Coaching for Results with The Leadership Challenge: A Case Study of Leadership Development at Unilever Nigeria

As one of the world’s leading consumer goods companies, Unilever employs more than 172,000 people globally and sells its products in over 190 countries. Emerging markets, such as my country of Nigeria, currently account for 57% of its global business. Therefore, it has been a privilege to be chosen to work with a selection of the company’s emerging leaders, all of whom are Nigerians. 

We had previous opportunities to work with Unilever in 2012 and 2013, having facilitated a half-day team building session for the Executive Leadership Team and an Away Day retreat for the HR Team. Participating in both events was the company’s HR Director, Tolu Agiri, who was pleased with the facilitation results we obtained. When it was time to undertake a new approach to developing the company’s young leaders, Tolu turned to us again in mid-2013. Specifically, she invited us to discuss how we could build the leadership capacity of young trainees in transition to manager roles. These new managers had successfully completed an initial three-year training program, and Unilever wanted to prepare them for greater responsibilities with an additional  program it called Transition Route Into Management (TRIM).

TRIM Programme for Management Trainees (TRIM 1)
With coordinating support from the Leadership Development Manager at Unilever, we created an innovative six-month programme that combined group and individual sessions, action planning, and leadership practice. This programme was designed to give young leaders the best of the two worlds of coaching and training, and prime them for long-term roles in leadership. 

With just one exception, the initial group of 12 management trainees were all young—30 years and under—who had joined Unilever immediately after graduating from university. Because they lacked experience with other leadership models (and not having developed  productive leadership behaviours), our focus for this group was to provide a proven leadership model—The Five Behaviours of Exemplary Leadership® by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner—that would enable them to develop their leadership capacity in their new roles.

The Leadership Practices Inventory®360 (LPI360®) online assessment—completed as pre-work—was the first step of engagement for participants. A one-day Leadership Challenge Workshop came next, during which we incorporated activities provided in their copies of An Introduction to The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® Participant Workbook.
We then followed up the workshop with a variety of sessions and activities, including:

Monthly activity-based workshops were a key component of our follow-up work with these management trainees. With their limited experience in corporate settings, we felt these young, emerging leaders would be more receptive to new ideas and wanted to give them a framework for exercising leadership early in their careers. Consequently, we gradually but intensely immersed them in The Five Practices with six monthly activity-based workshops. Using The Leadership Challenge: Activities Book as our primary resource, the first five workshops focused on each of The Five Practices while the sixth was a review and action planning session. 

Participants responded to this learning with enthusiasm and commitment. As Bukola Olaiya observed at the end of the workshops, “It’s been a great six months of learning and putting to work what I’ve learnt. I have a better perspective on leadership. There are some pitfalls I will avoid having acquired new knowledge.”

Individual coaching sessions also were important to the overall success of our work with the group. Spread over six months in hourly sessions, we coached participants on specific leadership behaviours based on their LPI 360 reports. For these coaching sessions, we found two tools especially valuable: A Coach's Guide to Developing Exemplary Leaders and The Leadership Practices Inventory Workbook

LPI 360 retakes were completed in the final month of the coaching interactions. After working for nearly six months to enhance their leadership behaviours, the timing of the LPI 360 retakes gave these emerging leaders an opportunity to receive important Observer feedback and coaching sessions provided additional insights. 

It was with this group we first discovered practical validation of the research which indicates that leaders get better business results when they increase the frequency of The Five Practices. For example, Dapo Apolola, a regional sales manager, reported that by using all of The Five Practices his actions “delivered a result of 1% growth in 2 months to reverse a three-year decline…and in the second year, sales increased by more than 10%.”

One year after the LPI retakes, a review and feedback session brought the participants together to share stories about how they had continued to find new and creative ways to apply The Five Practices and improve their effectiveness as leaders. As coaches and facilitators, we also listened to first-hand accounts of how these young leaders were applying the Five Practices. For instance, Category Manager Adedoyin Abanishe reflected, "As an individual contributor having to combine so many things and relate with several people across levels and functions, I've learnt that Encourage the Heart really works in getting other people on board.”

TRIM 2 for Experienced Managers
Based on the positive feedback Unilever’s senior leaders received from participants in the TRIM 1 programme, we were commissioned to work with another group. This time the group consisted of 12 experienced managers, most of whom had acquired organisational experience before joining Unilever. This group, simply labelled TRIM 2, included sales managers, brand managers, and individual contributors across various functions. Being more experienced and primed in particular ways, they needed to positively enhance their behaviours.

As with the TRIM 1 participants, The Leadership Practices Inventory®360 (LPI360®) online assessment—completed as pre-work—was the first step of engagement for our group of experienced managers. This was followed by a two-day Leadership Challenge Workshop which expanded our ability to engage these managers in more activities than the young trainees had time for during their one-day session. We were also able to use a wider range of resources, including The Leadership Challenge Participant Workbook, The Vision Book, The Practice Book, Values Cards,  and The Leadership Challenge, 5th edition.  

Subsequent activities then focused on coaching and additional feedback:

Monthly Individual Coaching Sessions
Based on participants’ individual LPI 360 reports, we coached the experienced managers on their leadership behaviours. Similar to the TRIM 1 group, one-hour coaching sessions were spread over a six-month period using a variety of valuable tools, including A Coach's Guide to Developing Exemplary Leaders, The Leadership Practices Inventory Workbook,  and The Leadership Challenge Practice Book

LPI 360 Retakes
In the final month of the coaching period, participants completed the LPI 360 assessments again. Much of the Observer feedback indicated positive changes in the behaviour of these experienced managers, which was confirmed in the feedback we received during the coaching sessions.

A review and feedback session is planned for 2016. As we did for TRIM 1, the group will reconvene to share stories about how they have applied The Five Practices to enhance their leadership behaviours and results. 

Ahead of the review session, we already have received powerful feedback—both direct and indirect (from Observers)—that suggests truly profound changes have occurred, including  improved communication, enhanced relationships, deeper employee commitment, and better bottom line results. 

In addition to the significant changes we see occurring at Unilever Nigeria, there are several important lessons we at Weyinmi Jemide LLP take away from this experience. On a personal level, it has been especially fulfilling to practically validate Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s research on The Five Practices and the LPI behaviours—indeed, leaders who exercise the LPI behaviours do achieve better business results! Through coaching, we also obtained proof of what works, which has enabled us to offer guarantees to other clients about the outcomes of The Leadership Challenge. We also found that the leadership narratives we heard from all the participants lend credence to LPI research about fostering loyalty and commitment, and reducing absenteeism. Finally, our experience with these leaders at Unilever Nigeria has reframed our approach to delivering The Leadership Challenge. We realise that we can provide enhanced value to clients with the productive combination of training and coaching—a combined strength of services that we will continue to promote to other clients and recommend to fellow professionals. 

Weyinmi Jemide is Chief Client Officer of Weyinmi Jemide LLP based in Lagos, Nigeria. A Certified Master-in-Training of The Leadership Challenge and Certified Master Coach from the Behavioural Coaching Institute of Australia, he influences people and organisations through coaching, training, and group facilitation.  He also is Pastor of The Redeemed Christian Church of God and author of Proverbial Business, a series of insights on business and life based on the Book of Proverbs. He can be reached at www.weyinmijemide.com.

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