Behind the Scenes: Unilever

By: Chaise Perez

Introduction

“Unilever has a simple but clear purpose – to make sustainable living commonplace. We believe this is the best long-term way for our business to grow.” (unilever.com) Unilever owns over 400 brands, but focuses on 13 main brands. Unilever’s brands are used in daily activities. Unilever works hard with consumers and employees to make sure that consumers do have the essentials they need in their everyday lives. Their brands go from Hellmann’s condiments to Dove’s products to Klondike‘s ice cream and other fun treats. In this case study, I am going to talk about the general systems theory and how Unilever applies to this theory. Unilever follows the general systems theory in many different ways. To start I will be talking about the theory itself, then I will move onto talking about what the Unilever Sustainable Plan is and what it stands for, and furthermore I will talk about what parts of the theory I believe it follows the most.

unilever

Photo credit: Wall Street Daily, quora.com

General Systems Theory

The general systems theory, takes certain properties or characteristics of our everyday world and ways of life and apply them to organizations or companies. According to panarchy.org, is “existing models, principles, and laws that apply to generalized systems or their subclasses, irrespective of their particular kind, the nature of their component elements, and the relation or ‘forces’ between them.” The theory has many factors that make up the theory. This includes things such as inputs, outputs, throughputs, permeable boundaries, homeostasis, and equifinality. Inputs and throughputs are things that go into the system, while outputs are things that go out of the system and into the public. Permeable boundaries are where the inner system and the outside environment meet to exchange certain factors or elements. Homeostasis is the complete balancing of the system at hand. Equifinality is coming up with different ideas to achieve one common goal. The system itself also has systems that fall under the theory.

The general systems theory itself is just one giant overview that shows the systems perspective. There is a subsystem and a suprasystem. A subsystem is a subsection or smaller section that falls under a larger section. For example, at Ashland University has over 90 possible majors for students to study. These majors all belong to colleges based off the subject of the major. Each major would be a subsystem. The colleges that the majors belong to would be known as the suprasystem of the education system. In addition to these systems, there is also the open and closed systems.

Organizations have permeable boundaries which is very important to see that the customers’ needs are met. The open system is organizations consistently working with the consumers to continually improve their products and the quality of their products to fit with the surrounding environment. Feedback is very important to the organizations that do have open systems. Feedback is the data or information that a company receives from consumers that is negative or positive about their products or service. From receiving feedback, companies can either improve their systems and productivity or they can leave things the same because they see nothing wrong with what they are doing. This could lead to some problems within the organization. If they choose to do so, this means they are a closed system. Closed systems are just the opposite of open systems. When organizations do not work with customers that are immediate to them, they become entropic. Entropy is when a system verges upon dying out. Although there are organizations that are closed systems, majority are open systems which leads the companies to becoming a cybernetic system.

A cybernetic system is when companies self-regulate based on the feedback they have received from their customers. This leads to system maintenance or system adaptation. System maintenance is keeping current routines and work strategies. System adaptation is changing or adapting to the environment and the changes that are occurring while using feedback in order to do so. If a company is doing poorly, then they are more likely to system adaptation while a company that is striving, will use system maintenance. Organizations use system adaptation more to keep up with the constant changes in the world and to always better themselves.

Critical Analysis

Unilever is a company that is solely focused on not only its customers, but helping the changing world that we live in. According to their website biography, they have a quote directly from their CEO, Paul Polam. ‘“We cannot close our eyes to the challenges that the world faces. Business must make an explicit and positive contribution to addressing them. I’m convinced we can create a more equitable and sustainable world for all of us by doing so,” says Unilever CEO Paul Polman. “But this means that business has to change. The Unilever Sustainable Plan is a blueprint for sustainable growth.”’ Unilever owns over 400 brands but focuses only 13 brands due to the impact those brands have made on this world. To give a better understand of what they do, here is a description of what the Sustainable Plan is.

The Unilever Sustainable Plan is their layout for reaching their goals to vision to grow their business, while helping their environmental print from their growth. The positive social impact increases in the process of doing so. The Plan gives them certain targets, finding how consumers use their brands and showcasing what materials (that are all natural and raw) the companies that are under Unilever use. They are constantly trying to find new ways to work with other businesses, work with the government and the society as a whole. One of their focuses is on global warming what effects it has on the human race so they are in consistent search of ways for everyone to work with the environment to have safe and easy living being as natural as possible. Their main purpose to make a sustainable living place, that’s why it’s called the Unilever Sustainable Plan. Their ethical standards and work policies is what this case study will be showcasing.

The logo is a blue capital “U”. If you look closely enough at it, you can see there are 25 icons that make the shape of the U. Each icon means something. They each are representing the different companies that make up Unilever. For example, there is a lock of hair for all the shampoo brands, a hand, a palm tree, a heart, and many more. There are many different links and sections to their website that breaks down each purpose, value, principle, and more that the organization holds its companies too. You can read on their website that, “Our Corporate Purpose states that to succeed requires “the highest standards of corporate behaviour towards everyone we work with, the communities we touch, and the environment on which we have an impact.”’

Their main values and purpose are always working with integrity, positive impact and continuous improvement, setting out our aspirations and working with others. They have many principles that they live by as well. These all include, standard of conduct, obeying the law, employees, consumers, shareholders, business partners, community involvement public activities, the environment, innovation, competition, business integrity, conflicts of interest, and finally compliance, monitoring and reporting. They have five main priorities that they live by. These include, a better future for children, a healthier future, a more confident future, a future for farmers and farming, and lastly a better future for the planet.

Their first priority, a better future for children, falls under their companies, Signal and Close-Up who partnered with FDI World Dental Federation to promote better oral hygiene. Omo and Persil, just two of their laundry brands, work with parents to tell their children that dirt is good which they can get stains of their clothes with their brands. Lastly, Unilever partnered with World Food Programme to start, Together for Child Vitality to help out with the lack of nutrition in poorer countries. For a healthier future, their Flora/Becel margarine brands have figured out a way to help reduce high cholesterol levels. Vaseline has started the Vaseline Skin Care Foundation to help with research going into skin diseases. And Lifebuoy soap has promoted a healthy life style by teaching good handwashing skills to prevent sickness.

To have a more confident future, Dove started a campaign called, Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, which insists on not using models but “real” women while advertising. This inspired them to start the Dove Self Esteem Fund. Just from their advertisements, they have already made differences in women and young girls’ lives. Their Sunsilk hair care brand and some of the world’s top hair stylist to create better and more efficient hair products. Close-Up toothpaste has helped many improve their dental care. To create a better future for farming and farmers, the companies Lipton tea and Ben & Jerry’s use all natural products in their foods to provide a more sustainable product.

Lastly, to create a better future for our planet, their website reads, “We’re aiming to grow our business while reducing our environmental footprint and working across the supply chain for every brand to do so. Our Laundry brands, including Surf, Omo, Persil and Comfort, have launched the Cleaner Planet Plan together, encouraging consumers to change their laundry habits to reduce water and energy consumption. Our Lipton tea brand backs sustainable forest management projects in Africa.” You can see that they hold their companies to very high standards to have such quality products. They have very high expectations of the way they would like their products made and what goes in them. They are constantly trying to be sustainable and efficient in all of their work and in their products that they are selling to their trusting customers.

Unilever embodies the general systems theory in a few ways. One, they fit the definition perfectly. Their main focus is on the living systems properties that apply to their organization. They make sure they help meet the wants and mainly the needs of the human population. Two, they do have an open system, along with showing the concepts of homeostasis and equifinality. All of their principles and values are very universal for others. Unilever itself is a suprasystem while all the companies that are under or that were bought are subsystems. For example, Axe and Ben & Jerry’s are both subsystems of the large suprasystem which is Unilever. The company does very well in embodying this theory. There is always room for improvement. For example, they could spend more time on their less-known or popular brands to switch the awareness of them around. Easily by more advertising and more non-profit work to get the idea of the companies out there. They are continually building up the image of not only themselves, but of others too. This is very important to their ethics and morals that the organization expects out of all of its companies.

Conclusion

 I believe that many many other organizations could easily learn from Unilever. Unilever is a very organized company and is a great influence. I believe they have made a difference on not only their customers, but people in general. They uphold such high values and morals that it is truly inspiring. They have five main priorities that they live by and they are all to benefit the people living in this world. They are concerned about their well-being, their confidence, their futures, farmers and farming, along with the planet. To me, these are things all organizations live by. Unilever does own over 400 brands, but they specialist each one to take care of all us in order to have a safer and easier life. Unilever believes in making a difference in this world, and for this I hold the upmost respect for the organization, along with everyone that works for them. For a little more inspiration, I leave you with this quote from their biography on Unilever’s website, “And by leveraging our global reach and inspiring people to take small, everyday actions, we believe we can help make a big difference to the world.”

References

  1. @. (n.d.). Purpose, values & principles. Retrieved October 27, 2016, from https://www.unilever.com/about/who-we-are/purpose-and-principles/
  2. @. (n.d.). Unilever global company website | Unilever Global. Retrieved October 27, 2016, from https://www.unilever.com/
  3. By having their products centered around improving the world – instead of just the company’s bottom line – employees at Unilever care more and accomplish more. (n.d.). Why Unilever Unites Its Portfolio of 400 Brands Around One Core Value. Retrieved October 27, 2016, from https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/talent-connect/2015/why-unilever-unites-its-portfolio-of-400-brands-around-one-core-value
  4. Ludwig von Bertalanffy. (n.d.). Retrieved October 27, 2016, from http://panarchy.org/vonbertalanffy/systems.1968.html
  5. Walonick, D. S. (n.d.). General Systems Theory. Retrieved October 27, 2016, from http://www.statpac.org/walonick/systems-theory.htm
  6. In search of the good business. (2014). Retrieved October 27, 2016, from http://www.economist.com/news/business/21611103-second-time-its-120-year-history-unilever-trying-redefine-what-it-means-be
  7. Collective Action, Impressive Progress in 2015 | Sustainable Living | Unilever brightFuture USA. (n.d.). Retrieved October 27, 2016, from https://brightfuture.unilever.us/stories/482680/Collective-Action–Impressive-Progress-in-2015-.aspx
  8. Avtgis, T. A., & Rancer, A. S. (2012). Organizational communication: Strategies for success. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Pub.

 

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