International HR Practitioner
An organization’s process of learning and development moulds the future international leaders of the organization in question. This does not only have to do with the process and programs themselves, but with the selection of the employees chosen for the programs (Kang, Morris, & Snell, 2007). This essay explores the theoretical models behind this concept, the practical application of the concepts in Unilever and possible improvements in said organization’s applications.
Human resource management has been known to play a pivotal role in knowledge facilitation and learning in the organization. The use of development and training practices help build architectural knowledge amongst employees and partners. Orientation and socialization programs exist as developmental practices to help employees understand company values and goals while sharing tacit knowledge. On the job training and mentoring, as another example, build cognitive and social connections, while group training and teamwork workshops help integrate the employees’ mental models. The employees’ trans-specialist knowledge can be improved by exposure to numerous career development practices, with the help of cross-training and job rotations (Kang, Morris, & Snell, 2007).
Organizations offer learning and development programs to its employees, believing that they will result in potential leaders capable of understanding, managing, and functioning in a global environment (a rare and valuable resource that offers a competitive advantage to the firm). Cross-cultural training and diversity training may be provided by firms in-house, aiming to equip employees with various abilities and skills, in relation to the global business context. Cross-cultural training programs, in particular, help anticipate cultural differences and make sense of novel situations, focusing on inductive logic and reasoning skills, as well as emphasizing the benefits of appreciating different cultures rather than relying on stereotyping (Ng, Dyne, & Ang, 2009).
The training programs themselves are not enough to ensure a successful outcome- the learner’s characteristics influence the outcomes of the programs for developing people for global business. Both the ability and the motivation of the employee affects his or her eventual performance during and post-performance. The primary learner characteristics determined necessary to maximize said performance include self-efficacy regarding the training, intellectual ability, motivation level, and the respective personality traits that affect trainee motivation (Burke & Hutchkins, 2007). Training and learning in terms of information system security policies have been known to increase employee compliance with the security systems in them by activating and motivating the learners to the systematic cognitive processing of the information received during the training (Puhakainen & Siponen, 2010).
The Organizational Process
Unilever is an Anglo-Dutch transnational consumer goods company, producing personal care products, food, beverages and cleaning agents. It is available in 190 countries and owns around 400 brands Unilever makes use of global training programs to develop the skills of its employees and help the firm choose an appropriate leader for senior management. With the help of these programs, employees come into contact with other employees from various countries, and learn about different cultures, teaching valuable people skills (Unilever, 2017a).
Unilever adopts these strategies by sending employees to different countries for further training, focused on two broader areas- upgradation of skills of employees (in a functional manner), and elevation of the leadership qualities of individuals (in a behavioural manner). Other forms of training Unilever adopts includes functional skill development, negotiation skill development, general skill development (such as safety training), and people management. Unilever does believe that the long-term learning and development of employees depend on the individual’s reciprocity, potential and performance (Unilever, 2017b).
The three main forms of learning and training Unilever employs are off the job training, on the job training, and e-learning, designed for employees at various levels in the organization. On the job training is designed for entry-level employees, for example, and off the job training programs are meant for middle and upper levels of management. These are very expensive, and so e-learning was introduced as a method to globalize the organization, as well as cut expenses. The global training programs, however, are anything but cheap, lasting 6 months or longer at a time, and Unilever budgets to send 35 to 40 such managers to other countries globally. Additionally, Unilever sends deserving employees to higher education institutes like IIM, Harvard, and INSEAD (Moumita & Zaman, 2013).
Unilever believes that by carrying out these learning and training programs, both employees and the company benefit. They allow the employee's development to line up with the vision of the firm. Meanwhile, the employees receive valuable training, providing an opportunity to develop their career. Employees are able to understand and predict new trends in business, and the company receives a higher level of performance after the training is received, contribute to improved growth levels for the firm (Unilever, 2017b).
These programs do, however, have the potential to create issues within Unilever too. Most prominent is the threat of employees receiving the expensive training and development from these programs, and deciding to leave the company for a higher paying offer by competitors. In the case of global training programs, many employees find it uncomfortable and difficult to adjust to a new, different cultural environment, which may disrupt the work environment and hamper productivity. Another issue, previously touched upon, is the high cost of the programs, in terms of money and time consumption. Unilever hopes that the learning and development of human resources will lead the employees to accept higher responsibilities, and eventually help the company grow and prosper (Moumita & Zaman, 2013).
Existing Literature and Comparison
Every organization forms its own strategies for learning and development according to its unique set of circumstances and objectives. Unilever, for example, places great importance on e-learning and online training, in part due to its low cost and high accessibility. This also shows a definite increase in performance, with a rise in sales by sales employees, by a degree of several million dollars (DeRouin, Fritzsche, & Salas, 2005).
Firms in the UK, including Unilever, are in the habit of adapting successful strategies from other sectors to meet their learning and developmental needs. One such example is the use of elite sports techniques in traditional staff development. According to the belief that organizations are far too reliant on tools and processes to solve problems, this strategy moves towards the building of a strong business core and improved the balance of skills among employees, with learning and development of employees geared towards a balanced and stable workforce (Burrows, 2011). The UK also strongly believes in the strategy of coaching, which leads to a shared, effective sense of doing business, and a willingness to offer experiences to junior employees so that they may learn from them. This aligns with the strategy of mentoring, which has consistently shown positive results in existing literature (Lane, 2010).
Unilever also borrows other tried and tested strategies in its international locations, gathered from existing literature. Their use of the HUL ‘Human Capital Development’ model is based on three pillars- broad based talent development, future organizational readiness and leadership development. This model has a well-reputed management training scheme, that has resulted in up to 195 managers within India working for Unilever (Manwani, 2010).
Unilever, on an international scale, also sends their third and fourth year engineering apprentices to a leadership and project management program in order to prepare them for promotion and teach valuable leadership skills, with first year BAE Systems apprentices being sent to outward bound courses to prepare them for transitioning from education to the work environment (Ritchie, 2011). This keeps in line with existing literature that believes in on-the-job programs in order to improve organizational performance (Kang, Morris, & Snell, 2007).
While having extensive programs and strategies in place for the learning and development of employees for global business, Unilever is far from exempt from criticism and improvements. In order to develop self-aware leaders, adaptable, learning centred, team oriented, and interpersonally competent. Unilever could benefit from sending employees with strong leadership potential to a Master of Science degree in Executive Leadership & Organizational Change (ELOC), designed to develop an individual’s change management and leadership skills, and allowing students to participate in a public engagement course (Rhee & Sigler, 2009). This is a high-investment program not frequently undertaken by Unilever on a large-scale, but one that could create a high value employee dedicated to the firm in question.
Unilever could also benefit from improving its knowledge management system in order to better integrate processes, people and technology and sustainably advance firm performance via learning (Gorelick & Tantawyâ€Monsou, 2005).
Effective human resource management, in terms of learning and development of employees for global management, can lead to a significant improvement in firm performance. Mentoring, on the job training, and cross-cultural training help enhance the cultural sensitivity, interpersonal, and cognitive skills of chosen employees. Unilever implements these programs in the form of sending potential leaders abroad, and facilitating the learning of the international employees by using on-the-job training, off-the-job training and e-learning. Given the drawback of the existing implementations, such as high costs, and the possibility of employees leaving, the firm may be improved by better investment in programs and improvements in the knowledge management system.
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Unilever. (2017a). About Unilever
. Retrieved from Unilever Web site: https://www.unilever.com/about/who-we-are/about-Unilever/
Unilever. (2017b). Human Resources
. Retrieved from Unilever Web site: https://www.unilever.com/careers/business-function/human-resources.html