Last year, FedEx Express introduced a new council to better manage engagement and communication within its local operations. Sabrina Zolkifi asks how the programme is getting along.
In 2013, FedEx Express set up its MD advisory council to help facilitate open dialogue between all levels of the company’s Singapore team.
The council, which is made up of frontline staff, senior executives and the country’s managing director, is a formal extension of FedEx’s “culture of encouraging open dialogue,” says Amy Leung, managing director of HR services at FedEx Express South Pacific.
“Every month, the council examines current issues with a view to improving work processes and work climate, or simply bounce ideas for continuous improvements."
Aside from the managing director, the council comprises of senior managers from the operations and human resources teams, frontline employees from diverse functions such as couriers, operations agents and custom clearance agents.
Leung says the council members actively seek feedback from their fellow co-workers before and after each meeting, allowing them to form the basis of the following meeting.
The minutes from the meeting are also circulated to all operations managers, giving them a better opportunity to engage employees during their meetings, a move Leung says has resulted in greater levels of open discussion, particularly at the ground level.
However, with more than 400 operations employees, all of whom have staggered work schedules, it was a challenge to coordinate the council meetings.
“To overcome this, the management committed to hold three council sessions each month, taking into consideration the work hours of employees. This way, we are able to get a better sense of the issues facing staff,” she says.
Another learning point for the company was that “management may not always know best”.
One reason why the MD Advisory council has been so valuable is that it allows managers to test ideas before implementation.An example was when FedEx decided to implement a leave planning exercise, where employees can book their time off one year in advance, and the frontline employees were consulted on the idea.
“As the leave planning is made available to all operations employees, they are able to plan ahead for their holidays and important events, and employees have the advantage of working amongst themselves to swap blocks of leave should they need to,” Leung says.
“This system is very well-received by the operations employees as it provides greater flexibility and fosters collaboration and teamwork.”
However, in order for the council to work, members have to be candid in their feedback, as Leung says this helps management develop well-rounded solutions which are then “implemented through a practical change-management process”.
Most managers might think they know how a certain policy will affect staff, but nothing beats getting first-hand information from an employee.
“The pioneer batch of council members was nominated by managers. Moving forward, council members will be nominated by their peers – they will, in a sense, be grassroots representatives for their colleagues.”
For other organisations who may be looking to embark on a similar journey, Leung advises them to “remain open minded but stay in charge”.
“Employees have a straightforward perspective on improvements and solutions that will directly help them in their daily work lives,” she says.
“It is important to understand and explore the ideas from a top to bottom perspective. Only then can management make effective decisions that will bring about greater impact and also longer-term benefits.”