Unilever Company’s Creative and Innovative Management

Overview of the Company

Unilever is a British-Dutch manufacturer of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) with branches all over the world. Its co-headquarters are in Rotterdam and London. Unilever’s products range from food and beverages to personal care and cleaning agents. The company has about 400 brands. It is estimated that two billion people interact with their products every day (Hasan 2015). According to Tepic (2013), brand and innovation are Unilever’s strong areas since the two business concepts can sustain over 400 brands in the competitive markets. Out of the 400 brands, the company focuses on 13 brands, which serve to promote its brand equity. The brands include Omo, Rexona, Lipton, and Lux.

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Unilever is made up of two companies, namely, Unilever N.V (Rotterdam) and Unilever plc (London). Unilever N.V is listed as a public company under the Euronext Amsterdam, while Unilever plc is listed on the London Stock Exchange. The two companies operate as a single entity with common management and board of directors. Four major divisions, namely, foods, refreshments, personal care, and home care, prevail in the company. Research development centers for product improvement are based in the UK, Netherlands, India, and China. Recent developments have seen the company shift gradually from its diversified products to focus primarily on health and beauty products. This move was made amid a slackening growth in the food industry. The company has stated that it focuses on sustainability, especially with respect to environmental impact.

Understand the Importance of Creative and Innovative Management in Organizations

The Current Creative and Innovative Management Process at Unilever

Innovative management (IM) is a multidimensional concept that encompasses the launching of new products, initiating new ways of doing things, and adopting new technologies (Kim, Kumar & Kumar 2012). IM is the driving force that keeps businesses in the market. Innovation in an organization can be incremental, radical, or fundamental. Incremental innovation involves making small improvements on a company’s products, services, or processes (Christiansen 2003). A radical innovation for its part is characterized by a far-reaching impact on the market, while fundamental novelty involves the use of new technology to create products, services, or processes.

Unilever is a well-established company with numerous products and over a dozen of leading brands. Its products are among the most recognized in the world. Innovation forms an important part of the company’s strategic management (Christensen, 2002). Through open modernization, the company is directing its efforts towards sustainability. It has adopted new design technologies to facilitate the creation of new products, as well as to improve the existing ones (Hasan 2015). Unilever operates various research centers that are used to make product breakthroughs, hence keeping the company at the forefront of the FMCG market. Open innovation involves collaborating with Unilever trade partners to create strong brands that can compete in the current consumer goods market. Through the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP), the company is directing its innovation toward green manufacturing as part of its sustainability goals. At the company, innovation is viewed as the gateway to producing goods that will have minimal impact on the environment amid the growing concerns about climate change.

Unilever’s innovative efforts have also been directed toward creating food products that do not have adverse effects on consumers’ health. These efforts have materialized in the development of the ‘Fat-Free, Sugar-free Sweet Chocolate’ with various health benefits to the consumer. Currently, the company is engaged in several innovative exercises. Recently, Unilever embarked on an effort to devise a technology that would prevent oil oxidation. Oil oxidation involves a series of chemical reactions that reduce the quality of the oil by rendering it undesirable for consumption. In addition, Unilever is dedicated to adopting intelligent packaging for its various products with the aim of increasing the shelf life of the company’s products (Pereira, Cruz & Losada 2012). The new packaging will also contain guides, reviews, recipes, and information about the health benefits of Unilever’s products.

Leading Others to Positively Embrace Innovation and Change

An organizational culture is a critical tool when initiating innovation. The management departments and employees should work together for effective innovation to occur. Most organizations provide their employees with the necessary time to create new ideas (Ashkenas et al. 2002). However, this time is not adequate for them to explore the ideas effectively to determine their feasibility. Therefore, to successfully lead employees in innovation, it is important to understand the various stages that are involved in the modernization process.

Innovation involves three main stages: conception, implementation, and marketing (Wilson & Gilligan 2012). The conception stage is where new ideas are generated. Sometimes these ideas can arise from observing the existing trends, hence identifying and addressing any prevailing gaps in the market. This stage involves thinking and concentration. As the senior project manager at Unilever, I would engage employees and the management in exercises such as brainstorming and taking part in focus groups to facilitate the generation of ideas (Wilson & Gilligan 2012).

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At the implementation stage, I would lead the company to building prototypes to test the suggested ideas. Successful companies conduct stringent product reviews before they are launched for public beta examination (Ståhlbröst & Bergvall-Kåreborn 2011). Afterward, customer feedback is obtained and/or employed to address any minor defects that may be present in the prototype. The final stage involves launching the product into the market, accompanied by a powerful campaign. The top management at Unilever can adopt this three-stage model to propel innovation at the company.

Be able to Support Creative and Innovative Management Processes for an Organization

Assessing the Influence of Vision and Mission on the Generation of Creative and Innovative Management Processes

Vision refers to what an organization wishes to achieve in the future. On the other hand, mission refers to the steps that the organization plans to take to achieve its vision. A company’s mission statement usually also indicates the organization’s primary objectives. According to Ståhlbröst and Bergvall-Kåreborn (2011), the mission and vision statement involve inspiring words that are carefully selected by leaders to communicate the direction of the organization.

One of the impacts of vision and mission statements is that they encourage employees to work hard and/or endeavor for excellence. Vision and mission can facilitate innovation since they inspire employees to have a clear sense of the company’s goals. Simmons (35) argues that the vision and mission statements of a company are strategic to the extent that they can facilitate innovation and business success if they are used properly. Unilever’s vision is to ensure that the ordinary citizen enjoys a sustainable livelihood (Unilever 2014). By focusing on sustainability, the company can be propelled to new levels of innovation. Sustainability requires organizations to devise new ways of doing things.

Using Analytical Tools to Identify Potential Creative and Innovative Management Ideas

Unilever’s flexibility makes it able to add value to its brands through multiple areas (Birkinshaw & Hagström 2001). Arguably, the company’s greatest potential for improvement lies in the ability to actualize its 2020 sustainability goals. The company launched the USLP to assist in achieving its sustainability goals. Crowdsourcing for ideas from different key players can be helpful to Unilever in achieving sustainability. Stakeholders in the sustainability goals include governments, civil societies, and other companies. Through its Sustainable Living Lab, Unilever can obtain important ideas to boost sustainability. Sustainable Living Lab is an online platform put up by Unilever to bring together different stakeholders with the aim of promoting sustainability efforts. Different companies have been using crowdsourcing to obtain fresh insights in key areas, including sustainable sourcing, consumer behavior change, production, and distribution (Wilson & Gilligan 2012).

Unilever should further explore the notion of intelligent packaging that different consumer manufacturers are now adopting (Simons 2013). Intelligent packaging is an interactive approach to packaging products. The strategy enhances customer engagement. The terms active wrapping and smart casing are used interchangeably with intelligent packaging. Besides monitoring freshness, intelligent packaging is used to enhance the shelf life of products. The packaging also contains additional information regarding the product. Importantly, information about the product can be communicated to customers through their Smartphones.

Assessing Risks and Benefits of Creative and Innovative Management

Risks and benefits are two possible results of creative and innovative management for an organization. While benefits are the desired outcomes, the organization must be prepared for risks. It should also be ready to convert them into opportunities. Risks relating to intelligent packaging include the scalability of the technology. In other words, the technology needs to scalable, robust, and reliable for massive production. In addition, technical support should be provided to ensure a smooth transition into this new technology. Organizations always encounter challenges when adopting new technology. Technical support helps to overcome these challenges. Importantly, the transition from ordinary packaging to intelligent casing should be seamless to guarantee good customer experience.

Intelligent packaging has numerous benefits, among them, the ability to make products stand out among similar goods. Such uniqueness enhances brand awareness, hence driving up sales. Intelligent packaging uses printable electronics to add eye-catching technology to brands for customers to notice them easily from the shelves in stores. Intelligent packaging utilizes affordable technology, which makes it easy to adopt (Hasan, 2015). In addition to in-store visibility, intelligent packaging can be used to measure the performance of products, including how well the merchandise is succeeding at catching the attention of shoppers. It is also used to include additional information on the package to boost shopper engagement. Additional information includes details on the health benefits of a product and the mission goals of the company. This information can influence potential customers to purchase a product.

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Change Models to Support the Implementation of Creative and Innovative Management Ideas

Unilever is a big organization with many models that are used to bring forth change. However, the ‘Five Levers for Change’ strategy stands out. Unilever published the strategy to be used by marketers to influence its campaigns in line with its sustainability goals (Tepic 2013). The move was adopted in the wake of more demands for transparency regarding the source of Unilever’s products. The management of Unilever is convinced that influencing consumers to adopt sustainable products and practices can help to advance the company’s sustainability plan. According to Paul Polman, Unilever’s chief executive, two-thirds of the greenhouse gas impact is associated with consumer use (Tepic 2013). The Five Levers for Change are discussed below.

  • Make it understood: The company should extend awareness to consumers on the importance of behavioral change toward achieving sustainability
  • Make it easy: Unilever hopes to make the behavioral change trouble-free for consumers to adopt
  • Make it desirable: The suggested behavior should conform to how customers think about themselves and/or how they want the society to view them (Campaign 2011)
  • Make it rewarding: The new behavior should be in line with the benefits that customers care for and/or are willing to invest or achieve
  • Make it a habit: After customers have adopted the new behavior, it is important for the company to help them in making the new behavior permanent

Be able to Influence Others to Effect Change in an Organization

Rationale to Persuade Stakeholders

Stakeholders are individuals or bodies that have interests in the organization. They include creditors, employees, directors, and the government. Before implementing the change, it is important for the management to ensure that stakeholders are aware of such plan. Therefore, the top management has the responsibility of explaining to stakeholders the anticipated benefits of this change (Campaign 2011). The management should carry out efforts to sensitize the stakeholders to understand that the change is much needed for the organization to continue thriving in the evolving market. This strategy will reduce the likelihood of opposition, hence ensuring rapid implementation of the change.

Communicate a Creative and Innovative Management Idea to Stakeholders

The CEO is the most suitable person to communicate the idea for a change to stakeholders. He or she should first carry out a thorough research regarding the process of change to demonstrate why the change is necessary, as well as the possible benefits. Facts are important when addressing stakeholders. The CEO must ensure that he or she has all the sufficient information related to creativity and innovative change. The demonstration is also important in helping individuals to understand how the change works. The demonstration should be realistic for stakeholders not to lose faith in the process. In addition, the CEO should invite questions from stakeholders regarding the change while at the same time answering them appropriately.

Key Goals and Priorities for Implementation

Before planning to implement an idea, certain things should be prioritized. First, information should be gathered relating to the operation of Unilever followed by determining the critical operations that affect productivity and performance at the company (Tepic 2013). Here, the administration should agree on the choice of mechanisms that will be adopted to execute novelty at Unilever. Inventiveness and novelty should be carried out in stages according to the significance of the different units of the company. The amount of money needs to be factored in before executing the innovation. Taking the financial position of a company into consideration before initiating implementation is important because insufficient funds can lead to stalled projects.

Be able to Plan to Overcome Barriers to the Implementation of Creative and Innovative Management Ideas in an Organization

Barriers to the Implementation of a Creative and Innovative Management Idea

Unilever may encounter various barriers in its path to implementing creative and innovative change. Therefore, the management must be prepared to address these challenges. Some of main challenges include worker inattentiveness and meager planning. Organizational change is never easy. Members of the organization who are used to the ordinary routine always oppose it. The difficulty encountered during the transition could lead to the lowering of productivity, thus taking the company to a position of being overtaken by competitors. One more obstacle is the monetary state of the company. Lack of sufficient funds may lead to the stalling of the change before its implementation is complete. In addition, incompetent human resources may lead to ineffective efforts to execute the change.

Strategy to Overcome Barriers

Despite the barriers discussed above, Unilever can employ various strategies to defeat the obstructions. Employing a leadership style that encourages innovation is one of the ways of overcoming the barriers related to implementing change. Further, the organization should pay attention to efforts geared toward rethinking organizational designs. Awareness should be provided to employees to ensure they embrace the change. To avoid the problem of financial constraints, it is important to adopt innovative strategies that conform to the organizational requirements. Additionally, the company can seek funding through loans and share equity.

Innovative Change through Strategies

Every organization attempts to overcome limitations that exist within its business environment for it to actualize its innovation strategies. Therefore, Unilever’s management should demonstrate deliberate efforts toward addressing the various barriers to innovation in the company. One way to achieve this goal is by preparing employees in advance. In addition, the company should set aside funds to address issues that are occasioned by the changing business environment. The rapid change in technology accompanied by globalization has resulted in an unpredictable market environment (Tepic 2013). Besides, it is important for the organization to cultivate a culture of tolerating mistakes. In other words, it should be clear that mistakes are acceptable. This awareness will ensure that mistakes do not discourage members of the organization from engaging in innovative efforts in the future.

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Communicating the Strategy for Overcoming Barriers to Stakeholders

Unilever’s shareholders assume a central position in ensuring that the corporation realizes inventive and groundbreaking transformation. Therefore, the management should make the stakeholders understand the strategies that are in place to overcome the barriers to creative and innovative change. The communication should be done via education and informational conferences. It should be accompanied by fact sheets and presentations.

Table 1: Unilever’s Suggested Communication Strategy. Source: (Unilever 2014)

Stakeholders Message Source Schedule
Stockholders and Business Partners Development plan for the business/initiating new technology Quarterly
Investors/Shareholders Meetings, reports, and reviews Quarterly
Employees Innovation techniques, ownership, and execution of idea Training, meetings, and email Weekly
Government Regulatory requirements Press meetings and councils As need arises
Customers new technology Surveys During launch

Reference List

Ashkenas, R, Ulrich D, Jick, T & Kerr, S 2002, The boundaryless organization, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Birkinshaw, J & Hagström, P 2001, The flexible firm, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Campaign 2011, Unilever draws up ‘five levers for change’ strategy-campaign: Marketing, advertising and media news & analysis, Web.

Christensen, C 2002, Innovation and the general manager, McGraw-Hill, New York City.

Christiansen, J 2003, Competitive innovation management: Techniques to improve innovation performance, Palgrave, London.

Hasan, M 2015, ‘Marketing analysis of Unilever’, Total Quality Management, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 13-14.

Kim, D, Kumar, V & Kumar, U 2012, ‘Relationship between quality management practices and innovation’, Journal of Operations Management, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 295-315.

Pereira, A, Cruz, A & Losada, P 2012, ‘Active and intelligent packaging for the food industry’, Food Reviews International, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 146-187.

Simons, R 2013, Levers of control: How managers use innovative control systems to drive strategic renewal, Harvard Business Press, Boston.

Ståhlbröst, A & Bergvall-Kåreborn, B 2011, ‘Exploring users motivation in innovation communities’, International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 298-314.

Tepic, M 2013, ‘Managing co-innovation partnerships: the case of Unilever and its preferred flavor suppliers’, Open Innovation in the Food and Beverage Industry: Concepts and Case Studies. Woodhead Publishing Series in Food Science, Technology and Nutrition, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 254-275.

Unilever 2014, Making sustainable living commonplace, Web.

Wilson, R & Gilligan, C 2012, Strategic marketing management, Routledge, London.

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