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<b>How the global giant is trying to retain its values in the UK</b>

One business riding economic downturn and international unrest is Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch food and personal goods giant. Perhaps this is not so surprising: people will always need to eat and wash. The firm is now embarking on a major marketing drive for its 400 leading brands, which include names such as Dove and Domestos.

It is now in the fourth year of a five-year path to growth, a programme launched by chairman Niall Fitzgerald. The stock market has responded well Unilevers shares have outperformed the FTSE 100 index by more than 40% in the past 12 months. Newly appointed UK HR director Gary Crouch says that his team makes a crucial contribution. HR has to be in the thick of the action, confident, insightful and commercially aware, he says, because we are going to deliver our growth targets with and through our people.

He explains that his aim is to provide what he calls joined-up HR, asking crucial questions such as, is HR coherent? Are policies and practices pushing in the same direction? Is HR helping to support a delivery culture?

Behaviour is as important as competency in a leader

Behaviour and attitude, more than any set of policies, are what really make or break a corporate culture, Crouch believes. To that end the company has done a lot of work on leadership behaviour with the Hay Group, developing a model called the leadership growth profile (LGP).

Although the LGP talks about competencies, this is also a question of how you behave as a leader, Crouch says. We have done a huge amount of work to make sure it is a living and breathing part of what we do. We dont want to just take it out of the cupboard once a year as part of an appraisal process.

While nationally and internationally the firm shares a common HR vision, operating businesses develop their own specific HR strategies. For example, the ice-cream and frozen food division better known as Birds Eye Walls has devised a four-pillared approach entitled energised to grow and win.

Beyond this unsurprisingly positive yet empty title, Its four sub-headings are: leading people for growth (leadership behaviour); magnet for talent (finding, keeping and developing the best people); enterprise and energy (stimulating creativity and passion); and fit for growth (with clear and transparent processes, including sharing HR services).

Corporate social responsibility is a key ingredient

For the future Crouch is convinced that a strong sense of corporate social responsibility, that goes right back to the companys origins under William Lever and the Port Sunlight development, still counts even in a fast-changing, competitive world. Indeed, corporate social responsibility is an increasingly important issue for graduate recruits and managers at all levels in the organisation.