Unilever And The Management Development Programme


02 Nov 2017

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This paper tells the story of Unilever and the management development Programme which was adopted by Unilever and aimed at managers in a bid to move their company forward. Over the years Management Development has been an important factor in establishments, its strategic role cannot be over emphasised. Unilever is a very large international company since the early thirties, which has gone through an era of unprecedented change in many areas. In 2011 they implemented a strategy with discipline, and they rose well ahead of the market despite the tough economic environment that surrounds them. They made significant progress regardless of the tough markets and external challenges, by implementing the strategy with discipline. This strategy, even though it may be difficult considering short term, they knew that it would strengthen them for the longer term.

Unilever publicised a new strategy ‘Path to Growth’ reducing the amount of products in its collection from 1,200 to 400 leading products, concentrating on Unilever brands, thus creating space for global growth. The core objective of this paper is to critically evaluate the extent to which Unilever has adopted a strategic approach to Management Development in its bid to strengthen its global brand and success. It examines the relationship between managers and their superior and its effect on Unilever. To achieve this objective; this essay explores the concept of Management Development as well as Strategic Management Development whilst a core emphasis is placed on Unilever’s Strategic Approach to Management Development. Definitions about Management Development and Strategic Management Development are given and Emphasis is placed on management development.

Lastly this paper would consist of a conclusion, which would highlight the study's main contributions, and recommendation will be given.


Like every other company, Unilever, a fast growing worldwide consumer goods company has its vision and mission. Their vision is to help people feel good, look good and get more out of life with brands and services that are good for them and good for others. Their mission is to add Vitality to life, the drive to meet the everyday needs of people everywhere and to serve customers and consumers creatively and competitively.

Unilever was created in 1930 when Margarine Unie, a Dutch margarine company, and Lever Brothers, a British soap and foods company, merged. It is an international company with over 1,000 strong leading and successful brands worldwide (Reitsma 2001). Unilever’s current workforce is about 270,000 people worldwide; it produces essentially pre-packaged branded foods, home and personal care products and also a professional cleaning business (Reitsma 2001). In 2003 Unilever generated revenues $53.7 billion and net income $2.47 billion.Over the years Unilever now has two parent companies: Unilever N.V in the Netherlands and Unilever plc in the UK.

Unilever introduced a management development programme as a strategy to move their company forward by developing in their people, because when an individual reaches his full potential he becomes sort of an expert in his field, thus enhancing competiveness (Luoma 2005). It is essential that the needs and aspiration of the organisation and individual are identified for an effective management development programme to be implemented (Trim 2004).

We educate children. We train monkeys, dentists and doctors. But we develop managers and there are important differences between these three verbs. (Paauwe and Williams, 2001: 91). Management development is a conscious and systematic process to control the development of managerial resources in the organization for the achievement of organizational goals and strategies (Molander 1986). Also management development could be said to be the method which managers use to learn and expand their talents or skills not with the sole purpose of benefiting themselves but also the establishments with which they work. Graham (2000) suggests that management development, ought to be viewed as a long term process and he agrees with Campbell et al (1970:4) that management is the vital occupational group in an industrial society. In that same vein, Unilever views management development as a means to an end which helps the organisation achieve its short and long term targets. Management development is concerned with supply managerial talent to the establishment. It should mostly be concerned with the intake of budding managers, at the point of recruitment, also assessment of managers to identify their development needs (Graham 2000).

Mumford & Gold (2004) wrote that Due to the fact that we live in a dynamic world organisations respond to technological and globalisation change, which in turn affects customer demands, Management development can be seen as a strategic tool to implement the strategy developed and improve business performance. If management development is to have any use in an establishment, it ought to be connected and driven by organisational strategy.

Strategic management development can be defined as interventions planned to boost the strategic potential and performance of an organisation (Brown 2003).Strategic management evaluates internal (strengths and weaknesses) also external (opportunities and threats) factors touching the organisation and offers a technique for implementing the strategy for the purpose of maximizing positive results centred around the objectives

Organisations are gradually using management development as a means of enhancing their capability to achieve their business objectives, because if introduced it will make a great difference (Luoma 2005). Recently there has been a progression in increased investments in management development. Motives for this progression are: challenging market, change in the nature of relationship between the employer and employee. This would enhance the management development which is being put in place, thus creating a better organisation.

Like team work, Management development should be a shared responsibility between the management as a whole and employees. This approach allows the organisation to tap into what each member can bring to the table on any given problem. Management development plays strategic role in any organisation, because it helps in evaluating the strategic value of the system (McClelland 1994). Also, Management development can be linked to employee performance, as it aids in enhancing full performance in any organisation by management of broader roles to achieve competitive advantage.

According to Mumford & Gold (2004) there are diverse procedures that enhance organisations to cultivate means to measure management performance as a precursor to management development. There ought to be a clear formal understanding of the content of the business, this means that there should be job descriptions and specific statement of goals and priorities. Management Development Model is supposed to be a comprehensive model on developing managers, although a management development model is not essentially meant to be a key, but more of a continuing procedure to be used as an instrument to define and improve the organisation.


Development is key in any organisation, whether management or training development. In the 2010 annual report, Unilever forecasted that 2011 would be a challenging year, but they had no idea that it would be utterly challenging, due to unexpected setbacks, although this framed how they managed their business and the various issues they faced. Unilever has gone through a process of rapid change and management development has been very useful in communicating it in the organisation and also training staff to deal with the change. Developing managers who can function in this rapidly changing situation shaped by change is certainly a main priority for the organisation. Unilever is a sophisticated establishment, the learners are the managers.

According to (Reitsma 2001) their management development programme was dual: grow leaders for the future and develop individuals to reach their potential. Unilever gives utmost importance to the long term view when it comes to management development because they believe that developing leaders for the future would lead to a trade-off with requirements to run the business.

Growth is a criterion for employees’ behaviour at Unilever, each person in the company should create a growth vision. They believe that when employees have the chance to develop themselves, the organisation can reach outstanding performance growth, it is not only when they concentrate on the consumer which would not only result in low performance growth for the organisation but also have an undesirable impact on consumers.

To achieve development it is vital to secure commitment. Unilever uses Recruitment and Management development to alter manager’s behaviour and increase performances which are further linked to realizing strategic goals for development.

Unilever introduced The Future Leaders Programme which is designed to provide experience and training vital to be a manager in maximum, three years. They achieve this by allowing individuals to select the business area that fits their aims and skills. They focus on three key areas: formal learning, learning by experience and learning through people.

Unilever develops and engage in the people, they make sure that their people have the right set of skills through the ‘talent and organisation readiness’ assessment programme which was launched in2009. They develop a team suitable for growth and also develop and retain the right quality and quantity. They also invest in learning through their online learning management system programme. Employees have a learning passport that allows them to manage their own development. In 2011 they formed a Unilever Learning Academy which offers career skills maps and providing employees with a perfect understanding of their development and also the ability to access tools essential to build a successful career.


Unilever publicised a new strategy ‘Path to Growth’ reducing the amount of products in its collection from 1,200 to 400 leading products, concentrating on Unilever brands, thus creating space for global growth.

Some of the highlights of the change in their management development strategies are:

Job evaluation system formerly comprised of 17 job classes at managerial level but moved to four managerial work levels. This was used to analyse the organisation and also marked the level of accountability of the individuals to solve problems based on resources.

Another highlight was the effort put in towards professionalism. It became the basis for developing career, allowing each individual manager to be in control of their learning and development. A competency dictionary was also established which is very vital for training and assessment.

Also they eradicated the use of appraisal by shifting from the system which lays emphasis on looking back on last year’s performance, to focusing on a system that looks ahead. This helped to get a progressive and truthful discussion.

As earlier stated that management development is a shared responsibility, the joint ownership of Unilever should be between the business and the manager. Managers have different skills, Unilever is obligated to provide them with pertinent tools to allow them develop their learning needs and also ensure that personal development plans are incorporated in the managers.

Performance Development Plans

The crux of Management Development was the Performance Development Plan. This system allowed the manager to discuss with his superior on how He could progress both professionally and personally. This discussion took place at least once a year and was put into writing. Target setting and reviews were done at the beginning of each year with each manager. The sole purpose of this is to provide focus on goals that necessary not only for the individual but also the business. Performance review is the latest type of appraisal unlike the old system of appraisal, with the focus on looking ahead. Performance Review identifies skills and competencies that aims at improvement. Another aspect of PDP is the skills and competencies development plan which on performance review. Skills and competencies are identified which requires improvement on about four areas. Training is one of the options for performance improvement. Another is to join a project whereby a competency is required. While all these are going on, checks are beings made regularly to make sure there progress. Potential assessment is also an essential part of PDP which focuses on the potential of the manager. For a manager at Unilever, building professional skills is of utmost importance because they are essential for career building. The purpose of potential assessment is to determine if a manager is set to work in the next level. Experience forms part of potential assessment.

(Tim,)Unilever views career planning as an important aspect of management development. Each individual should plan ahead and lay foundations for future career. Sometimes a manager may leave the company if his expectations are not in line with the company view. Also Human resource planning meeting is essential in making sure that MD is incorporated across Unilever. Yearly, after the PDP process series of issues are discussed and addressed by the senior managers. These issues are mainly on organisational plans and development. Reviews would be done to assess the individual career plans and company’s strength and weaknesses.


Brown, P. (2005) ‘The evolving role of strategic management development’, Journal of European Industrial Training, vol 24, no. 3, pp. 209-222, available on PROQUEST, accessed 25 October 2012.

Luoma, M. (2005) ‘Managers' perceptions of the strategic role of management development’, Journal of Management Development, vol 24, no. 7/8, pp. 645-655, available on PROQUEST, accessed 12 November 2012.

McClelland, S. (1994) ‘Gaining competitive advantage through strategic management development’, Journal of Management Development, vol 13, no. 5, pp. 4-13, available on EBSCO, accessed 25 October 2012.

Molander C. (1986) Management Development: Key Concepts for Managers and Trainers, London: Chartwell Bratt.

Mole, G. (2000), Managing Management Development, Buckingham: Open University Press.

Mumford, A. and Gold, J. (2004), Management Development: strategies for Action, 4th edition, London: CIPD.

Paauwe, J. and Williams, R. (2001) ‘Seven key issues for management development’, Journal of Management Developmenthttp://search.proquest.com/assets/r10.0.1-0/core/spacer.gif vol 20, no. 2, pp. 90 – 105, available on PROQUEST, accessed 3 November 2012.

Reitsma, S. G.(2001) ‘Management development in Unilever’, Journal of Management Development, 20 ( 2), pp.131-144, available on PROQUEST, accessed on 3 October 2012.

Trim, P. R (2004) ‘Human resource management development and strategic management enhanced by simulation exercises’ Journal of Management Development, vol 23, no 3/4, pp. 399-413, available on PROQUEST, accessed 12 November 2012.




Armstrong, M. (2001). A Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice, 2nd edition, London, Kogan page


The purpose of this paper is to analyse the role that management development programme plays in Unilever, with the main purpose of evaluating the extent to which Unilever adopts a strategic approach to management development. The paper is going to comprise an overview of management development using the Unilever case to explain the current management development.


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