Unilever’s recent award winning, headline grabbing AI based recruitment process has been getting attention for the wrong reasons! Yes its ticks a lot of HR boxes. Its has loads of HR tech buzz words eg AI, diversity, gamification, video. It saves Unilever $1m a year in recruitment. It gives Unilever a competitive edge to secure the best talent.
All wonderful, but honestly these are really the side show.
The headlines should be shouting about how Unilever HR leaders adopted product management methods with 3rd party vendors to disrupt and deliver world class excellence. The process adopted could be repeated to deliver future success surrounding any problem in any function of the organisation. This is exciting for the future of product centric organisations driving a culture more powerful than traditional command and control.
The methods put the user (in this case a graduate candidate) at the centre of instead of the business, even in HR which feels a long way from the typical product and technology functions. Melissa Gee Kee, part of HR leadership at Unilever shared how they approached the problem and turned it into a disruptive opportunity at HR Tech Conference 2017 in Las Vegas.
Melissa started by really understanding the problem space. Their graduate recruitment programme annually hires 800 people from over 250,000 applicants. The last step in their process was assessment centres where pre-selected candidates met with Unilever leadership. The assessment centre were passing 1 in 6 candidates, leadership were questioning the quality of talent being attracted and showing concerns for the future of the organisation.
Melissa and her team worked to better empathise with the graduates. They researched where the process was failing, the emotions of graduates during the process and the effort the graduates were investing in the application. 50% of graduates that started the application process failed to complete it, some top talent will be in the 50% that Unilever lost. Graduates did not enjoy answering 100+ questions which had a feeling of right or wrong. They were left unsure how they performed and negative about the lack of feedback throughout the process. The experience could be a lot better.
Unilever HR team dug into the problem to truly empathise with their user. They turned these insights into two personas representing the graduates called Sandy and Sam.
Armed with the personas they defined the outcomes they wanted to achieve. Now they could build / buy a solution and deliver market fit. This was translated into an RFP inviting vendors in to pitch. Unusually for a global giant, Unilever included provisions in the RFP for both large managed service vendors who could address the entire problem and smaller niche vendors that could address only a portion of the problem domain. This opened up Unilever to a wider array of exciting technology.
Bucking large corporation trends and tackling internal bias towards large global suppliers they selected 3 niche vendors. The vendors were assembled as a cross functional team and put in a room to work how to collaborate and build out a solution.
The trust shown to the vendors and the expected collaboration between vendors is similar to how successful cross functional agile product teams operate. Melissa went as far to not even call them vendors, instead they are referred to as “disruption partners” which helps set the required culture.
The disruption partners came up with a solution and experimented with graduates to test market fit. After a process of tweaking and learning they were ready to take the new graduate recruitment ‘product’ to market. Unilever avoided their typical approach of a global launch for such an initiative. Instead they implemented it in one market, treating it as an experiment and obtaining evidence. This provided the disruptive partners and Unilever HR a learning loop to continuously improve their ‘product’ as they deployed it globally.
Melissa's stakeholders are across the globe and at multiple levels within the organisation. To manage their expectations and bring them on the journey she brought the persona Sandy to life. They took Sandy on a world tour! Dressing (a wig, face paint - the works) up as Sandy and meeting face to face with stakeholders in a role play scenario designed to help stakeholders empathise with todays graduate.
The result of the evolving graduate recruitment program (or product) has been amazing. The first step now has over 90% completion rates instead of 50%. The candidate feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. There process now helps candidates with feedback throughout and gives value to the candidate. In one example a graduate was rejected by the AI at the first step, but the experience suggested the candidate to apply to Accenture, the candidate was successful and secured a role at Accenture. He thanked Melissa's team as he had never considered applying to Accenture.
The new assessment centres now called discovery centres pass 4 out 6 candidates instead of 1 out of 6. HR efficiency gains allow HR to work with circa 2600 colleges instead of the previous 200. The initiative is a clear winner and deserved the awards it has won. As with normal product management, Unilever HR has not stopped their, they are working on their 'roadmap' to further improve the outcomes.
Unilever HR did this by adopting key product management principles and processes in revising their graduate recruitment program.
- Empathy with the user
- Put the user first
- Focused on delivering a great user experience
- Learned from evidence
- Incrementally iterated
- Managed stakeholders by creating user empathy
- Continuously improved using a build measure learn cycle
Melissa and her team would make great product managers! Imagine the ROI if every business function adopted these methods?