In today’s fast-paced business environment, change is inevitable.
Companies need to evolve and adapt to remain competitive, but managing change is not an easy task. Effective change management is crucial to the success of any organizational transformation, as it ensures that the changes are implemented smoothly and effectively.
In this blog post, we will examine a case study of change management at Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies.
We will explore the challenges faced by Unilever, the change management approach it took, and the results of its initiatives.
Brief History and Growth of Unilever
Unilever is a British-Dutch multinational consumer goods company that was founded in 1929 through a merger between Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie and British soap maker Lever Brothers.
Unilever has a long history of growth through mergers and acquisitions, with notable acquisitions including Bestfoods, Ben & Jerry’s, and Dollar Shave Club.
The company operates in over 190 countries and has a diverse portfolio of products, including food and beverages, cleaning agents, beauty and personal care products.
Unilever has also been committed to sustainability and social responsibility, and in 2010, it launched the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, which aims to reduce the company’s environmental impact and improve the health and well-being of its customers.
Today, Unilever is one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, with a revenue of over €50 billion in 2020.
External factors that led to organizational changes at Unilever
Unilever is a multinational consumer goods company that has undergone several organizational changes over the years. Here are three external factors that led to organizational changes at Unilever:
- Changing Consumer Preferences: The changing preferences and behaviors of consumers can have a significant impact on a company’s strategy and operations. For example, as more consumers started to prioritize eco-friendliness and sustainability, Unilever had to shift its focus towards more sustainable products and packaging. This led to the introduction of products like the “Dove Refillable Deodorant” and “Omo EcoActive” laundry detergent, as well as a commitment to reduce its plastic packaging by half by 2025.
- Competitive Pressure: Competition is another external factor that can force companies to make organizational changes. For example, when Unilever faced increasing competition from other consumer goods companies in emerging markets like India and China, it had to restructure its operations to be more efficient and cost-effective. This led to the consolidation of its global supply chain, as well as a greater emphasis on localizing its products and marketing strategies to better appeal to these markets.
- Technological Advancements: Advances in technology can also lead to organizational changes, as companies need to adapt to new ways of doing business. For example, as more consumers started to shop online, Unilever had to develop a strong e-commerce presence and optimize its digital marketing efforts. This led to the creation of Unilever Digital, a team dedicated to digital marketing and e-commerce, as well as a partnership with Alibaba to expand its online distribution in China.
Internal factors that led to organizational changes at Unilever
In addition to external factors, internal factors can also lead to organizational changes at Unilever. Here are three examples of internal factors that have led to organizational changes at the company:
- Management Changes: Changes in top management can often lead to organizational changes. For example, when Paul Polman became CEO of Unilever in 2009, he initiated a major restructuring of the company that aimed to streamline operations and focus on sustainable growth. This led to the consolidation of Unilever’s foods and personal care divisions, as well as a greater focus on emerging markets and sustainability.
- Financial Performance: Poor financial performance can also prompt organizational changes. For example, in 2017, Unilever reported slower-than-expected sales growth, leading the company to undertake a strategic review of its operations. This resulted in a decision to sell or spin off Unilever’s spreads business and focus on higher-growth areas like beauty and personal care.
- Organizational Culture: Organizational culture can also drive organizational change. For example, when Unilever identified a need to become more agile and innovative, it undertook a major cultural transformation initiative called “Connected 4 Growth.” This involved restructuring the company into smaller, more autonomous business units and giving employees greater freedom to experiment and take risks. The initiative aimed to foster a more entrepreneurial culture within the company and enable faster decision-making and innovation.
05 biggest steps taken by Unilever to implement changes
Unilever is a multinational consumer goods company that has undergone several organizational changes over the years. Here are the five biggest steps taken by Unilever to implement changes:
1. Sustainable Living Plan
In 2010, Unilever launched its Sustainable Living Plan, a comprehensive sustainability strategy that aimed to reduce the company’s environmental footprint, improve social impact, and drive profitable growth. The plan set ambitious targets for Unilever to achieve by 2020, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and improving the livelihoods of millions of people in its supply chain. The Sustainable Living Plan has been a driving force behind many of Unilever’s organizational changes, such as the introduction of sustainable products and packaging and a greater emphasis on transparency and accountability.
2. Organizational Restructuring
Unilever has undertaken several major organizational restructuring initiatives over the years to streamline its operations and focus on high-growth areas. For example, in 2016, Unilever announced a plan to consolidate its foods and personal care businesses into a single division, with the goal of achieving greater efficiency and cost savings. Similarly, in 2017, Unilever announced a strategic review of its operations in response to slower-than-expected sales growth, resulting in a decision to sell or spin off its spreads business and focus on higher-growth areas like beauty and personal care.
3. Digital Transformation
As more consumers started to shop online, Unilever recognized the need to invest in its digital capabilities to stay competitive. In 2017, the company launched Unilever Digital, a team dedicated to digital marketing and e-commerce, and entered into a partnership with Alibaba to expand its online distribution in China. Unilever also invested in technology startups and acquired several digital companies to enhance its digital capabilities and drive innovation.
4. Cultural Transformation
Unilever recognized that its organizational culture needed to change to foster greater agility and innovation. In 2016, the company launched its “Connected 4 Growth” initiative, which involved restructuring the company into smaller, more autonomous business units and empowering employees to take more risks and experiment. The initiative aimed to create a more entrepreneurial culture within the company and enable faster decision-making and innovation.
5. Portfolio Transformation
Unilever has undergone several portfolio transformations over the years to focus on its core brands and divest non-core businesses. For example, in 2018, Unilever acquired the personal care and home care brands of Quala, a Latin American consumer goods company, to strengthen its presence in emerging markets. At the same time, the company divested its spreads business and announced plans to exit its tea business to focus on higher-growth areas. These portfolio transformations have helped Unilever to stay agile and adapt to changing market conditions.
05 Results of change management implemented at Unilever
The change management initiatives implemented at Unilever have had several positive outcomes and impacts. Here are some of the key examples:
- Increased Sustainability: The Sustainable Living Plan has been a key driver of Unilever’s sustainability efforts, and the company has made significant progress in reducing its environmental footprint and improving social impact. For example, by 2020, Unilever had achieved its target of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill from its factories, and had also reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 46% per tonne of production.
- Improved Financial Performance: Unilever’s focus on portfolio transformation and strategic acquisitions has helped the company to improve its financial performance. For example, in 2020, the company reported a 1.9% increase in underlying sales growth and a 2.4% increase in operating profit margin.
- Enhanced Digital Capabilities: Unilever’s investments in digital transformation have enabled the company to stay competitive in a rapidly evolving digital landscape. For example, Unilever’s partnership with Alibaba has helped the company to expand its online distribution in China, while its investments in technology startups have helped to drive innovation and enhance its digital capabilities.
- Improved Organizational Agility: Unilever’s organizational restructuring and cultural transformation initiatives have helped to create a more agile and entrepreneurial company culture. This has enabled Unilever to make faster decisions and respond more quickly to changing market conditions.
- Increased Customer Satisfaction: Unilever’s focus on innovation and product development has resulted in the launch of several successful new products and brands, such as the plant-based meat alternative brand, The Vegetarian Butcher. These products have helped to increase customer satisfaction and drive growth for the company.
Unilever’s successful implementation of change management is a testament to the company’s commitment to innovation, sustainability, and organizational excellence. By undertaking a variety of initiatives, such as the Sustainable Living Plan, organizational restructuring, digital transformation, cultural transformation, and portfolio transformation, Unilever has been able to adapt to changing market conditions and position itself for long-term success.
One key factor in Unilever’s success has been its ability to align its change management initiatives with its overall business strategy. By focusing on high-growth areas, investing in sustainability, and enhancing its digital capabilities, Unilever has been able to drive growth and improve profitability while also achieving its sustainability goals.
Another key factor has been Unilever’s emphasis on collaboration and stakeholder engagement. By working closely with suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders, Unilever has been able to create a shared sense of purpose and drive greater alignment around its sustainability and innovation goals.