CEO of Unilever Australia & New Zealand Nicky Sparshott also talked about the importance of creating a culture of Purpose inside the company and how internal initiatives have helped foster that. Unilever globally, as well as locally, invests more than most others in terms of trying to find the synchronicity between someone’s individual purpose, what gets them up every day, and how are they able to translate that into meaningful work that’s rewarding and energizing. “Do you understand the daily actions that you make and how they contribute? 12 months down the track, it’s been one of our single biggest measures that have moved in our culture survey, that clarity of company-wide purpose into, “How do I purposefully thrive by understanding myself and bringing my best self to work?” I’m really encouraged and excited by that. And yet, we still have much more to do, because it’s a continuous process. As new people come into the organization, we can’t take for granted that they’ve grown up with this, so I think the job will never quite be done there,” she reflected.
This has not only led to improved retention but also been a great talent magnet. “Our levels of attrition are far lower than the market average. I’m a believer that you do want some attrition because you do want that outside-in perspective. But we’re also attracting some great talent from the external markets.” Sparshott re-characterizes ‘The Great Resignation’ as ‘The Great Realization’ to which she attributes a new perspective on meaning at work. “There’s this kind of realization that I’m wanting something more purposeful, more human, more rewarding, out of my job. I spend more time at work with my colleagues, by and large, than I do with my family. Every day, I want to get up and feel the energy, the effort that I’m expending in some small way can make a difference, but also fill my bucket personally.”
Part of this has been the confidence to give people the autonomy to work a four day week which the company rolled out recently. “It started from wanting to think about how we could drive a higher level of performance and productivity but with less time. Less time, more impact. I think the gift of time is the most precious commodity that you can give anybody, at this point in life, and it’s also incredibly democratizing. Everybody has exactly the same amount of time. No one has more time or less time than someone else, but how you choose to use it can vary remarkably. We wanted to go in and give people the ‘gift of the fifth’.”
Unilever ANZ pays 100 percent of their salary and benefits for them to deliver 100 percent of business outcomes, at 80 percent of the time. “We only had two caveats, and that was one, that individually, as a team, as part of the organization, to find 20 percent of the trapped capacity that sits in an organization. So those wasted processes, projects, policies that just get in the way of doing the value-creating stuff. And the second caveat was that anybody that wasn’t doing the four-day work week (which is the majority of people that we engage with – our partners, retailers, suppliers, other stakeholders in the Unilever world), should feel no downside as a result of our different ways of working. We are in the service of delivering for our communities and our customers and our partners, and therefore, the choice we make as a business needs to be one that acknowledges the interdependent community that we are a part of.”
The outcomes have been positive, with the organization embracing this shared commitment and finding new ways to improve efficiency. “Let me give you a really tangible one. We removed three-and-a-half hours’ worth of meetings per week in everyone’s diary. It’s 168 hours’ worth of meetings, and more to come, right? That’s just the starting point.” All meetings now have a default time of 25 minutes rather than a standard 60 minutes. “We’ve kicked off the experiment in Australia. I use the word “experiment” very deliberately because it’s an opportunity to get time back. It’s not an entitlement. So, for me, it is very correlated with a wellbeing platform that enhances productivity that drives excellence in performance.”
Sparshott goes even further in her recent TEDx talk entitled “Love – The New Corporate Currency Supercharging Results”. In it, she shares how in her decades of experience as a successful leader in business, she has seen how powerful love can be to drive success and stimulate innovation and transformation in the teams she leads. She asks the question, how do you begin to fear less and love more at work?
She observed “I do really believe you want to set the bar very high, but you also don’t want to throw people under the bus, right? You’re asking them to do something that, by nature, creates fear. How do you provide the antidote to that in the care and support that you give them?” She reflects on the unique culture in Australia that can help nurture this attitude. “I think there is a can-do attitude here. There is a spirit of mateship. I forgot how alive and kicking it was living in Asia for 10 years, and the UK prior to that. But that has been a real joy, actually, to be part of this sort of sense of, “I’m going to roll up my sleeves, and we’re all in.” “All in” as in, “Just give the best you possibly can of yourself,” but also “We’re all in it together,” because then we’re more likely to sort of create the change that we aspire to have.”
Finally, I asked her what she would say to her fellow Australian CEOs about embracing Purpose. She said, “I would say set the bar high. Better to fall short of a high bar than to lowball a target and high-five yourself when you get there. I don’t know how to do all of the things that need to be done in this space. But I do know that every one of us in an organization, with our partners, with NGOs, with government, with the community, we all hold a piece of the puzzle. And if we can be a bit more egoless in bringing together those partners, then actually we can solve many of these challenges and, more excitingly, realize the many opportunities that comes with this space, as well. We’re all in the same boat. Let’s go big or go home.”