Episode 17: Using HR Analytics and Technology to Drive Business Value at Unilever (Interview with Leena Nair, CHRO at Unilever)
Our guest on the podcast this week doesn't require much of an introduction as she is one of the most recognised, respected and leading voices in our field and a real catalyst of change for our profession. Leena Nair the Chief HR Officer at Unilever. Leena encapsulates her purpose as being:
“to ignite the human spark to build a better business and a better world”
Leena speaks passionately about the need to become more human in our increasingly digital age. Leena and her team at Unilever are rightly regarded as an exemplar for next-gen HR, which at the same time is more business focused and more human. Leena is a pioneer. She was the first woman appointed to Unilever's Southeast Asia leadership team and she is now Unilever's first female CHRO.
This ethos is embedded in her work and that will become evident as you listen to the podcast and learn how Unilever has harnessed data, analytics, AI and technology to radically reshape HR and deliver value both to the business and across the employee life cycle. Leena is an important voice in our field and a strong advocate of HR. So I know that you will enjoy listening to this episode of the podcast.
You can listen below or by visiting the podcast website here.
In our conversation, Leena and I discuss:
Why HR should have more swagger and more confidence
How Unilever has employed AI and analytics throughout the employee journey delivering business value and an enhanced employee experience
We learn about the building blocks you need to build a frictionless experience for employees
We also look at how to stay human in a technology obsessed world
As with all our guests, we look into the crystal ball and ponder what the role of HR will be in 2025.
This episode is a must listen for Business Leaders seeking more from HR as well as any HR professional who wants to add more value to their organisation, to their workforce and to their own careers.
David Green: Welcome to the Digital HR Leaders podcast. I'm delighted to be joined today by Leena Nair, Chief HR Officer at Unilever. Welcome to the show Leena.
Can you provide a brief introduction to your personal journey at Unilever? And also how you helped catalyse the use of data and technology within HR because I think it's fair to say that you're at the forefront of doing this.
Leena Nair: That's very kind of you to say that David.
I started off as an electronics and telecommunications engineer believe it or not. Worked as a telecoms engineer for three or four months, didn't enjoy it that much. Went on to do my management studies in Human Resources and then realised I found my vocation and calling but I always had a strong engineering brain inside of me.
I was numerate loved problem-solving, loved the gadgets, loved building stuff. So that sort of stayed in the back of my psyche for a long time. And then I went on to do many things at Unilever. The first five or six years I did a number of roles in the business, manufacturing, production, employee relations, sales and then did a number of roles across all aspects of Human Resources before moving to become the Chief HR Officer.
I've done about 26-27 years with Unilever and it is..., I say I bleed Blue because I truly enjoy every part of Unilever. What happened was, as I saw, there were two or three things that happened. One was that I increasingly began to feel that there was very little way of being able to say what's our impact as HR as a function.
How does that fully link to top line, bottom line of a company? How does that link to the purpose of a company? So there was this constant thing in my mind saying how do we be able to show them back to what we're doing? And then the world of digital tools, AI was exploding and I somehow saw both these trends coming together. The Yin and the Yang coming together where human impact you know, what is the real impact of what we do within human resources?
And how digital and data could amplify, could provide a window or a vehicle for that started coming together? So it was six or seven years ago and we set up our first data analytics function. So it was very modest beginnings.
I often jokingly say that for the first time in my career I've gotten relevant because when I finished my... When I decided to switch from engineering to Human Resources, my father said, why would you do that? Why would a bright telecom engineer go into Human Resources nobody cares about Human Resources and Personnel. We're talking about 25 years ago when it wasn't even called Human Resources.
And suddenly for the first time I feel like my skills at being a thoughtful engineer and skills at truly caring about what people think and what it takes to get the best out of people is coming together in a powerful way. And the world of data, the world of digital simplification is bringing those two worlds together. So yes, it's taken 26 years to get relevant. But I'm finally relevant.
David Green: We're going to come back to talk about some of the stuff that you've done it at Unilever. we're definitely going to talk about how you remain human in our increasingly technological world, which I know is something you're very passionate about. I think there's a series of firsts as well actually, you're very modest about your career at Unilever. You were the first female CHRO in the business, but also in India, I think when you led HR out there as well.
Leena Nair: Yes, I was the first woman on the board of Hindustan Unilever I think in the first hundred years or something like that. Yeah, I've had the privilege or burden of being the first woman at many things in Unilever.
It's a privilege for sure, but it's a burden sometimes.
David Green: I bet. We both had the good fortune to speak at the People Matters conference in India and it was almost like a homecoming for you almost wasn't it?
Leena Nair: I think the crowds were really very kind
David Green: They were, they were, and the passion is incredible.
They were still there at 8:30 on a Friday night, which you just wouldn't get in Europe and the US that's for sure. And you said something that really really struck me actually. You said that HR needs to have more swagger. I think it's a great line. What do you actually mean by that? What does HR need to do to be better or more relevant?
Leena Nair: You know, one of the reasons I so readily agree to come and speak to HR audiences everywhere is because I think the function needs inspiration and self-belief.
Why do I say that? I mean the number of conferences I go to where the questions I'm asked range from: Do we have a seat at the table? How can HR earn its place at the table? How should we be in service of the business? It is so defensive. So apologetic. Most of the questions are in this space.
Do we deserve it? Are we good enough? Does a profession really need to have its place at the table, under the sun and it just bothers me and it annoys me. We're staring at a time when there's never been a greater need for businesses to understand human transformation, how do we get people to do their best? How do we get people to adopt digital transformation? Because all the digital transformation is human transformation it's not the gadgetry for heaven’s sake it's not the tools you can bring in, it's about adopting them, using them, changing your behaviours. So CEOs, Business Leaders, everyone's perplexed for the first time and engaged with... Oh my God, what do we do about culture? What do we do about mindset? What do we do about rapid upskilling? True human issues. And this is the time when we as HR should be stepping up and saying of course I have the answer or at least I'll have the answers more than anybody else and I'm going to try as hell as hard to find those answers.
So this is the time we should be brimming with confidence, our time has come the platform's here. Let's grab it. Let’s go for it. Instead more often the HR teams I meet are crippled with self-doubt, crippled with what do I do, crippled with I don't know the answers and that bothers me. That's why I say, HR, come on, function this is the time to walk with swagger and confidence. If you don't have the answers it's okay. We'll figure them out. We'll pilot, we'll experiment. We'll learn from each other. We'll steal with pride. We'll make it happen. But this is the time to grab the platform the world is giving us, to grab the mantle that's there and to take leadership and lay the road for the business and walk with swagger and it comes from first having confidence that people are a real competitive advantage for the business, especially now when every other source of competitive advantage is gone.
David Green: And if anyone could actually help the business prove that, it's HR with some of the data and technology that we can use.
Leena Nair: Exactly and I'm so delighted with the whole world of data because for the first time, I don't have to just go and say I think people make a difference and I think investment in people is a good thing.
I have the numbers and the ROI to speak for it. And that should give us confidence and swagger. So my urge... I really get annoyed sometimes when I get the questions in. Do we really think HR should be at the top table? Does HR really deserve? What is HR really accountable for? God don't be so self-indulgent.
There's no time for all of this. Look, the business needs us, the world needs us. Believe that and walk with swagger and make that happen. You can see how passionate I am David about it.
David Green: Well, and I think with the work that you've done at Unilever we can see that as well. When we were on stage together at CogX, I think in the UK back in June and you talked about a number of highlights a number of areas where you use technology to help improve various stages around the employee journey. So can we talk a little bit about that now, so certainly in recruitment. You've brought some technology in there. And widened the selection pool I think.
Leena Nair: We've digitised all aspects of HR. For example, let me start with all elements of the recruitment... All elements of the employee experience every single bit.
So recruitment. Okay, we've digitised the entire recruitment process. So young graduate comes in, all he or she has to do is take a couple of seconds to put their CV from LinkedIn, play games for 24 minutes at a time of their choosing, at a place of their choosing, break it up, play a couple of games one day. No problem. Send us a selfie video for 30 minutes to 40 minutes with some standard questions. And that's it.
And then it's AI, machine learning that allows us to see who fits best at Unilever. And also then have the pool of three thousand people that we need to select the 800 graduate trainees that we have.
Now, we've two million people applying for Unilever. But now with what we're doing with digitisation we can talk to all of the two million people.
So all of the two million people get a chance to give us their CV. Play games and give us a hell of a lot of data about themselves. Interview with us. And be confident that they've had a chance to access this. In addition every single person gets a detailed feedback about what the psychometrics were from all those steps they participated in. And that is to me the power of digital. It helps to bring scale but make it personalised. Now, you cannot worry about scale but use digitisation to break the scale up so I can provide personalisation and focus to every single person that applies for Unilever and ensure they get some feedback and ensure like they feel they had participated in the process.
So that's the beauty of digitisation. That's one example.
David Green: And it's helped, I think with that particular example, it's helped you diversify the pool that you select from as well, the number of schools for example...
Leena Nair: Many supplementary benefits. One, you don't have to be restricted saying hey, I don't have the manpower to go to more than 10 schools, 20 schools. You can say anybody can apply. So it suddenly opens up the pool. The supplementary benefits are, it gives us millions of pieces of data. Year after year. That's honing in who are we looking for? What are we looking for? It's allowed us to be far more inclusive. So in every dimension of diversity, our stats are getting better when the pool has been opened up and diversified. Whether it's social mobility, whether it's ethnicity, gender, disability it’s just opened it up.
But it has helped for the accessibility, for the diversity, for getting data that's helping us understand better who's going to succeed in Unilever, who's going to fit better, who's going to bring some of the qualities we're looking for and equally give a lot of people feedback about themselves which helps them if not in Unilever, somewhere else.
So that's recruitment. We have taken learning and done the same thing with learning. We've invested in Degreed as you know, which creates all the internal and external material and gives people everything that they can learn. So it's aligned to people's purpose. It's aligned to people's passion. It's aligned to how they learn. I like watching videos. There's a lot of videos. I also enjoy podcasts. So David don't worry I will listen to your podcast. So it aligns it to the way people like to learn, the time they like to learn. And we have such incredible insights, the best time to learn is Thursday between 12 to 5.
In different parts of the world. So that's the time we feed them stuff. People are getting points. We know who the active learners in the business are, we can trace whether the active learners are improving their performance. So digitisation allows you to get data that allows you to measure impact.
That's like a supplementary benefit. It makes life easier. So suddenly it's easier to learn when a personalised curated feed is coming to you every single day, it makes it so much easier to learn. So that's learning.
We've then taken.... In fact, I was in Africa as you know, and I went to the East Africa business and every person was presenting to me had on this slide a number, 3250 or some such number. So I said, what's this? This is those are our degreed points. We are having a competition who's going to have the highest Degreed points and the next day when I had the town hall, I recognised the people who are learning the most in the business and that was so cool. And so there's a whole business of thousands of people sharing their points, competing with each other.
Do you have more do I have more? It's fun. So it's unleashed.
David Green: And so important in today's world. Where we need to be continually learning.
Leena Nair: Exactly and therefore I could see lifelong learning being ignited in that business, which is fantastic. Now, let's look at employee voice and listening. We've done a lot of digitisation in all of that.
We have, sentiment meters that allow us to have daily sentiment. I often, when you come to my office, you'll see this, two beautiful big screens, which have now been photographed in many places with real-time you'll see the sentiment analysis of the company. So you don't have to wait once in a year for people to fill up one hundred and twenty questions to know what the business is feeling, it can get it in real-time, pulse checks, any part of the world comparisons.
And with all the investments in language and being able to analyse thousands and thousands of comments succinctly into what's really the sentiment of people is a massive step forward that we can do with the power of AI.
David Green: Well it's so good because you can respond to things that are happening in different parts of the world and provide help to the local HR teams as well if they need it for something that's happened. Maybe, you wouldn't know about it otherwise.
Leena Nair: And nuanced local help, not trying to do one size fits all across the world but saying hey, there's something going on in America that we need to pay attention to, there's something going on in Japan. So it's nuanced. It's relevant. It's locally contextualised, makes the impact of what we're doing so much better.
David Green: Which is just like the Unilever Commercial Business. You adapt for the regions that you're operating in.
Leena Nair: I can go on, another example, Flex experiences. Okay, we've tied up with Gloat. What we've said is people have some capacity to do things that they're passionate about. No surprises. You might be very busy. But if you're passionate about something you'll find the time to do it. Ask me about Bollywood dancing every Tuesday at 6:30 to 7:30, off I go to do Bollywood dancing. People find the time to learn in areas they're passionate about. So what we've done is we've unlocked inner mobility within the company.
What we've said is. If I have something interesting that I want other people to put their hands up for I can put it on this platform and if you have some time and capacity and you're interested in working on it, you can apply for it. So it's a number of projects between 10 and 20 percent of the time, sometimes more, sometimes all of your time for six weeks, three weeks, doesn't matter. It's a flexible way of working. And I was just stunned to see the numbers yesterday 40,000 employees in Unilever on this platform and we've unlocked thousands of people working on things they're passionate about on top of the daily jobs. Doing stuff that excites them and the people who received this are delighted because they've got people who are passionate about it working with them on unlocking something for Unilever. So it's not something, which is fringe. It's now mainstream, 40,000 people on this platform engaging with hey, I need help for this. Hey, do you have somebody for this? Hey, does somebody have time to do this. Hey, does somebody have six weeks in September to work with me on something and it's just unleashed this inner ability. Again the bar of bringing true digital platforms into working with us.
Una. Una is our internal bot. Everything that touches the employee, the first tier is Una, you've got to talk to Una. Una gives you answers. Una is a search capacity, Una is bot capacity, you have a mix of everything. And again, I was so delighted to hear yesterday that we've crossed a million searches on Una.
David Green: Wow, that's gone up. When I last heard you speak, which was only at the start of August...
Leena Nair: It was half a million or something.
David Green: Yes.
Leena Nair: It's a million and I told the team please don't bother to send me any update notes till it hits a million. So I get this sheepish note yesterday saying. Leena, it's hit a million. So I said, okay guys now it's time to celebrate now we can get a cup. Now tell me how we'll make it ten million. Because you have to continuously learn, continuously upgrade.
So Una is now the first port of call for everything that touches an employee life. Not just in HR but across. You want to do your travel expense statement? Well go to Una say: Hey, Una, how do I... Which system do I go to? What do I do? You want to order a computer? So we're making it the One Stop Shop to make an employee's life effortless. He or she doesn't have to, make a hundred calls.
That's the part of digitisation and then again the data. A million searches. What are people searching most on? The last time I checked the number one question was still around payroll. When is my salary slip coming? Has it come? Okay, tells you something. So it teaches you so much. What is going on with people? What did they search the most for? Why don't they have easy access to it? How can I make it more effortless? Because the joy of digitisation is the joy of getting the data that allows you to see where you can have the greatest impact that gives you the numbers to talk to Business Leaders about where HR is having an impact. It gives you the confidence and the swagger to walk out there saying I know the stuff we're doing is having an impact, here's the proof.
David Green: So it's really fascinating about Unabot actually because so many of the questions that we get asked in HR are the same question by various different people and I think it's great that you're able to automate part of that process because the experience is much better for the employees. It's actually better for HR because as you said it's good for the business because it can save money. But also if you're one of those people sitting in the HR service centre now the questions that you're helping employees on are more specific and more personal for them as well. So everyone kind of wins from it.
Leena Nair: Absolutely.
David Green: What I'd be interested to hear though is what is some of the feedback you've been having from employees about Unabot?
Leena Nair: I think it's a great question David because what I believe is, a lot of this digitisation should create the space for us to put people at the heart of everything we do. So one of the first things we did is we reframed the HR services to call them people experience leads. And we said you are masters of the people experience. You are the people are going to curate a great experience. All this technology is at your service and our service of our employees is to make the people experience better.
So it's substituting the time that's spent in some of these things which are painful. Where do I find my salary slip? What's going on with this? Where you're still waiting for the HR business partner to find the time to tell you what is the conveyance allowance in London? You can find these quick answers for the daily little things. But the time is being used by our HR people to create a fantastic people experience.
So I will talk about how digitisation allows you to humanise better. I talk about it all the time. Digital Revolution is the Human Revolution. If you digitise it is to provide focus on human beings. So let me give you an example. When I was younger, which is a long time ago. I would go to the bank and you know go to withdraw money and had a great relationship with a bank teller who'd ask me what my father was studying in a town far away from my hometown. Great. I loved it. I loved all of that. But today, will I give up internet banking? No, it's convenient. It's five minutes I'm done. Paying, doing whatever I need to. Because I want to use the space and time in my life to do some of the other things that I need space and time for. So it's a bit like that.
I want the effortlessness of everyday things to be taken away by Una providing you the answers, but the people experience leaders and the HR business partners doing quality work to dial up human transformation in everything they do. I want my HR business partners to spend more time doing stuff that increases the performance of individuals and teams.
And less about digging out information to give someone. Answering some of the daily questions, daily things that actually harass you because you want an answer to something. So, it's about doing both. Giving a digital experience that takes away the pain and makes stuff effortless to navigate, but equally giving you the space and time to do meaningful things that make a difference to our people.
So you've got to do both and that's why our people are very receptive because they know Una is not substituting everybody in HR. Una is substituting some of the difficulties they have with the call centres and the difficulties they had in finding simple information, where the HR business partners are there to provide them productivity and performance insights and coaching. And people experience leads are available to do an end-to-end curation of the experience for them.
David Green: It is interesting, so it's augmentation really, not automation?
Leena Nair: It is augmentation, not substitution. It's augmentation.
David Green: You talked about the people experience leads and I know there's several new roles that you've been creating in HR to reflect the new world as such. And you talk about the effortless experience as well. As well as skills, what are some of the building blocks that you need in place in HR to enable this as well and create this business value for the business, but also the value for the employees as well.
Leena Nair: It's a great question. We had 15 years ago gone into the centres of expertise, HR business partners and services model like everybody else.
But I think the world has changed so much in the last 10-15 years and maybe I should ask Dave to now write a new book because I keep telling him that Unilever's going to write the next book on how to organise HR because it's the question on so many people's minds. So what we've done is we have broken the hard divide between expertise and HR business partner and begun to combine roles. Saying you double hat an HR business partner role but you also lead a centre of expertise. Or you lead some bit of expertise. What we've also done is we have relooked at the employee experience and we've created people experience leads who lead employee centre of experience. So, let me give an example.
An HR business partner works with the talent advisor so the good old recruiter of the old days is a talent advisor, he or she their only job is not to go out and recruit but to advise on talent think end to end, internal talent, external talent, forecasted talent, organisation design. So we've brought a high calibre of people who've come in as talent advisors.
So an HR business partner, supported by people experience lead and a talent advisor. So what happens is the HR business partner takes a decision... We want to move David Green from UK to Ethiopia because that's the right move for you, for example, so the talent decisions are taken by the HR business partners strongly supported by a Talent advisor, strongly working with the Business Leaders, the advisor gives the perspective and the decision is taken. David Green is now going to move to Ethiopia. Then that is handed over to the people experience lead. The people experience lead then becomes a single point of contact for David to navigate him and his family through every part of the experience. How do you plan to move? What happens to your family? Schooling, children, everything that's on your mind and provides a seamless experience. There's a hell of Technology supporting the people experience person. Hell of a lot of Technology. There is Una of course, there's other things that's supporting them to be able to give a smooth... There's a total reward system, which is the technology we brought in to reward to help you understand your package better.
But for David the effort is seamless because he doesn't have to worry at this critical moment in his life about how do I make this happen? Because someone's doing everything. Your tax situation, your, you know what do you need to do? You can imagine, removals and everything end to end and the people experienced leader is measured for the customer satisfaction alone. Did David at the end of the day on a scale of zero to five say wow, that was delightful. It was effortless. It was delightful. That's what people experience leaders are for.
Talent advisor, people experience leads are new roles we've created and like I said, with HR business partners, we're also experimenting with not dedicating HR Business Partners to one function, one part of the business, but to flowing them to critical change projects.
So if there's a massive change project in the company. We will flow 3 or 4 HR business partners to work as partners to this massive transformation. So people stop thinking like I am partnering with the customer development function and that's all I think about. But now seeing end-to-end how might integrating all of this and having change and impact. Because one of the things in HR that was happening is everything was getting siloed. HR business partners.. I'm a HR Business Partner for this part of the business and that's all I think about. I'm talent expertise and I think and breathe talent and I do nothing else.
So we're making much more fluent double hatted fluent work, which I think is the future of HR.
David Green: Well it's interesting you say that. Because I know Nicky Clement quite well who leads your organisation's performance and people analytics. I think that's the role...
Leena Nair: Organisation and People Analytics.
David Green: I more or less got it right! And one of the things I've seen her speaking about that really impressed me was exactly that. One of the big challenges around people analytics is how do you enable the rest of HR to ask the right questions to be comfortable with data? And she explained exactly that. That there are certain HR business partners now who have a second hat as it were for people analytics.
So they're almost an extension of the team. So they're helping to create that culture. But the second point they're also actually helping the rest of the HR Business Partner community get on board with analytics as well.
Leena Nair: Absolutely. So we're using the power of networks to learn. So for example, employer brand or people analytics like Nicky said we would have a central very small team that is building deep expertise that is talking to the experts of the world and bringing the best of the best to Unilever in our HR laboratory in Kingston. I don't know if you've had a chance to see. But it's a very small team but they have a network of people across the world who are passionate about this, who are part of a community of practice who are double hatting this responsibility for their Market or their geography and are bringing the strength of this community to equip everybody in the function. So it's a much more fluid way of working, much less dedication, hardwired silos much more integration fluidity.
I can tell you. We're experimenting and I really hope all of this works. There is energy in the function people like this way of working. So I hope to be able to convince Dave to write the next book on this.
David Green: Well funny you should say that, we should talk about that afterwards. But it's interesting, you talk about remaining human in a digital world, and whenever I've seen you speak at conferences the big message that comes out. How do we do that? How do we use this technology and remain intrinsically human? And I know you've done some really good research for example into the use of Wellness, which would be good to hear about as part of the answer.
Leena Nair: As the world's getting more connected and digitised I'm delighted and very optimistic about it. It's changed my own life. I feel like I can be part for my parents, my children. It's made our world feel smaller, which is great. And I've given you numerous examples of how digitisation is making life effortless, making life more personalised for people to create space to do more human things, but equally I'm worried about the disconnection. So as we get more connected we are getting more disconnected as human beings. The rate of stress in the workplace is going up. There were 40 percent enhancement in cases reported of anxiety in the US this year. The UK has announced a minister for loneliness.
Loneliness, feeling miserable, depression, anxiety, these are becoming big problems for society today. So with all this connection technology we have, we are becoming disconnected as humans and it really worries me. So I feel very passionately that as you digitise more you have to humanise more. As you think about digitisation you have to think about how am I making it really human. So what are we doing in Unilever with the space and time we are creating through digitisation to do the human things. One of the first things we're doing is we are ensuring every single person has an opportunity to go through a purpose workshop to discover what they're passionate about, what they're purposeful about, what gets them out of bed.
So 40,000 people have been through these workshops. They love it, you talk about your Crucible moment, you talk about what shaped you and you think about what your purpose is. What is it that you really love about what you do or what is that you love that you'd love to do and don't get that opportunity to do it today. The second thing we've done is put huge investment behind Wellness.
Physical, mental, purposeful, emotional. You've got to take... Hashtag self-care. You've got to take care of yourself. Because if you're not feeling well, you can't be at your best. You can't do the things you feel purposeful about. For me, it makes such business sense because for every dollar we invest in well-being we're getting a return of two and a half dollars.
I mean what business case do you need?
David Green: I love that statistic by the way, it's a fantastic data point.
Leena Nair: It is and so we've invested in Wellbeing. Because our belief is if people know their purpose they get anchored in a world that's going fast, if they feel well they have the strength and the ability to cope with these unprecedented changes or those changes feel scary, change feels anxious, change feels lonely.
And we feel that if they are learning all the time, they feel skilled. They feel capable. So they feel more confident. I have the skills. Yeah, I'm not worried because I have the skills to manage in this world. So to humanise our agenda we put a huge focus behind purpose, well-being and continuous lifelong learning. Massive investments in in doing this and these are the things that are helping to create a more human world even as we digitise the way employees engage with HR and HR engages with the company and the world. So for me both have to go hand-in-hand. We are leading human resources for this, for companies, for institutions. We have to push for humanisation of the agenda. We have to push for ensuring that investments behind people is happening.
We have to push for it and we can push for it today with greater swagger and confidence because we have the data that supports us to tell the story. I'm not asking anybody apologetically to put money behind wellness because it's a nice thing to do and Unilever must care about its people. I'm saying guys, the number is one dollar invested two and a half dollars return. Do you want to do this? You don't upskill, this is the price you pay. You upskill you can reduce recruitment by X percent because you will... we've done some numbers we can reduce recruitment by 6.6 Million if we invest in re-skilling a little more. So you go to have the numbers, the statistics, this impact to be able to tell that business story. But we have to drive for keeping human at the heart of the digital agenda. And if we don't do it, who will?
David Green: No-one. And I think that's a great future for HR. Purpose, well-being, continuous learning backed up with the technology and data to show that it makes business value as well as employee value as well.
Leena Nair: Absolutely. And the other piece of the humanising agenda is inclusion because the other things that gives you confidence is when you feel like you belong. I belong to a community, belong to a company. Your voice is heard your story matters. When you feel included you feel well.
And you feel like you can live your purpose. You can feel like you can bring your best. So it's purpose, well-being, learning and inclusion. These are the four things we're doing to truly humanise the agenda. Even as we are digitising end to end
David Green: So Leena, thank you. It brings us to the question that we ask all our guests on the show.
And I think you've covered it throughout the conversation today. So maybe it's a summary now. What do you feel the role of HR will be in 2025.
Leena Nair: Yes. It's a great question David. I'm optimistic and excited about the future of HR. So let's start from there. I believe HR will be the function that lays the road for the business and that sees the future and connects it to what's happening internally better than any other function.
So I see HR as a leading function that's bringing the strength of what's happening externally. Connecting the work that's happening internally because you know the voice of everyone internally and connecting it and helping business choose its strategic options and the actions that it needs to do. That's one. The second is I see the world of human capital and financial capital coming very closely together.
So whenever we look at where are people going to invest money in, where are the big choices the business is going to make. Which big opportunities the business is going to chase. We will immediately look at what is the organisation of people readiness to make that decision happen. So it happens as an integrated collective decision where money and people decisions are taken together in an integrated way. To give the organisation the best chance of success.
A third area is I see HR leading the Human Revolution which is the biggest bit of the digital revolution. Changing behaviours, changing mindsets, changing culture, changing adoption of all these Technologies. So I see HR playing a leading role in leading the human transformation that underpins digital transformation.
The fourth is I see HR being a catalyst for human shifts, cultural shifts, human behaviour shifts, capability shifts of a high order. I see HR playing a huge role in being a catalyst for igniting that sort of learning, igniting well-being, igniting the human pieces in a big way. So, I see a very exciting optimistic future for HR because I believe that people will be the only competitive advantage a company has. Everything else can be matched, R&D ability can be matched, Supply Chain can be matched. Money not even an issue if you have the right idea. Amount of money chasing limited number of ideas is massive, but it's people, their passion, their ideas the difference they make and HR playing a key role in being catalyst to unleashing that. And then I will feel like I've truly lived my purpose which is to ignite the human spark to build a better business and a better world.
David Green: Fantastic...
Leena Nair: What do you think David?
David Green: Well, I agree with you. I think one of the points that you were making their about human capital, financial capital coming closer together. I really see that. McKinsey talk about the G3, the group at the top of the company the CEO the CFO and the CHRO and I think you're right and I think HR can only do that if it has more confidence as you say, has more swagger. Harnesses data and analytics and actually thinks and puts the employee at the centre of what it does which I think is very different from how we've operated HR in the past where maybe we haven't put the employee at the centre of our thinking at all. So I'm excited about the future of HR. I know there's a lot of doomsayers out there.
I think the function will become a little bit smaller, but its importance will increase for all the reasons that you give and obviously I'm kind of operate really within the people analytics space and obviously Unilever is an exemplar of how to create more data, use the data like you have for wellness, understanding the return on investment of wellness is fantastic and I wish more companies would do it but using so much data we collect within HR to a) link that to business value so we can actually show the value of what we do. But secondly so that we can actually use that data to personalise and improve the employee experience. I think that's a fantastic opportunity. I also think it's a responsibility for us in HR. I don't know if you've read the book that Jeffrey Pfeffer published last year - Dying for a Paycheck. Literally the data there tells him that our workplaces are literally killing people and we can't continue with that.
And as I said by putting wellness as you are at the center of that by putting continuous learning at the center of that, by putting inclusion at the center of that, we can really help improve the workplaces for employees, but we can also create more business value from it as well. So I'm really excited about that. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to answer a question as well.
Lastly, how can people stay in touch with you? And please as part of your answer just tell us a little bit about the learn with Leena initiative.
Leena Nair: You know, I am very very passionate about getting my voice out there for many reasons. One is that we can't talk digitisation to the world and not be comfortable being on social media or using these digital platforms.
So I am trying to put it out there, making a hell of a lot of mistakes, but I'm learning a lot and I'm also keen that HR as a function walks tall and that means leaders in the function today who have the privilege to be in this function leading it, have to step out there and inspire the function to greatness.
So for all those reasons, I'm on LinkedIn. I'm on Twitter. I'm on Instagram. I'm really trying hard despite the embarrassment of my children who tell me please get out of Instagram. It's really embarrassing. I'm putting myself out there, learning some lessons getting trolled, getting criticism sometimes but really hanging in there.
So we started this Learn with Leena initiative as another experimental pilot on LinkedIn, but I get to speak to interesting people like you I get to learn from them and I want to share that learning more widely. I want to do that to role model learning, that continuous learning is part of all our jobs. None of us can say we've arrived, we've learned everything we need to. All of us have to say with humility that perhaps what I learned is not relevant anymore. I need to learn new things.
So it is to role model that but we are all learning at all times that we have to challenge what we learnt in the past and learn new things. We've got to open our mind to all sorts of influences and to share that learning more broadly that we started Learn with Leena where I feature people like you and others. And learn very publicly and share it very publicly. So please follow me on LinkedIn, on Learn with Leena, on Twitter, on Instagram. And I would be delighted to hear the voice of all the HR leaders out there and all the Business Leaders who have a passion for people.
That's fantastic and we will include all the various links to Leena's social media in the copy that goes with the podcast if you're listening to this.
David Green: Leena you continue to be an inspiration to the profession and you're certainly an inspiration to us here at myHRfuture as well. So thank you for joining me for the podcast today and I look forward to seeing you at another conference soon.
Leena Nair: It's been a pleasure. It's been a real pleasure David.
David Green: Thank you, Leena.