to it, right. There’s this, yeah, you work for Uber but you’re not really an employee. And they don’t necessarily have to treat you well and there aren’t benefits. So there’s a lot of movement around gig economy kind of thing. But it’s not at all clear that that’s really in the end a good thing for society. So tell us a little bit more about what you’re trying to do around that whole concept of new ways of working and making the gig economy relevant to a large company like Unilever.
Paddy: Yeah. That’s a fantastic question, Timothy. In fact, it’s one of the things that got me hooked on the future of work and this need to make a difference here. It was about three years ago where we were having an HR team meeting, and Nick Dalton, who I’ve taken over from on this future of work journey, was talking passionately about this issue that the gig economy gives you this flexibility but no security. And full time employment gives you lots of security and no flexibility. But there’s nothing in between. It's this binary relationship. And how can that be the only way in which we can work? And so he passionately advocated for us to really think hard about how we can create a third option of flexibility and security. And that’s really what our second commitment there is all about – pioneering new employment models to give our people flexible employment options. And one of those is something we’ve been piloting in the UK for the last year or so and rolling out 10 countries this year. Something we call You Work where employees don’t have a job title anymore. They work on assignments at Unilever. So when you ask them, oh, you work at Unilever. What do you do? They’ll say, well, I work on assignments; I do all sorts of different projects. Whatever interests me and is in line with my purpose. And so, essentially, what happens is they get a monthly retainer, plus they get an amount for the assignments that they work on, which has a pro rata amount in it for benefits and pension and that kind of thing so that they get this halfway house – that they get the flexibility of working on assignments and choosing which assignments they want to work on. But they also get the security that they’re not just getting the base pay. They even get sort of a bonus payment in terms of the projects that they work on.
And so we found this has just been so appealing to a broad range of people, people who are nearing retirement who want to gracefully move on to lower hours of work and just choose what they want to work on. Youngsters who just joined who are wanting more flexibility, maybe want to have a side hustle – do that sort of thing. And then also the working parents, as we all know, who are struggling with homeschooling and millions of different things at the moment. This gives them a wonderful opportunity to pick and choose a bit more what they work on. And I had someone whose part of You Work work on a project for me last year. And she’s a working mom and was doing it so that she could have that flexibility. But she said what was also great was this whole ability to pick and choose what you work on and that you really choose the stuff that you’re most passionate about. And then that you really focused. The issue for a lot of us who are full-time employees are that you have so many things to work on that you never really manage to dedicate time to really delivering what you want to. And she said it’s the complete opposite when you’re at You Work. It’s focus on one thing and nail it. And so we really see it as a big opportunity for us as a business as well that through growing a You Work population, we can have people more dedicated, more flexible, able to work in agile ways, delivering on projects and in far more focused ways. So there’s a real business benefit for us in this as well.
Timothy: Well, I want to take that word you used, agile. Some want to use agile, organization of the future, lot of different labels for it. But I’m really curious that as you start with the You Work, it really has profound implications for how you organize work within the business itself in terms of moving toward more assignment-based versus roles and responsibilities, business as usual. It means being able to be more resilient and all those things. So I’m curious. What are the other things that are needing to change in the business to make your work actually fit in a way that can be productive for everybody?
Paddy: That’s a great question, Timothy, and we definitely are not there yet in terms of being fully agile and flexible. We know that’s where we need to go, as you say. It builds resilience, and the organization builds resilience and people. It enables us to focus on the right things at the right time and scale up and scale down as we need to. But like any organization, we’ve been in this fixed way of working the 9 to 5 job, the 40 hour, 40 week, 40 year construct for such a long time that it takes people a while to get their heads around the fact that we really need to start deconstructing jobs into tasks, into assignments, into skills that are needed. Really up our game in that space. And strengthen that muscle. I think that’s something all our managers are going to need to learn to get far more fluent at. It’s much easier just to say, I need a person to do all this stuff and put that in their job description and off they go. It’s far harder to go, okay, I need these various assignments. I need people with these sorts of skills to work on it for this amount of time and off I go. So the big shift is really in that space, I see. Deconstructing roles and getting managers comfortable that I don’t have to have this army of people who report in to me anymore, that I must take this abundance mindset to resource – that I could get people from anywhere – be they students, be they You Workers, be they people. We’ve got a thing called Flex Experiences in Unilever, an internal marketplace people can spend 20% of their time working on various projects. How do I get people from there. So still lots of work to be done and mindsets to be shifted. But we’re on the journey. So we’ll get there.
Timothy: I think that’s really key because there’s two elements of what you talked about. One is the operating model. How we actually organize work and think about organizing work needs to shift. And at the same time, you need a different kind of leader. And that leader should have mindset in the way they lead and how they think of themselves as leaders. And then you put those things together. And now you have a new way of actually being able to operate the business, which then enables something like You Work to really come to life. So I think it’s fascinating that part of your background is leadership development. It’s no coincidence you’re in that role.
Paddy: That’s it. That’s it. Lena has got a very far-reaching mind into the future to figure out how to place the right people in the right kind of roles. Yeah.
Timothy: Now I’ve lost track of it. There are 50 different sort of brands or business units within Unilever, or something like that order of magnitude. Is that right in terms of Ben & Jerry’s and Dove?
Paddy: Yeah. A lot more actually. And then business units. Yeah. Three main business units, food and refreshments, home care and hygiene and then beauty and personal care, as we call it.
Timothy: Yeah. Yeah. So across the three different divisions or business units and then you’ve got 2,000 brands. That’s a lot of change. And how you run something like Dove versus Ben & Jerry’s and the speed at which those organizations are ready to embrace this model, how are you managing that given that you probably have some folks – Ben & Jerry’s, pick one. Right on the cutting edge already, and you probably have some others on the other end of the spectrum who maybe don’t have that kind of brand positioning anyway. They’re on a journey. So how do you manage across such a vast portfolio?
Paddy: My approach is always to very much go where the energy is exactly as you said – where you’ve got a team who are keen on this, who are up for it. Then just give them everything you’ve got because then you can create a bright spot. And I’m a big proponent of that whole switch methodology, appreciative inquiry. If we can get a few bright spots in the organization, then people believe far more that it’s possible because it’s working in Unilever. Somewhere in Unilever it’s actually working. So, therefore, it’s easier for me to adopt it. So, in fact, next week I’m joining a couple of calls with Australia and New Zealand leadership teams who are all over this and are super excited about the future of work. They are piloting the four-day week in New Zealand this year. But they’re constantly looking for new ways in which they can move to a more agile, flexible organization, do what’s right for their people. So I’m going to spend a couple of early mornings my time chatting with them about what they can do further to do this. So, yeah, my big approach is just to try to find more and more of those bright spots where the energy is and go there. That’s the only way. You can’t mandate stuff in Unilever. I learned that a long time ago. There are too many bright people who have got their own ideas, who are in different contexts. So you can provide some global guidelines, but then just let it flourish in the local context.
Raj: Wow. I have to say we’ve always been fans of Unilever for many years. And this company is just taking it to another level, it feels like. It feels like how much good is possible for one company to bring into the world and to catalyze change in the system. It’s really very inspiring. I just want to say Unilever is a gift to the world really. There is so much that you guys are doing that others can learn from and emulate and build upon. So I just commend the organization for all of these extraordinary things that you’re piloting and trying and taking risks. It’s not easy in a company of that scale to be that innovative and pioneering. I think it’s tremendous.
Timothy: Yeah. And I’m curious. As you were having that discussion and you were teeing all this up, how did the discussion come in around how that affect our performance as a business? Because at some point it is doing well and doing good. And it’s not an either or. It’s a polarity. We’re managing to try to get the best of both. But that means you do have to look at the other side which is business performance. And in a sense make the business case for this. So I’m curious what the flavor of the discussion was around that, when you were having that conversation.
Paddy: Another fantastic question, Timothy. And for sure we have those debates internally. Is this the right thing to do? Is there enough connection to the business? How does this work both for the business and the social impact? So everything does go through that lens. And I’ll just share one example of that when we were presenting these commitments to our senior leadership team. There was a bit of a question around youth employability and how much does that relate to our business and what we’re doing. And shouldn’t that be left to others to do. And so we have business cases that we rewrite for all of these things. I went around peddling the busines case to our leadership team, talking about the importance of broadening our scale and reach among young people, how they can help us in bringing in more diversity of thought into the organization, how it can help us in terms of if we are equipping young people ahead of time before they’ve even joined Unilever or our distributors or suppliers – equip them with some critical 21st century skills – how if we do bring them in to our organizations, they can hit the ground running that much faster. And we’ve don this in a few countries already. I had some of the data to prove it when I was in China working there. We had a program there where we would bring people directly in from colleges and universities to shadow our salespeople. They just literally shadowed them. We did give them a small stipend and that sort of thing. But the idea was that they got to learn on the job. And then as different salespeople would leave they could slot into those positions. And we would run a whole training program alongside that.
The interesting thing was in China we ran it in different regions. And different regions approached it slightly differently, which was actually perfect. We’d given them one methodology, but they’d all done it a bit differently. But then all the data came back and we saw that the regions that had invested the most in the training and developments were up front. And then the shadowing and all that had the best productivity and the lowest attrition rates and all that kind of thing. So fortunately, I’d gathered this data and we used that to promote our business case around use employability and why it’s important. So all of these commitments. The living wage one is a huge one. It’s really going to take a lot of work and effort. But again, if we can’t operate in a sick society at the end of the day, we are selling products out there to you and me and as many people as we can. And if they don’t have a living income or living wage, they’re never going to be able to afford our products as well. So there is a real business reason behind all of these things as well. But it’s certainly a debate that rages. A good strong debate to make sure that we’re doing the right things, doing right by our business, by our people, by our multi-stakeholders. We’re considering all those angles. And I think it makes it a better business that we have those debates actually and that we’re pushing ourselves to consider these different perspectives rather than just a single-minded focus on just what our corporate is all about.
Raj: Maybe you’d like to go back to your youth growing up in South Africa. Pretty momentous period in our history. Would you have some memories to share on how those experiences may have shaped you in terms of your own persona and the kind of work that fulfils you?
Paddy: Yes, Raj. I almost don’t know where to begin. As you say, South Africa was in the throes of apartheid when I was growing up. In fact, apartheid only ended just after I left school. In fact, only in my final year of school did we have some black kids join our school. Prior to that, it had been all white boys school. So a few things have struck me from that time. One was as a kid growing up in that environment, which was scary that was normal, I didn’t know anything else. So I just assumed that’s the way things are. And I’ve always therefore had this mind of really questioning and being curious about construct and what governments are telling you and that kind of thing. But definitely this inquiring mind not to accept just what’s put out to you. I think that’s the first thing.
I think the second thing – and again, it relates to this shift in perceptions. We did an exercise soon after I left school at university, a leadership program, where we were told we were doing the race of life. And a group of us white kids, Indian kids, black kids, colored kids were all put on the starting line. We were told the finish line is over there, and that’s your first job. We had to answer a series of questions. If you answered yes, you took a step forward. If you answered no, you took a step backwards. And the questions were things like did you grow up with a computer in your home. Did you have access to books? Were both your parents married? Yes. Did you come from a single household or dual parents? All those sorts of questions. And it was a terrible exercise in that all the white kids ended up at the finish line, and quite a few of the black kids were behind the starting line by the time we finished. And it just really hit me between the eyes. You spend a lot of time in these environments where everyone is saying, oh well, everyone’s equal now. So it’s all fine. But you realize there’s still so much systemic inequality going on around you that it’s never finished, the journey, in that space. And I think those experiences are really one of the reasons I joined Unilever because I saw it’s a company that’s trying to do well by doing good. I kind of felt that we need to do this through corporates because they’ve got the money to make a difference and that sort of thing. But that no matter what I did in my career, I would always be trying to find a way to address these sort of issues. And I must have found that with a lot of other South African colleagues in Unilever that have a very similar mindset and reason why they’ve joined. So I hope that gives some flavor, Raj.
Raj: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s a gift in a way to be able to grow up with that kind of a history just because it sensitizes you in a much deeper way to things others might take for granted. So thank you for that.
Timothy: And who have been some of the leaders that you’ve sort of admired over time? You’re in this interesting position. You’ve run leadership development. As part of the future of work you’re going to be thinking about what kind of future leaders we need. But I’m curious to you if you look at a couple leaders who’ve really influenced you. Who would stand out in your mind as one, two, three people that you might look at and say, yeah, they really had an impact on me.
Paddy: I’m going to start with our CEO Allen Jo. But that’s not because I’m sucking up, I promise you. It’s because I’ve worked with him in China. So he was head of the China business when I was there, and I had quite a close working relationship with him. So I really got to see him operating day to day. And I’ll just relate one quick story. I’ll start with him and then I’ll give you a couple of other leaders. But he has this unique ability to really look after people. When you’re in his presence, he focuses 110% on you. And then at the same time, he has this amazing ability to scan the organization, scan the external trends, know the strategic direction and bring people along the journey. And there was one morning where I had to have a very early morning meeting with him. I had one of my team members joining me. We had to discuss with him a leadership program. We arrived at his office. He came from behind his desk with three cups of Starbucks coffee, saying, I stopped at the Starbucks on the way in because I thought you guys might need a coffee. It’s such an early morning meeting. So again, just first thing, wow. He actually even was thinking about us.
And then because he hadn’t met my colleague before, he spent about 40 minutes of our hour meeting chatting to her. She was a new graduate, newly into the organization. So he spent all this time learning about her, what she thought about the business, all that kind of thing. And then the last 20 minutes he turned to me and said, all right, Paddy, quickly get through your stuff; we’re going to go. But my colleague – I promised you she floated out that room. It was the best day of her entire life almost to that point, that the CEO of the organization had been so interested in her. And she would have done anything for him after that. And I just thought that’s a really powerful leader who knows how to do that. And he’s been very consistent and authentic in that. So he’s one.
I think another who I’ve read a bit about and I haven’t actually personally interacted with him, but I think they’re in similar spaces is Satya Nadella of Microsoft. Having read his book and understood his own family situation. He really gets vulnerability, being authentic as a leader, understanding where people are coming from. If you look at what he’s done for Microsoft, he’s also an incredible business leader. So I am picking a couple of business leaders because that’s my space. And then I think actually I would go back to one of my teachers at school who really, again, invested a huge amount in me – invested in me believing in myself and encouraging me to try all sorts of different things. He got me debating, which I never thought I would ever want to do, for example. But now I realize that’s probably been my number one skillset that I’ve used throughout my life. That critical thinking debating ability has been invaluable. And so for a teacher to notice that about you, that you’re open to these things and invest like that, Mr. Robertson – thanks. If you’re listening.
Timothy: I love that. I went to an all boys Jesuit school for high school. We had debate class. Dr. Curry told us we were in the first year – this will be the most important class that you ever have. And you’ll take it every year that you’re here, and you’re going to hate it. But at the end, you know what, they’re so right. That ability to really articulate in front of other people what’s going on.
Raj: I think that and negotiations.
Timothy: Yeah. Yeah. Really. So I’m really curious. Within Unilever, you mentioned Tim Amundon, the Chief Learning Officer, and him bringing together other chief learning officers to share some of the goodness that Unilever has learned. How do you see that playing out for you and your role? Right now there aren’t a lot of other VPs of the future of work. But I’m curious as to how, if at all, you see that evolving in terms of the outreach of Unilever to other organizations.
Paddy: Yeah. No. For sure. We definitely can’t do this on our own. And I think making these commitments public is also a bit of a call to others who’d like to join us to please come along. And we can definitely share and learn. Everyone is doing what a lot of organizations are doing something in this space. I was actually on a call with Dannon yesterday where they were sharing with me some of what they’re doing. And there’s some really cutting edge thinking there. We’re also working a lot through the World Economic Forum, getting in touch with a number of different organizations there. And we’ve got an interesting collaboration going on at the moment with another big corporate. I can’t say too much about it yet. But where we’re really looking at reskilling pathways, both within our own organizations, but also between our organizations. And it’s been a fascinating process to go through. But these sorts of partnerships, like I mentioned on the youth employment platform, the new employment models, we really need to partner on all these things.
We’ve got an employee sharing approach as well that we’ve been working with a few other corporates on to General Motors in Argentina. We shared workers from one of their sites with ours when they were basically out of work and our factories were booming. We shared some of their factory workers. So there’s lots of opportunity for corporates to get together and start collaborating more in these places. Because otherwise the risk is we have this kind of tragedy of the commons that we’re all doing our own thing. And then people get left out in the end. So, yes, through this podcast as well as sticking up my hand if you like to connect and check more about this how we could collaborate – really, really open or that.
Timothy: So, Paddy, what would be the best way for people to reach you if they wanted to find out more about what you’re doing and how to connect with you?
Paddy: Probably via email may be easiest. Or LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn as well. But email@example.com. That’s the email address. It’s Patrick. That’s what my mom named me, but everyone calls me Paddy. But just so you know, don’t send it to paddy.hull because it won’t go anywhere, unfortunately.
Raj: So, Paddy, you really are on the cutting edge of this work in terms of employment, purpose and meaning and all of those. How do you stay on that edge? Are there authors you follow or books that have inspired you to think in these ways? What have you been absorbing lately that our listeners would value?
Paddy: One of the books that inspired me was Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman. He’s written a lovely book where he talks a bit about the need for a basic income. He talks about the need to move towards more of a 4-day week. And he also has an interesting perspective on mobility of humans around the world. He asked the question why do goods and services have no restrictions but humans can’t move so easily between countries and that sort of thing. And there’s a big economic dividend to be had from that. So very interesting book. Not all future work. But really some inspiring thinking in there. In fact, I recently read his latest book called Human Kind, which is also another different take on the world. So I enjoy books that are making me think differently about our current situation, as I mentioned. So not just Rutger Bregman, but then, yes, I try to devour an article, a Ted Talk, a YouTube video, podcast. I listen to the BBC Sounds podcast quite a bit. There’s a few future of work ones that I dip in and out of. There’s a great one actually by Harvard on the future of work that, in fact, Nick Dalton, my predecessor, he’s contributing on one of their shows. As you all know, there’s not an insufficiency of content out of there. It’s working out what’s the good stuff in amongst everything. I also read a lot of stuff I realize that isn’t helping me, so I quickly jump onto something else. So it’s a never-ending quest, but it’s been an exciting quest.
I actually also some read some stuff by Ravine Jeswithian the other day. He’s quite a good thinker, especially thinking about the world where there’s no longer job titles but where you just work in organizations. So…
Raj: My training, my last book was called The Healing Organization. I find Unilever to be more and more emblematic of that part, that business. Normally business causes a lot of stress and suffering. I’ve heard that deaths are higher on Mondays and people are disengaged and disconnected. There’s tons of data on that tract. But if you do it right, business can be a place of healing for those who work there. You can leave at the end of every day emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually and socially stronger and in a better place than when you came in that morning. And I think all the work that you’re doing, and Lena, that’s happening. And then, of course, you can be a source of healing for your customers and your communities. And you can be a source for healing in society. And I think Unilever increasingly checks all of those boxes with some depth. And I define that as reduced suffering and elevated joy. That’s my definition of healing. And promote healthy growth, which you do with your purpose work and so forth. So I think if we are able to do that, then work just becomes incredibly rich and powerful. So thank you for the role that you’re playing and what Unilever is doing in that.
Paddy: Thanks, Raj. I think that’s a beautiful way of putting it. In fact, you just reminded me of one other person who has been a bit of an inspiration. It’s Professor Narva Ashraf at London School of Economics. She’s doing some great work on altruistic capital, which also speaks a bit to what you’re talking about about how organizations have a role to play in creating an environment that helps people move more towards altruism. And that actually people have a natural tendency towards altruism rather than being the selfish kind of Adam Smith variety. So yeah. Fully agree. I think the big thing is, as Unilever, we need to keep delivering as a business so that we can really prove that this how it can reshape capitalism as a force for good. So yeah. Here’s hoping we can continue to deliver well and good results as a business.
Timothy: Well, Paddy, I love it. Let’s make organizations as human as the people who work in them and prove that actually is the formula that works for the future. So thank you so much for joining us. It was wonderful to hear in more depth and detail the great work that Unilever is doing. So thank you very much for joining us today.
Paddy: Pleasure. Thank you very much for inviting me, Timothy and Raj, as it was a great time.
Raj: Thank you. Thank you.
Timothy: And for our listeners, whatever channel that you’re listening on, remember there is a little button somewhere on that page that says subscribe. Feel free to hit that if you enjoyed our conversation. And if you have any thoughts or comments for Raj and I, please go to theconsciouscapitalists.com. There’s a place there where you can leave us a message. And, of course, if you want to read more about how to do some of the conscious capitalism thing, Raj and I have written a book called The Conscious Capitalism Field Guide. That’s always a good source. And, Raj, if they want to know more about Conscious Capitalism, where should they go?
Raj: You can go to consciouscapitalism.org and learn about conscious capitalism, learn about chapters. We have about 40 in the US, about 18 other countries. Get involved with the community. You will have discovered your tribe if you’re listening to this podcast.