Harish Manwani, Chairman, Hindustan Unilever (HUL), while addressing shareholders at the company’s 81st Annual General Meeting held at Mumbai on June 30, 2014, spoke about how change is ‘the new normal’ and the need for companies to constantly reinvent themselves in order to thrive.
In the speech titled ‘Building a future ready organisation’, Manwani spoke about Unilever's five-pronged approach to remain future ready – first, embracing technology and inclusive innovation that meets the needs of consumers across the socio-economic pyramid; second, committing to sustainable and responsible growth; third, building future ready talent and capabilities; fourth, values-led and purpose-driven leadership; and fifth, creating an agile and inclusive work culture.
Manwani underlined that to succeed in this world, businesses have to develop a high capacity for responsiveness. Organisations will have to adapt to rapidly changing situations and priorities, tolerate ambiguity, and develop new ways of working in order to succeed. He said, “While technology and innovation will be the hardware that drives future ready organisations, it is a values-led and purpose-driven leadership that is the software that must drive sustainable and responsible growth. It is this combination of hardware and software that will shape the corporate winners of tomorrow.”
India at the forefront of change
Manwani spoke about how in the last couple of decades, developing countries like India have been marked by a momentous change. Speaking about these advances, he said, “Technology and easier access to information and knowledge have opened up employment opportunities resulting in a new wave of people entering the consumption cycle. We are witnessing a significant increase in the earning power of consumers at the bottom-of-the-pyramid as they join the increasing middle class population in India. The traditional socio-economic pyramid is rapidly transforming itself into a diamond with a burgeoning middle class and a decreasing number of low-income consumers.”
He added that we live in an increasingly interconnected world that is changing faster than ever before. “In fact, change is ‘the new normal’, and if anything, the pace of change in future will be even faster than it is today.” He spoke about the need for companies to be able to seize the opportunities these changes present, and also protect themselves from the challenges of the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world.
Building a future ready organisation
Manwani advised that to be future ready, business must have the vision and the capabilities to compete in the world of tomorrow, and have a larger purpose to remain relevant to society.
He went on to highlight that at Unilever, the approach of developing innovations with consumer price as the starting point was at the heart of company’s inclusive innovation strategy. He elaborated on how HUL had institutionalised a ‘challenge cost’ mindset, where the target price for consumers drives innovation in each segment and category.
Manwani also spoke about HUL’s focus on addressing the needs and aspirations of consumers as well as social and environmental challenges in its journey to being a future ready organisation. He spoke about how the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, which was launched in November 2010, was the guiding light in this journey.
Manwani also highlighted the importance of nurturing a continuous learning environment that builds talent and new organisational capabilities. He reiterated that the most important asset of any organisation is its reputation. “For future ready organisations, leaders need to not only build the organisational capabilities to harness technology and new ways of working, but also instil the values to build sustainable and responsible models of growth,” he added.
He argued that in a world with easy access to information and rapid changes, companies need to move fast to keep up. Manwani said, “At Unilever, we have ingrained agility and speed in our work culture. Equally, diversity and inclusion is an important aspect of our sustainable business growth agenda and a key to building a future ready organisation. In HUL, we refer to this as ‘Winning Balance’.”