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Case study: How DHL Express achieved 90+ scores on employee engagement

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Logistics company DHL is aiming to become the employer of choice – in which its express division was recently recognised as one of the six best employers in Singapore for 2017 by Aon Hewitt.

Speaking to Amod Date, vice president HR, DHL Express Singapore, we find out about the HR challenges companies face today, and how DHL is addressing these challenges.

Various initiatives such as staff appreciation weeks, an award-winning ‘Certified International Specialist’ training and development platform, and Employee of the Year events comprise the backbone of DHL Express’ culture.  “DHL has always been focused on developing a healthy talent pipeline, because it is critical in ensuring business continuity and in building a strong corporate culture,” affirms Amod Date, vice president HR, DHL Express Singapore.

With 100,000 employees in more than 220 countries and territories worldwide, DHL Express came up with the idea for its award-winning Certified International Specialist (CIS) programme back in 2010, whilst undergoing organisational change.

CIS is aimed to equip employees with the fundamentals of cross-border shipping and company strategy. It consists of a foundation course, and specialised modules, such as sales, or leadership – ensuring employees share a common understanding of the company and the business.

Dispatching the CIS order

Under the CIS umbrella, the Certified International Manager (CIM) and Supervisory Excellence (SE) modules are focused on leadership training to develop existing and future leaders.

The 18-month SE module is for first-time managers – usually team leads and supervisors who have recently moved into a leadership role from being an individual contributor. It focuses on enhancing people management and communication skills, and it involves classroom training and e-learning via a tablet that is given to each participant. A series of workshops, and coaching and mentoring sessions is conducted by HR to reinforce the learning from SE.

CIS was developed by a central office in collaboration with an external consultant. However, the unique aspect is the ownership of the initiative by the entire local leadership team.

CIM, on the other hand, aims to further enhance the leadership skills of junior and senior managers. “These initiatives empower employees to be part of our growth story, and to develop their skills further. They underscore our commitment in providing continuous learning opportunities,” shares Date.

Working behind the scenes

The global programme, CIS, was developed by the central CIS office in collaboration with an external consultant. However, the unique aspect is the ownership of the initiative by the entire local leadership team. While the central CIS office establishes the structure and develops training materials, the country management teams, and not just the HR function, make collective decisions on the plan for the year.

“Another success factor of this programme is having our own employees facilitate the programme,” says Date. “This ties in with our belief in ‘walking the talk’.” In this vein, the programme first started with the global management board members, who then facilitated the training for regional leaders, and they in turn rolled out the training to countries in their respective regions.

Everyone went through CIM before they were trained as facilitators for the next level leaders. Having gone through the same training, the country’s senior management team (SMT) understands the value of it, hence they naturally came on board, and motivated employees to join the programme.

Pooling together the resources and specialists

As with every global programme, resources come in the form of financial funding as well as specialists to steer the development. In DHL Express’ case, countries received some funding from the CIS office, while the rest is covered by local offices.

Date explains: “Much of this process is aligned to how organisations typically conduct forecasts and planning for yearly budgets. In this respect, the funds for this programme are always set aside in advance and prioritised as needed for smooth running throughout the year.”

Additionally, the training materials were developed in collaboration with an external consultant. The advantage of doing that is the unbiased, third-party insight and expertise that we can gain to fully understand how we can improve our practices, in Date’s view.

It took two years of strategising, board meetings and proposals before the programme was inked on paper, and a €100 million investment in this employee engagement programme.

It took two years of strategising, board meetings and proposals before the programme was inked on paper, and a €100 million investment in what is known now as the world’s biggest-ever employee engagement programme.

“It is delivered in more than 40 languages, and costs €1,000 per employee, but in our opinion, is worth every bit of effort and penny. DHL Express saw a transformation in knowledge levels, confidence and engagement for all employees in the years since CIS has been launched,” Date affirms.

Further, Date recommends that in considering an external partner, it is important the candidate has vast experience working with various types of clients, markets and sectors so that they are able to bring new ideas and perspectives.

Navigating the logistics of challenges

One of the inevitable barriers in executing such a programme was securing time outside DHL Express’ employees’ day-to-day work to attend these workshops. “However, we’ve overcoming this by planning ahead and using the right tools,” says Date.

What Date and his team have done is plan out the training and schedule in advance, ensuring employees’ time is locked weeks and even months in advance. This helps employees manage their workload in the days leading up to the classes. Pre-reading materials also help prepare employees for the topics that will be covered and provide a preview of the knowledge and skills they can learn.

“We also make good use of technology to enable employees’ learning,” says Date, taking an example of the tablet that is given out to all participating employees for SE, which allows them to engage in e-learning at their own time and pace.

Moving with needle through results

The CIS programme has evidently been successful in helping employees get better in what they do. Date mentions the Employee Opinion Survey (EOS) that is distributed globally every year.

The survey in Singapore saw over 98% participation in 2017, saw scores across all categories like employee engagement, teamwork, and job fulfilment rise two to three points in 2017.

Introduced in 2009, the survey invites employees across the Group to share their opinions and take an active role in shaping their immediate work environment. “Like a seismograph that monitors the pulse of the company, the EOS helps us identify action areas early so that we can implement the appropriate changes effectively,” he explains.

The survey in Singapore saw over 98% participation in 2017, saw scores across all categories like employee engagement, teamwork, and job fulfilment rise two to three points in 2017, hitting scores of 90 and above.

In particular, the score of the active leadership category has risen over the past three years from 83 in 2015, to 90 in 2016, to 92 in 2017, which highlights the pro-active stance managers are taking in working together with our employees.

“We will continue to evolve, and we will not stop, because our employees are our customers,” concludes Date on an apt note.

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