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Lifebuoy soap's market performance is declining. The new Global Brand VP must find means to improve it and influence people's health globally. The new CEO of the company implemented Unilever Sustainable Living Program (USLP), a new program with bold social objectives. With the brand's largest market in India, the category manager in India, Sudir Sitapiti, failed to implement the program timely.
Christopher A. Bartlett
Harvard Business Review (914417-PDF-ENG)
May 27, 2014
Case questions answered:
- What do you think of Paul Polman’s Unilever Sustainable Living Program (USLP) strategy? How realistic is it to overlay USLP’s bold sustainability goals over financial objectives? What implications does it have for middle managers like Singh and frontline managers like Sitapati?
- As Sitapati, what decision would you make regarding the three handwashing behavior change programs that have been proposed? What risks and benefits are associated with each?
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Case answers for Unilever's Lifebuoy in India: Implementing the Sustainability Plan
1. What do you think of Paul Polman’s Unilever Sustainable Living Program (USLP) strategy? How realistic is it to overlay USLP’s bold sustainability goals over financial objectives? What implications does it have for middle managers like Samir and frontline managers like Sudhir?
Just like with the Unilever Sustainable Living Program (USLP), most strategies are driven by choices surrounding implicit conflicts by wanting to achieve:
- financial and non-financial objectives
- balancing short-term and long-term goals
- ensuring both global consistency and local flexibility
These internal conflicts clearly drive Paul Polman’s strategy to reposition Unilever globally. As the CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman made a bold statement when he took over, “We need to know why we are here. The answer is for consumers, not shareholders.
If we are in sync with consumer needs and the environment in which we operate, and take responsibility for society as well as our employees, then the shareholder will also be rewarded.”
Clearly, as the head of a global FMCG giant, Polman’s Unilever Sustainable Living Program (USLP) strategy decision was molded by the rationality of what is strategically optimal for the organization and the managerial sensitivity towards organizationally feasible.
Polman believes in doing business to benefit society, reduce carbon footprints, and lead the firm towards long-term sustainable growth.
While Polman’s intentions are guided by the alignment of these decisions with the overall corporate objectives and long-term strategies of Unilever, the implications for middle managers and frontline managers who are accountable for carrying out the tasks can vary significantly.
In a bid to meet the objectives set by higher management, middle managers often forego long-term goals and take decisions that generate quick wins in the form of short-term profitability in order to appease their bosses.
This kind of appeasement often hurts the company in the long term and significantly diverts them from their long-term sustainable path.
For Samir, this decision with Myriam Sidebe will imply supporting Unilever’s global commitment to improving 1 billion lives by 2015 as an internal milestone.
This will increase brand equity, improve health and hygiene, change behaviors using the 5 lever approach and increase revenues for long-term strategy.
For Sudhir Sitapati, this decision would imply managing trade-offs between financial gains, marketing costs, and growth of the liquid soap category.
As Polman will hold each manager accountable for the volume and financial performance of his category, Sitapati will have to…
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