World-class standards

Unilever decided that its marketplace demanded standardised information
processes but first it had to train staff to use the system. Sue Weekes reports

Without even knowing it, many of us buy into the Unilever brand of goods
every day, whether it be when we wash with a bar of Dove, eat a Magnum ice
cream or indulge in a spoonful of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise on a sandwich. To be
precise, 150 million people around the world choose a Unilever brand every day
and its products are sold in 150 countries. It employs a total of 265,000
people and its worldwide turnover in 2001 was 52,206m euros. It’s fair to say
that global brands don’t come much bigger.

Putting common working processes in place and standardising quality of
practices to promote growth and control costs is vital in such a global
operation and, in March 2001, the Home and Personal Care Europe (HPCE) business
group embarked on a three-year project to develop and implement its European
Standardised Information and Processes (ESAP) system.

As well as streamlining and standardising processes, the implementation is
designed to give quicker access to better quality information, allow faster
decision-making to take place and increase the speed with which new products
are brought to market.

The ESAP system is proprietary to HPCE and is based on a customised SAP 4.6D
enterprise-wide system that focuses mainly on back office functions across the
company’s financial, manufacturing and sales departments. A survey carried out
by the website, on organisations which had installed an
enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, found that the two biggest
inhibitors to reaping maximum rewards from such systems are change management
and training. Big and powerful these systems may be, but they are only as good
as the people using them. "If someone makes an error in the data they are
entering that can have a knock-on effect all the way down the line through the
various departments," says Paul Stevens, operations director of Europe at
DA Consulting Group (DACG), which was engaged by Unilever to implement the
system to its workforce across Europe. "Because of the enterprise-wide
data they hold, systems like this enable you to produce really whizzy reports,
but inaccurate information is worse than no information at all."


Unilever was already using DACG, which is the world’s largest sole provider
of end-user training services, in Unilever Best Foods Europe (UBFE), its other
business group, where it had delivered a customised training strategy. To
maintain a level of continuity within the organisation, it employed DACG for
the ESAP implementation. "The HPCE ESAP project covers a wide scope with
aggressive deadlines and a three-year continuous implementation plan across
Europe," says Chris Wolff, Unilever ESAP communication, training and
project control manager. "In order to support the users, we needed a
flexible consultancy who would provide innovative training and support
techniques and versatile and multi-lingual consultants providing cultural
understanding and strong project management. DACG had proven that it was more
than capable." (The HPCE and UBFE projects won the Institute of IT
Training Gold Award for External project of the Year 2001).

DACG had to contend with an ambitious timeframe and a broad remit that
involved everything from training needs analysis and business process mapping to
the provision of a change communications strategy. Within this, it had to
schedule, manage and provide instructor-led training, develop all end-user
support materials, including help cards, system task documentation and change
communication materials, translate all localised material and provide a
front-end web-based portal for all training.

"The hardest part of a job like this is the complexity of it,
particularly the fact that it’s going across different countries and different
cultures. There are all sorts of areas to consider, such as the IT literacy
across different countries. Employees in the UK are at home with the idea of
online help systems but this won’t necessarily be the case in all
countries," says Stevens.

A whole range of different modules and elements make up the training and
support solution provided by DACG, but they break down into three core areas
beginning with traditional instructor-led training. This is typically done to
get employees up to a certain level on the system, explains Stevens. With
support from Unilever’s own ESAP training team, DACG consultants trained more
than 500 homecare users on four sites and 400 personal care users across two
sites. A comprehensive set of help cards was also developed by the training
team to support users as they start to use the new system.

Online help

Next it had to produce online system task documentation – basically,
electronic reference material covering each of the tasks that the system can
carry out. This was a huge job since the SAP system can undertake thousands of
tasks across the various departments from generating an invoice or purchase
order in administration, to stock taking and creating a production schedule for
manufacturing, to running a cost centre report in finance. If an employee gets
stuck in any of these tasks, they click a help button and the system retrieves
the relevant online reference guide.

The online help system uses one of DACG’s standard tools called DA Passport,
which effectively opens Internet Explorer in the background and collects the
help material from the intranet or internet. It eliminates the user having to
waste time finding the correct documentation themselves since all they have to
worry about is clicking help and waiting a few seconds for it to appear on
screen. All documentation and online support is written in concise, everyday
language, which is in contrast to the earlier help systems that tended to be
written by ‘techies’.

The third core area of training is aimed at new joiners and those who move
departments or to a new role, and comprises a set of online business process
maps and diagrams created in Visio. These take the form of simple step-by-step
flow diagrams.

The backbone or hub of the online help system is the DA learning centre,
which provides a web-based front-end or portal through which all the training
and support material can be accessed. "It’s basically one big web page and
jumping-off point for all the information users could need," says Stevens.
"It can expand to hold any training material but will probably be kept for
system-related support rather than be extended to something like soft

DACG has customised the learning centre for Unilever so that it includes a
range of other functions and features. These include: training feedback forms
that give course attendees a facility to comment on the training content and
delivery; a link to training course materials for pre- or post-course
additional study; a library of FAQs derived from the training courses, with
answers supplied by the business; and a communication platform for additional
support materials such as help cards and online competitions and quizzes
designed to assist in the change communication process. It also offers a
multilingual capacity, offering support in a selection of languages.


The multi-lingual demands of the project are considerable and after UK
roll-out DACG moved on to translating and adapting all of the material and
training for the Italian market – which is next to go live – followed by
Germany and the Netherlands later this year. Further European roll-outs are
scheduled for 2003. But, as Stevens points out, it isn’t just a case of
translating training in to the relevant language. "You can’t just take
what you’ve done, translate and plonk it in Italy for instance, where the whole
style of training is different. In the UK, we like our training to be
interactive and have more of a fun element. If a trainer comes in and throws
lots of sweets out to the class, a UK audience will often respond to it. In
Italy, it’s more a case of talk and chalk because they expect to be

He adds that as well as translating the words, DACG’s multi-lingual trainers
have to localise all the training materials. "This means making sure all
the Italian training has Italian examples, as they’re not going to respond to
or understand UK ones."

The project also involved a major change communications exercise and anyone
who has implemented a new system of any kind knows that communicating its
benefits to the workforce to ensure their buy-in is as important as the
training itself. HPCE tied in its strategy for this with the phases of the
project: ‘awareness’, ‘understanding’, buy in’, ‘commitment’ and ‘post go
live’. Specific materials and specific messages were developed for each phase
and the range of materials spanned e-flyers, posters, competitions and games to
ESAP lunch seminars. "You have to ensure people are ready for a new system
like this and make sure they know what’s happening and why," says Stevens
emphatically. "You must break down any resistance beforehand so that when
the system is put in place, you don’t then spend time arguing over, say, why
you need it and how it has changed a particular job role."

It is still early days for the project in terms of ROI but Stevens provides
some simple arithmetic to demonstrate the potential cost savings. "If you
have a new system and users have to stop to call the help desk five times a day
and each question takes eight minutes to ask and answer (which is fairly
typical), across 200 staff that adds up to 133 hours a day when your staff are
not devoting their time to their real job and therefore your customers."

As future roll-outs continue, DACG also hopes to be nurturing the earlier
users into more self-help methods that will further save costs and time. It
aims to build-in more self-learning elements into the overall education
programme and ultimately reduce the amount of classroom training. "We’ll
always use face-to-face training, but I guess we’re moving towards a blended
approach and, a year on, the users will be more accepting of methods like
e-learning and computer-based learning," says Stevens.

In summary
Streamlining the working process

Unilever’s requirement: To train a
European workforce in its new SAP enterprise-wide system.

Why? The new system was brought in as part of a three-year plan
to streamline its business and working processes. The scale of the project and
timeframe demanded that the workforce was trained as quickly and efficiently as
possible if the system was to live up to its promise, followed up with ongoing
online support.

Has the training delivered? It is early days for hard figures
but the online help system should dramatically reduce calls to an IT helpdesk
and ensure staff spend more time using the system fruitfully.

Unilever’s tips for system

– Plan and plan. Understand exactly who needs to be trained and
the kind of training they need

– Communicate to employees what you are doing at all times and
why, so you break down any resistance from the beginning

– Involve the business at all levels from the boardroom to the
coalface and start to cultivate ambassadors who are going to champion
the system

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