Purpose drives innovation, says former Unilever HR chief



The concept of purpose has driven an culture at , according to Geoff McDonald, former VP of HR at Unilever.

McDonald told delegates at the World of Learning Conference 2014 that four years ago Unilever, facing a decreasing share price and profits warning, had to radically rethink its business. The result was a focus on sustainable living. McDonald brought this to life by telling delegates that 89% of his personal water consumption was on Unilever products – from shampoo to soap to food. That was a huge challenge for the company in an age of water scarcity, he said.

Added to this, by 2020 some 70% of the company’s business will come from developing countries – those that suffer water scarcity, severe variation in the climate and economic and social inequality. McDonald said that all these factors led the company to think  differently about the role of its brands in society. “Without purpose we would not have innovated around washing liquid.  We would never have innovated a dry shampoo or Purit,  which purifies water without electricity,” he told delegates.

Comapnies need purposeful individuals to help create purposeful organisations. The question for organisations, he said, is how to create  jobs that are purposeful. If you have purpose in your work you will be happy and more productive.

He urged L&D professionals to view their work through the lens of ‘compassionate capitalism’ that has purpose and profit at its core. By looking at purpose L&D professionals can innovate their training offer, he said.



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