Strategy & LeadershipDHL: a lesson in leadership and maintaining culture through crisis

DHL: a lesson in leadership and maintaining culture through crisis

Ensuring business continuity has been a universal challenge during the past three months, and many businesses have been forced to make decisions that have negatively impacted the workforce. But DHL Supply Chain is one organization that has used strategy and leadership to successfully weather the storm. Lindsay Bridges, SVP HR UK & Ireland explains how.

Working life as we know it has changed, at least temporarily. While there is reassurance in the knowledge that the COVID-19 crisis won’t last forever, we surely can expect to feel the effects in the workplace for some time yet. As different industries begin a phased return to work, HR teams are continuing to deal with new situations and are stepping up to this challenge with improved strategy and leadership.

As a business, DHL Supply Chain continued to operate throughout the COVID, with so many of our colleagues fulfilling essential roles in the pharmaceutical, medical and grocery supply chain. It is thanks to our teams across the country that supermarket shelves continued to be stocked and goods continue to be delivered to front doors. There have even been brand-new supply chains set up to support the NHS.

While this was a uniquely challenging situation, our focus on our values and our strong ‘employer of choice’ approach enabled us to manage the ever-changing circumstances, and learn a few lessons along the way.

So what’s the secret?

Key for us through the pandemic has been our focus on our colleagues. Appreciating that everyone has a different perspective on COVID-19, we have consistently put a particular emphasis on communications and wellbeing support, in a variety of ways.

Early on, we established a dedicated task force of HR, operations and safety colleagues, to quickly make decisions, provide consistent communications and answer inquiries, all offering reassurance to concerns surrounding the crisis.

Our internal communications team developed a series of family activity packs, which were distributed to all colleagues with children, giving them suggestions for activities to keep the kids busy. Our Colleague Briefing Packs focused on implementing and communicating new wellbeing benefits, such as 24/7 GP service for all employees and a mental health app designed to support colleagues and their dependents.

Financial support also plays a crucial role in overall wellbeing, so we made sure we were offering employees the guidance and support they needed with mortgage advice and financial education, as well as information on different resources. These tactical initiatives were all guided by our ‘employer of choice’ strategy and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Given the changes in volumes across our operations, both up and down, we also created a redeployment programme, which meant we were able to successfully redeploy approximately 1,400 people from areas where work had slowed, to sectors with increased demand, such as life sciences and food distribution. This was enabled by our IT teams, who created a redeployment support IT tool which allowed people to be matched to vacancies.

This focus on providing work for our employees meant we were able to maintain a high level of satisfaction among the workforce and continue to service our extremely high customer volumes at the same time. A series of communications, each highlighting a different individual who had taken a redeployed role, was both a useful strategy for increasing recognition, and a great chance for us to encourage others to take similar opportunities.

We knew that the uncertainty of the pandemic would be causing concern to many colleagues, and we had the possibility to reduce that in some way through clear, consistent and aligned communication. Technology was a key enabler for us, and over the last few months we have been able to accelerate the rolling out of a dedicated communications app to all 40,000 of our employees in the UK and Ireland. This app allows for genuine, open and transparent tw0-way communication, allowing individual colleagues to raise issues directly via the App, enabling quick response.

Recognizing that frequent and reassuring communication from the senior leadership team was needed, we pulled together a campaign of internal communications that was delivered via short but powerful video messages from various members of the UK & Ireland board.  These always include a strong focus on safety as well as recognition for teams who are stepping up above and beyond to service our customers.

These have really instilled a strong sense of leadership and pride in the business which in turn has been motivational for our colleagues, especially those who continued to work throughout the pandemic.

The bottom line

No matter the size or scale of the organization, people-focused innovation is necessary for success in a changing environment. I have been inspired by how our HR team have stepped up in this space. Our resourcing teams have enabled an end-to-end virtual hiring process for warehouse recruitment, bringing virtual job tryout technology alongside video interviewing to overcome social distancing challenges.

We are also now running entirely virtual induction and orientation for 101 graduates, degree level apprentices and work placement students. We have turned our traditional induction days on their head and using a variety of technical solutions, we are engaging on interactive sessions with amazingly positive feedback from this new group of future leaders.

I have been incredibly proud of our response to the pandemic. The culture we really want to instill in the business has taken huge steps forward. I have seen genuine and authentic leadership across our operations and functions, truly inspiring stories of “DHL Heroes” going far above and beyond our expectations, and a real sense of engagement and motivation driven from a pride in our brand.

It’s been an emotional journey these past three months, but one that has given us a real cultural foundation to build on for the future.

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