Get Reworked Podcast Guest Tom Dewaele, Global Head of Employee Experience at Unilever

Get Reworked Podcast: An Inside Look at How Unilever Builds Award-Winning Employee Experiences

November 23, 2021 Employee Experience
Siobhan Fagan
By Siobhan Fagan, Mike Prokopeak

Get Reworked Podcast Guest Tom Dewaele, Global Head of Employee Experience, Unilever
Employee experience has become a primary objective for organizations as they look to retain pandemic-fatigued employees and recruit in-demand talent to fuel their growth. But it's an easy thing to get wrong.

In this episode of Get Reworked, Tom Dewaele, global head of employee experience at Unilever, shares how the London-based consumer goods maker creates a unified employee experience for 150,000 workers across 190 countries.

It's a journey that can easily become fragmented across functions and multiple departmental initiatives, with the end result being frustrated employees.

Listen: Get Reworked Podcast Full Episode List

"That's what triggered the thinking of starting to look at it in a different way, in a more end-to-end way and bring those different functions together under one single umbrella called employee experience," said Dewaele.

Dewaele, the winner of Reworked's 2021 Employee Experience Leader of the Year award, shares what others can learn from the journey Unilever's been on over the last few years. Highlights of the conversation include:

  • The importance of having a single, unified vision for employee experience across functions.
  • How Unilever started on its employee experience journey.
  • What employee experience leaders can learn from customer experience.
  • How to balance priorities across regions and departments and still find space for experimentation.

Plus, co-hosts Siobhan Fagan and Mike Prokopeak talk with Tom about Belgian fries vs. their French counterpart and urge listeners to get their award applications ready for the coming year. Listen in for more.

Have a suggestion, comment or topic for a future episode? Drop us a line at [email protected].

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Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.

Tom Dewaele: What daily reality that we live as consumers is setting a certain level of expectations in the way that things are done. Those expectations are getting to the work floor as well. And people are starting to have similar expectations. I think the way that we have been living and developing our habits as consumers is influencing the way that people are expecting to get their experiences in the office now.

Mike Prokopeak: That was Tom Dewaele, Unilever's global head of employee experience, and the winner of Reworked's first employee experience leader of the year award. And he makes an important point right there that our employee experience needs to be in line with our consumer experience. The days that employees will accept a bad employee experience are long gone and it's time to upgrade that, and I can't imagine a better guest than Tom to talk about this with. Siobhan, are you ready?

Siobhan Fagan: I'm ready, Mike.

Mike: Alright, let's Get Reworked.

Alright, it's my pleasure to welcome to the Get Reworked podcast Tom Dewaele, who is the head of employee experience at Unilever. Just a few stats before we bring Tom on here. Unilever is a company that has nearly 150,000 employees globally. They operate in 190 countries. They have 400 brands, many of them would be familiar to consumers, brands like Dove, Lipton, Breyers, Ben & Jerry's. Siobhan Do you have a favorite Unilever brand that you've seen out there?

Siobhan: Hellman's, I gotta say. It's maybe not something I should be sharing publicly. But I do love Hellmann's mayonnaise.

Mike: We'll get into that and other topics as we talk to Tom today. But as we talk about this, I think it's just important to understand the absolute massive scope of what Unilever does, at 51 billion euros in revenue in 2020. As I mentioned, 190 countries, 400 brands, 150,000 employees. On employee experience, which is Tom's expertise in focus, they have nearly 1,500 employees alone just working on that topic.

So it's a really massive scale and scope to what they do. But most importantly, I also want to recognize that Tom was just named as Employee Experience Leader of the Year by Reworked at our most recent fall 2021 digital workplace experience event in October. So that's especially exciting both for us and Reworked. And we want to congratulate Tom once again. So let me go ahead and welcome, Tom, and welcome to the podcast, Tom.

Tom: Thanks a lot, Mike. Thanks. And thanks for having me.

The Unified Vision for Employee Experience at Unilever

Mike: All right. So first question, before we dive into the hard hitting mayonnaise-related topics is, how do you keep it all together? I mentioned that scope of everything. How do you personally sort of keep everything together when you're working at such a massive size and scope?

Tom: It is hard to work in a lot of ways. But I think one thing which makes a big difference, and sometimes I think, makes probably things even easier than the way that we used to operate in the past is having that single functional employee experience and having that single vision and that single strategy around what we want to achieve, what we want to drive employee experience for. I think that actually makes things easier, because you're all trying to go into the same direction, you're all trying to achieve the same thing.

So it is a big scope. But if you're lucky, like I am, to have a team that is behind you, which is quite sizable, which are sharing that vision, which are sharing that view of becoming experience makers, then actually, what is my role is around making sure that I empower my team and that I give them the tools and the view to work their magic. It is hard work. But with a good team like I have I think that's the way that we bring it together.

Mike: So let's talk about the scope of what you do as global head of employee experience. Is it technology? Is it HR? Is it beyond? How would you describe what it is that you do on employee experience?

Tom: It's actually a bit of all of that, Mike. So it is HR, yes. So the typical things that you would see in terms of recruitment in terms of payroll in terms of having people moving around, that's there. It is bigger pieces as well around the workplace, the offices where people go to the kinds of facilities that we offer there, but it's equally the technology that sits with that. It's actually, I think the power of employee experiences by bringing those things together. And that's exactly what we did.

So we created a new function called employee experience. I think it's around two years back now when we created it. We used to operate it into separate functions. We used to have an HR services function, we used to have a workplace services function. We used to have a technology part. But I think we brought that together into one single function with one single vision, which was what I mentioned before already, and having that total scope, end-to-end, looking across the total journey is what I'm looking at. And I think that's a big differentiator as well. Because if you start to connect the dots, you truly start to think from the consumer perspective and not from your individual kind of service line perspective. That's where a lot of the experience is built, to be honest.

So it is technology, it is HR, it is workplace. It's connecting the dots between those different elements and making sure that you've created a full end-to-end customer journey.

Mike: Is there one of those core areas that you feel is primary within employee experience? You know, so you've been doing employee experience for a while, it's been a part of the operating model at Unilever for quite some time, but others in the audience may be coming on a little bit later to it. Do you think it should be primarily coming from the HR world? Should it be coming from the IT world, should it be coming from technology? Or from line of business? How do you see employee experience as a function? Is it helpful to think of it as coming from HR primarily?

Tom: It's a good question, Mike, and I might be a little bit biased here because obviously I'm an HR professional for many years. But I think if you think around ultimately, in a company, where would you see that the biggest accountability would lie into creating good experience for employees, I would think that probably typically would sit most with HR. And I think that's where it probably mostly sits for us as well.

But again, I don't think we would be able to do what we do today if we would not have all of those pieces coming together. I don't think you can create the employee experience that we're after today with the scale that we have with the complexity that we have, without having a technology component with it. And what happened in the last two years with working from home and thinking about our ways of working, and now with return to the workplace, if you will not have those elements around the workplace and the way that you set up the workplace, again, I don't think he would be able to create the kind of experiences that we're looking for.

So it is hard to embed into HR probably more than into some of the other areas. But again, I think each three of those elements are really critical to have to be able to create the experiences that we're after and creating the impact that we're after.

The Spark That Started Unilever on the Employee Experience Journey

Siobhan: So, Tom, it sounds like you said earlier that Unilever formed the employee experience function two years ago. And I'm wondering what prompted its creation? Did you see one specific issue or problem that made you think we need to put this all under one umbrella?

Tom: I think there's probably a few things that I would call out. I think one was that before that we were on a journey already of looking at how can we use technology to bring experiences in a different way? How can we use some of the digital capabilities that we were building also in our consumer facing environment. But as we were doing it in, I would say a number of different areas, everybody was bringing their digital solution to the party which was solving a certain problem. But in the end, we started to get feedback from our users that it actually sometimes was more confusing than helpful, because there was too many different parts of technology that were starting to land.

And I think that was kind of a bit of a moment that we think around, OK, we might be solving part of a problem, that actually from a customer perspective you might be making it a little bit more complex. So we were so much focused on bringing new digital solutions and not really thinking from the customer point of view. So that was one big feedback that triggered the thinking around oh, we need to connect these things a little bit more.

Equally so, when we were looking at our strategy as what we call Uni Ops, which is probably the GBS organization, Global Business Services in a lot of organizations, we were looking at a strategy of how can we become more experience focused, and experience focus that big groups that we will be looking at whether that is for your consumer, whether that is for your customer, whether that is for your employee. And equally there, we were looking at if we really want to create consumer experiences, or customer experience or employee experience, we need to bring the different areas together in a more end-to-end way. So we need to connect the dots.

We were doing digital. But if you look at it, I think we're probably not creating the experiences that our customers were looking for, nor were we doing it in the most efficient way because obviously everybody starts to find their own kind of solutions. In the end, it's not the most efficient way to work. And I think that's what triggered the thinking of starting to look at it in a different way, in a more end-to-end way and bring those different functions together under one single umbrella called employee experience.

The Overlap Between Customer and Employee Experience

Mike: Right, Tom, you brought up a couple of times now the consumer experience and sort of referred to that as key to this. But traditionally, those two things have been treated very distinctly, consumer experience was the outward facing customer-facing experience of the customers of the company. Employee experience was often treated very differently. How do those two work together and do you see key differences or do you see them as kind of the same in how you should approach it?

Tom: There's a lot of overlap into that, right. So if consumer experiences is obviously, I think more evolved today already than employee experience is. And there's no doubt around that. But we all consumers. Our daily reality that we live as consumers is setting a certain level of expectations in the way that things are done. If I go out and I pushing one button, and I get a taxi at my feet, that is taking me to the place and in terms of payment, everything is software setup, that creates expectations that things can be done in a super simple way.

And I think that's where those expectations are getting to the work floor as well. And people are starting to have similar expectations. And I think that's the kind of overlap that I see. And this is probably even more for generations which are really brought up into this consumer digital space. Their expectations are sky high on that perspective. And I think really, for them coming to a workplace in the future, that's where we need to make sure that we create experiences that are matching their expectations.

How can we give our employees the consumer treatment, as I would call it, that we have been getting used to so fast? So I think that's the influence, I think the way that we've have been living and developing our habits as consumers is influencing the way that people are expecting to get their experiences in the office now.

Mike: So for people who are working in employee experience, how would you suggest they get insights from the consumer experience function within their organization? How can they kind of gather some of the things that are happening? Do you have any tips there?

Tom: I think just go and talk to them and see what they are doing. And look at your own experiences that you have. I think there's so much inspiration, at least from my perspective, that I got from these kinds of areas around how are we connecting with our consumers. What are we doing to that? How much are we offering solutions towards them, and then what you see in your own personal life, how easy it is to get certain things done, and how that compares to some of the experiences that you might have in your office life.

And there's nothing stopping us to do that as well for typical office life experiences. Nothing's stopping us. It's just a little bit of a different way of thinking. So I would say go and talk to them, maybe get a few of those people with that kind of background into your team as well, so that they can start to help you think in a different way.

But there's other areas where you can get inspiration as well. Actually, last week, I had a few days with my global leadership team in employee experience, a few virtual sessions where we brought in a number of external speakers to inspire us. We're very much looking at people who are working in hospitality industry to look at how are they creating experiences. Because experiences for them is their business. If you're running a hotel and you have a great experience, that's somebody that might come back to the hotel. If that experience is not there that person might not come back. So it's actually really driving your business. And it's super interesting to see how those people are driving experiences.

We talk to people in the fly industry, we talked to somebody from Emirates to see what are they doing? We talked to somebody having a Michelin restaurant, what are they doing? It's super inspiring and super interesting to see how these people are looking at experiences because it's the core of their business. And again, I think that's where we get a lot of our inspiration.

How Unilever Keeps Innovation at the Top of the Agenda

Siobhan: So, Tom, it's funny that you're mentioning inspiration because little did we know when we were recording season one that we were basically setting up you as a guest. Unilever came up in multiple episodes as a company to watch, as a company to see what they're doing for their employees in the human resources area, etc. And so I'm wondering, Unilever is almost 100 years old now, how hard is it to innovate in an organization of its size and its maturity?

Tom: I would answer that two-fold. I don't think that our heritage is stopping us to innovate. In the end, we are a consumer business which is driven by innovation. Product innovation is at the core of our business. So that's definitely something which makes it easy to innovate. At the same time, our heritage, which goes back so long around purpose and around taking care of our people, actually makes talking about and thinking about employee experience easier as well. So the combination of being innovative, and really putting people at the core and the purpose of people at the core, actually made the creation of employee experience quite a logical thing to do for us. So I would say that it's actually helping us to thrive that kind of innovation.

At the same time, I'm not going to say it's always easy. There are a few things as well which don't necessarily make it easy to innovate. And I would call out a few. First of all the scale and the complexity doesn't necessarily always help. Like I said, we used to have a lot of people doing different areas and trying to drive experiences within a certain remit. And obviously now creating that under a single vision has helped us a lot. Finding the balance between global scale and local relevance, especially in employee experience where things are typically still a little bit more locally tied up is a big one as well.

So I think our heritage and importance of people actually helps us to think about employee experience, and innovation is very much at the core of what we do. So that helps us. But at the same time, there's a scale, there's a complexity. And also, let's be honest, we are not a tech company. So trying to do everything ourselves is not the right solution, finding the right partnerships with people and with organizations that really have this at their core is super critical as well to really get into that innovative mindset.

And that's probably something that we learned as well, because probably in the beginning, we tried to do too much things ourselves. And now we're really into how can we find the right partnerships with organizations that can help us to thrive those experiences of the future.

Siobhan: I think that's probably a wonderful lesson for a lot of our listeners out there that you don't have to do it all yourself, that you can actually just find where your strengths are, and then identify great partners where you need a little help.

Speed Round with Tom

Siobhan: So Tom, I'm hoping that you will be up for something that we call the speed round, we are just going to mix it up a little bit before diving back into your employee experience background, and I was wondering if you were willing to play with us?

Tom: Yeah, let's go for it.

Siobhan: Excellent. So first question is, what book are you reading now?

Tom: I actually just started reading "21 Lessons for the 21st Century." So I've been through "Sapiens" and looking at those three books. So I'm at the last one now, which is around lessons for the 21st century, which is quite intriguing to see how mankind developed itself and how we are getting where we are today. That's what I'm reading at the moment.

Mike: That's Yuval Noah Harari, I think.

Tom: Yes, exactly.

Mike: Yeah. All right. I don't know if this is more me being stuck in my pandemic home, or the fact that I have two small children. So most of my meals have been chicken fingers and pizza, only cheese pizza. But I'd love to know what's the last great meal you had, Tom?

Tom: Oh, let me think, let me think what's the last great meal that I had. So I'm quite a big fan of Italian. So I've been with a few friends to a great Italian restaurant, which was my second time back in London by the way after being, like yourself,  locked down for way too long on my attic here at home. And I was back in London, and I went out with a few colleagues and we had a great Italian dinner. So that was super.

Mike: Yeah, I think you raise a good point, too, that it's so much of the meal is not just about the food, but it's actually being together with people again, which is something we all miss.

Tom: Absolutely. And a good glass of wine. That always helps as well.

Mike: I'm glad you mentioned that, too. Because you're actually based in Belgium, this is probably important for people to know, but Unilever's headquarters is in London. So you're starting to spend some more time commuting back and forth as well.

Tom: Exactly.

Siobhan: So part of the pandemic has also been probably just a little bit of stress for all of us. So I'm wondering, Tom, what your favorite way is to relax?

Tom: Oh, my favorite way is running. I'm a runner. So if I have the time, around three, four times a week, I just go out for a run, which is my time to reflect, put things in order in my head. Relax a little bit. So so that's that's definitely my way.

Siobhan: It's also a nice combination with the pasta that you have at the Italian restaurant, you know, the carb loading and then running it off?

Tom: Exactly, you have to combine the two because otherwise it's not a sustainable solution.

Siobhan: So we actually have one more food question for you. And this might be getting on some sensitive ground here. This is a little controversial. You are Belgian. And what we want to know is whose fries are better. Belgian's or France's?

Tom: Oh, that's an easy one. Right? Of course, Belgian.

Siobhan: No hesitation.

Mike: I thought you were gonna do the political route and say, oh everyone's is good, but nope, just comes right out and says it.

Siobhan: I gotta say I agree

Tom: With a bit of Hellmann's. Exactly.

Mike: That's brings it back around. Impressive

Finding the Balance Between Employee Experience Priorities

Mike: Alright. Well, thanks for playing with us, Tom. We want to take a minute now to kind of dive back into EX at Unilever. And so the question I have is really to get an inside look at how this works. As I mentioned at the beginning, a lot of employees across the world, 190 countries, how do you balance some of the global initiatives that need to take place with the regional and departmental-based and, obviously this being employee experience, also the individual needs when you are planning employee experience initiatives? How do you bring that all together? Is there a methodology you have there?

Tom: It is not easy. Trying to find a balance between global, regional, local is definitely something that I wouldn't say we have fully figured out. But let me give a perspective of how we're trying to do it. So the first one, and I've mentioned this a few times, but I just repeat it because it's so important. Having that single global vision having that single global strategy around employee experience is a key thing, which makes things grouped together.

And on my leadership team I have a number of my global people managing global scale, but I equally have my leaders who are delivering local services in each of our countries. And having them all on the same team, looking at the same kind of strategy and buying into the same kind of strategy makes an enormous difference.

We're setting a single set of kind of metrics as well of how are we measuring whether we're achieving the goals that we want to achieve. We have that single set of metrics, whether it's around experience, around Net Promoter Scores, whether it's around productivity, whether it's around the efficiencies that we're delivering. We're having one single set. And then obviously people can look at where are we versus the standards or the targets that we're setting for ourselves. So that's a super important one as well.

And then I think the last one, which we're trying to do is, especially from a technology perspective, we're choosing a number of core platforms that we say, these are the core platforms that we work with. And whatever local solution you want to find, we're going to use the core platforms within this specific areas. We probably were not so outspoken on that in the beginning. But we have learned through that it's super important to have those core platforms, and make sure that you leverage those as much as you can into certain areas because you want to have the data connected, you want to have the process connected.

And then in that we give a lot of empowerment to our people in the countries to drive those employee experiences within using those core platforms aligned to the strategy that we're doing. But in the end, a lot of the experiences that we are delivering are delivered in a country, into an individual or sitting in a certain country. So we give a lot of empowerment to our team in the countries to drive those experiences using the methodology that we have, using the metrics that we have, and leveraging the core platforms.

So that's the way that we're trying to balance that. Some of our core platforms that we use, Workday is a core platform, we have ServiceNow which is a core platform. There's quite a few more that we're using. But that's just the platforms that we're using, ever opening and we're offering opportunity as well for people to develop certain capabilities, local capabilities, within those platforms.

So for example, I didn't mention Microsoft. Microsoft Teams is a big part of us. What you can do Power Apps today gives a lot of opportunity for a local team to develop local relevant experiences, experience fit right into your core platform where the data are collected, where everything is integrated. So that's the kind of balance that we're trying to find.

But I have to say, it's still something where I'm not 100% clear we've fully found the balance yet. It's a journey. But that's the way that we're trying to approach it for the moment.

The Role of Experimentation in Building Employee Experience

Mike: You must have run into resistance, though, when you said to people in certain areas that you have to use a core platform or we as a company are mandating this across the world. How did you overcome that when you maybe had a group that was very entrenched in a tool that they liked using or a process that they really felt was effective?

Tom: Absolutely, there is resistance in the system. I'm not going to deny that, it's not always easy. That's why I think that balance is important. If you want to run everything according to one global standard, I don't think in employee experience that's the right way to go. But at the same time, if you allow everything to be local, you'll never get the scale that you are looking for.

So I think if you put your remit pretty clear around, that's where we offer the core platform, that's where we use the core platform, and where we allow a little bit of those development capabilities in markets as well. I think that's the way that we're trying to find the balance.

And to be honest, as well, sometimes we give the opportunity to a certain market or to a certain region to try something out, which we believe has the opportunity to be scaled after that.

A good example is, for example, we have a technology that we use for onboarding, which is not something that we globally developed. It is a technology that we started first in a certain market. And actually the results that we saw, we really liked them. So we started to scale that technology to more and more markets. And now it's becoming our global platform.

So again, it's finding that balance. And when you give a bit of empowerment to the regions, they also see much more when you are being a bit more strict on certain areas in terms of using core platforms.

How EX Works With HR and IT

Siobhan: So clearly, this takes a fair amount of coordination not only within your department, Tom, but with the IT function, with the global HR function, to relay these messages. And I'm just hoping that you can describe a little bit about how you and your team interact with and coordinate with those two functions.

Tom: It's a daily coordination. So if I look at myself, I sit on both the leadership team of our global HR leadership team, which is led by our chief HR officer Leena, and then I'm equally sitting at a leadership team of the GBS organization, which includes our whole IT function. And it's absolutely critical to sit on both of those chairs because I'm connecting a lot of times the dots between those areas.

Employee experience is a core part of the strategy that we're driving as HR. And when we do our annual business planning, when we are thinking about strategic priorities, I'm there and I'm trying to make sure that what we try to do with the employee experience is fully aligned to our strategic HR priorities and the other way around. Equally so, I'm in very regular connects with my IT colleagues to make sure that the agenda that we're driving, that we're fully connected up with their part.

So we have something which we call a people experience leadership team, which basically brings those different groups together and is looking a lot at the innovations that we're driving within HR. So what we have sitting there is the different HR expertise leaders. So that could be your head of reward or head of learning sitting in that committee, of course, myself, and then there's technology colleagues, as well. And when we look at innovations, we're doing that together. We're trying to define together what are the priorities that we're going to put, we're trying to define together, what's the solutions that we're going to go after.

So I think that coordination is super critical. And I think it starts from sitting at the leadership teams in a combined way.

Siobhan: So this sounds like a lot of meetings for you, Tom. And we've all been hearing throughout this pandemic about meeting overload, I'm just hoping that you can maybe walk us through a typical day for you and how you personally make the most of these multiple meetings that you are having with these teams.

Tom: Yes. I'm not going to deny there is a lot of coordination to create better employee experiences, for sure, is trying to get a lot of the topics together. My typical day would be a lot of meetings. Obviously, because of the fact that I'm sitting on a lot of different leadership teams but equally because of the global scale. So I think if you would look in my agenda, you would see quite a chain of different connects with different people, and trying to make sure that things are tying together, looking at some of the feedback that we get from our employees, and making sure that that feedback is shared into different platforms, and that we're joining up together to do something about it.

So I'm not going to deny, my meeting load is quite heavy. But I think it's part of what we have to do. Now, I have to say, as well that as the experience thinking is getting more and more our way of thinking across the board, it makes it a little bit easier for me. Also, when you start to get some of the tangible results, and people see that it can work, then it becomes a bit easier as well.

But there is a significant part of coordination and bringing people together in that function, which I think will always be the case. So my typical day, unfortunately, quite a few meetings.

Digital Ninjas and Quantitative vs. Qualitative Feedback

Mike: So, Tom, speaking of that, we recognize that you've got a lot on your plate today and we appreciate you taking time here. But there are a number of topics we still want to get to when we're talking about employee experience. And one of them has to do with the feedback you just mentioned, how do you balance quantitative feedback with qualitative feedback? Do they carry the same weight in the employee experience world? What's your take on that?

Tom: Mike, it would be difficult to say whether the one is weighting higher than the other. We definitely look at both. So when we talk around our voice of the employee, we're looking at both sides. We obviously have our feedback mechanism through NPS surveys or other surveys that we're doing, where we're getting more quantitative feedback. We have our pulse checks in terms of sentiment as well which we're doing on a regular basis. So there's lots of quantitative data coming out, which probably gives us a number of teams that we want to look at.

But then equally, we're looking at a number of qualitative feedback. We have user groups, we have a number of more deep-dive interviews that we will do with some of for employees to understand more details of what we're doing. We have actually a group of almost 1,000 what we call digital ninjas, which is a group of people across the organization which get early releases of digital solutions that we have, and we can actually test those up front and give us some feedback around the experience that they have also around the inclusivity of what we're offering, because there's people in there with different disabilities that are testing the solutions.

So I would say we're getting both of them. I think the voice of the employee cannot be only quantitative. It can also not be only qualitative. I think it's the combination of those two data. So if you would force me, I would probably say they have around an equal weight. But I think the combination of both is definitely where do we get the most value from.

Mike: I want to know, do the digital ninjas get to list that on their CV, on their resume?

Tom: I haven't checked it actually, Mike, I should check where some start to put it on there. I'm one of the digital ninjas. But obviously, probably not the one that's the most relevant in terms of feedback. But we have more than 1,000 now and I see that I have a lot of people are interested to do that, and share with us quite some valuable feedback.

Another interesting one is we we have something which we call experience labs, which is basically where people are using a certain technology, and where you can actually observe how they do that. Where are they clicking? What are they doing? When are they not clicking? When are they getting stuck? And it's so interesting to see some of these insights.

I do remember an anecdote which was quite at the start when we started to do experience labs. And I remember that we had developed a kind of solution for a certain thing in Workday, and we were very keen around that experience. We thought that we really cracked it. So we go to the experience lab and we have one of our first users that we want to see how it works in Workday and the person couldn't find how to work open Workday to start with. So there we were with our very, very good design, but the person couldn't even open the application. So that learned us quite something around the end-to-end thinking that we needed to have. So absolutely.

Mike: Yeah, big surprise, you know, actually involve your users in your design and development. Right?

Tom: Exactly. Right from the start.

What EX Initiatives Have the Biggest Impact?

Siobhan: I love this image of all of you sitting around in lab coats watching people as they're testing out these new employee experiences. So that one sounds like it was not a success,Tom. I was hoping that you could possibly share with us one of the initiatives that has made the biggest impact on the day-to-day experience of your employees.

Tom: I probably would call out, I might do two things. So one is around what we've done in a space of recruitment. We basically have been investing quite a lot in terms of digital capabilities in our overall recruitment experience for new people joining. And that's quite a scalable thing, because we recruit typically around 15,000 people on an annual basis. So quite a number of people. And we have been investing throughout that journey, whether it's around the career websites, which we have completely redesigned to make it a much more inclusive experience for people with different disability to be able to engage with us. And we see the uptake, we see the volumes going up with significant percentages.

We've been investing into capabilities to help us to identify candidates through support of artificial intelligence, which again, has helped us to significantly speed up the way that we can identify candidates and that we can offer to candidates. We've seen an increase of roughly around nine days in our total time to offer accepted, which is quite significant if you multiply that with around 15,000 candidates.

Equally so, I think if you look at a pure candidate experiences. Our candidate experience scores are better than ever before for a number of reasons. First of all, people seem to like the overall digital experience. For example, people don't do necessarily, at the start, the typical interviews anymore. They will do digital interviews, which people seem to like in terms of format but also through the use of technology. We can give a much harder guarantee that everybody that goes to the process is going to get the feedback afterwards as well, which in a normal manual process would be more difficult given the size and the volume that you have.

We have a chatbot, which is helping to answer regular questions from candidates so that they don't have to wait for somebody to come back. But they can go and get those constant interactions. So I think that's an experience where we've invested a lot. We have candidate experience, which is better than we have ever seen it. We're attracting a more diverse set of candidates which is exactly what we wanted. And our time to offer has significantly increased. So I would say that's, that's one where I'm definitely super happy.

I think probably the other one is our platform where people can find help, they can do things in a much faster way, which is called Una, which is a single digital assistant if you like, where people can ask their questions, or they can find relevant articles or they can do simple actions like booking holidays. The take-up has been significant. We have improved time to do this kind of mundane tasks, but almost half. So that really is getting a lot of time back to people that they can spend in a much better way than they used to do before.

You could say it doesn't make a big difference. Now, initial estimations that we had is that people are spending, were spending, around 13 hours a month on these typical kinds of daily tasks. So if you think around the productivity that you can increase there, it's massive. And we're definitely on our way to do that.

Siobhan: So about how many questions, and this is just I'm curious, how many questions a day would you say Una is fielding from the employees?

Tom: Oh, it's difficult to catch it by day. But if I look at the platform now, we're probably in total, we have it live around 18 months now, and we're probably at around 4 million questions, four to 5 million questions. So it's quite significant. I think we would have to do the math to see every little bit how much it is per day, but it's quite significant.

Siobhan: Yeah, that's an impressive number there.

Mike: And you're saving so much time for employees with that, which I think brings up an interesting point about what do you do with that time, which I want to ask you about kind of the purpose and sustainability question, because I think this has to do with that as well. And it's such an important point. I know it's probably worth its own conversation in and of itself, but how does Unilever's purpose and mission as an organization fit into employee experience? How does that sort of creating more time for employees, making that experience more fluid, more responsive, just simpler and easier, how does that fit the purpose of what Unilever is trying to do?

Tom: It's a good question, Mike. So it would be really believed in Unilever into that people with a purpose. And I think if the time that we free up, if that capacity can be reinvested into people discovering their purpose, working with a purpose, developing themselves in line with their purpose, that's such a better time spent than when they would be spending on some of the daily tasks that they used to do before.

So that's where it links up. We believe that that capacity can be much better invested into people driving their purpose, or discovering their purpose or developing their purpose.

What's Next for EX at Unilever

Mike: All right, so Tom, as we kind of wrap up this conversation, you've accomplished quite a bit, both personally and professionally in the field of employee experience, Unilever itself has accomplished quite a bit. You mentioned, it's a journey. So what's next?

Tom: A lot still, as we said, it is a journey. I think the two things that I would call out is definitely the team of how we're going to work into the future. We've taken a stab at the fact that we don't want to go back to our old ways of working. We want to go to a more hybrid way of working, which will be a combination of more individual flexibility, remote working, but at the same time also coming together in the office to create those bondings, to create that cultural connection which is so important for us as a company.

So how we're going to make sure that we land that and how we can make sure that people can thrive in that hybrid world is definitely a big one on that agenda now, and will be a discovery to see how we best do that. So that's a big one.

I think the second one is, as Unilever, we've taken quite a challenge to make ourselves a beacon for equity, diversity and inclusion. And putting that lens of equity, diversity and inclusion, when you look at employee experience, is going to be a next big one as well. How do we make everything that we do to the most inclusive standards that are out there? Or how can we even set that standard going forward? So that's another one that we're looking at as well, which is going to be quite big.

Siobhan: Tom, thank you so much for all of your responses. I am going to be thinking about those 4 million questions for a while now. But I was hoping that you could share where people could find you online. I know that our listeners are going to find out a little bit more about your work at Unilever. So where can they find out more about you?

Tom: I think the easiest probably through my LinkedIn profile, so people can reach out if they would be interested to hear a bit more. So they can find me as Tom Dewaele at Unilever on LinkedIn. So definitely feel free to reach out.

Siobhan: Thank you so much time and congratulations again on winning the award. This conversation makes it clear why that happened.

Tom: Thank you so much. It was my pleasure to be here and looking forward to hear any other inspiring areas in employee experience, because we're on a journey as we said.

Wrap Up and Final Thoughts

Mike: Well, I don't know about you, but I'm ready to be a digital ninja after that conversation. What about you?

Siobhan: I don't know that I'm ready to have that on my resume just yet. But I aspire to be one, Mike.

Mike: Yeah, it's pretty amazing. I mean, to kind of step back from that conversation for a second and look at the scale and scope of what Tom and his team are doing. And to do it with a level of sophistication and openness to change. It really is a prime example of how employee experience can be done. I couldn't imagine a better person to win our first award for Employee Experience Leader of the Year.

Siobhan: He definitely is setting the bar high. I can't wait to see the entries next year. But yeah, that answer that he gave where it was 4 million questions answered in the last 18 months from their system, Una. I'm still gobsmacked.

Mike: Yeah, I don't even know how to quantify. I mean, we quantified it. But I can't really get my mind around what that number actually looks like. And having the system to process that.

If you want to learn more about Tom and his employee experience work, I encourage you go to, and also you can register for the Digital Workplace Experience event. Even though we presented the award already in October to Tom, that video is still available on demand. So definitely go to register there and you'll be able to access all of the Digital Workplace Experience event as well as hear Tom accept that award and talk a little bit more about the work that he's doing. Definitely encourage you to do that.

Siobhan: And it's never too late to start thinking about your application for the Employee Experience Leader of the Year award, 2022. Hopefully, this is a little inspiration for that application.

Mike: You too could be interviewed by Siobhan and I in this podcast. It is possible.

Siobhan: That is the greatest reward, isn't it?

Mike: I can't imagine a better way to celebrate the award. But that's just me. Alright Siobhan, talk to you next time.

Siobhan: See ya, Mike.

Mike: We encourage you to drop us a line at [email protected]. If you have a suggestion or a topic for a future conversation, we are all ears. Additionally, if you like what you hear, please post a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you may be listening. And be sure to share Get Reworked with anyone that you think might benefit from these types of conversations. And then finally, be sure to follow us at Get Reworked on Twitter as well.

Thank you again for exploring the revolution of work with us and we'll see you next time.


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