At Hindustan Unilever, we are committed to working with employees to develop and enhance each individual’s skills and capabilities. In my contribution to the LinkedIn Pulse blog series, I discuss three key approaches to successful leadership across borders, and how to create and sustain high performing teams.
As technology makes our world smaller, and globalisation brings cultures closer together, more and more managers will find themselves taking up the challenge of leading across multiple geographies.
This year I became one of those managers; as an IT Director with a remit that covers all of Unilever’s eight market clusters. For the last seven months, I have been leading applications maintenance and support globally to ensure the stability, availability and performance of the business-critical systems that underpin our annual $50bn turnover.
However you present this, it is a lot of responsibility, with multiple territories requiring attention. Living up to this obligation means being able to count on a high-performing team that consistently reaches their potential, even though the team are split across the world. So how do I ensure I am leading a high-performing team when I am managing people and targets that transcend the confines of borders, oceans and cultures?
Arriving at the answer to that question is actually a lot easier than you might think. High-performing teams, whether global or local, perform better than average teams for two reasons: they are (a) self-driven, and (b) self-motivated.
Focus on EMPOWERMENT
What I love most about the culture here at Hindustan Unilever is its focus on empowerment. Everyone, from the factory floor to the C-suite, is empowered to initiate and run with great ideas. Promoting this kind of culture has to be the core foundation of building self-driven, self-motivated, high performing teams.
Empowerment means trust. You set or approve the goals and priorities, but after that point your team should be given the trust to define how they will meet those goals and accomplish those priorities. Micromanaging is already undesirable within single-location teams, stifling your colleagues’ development and not being an efficient use of your time as a leader. Micromanaging across multiple geographies is also simply impossible, even with modern technology.
80% of the time that people don’t meet expectations, it is because they have not been set the right goals. So your focus should be on using your judgement and experience to set crystal clear, carefully formulated goals that create the guidelines of success – and then making well-timed interventions at critical junctures in the team’s progression.
Mentoring is an important part in how Hindustan Unilever puts together the puzzle of our sustainable growth. We see it as the most direct route to helping young talent gain confidence, take on more challenging assignments, and reach their full potential. Therefore, it is not just a leadership initiative that I and my fellow leaders drive; it is company-wide and network-oriented. We have a variety of global and local networks that facilitate the mentoring process, providing valuable opportunities for growth and building relationships between our talent.
Be aware of the distinction between this – ongoing feedback, coaching and mentoring – and micromanagement i.e. constantly telling people what to do. Our approach empathises support and helps people to achieve the goals you have set. You have to be open, direct and, especially in the early stages, ensure your team remain on the right track. Approach every situation with energy, draw on your people skills and focus on the needs of your team members before considering your own.
When individuals and teams are given this level of support, they are in a much better position to not only reach the goals you set them – but to work out the most efficient and practicable way of reaching them too.
Allow different people to COLLABORATE
Other people might look at a global team and see difference as a problem. I see difference as an opportunity. When you’re managing people globally, across geographies and cultures, your team has an incredibly wide range of experiences that can be called upon to achieve strategic targets.
Ultimately, the aggregate of your team’s ability is much more powerful. Your role is to harness that diversity, to promote the inclusion of minority groups, to break through gender boundaries and to help people collaborate. Unilever is one of the world’s most culturally diverse companies with 169,000 employees in over 100 countries.
In a very short time, I have seen how the cross-pollination of ideas between these groups of individuals can not only deliver business success, but also improve people’s lives. When we are more connected, when we are more diverse and can better decisions. It is the key thing that I always remember to remember: my success is the success of everyone who I have worked alongside, all those, energised, empowered and purpose-driven people who helped me perform at my best.
The wonder of our modern world is that it does not matter where you live, or where you are from – you just have to be self-motivated to do the right thing.
At Hindustan Unilever, everyone is given the opportunity to pursue their passion and shape the future of a global business. Discover more by following us on LinkedIn.