Unilever and Vodacom employees benefit from a digital marketing exchange programme

Unilever’s Mechell Chetty says you can’t guard your talent – you have to partner and be collaborative.

Since 1 June, Laureen Nonhlanhla Mxoli, the food and refreshment digital marketing manager at Unilever, has been working in a marketing role at Vodacom. Meanwhile, Tanya Hibbert, the mass marketing manager at Vodacom, has taken on a role at Unilever.

The two women were the top candidates for a digital marketing exchange programme between the two organisations.
Lisa Andrews, the talent and organisational director at Unilever, explains that given the current working climate, 90 percent of the exchange will be virtual with some face-to-face touchpoints, but that it was important to start with real-world interaction. She explains that the purpose of this innovation in career experiences is really about life-long learning through stretch capability development, strengthening the external mindset and building digital expertise.

“On day one, both of the ladies were face-to-face and you could already see the impact that touchpoint had because they had a sense of connection with the organisation that they are joining. Their onboarding process was seamless, which is critical to ensure a holistic employee experience.”

Lisa explains that because this is a digital marketing exchange with a focus on e-commerce, retail marketing and route to market, HR had to make sure that the selected talent placed at Vodacom had the right capabilities and skills to enter Vodacom in the digital marketing field.

Hopeful marketers had to pitch for the opportunity via a video, motivating why they thought they should be chosen and how they planned to change the game. “A senior selection panel ensured that we were inclusive in our selection of the final candidate, and our selected candidate is a true innovator that brings her special brand of brilliance to any team!” says Lisa.

Lisa adds that the exchange is all about building bespoke career and talent development opportunities, contributing to the lifelong learning both companies want for their candidates. She added that it has increased pride at Unilever, as it underscored that the organisation increasingly provides unique talent development opportunities for its people.

“What we are hoping to achieve is that Laureen will come back from Vodacom with a broader network, and get access to data-driven marketing approaches in an end-to-end digital marketing experience, which will strengthen the knowledge transfer within the Unilever team upon her return.”

Terryn Palani, the executive head: talent and employee experience at Vodacom, shared that the talent exchange was meant to launch at the beginning of last year but Covid-19 derailed the original plans and led them to explore a different approach. “We really wanted it to be an in-person rotation, however, to ensure the safety of our staff we decided on creating a mostly virtual experience with key face-to-face touchpoints in our KZN footprint to eliminate the need for travel to Johannesburg.”

At Vodacom, our candidate was selected by our Marketing Leadership based on a combination of factors, central to the decision was deep marketing experience across our segments and locality, “Our candidate has been with our business for 14 years and has held a number of positions across the Marketing value chain as well as launching our loyalty programme – Vodabucks.” As for where to place Unilever's candidate, the Vodacom HR team took into consideration what Unilever wanted her to learn and together with the Marketing leadership crafted a programme that would create the maximum digital marketing exposure.”

Vodacom will be showing Unilever their ropes on the ways in which they manage end-to-end marketing strategies through a sophisticated tech stack and varied data-driven insights and measures. Unilever’s candidate will receive cross-segment exposure as well as in-person experiences with our KZN team to get more of an insight into our B2B and B2C customer-focused approach as well as exposure to our tower technology and IoT offerings.

“At Vodacom, we can track our campaigns right down to the sale and as a result show actual ROI for the business through data-driven insights. We have an advanced tech stack and have our entire digital media team in-house so that they are closer to the heartbeat of the business and are fully aligned with the purpose and spirit of the business.”

Meanwhile, Unilever is providing exposure to Tanya around purpose-led brands, diversity and inclusion and the sustainability elements of their business. Terryn noted that “We hope that Tanya will have her Marketing career enriched by her Unilever experience and we hope to gain insights from this pilot talent exchange to build on for future #UniqueTalentExperiences.”

Executive Human Resources director of Vodacom SA, Njabulo Mashigo, is excited by the partnership with Unilever on the Talent Exchange programme as she believes that: “This collaboration fits well with our newly launched Employer Value Proposition which aims to blaze new trails and create an inclusive and growth environment where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.”

The concept behind the exchange
Mechell Chetty, HR vice president Africa at Unilever, says she came up with the idea of conducting a talent exchange at the Top Employer event held by the Top Employer Institute in 2018.

“We had an open discussion with the top 10 employers panel among ourselves prior to the awards ceremony about how we need to be resourceful about talent going forward and not be linear. One of the things I spoke about was that we always want to guard what we have, and in the future of work you can’t guard your talent, you need to be more collaborative and create partnerships.”

She adds that HR practitioners need to start embracing a world in which they consider exchanging talent, as long as it’s not with competing partners. “In the room was Dimension Data CHRO Michaela Voller, and she said she would be happy to exchange talent with Unilever – and the idea for our first exchange happened then and there.”

Mechell says Unilever exchanged graduates with Dimension Data for three months, “and it was an awesome experience because our people got to see what it was like working in a world of digital. They came back saying people at Dimension Data are agile, while Dimension Data’s candidates said they could see that at Unilever we are purpose-led and intentional about helping our communities and society.”

Mechell says one of the things that came out of the exchange was that their candidates built great networking relationships that would solidify their learning in the future. “We saw it as a huge success and we knew that we needed to repeat it,” she says.