Value intellect lessMuch has changed since I was a Unilever trainee 20 years ago. But I still get the sense that Unilever values intellect above execution. Like most false dichotomies, choosing between these two is a mug’s game. You need boatloads of both to win. Perhaps the lack of agility and pace comes from intelligent people overthinking things. A renowned business leader once told me that “intellectual people take the simple and make it complex, while smart people take the complex and make it simple”. Perhaps Unilever needs more smarts, and less intellect.
Well-intentioned people will find a way to be busy, doing their job with commitment and thoroughness. But when many people across multiple functions act in this way, it means work is happening that isn’t entirely necessary. The complexity of the matrix, and the numbers of nodes that all need to interconnect to make anything happen, lead to a lack of clear ownership and accountability that is horrifying. Removing 10 per cent of the people isn’t sufficient to change the fundamental dynamics of the operating system, but 25 per cent might just do it.