Aon Best Employers Hong Kong 2016: DHL Express maintains momentum
After 44 years of steady growth and more than a few awards for excellence along the way, a little complacency could be forgiven at DHL Express Hong Kong and Macau. But Herbert Vongpusanachai, the company’s Hong Kong managing director, does not believe in allowing the company to rest on its laurels.
“We are proud to be recognised among Hong Kong’s best employers,” he says of DHL’s Best Employer – Hong Kong 2016 award. “It’s a great honour for us. But the main point is: how do we continuously improve on what we are doing and look at areas in which we can still do better?
“We must maintain the momentum or the flywheel will stop turning. Other people are coming up behind us. We are confident of the strong foundation that we have built in terms of our people, our infrastructure and our ability to remain the market leader. We must consider how we recharge ourselves, communicate clearly and be close to our teams.”
Vongpusanachai says that the company has done a great deal of work over the years to improve its management practices. A 14-year veteran of DHL – where he was most recently managing director of the company’s Singapore operation – he took up his Hong Kong position at the beginning of this year. Far from taking personal credit for the award, he acknowledges the achievements of his predecessor.
“We keep track of our progress internally on how motivated and engaged our people are and Hong Kong has been improving year over year, above the group’s average,” he says.
“We decided to do external benchmarking using Aon Hewitt, as it is a well-established company within the HR community. We wondered how we would do, but thought we’d never know until we tried. External recognition means a lot to all of us and many people within the company have worked very hard for this year’s Best Employer award.”
DHL’s Hong Kong workforce is unique, he adds. “This is where we started in 1972. We saw the diligence, the skill, the capability and the flexibility of Hong Kongers. We still have some employees who have been with us since the company began. The essence of the Hong Kong team is that everyone works closely together. Staff are highly skilled and highly knowledgeable. Some have seen Hong Kong turn from a small port city into the Asia-Pacific transport hub that it is today. Our logistics hub is only possible because we have the right skill set available here with the right people to drive it.”
He explains that DHL has to provide a level of service quality that makes the company a market leader wherever its goes. “We must motivate people to go the extra mile. By delivering great service, we earn customer loyalty, which in return translates into profitability.”
A wall plaque at the entrance to the company’s Hong Kong headquarters bears the initials CIS – “Certified International Specialists” – which represents a major cultural change programme developed in 2009 and rolled out in 2010. CIS exists to develop motivated people within the company. Every staff member, from the newest courier to the managing director, carries a CIS “Passport to Success” which records successful completion of every stage in a journey of continuous learning.
Training starts with a five-day induction programme for new employees to teach them about the company’s history, products, services and network, as well as the local business environment. Very importantly, they learn to understand the values and attributes of a DHL employee. The next phase, “Welcome to My Function”, sees employees learn the DHL version of the function in which they will work. Higher up the ladder, there are a number of courses that train and develop “Certified International Managers” (CIM).
“We believe in developing 21st-century managers who know how to manage people,” Vongpusanachai says. “To have all these people who understand the values of the company and feel good about it, you need the right group to guide, manage and motivate them. We continually recharge and renew ourselves and get better and better at what we do.”
As employees pass through the different training programmes, stickers are added to their CIS passport. Vongpusanachai shows his own passport, drawing attention to the opening page where, at the time of the launch, the company’s global CEO wrote: “Let’s make it happen!”
As a country manager, Vongpusanachai has completed DHL’s CIM training programme. He is also part of the group of country managers from the top 100 countries who were the first to embark on the facilitators’ module and become facilitators for their own countries. Since then, regional rollouts have enabled other senior managers in the organisation to become facilitators.
“Hong Kong poses a unique challenge for a good employer in this industry,” Vongpusanachai says. “It’s a highly competitive environment. Unemployment is low and we need to retain and develop as many people as possible. When turnover happens, the recruitment process is tough as we want to pick and keep the right people.
“We’re always in need of talent to have enough manpower to drive what is a large operation, with service centres in different parts of Hong Kong. At the airport we have one of DHL’s largest hubs worldwide. That facility alone requires many dedicated, hardworking people and we must offer competitive compensation in terms of salary and benefits.”
He adds that it is critical the company provides staff with the right skills and training, and that a retention programme has been designed to ensure they continuously develop.
“For supervisors, we provide an 18-month management competency development programme which develops what we call ‘hi-pos’ – high potential employees – with an objective to enhance their readiness for progression when opportunity arises. They are encouraged to identify their career path and prepare for possible future promotions, encouraging those with career aspirations to stay longer with us.” The training programme runs for 18 months – it’s not just a couple of days training.”
An annual employee opinion survey enables the company to take a “deep dive” into employees’ feelings – for example, whether they feel engaged and satisfied, as well as what they think about the brand, their contribution to the company and their working environment.
“It’s a foundation for us,” Vongpusanachai says. “It allows us to see what we can improve and sets the agenda for the year on the basis of what employees feel and say. The process facilitates open dialogue with employees, enabling them to express their feelings and find job satisfaction. Whether it’s the workplace climate, career development or communications, this is the key to our assessment of where we are each year as we seek continuous improvement.”
Last year’s survey, which included 48 questions, saw very positive encouragement from the team. In Hong Kong, the results showed over 90 per cent satisfaction across all key aspects. Vongpusanachai says this is a tribute to DHL’s policy of active communication and the work that managers and leaders do with their teams.
“We actually have a name for the culture that we want to establish: the ‘insanely customer centric culture’, or ICCC for short. I have a booklet that provides guidelines regarding what’s important for customer culture in implementing ICCC. It’s about shaping that culture at every level, from CEO to courier. It allows us to set the tone of what this should feel or look like.”
Quarterly town hall meetings enable the senior management team to give updates on how the business is doing and actions related to staff feedback. These sessions involve as many staff as can be spared at the time and are conducted in all service centres, the Central Asia Hub at the airport and at company headquarters.
DHL’s vision for the future is to become the employer of choice, Vongpusanachai says. “This helps make us the provider of choice so that customers ask: why would I use anybody else? As the provider of choice we eventually become the investment of choice. A good company provides good service and delivers good returns to investors. Those are the key things in our vision for the future.”
Valuable voyages A “Passport to Success”, held by everyone from warehouse worker to CEO, records successful completion of every stage of the learning journey.
Lighting the way High-potential employees are encouraged to identify their career path and be ready for progression when opportunity arises.
Forums for feedback Quarterly town hall meetings involve as many staff as can be spared and are conducted at all work locations.
Going all out on gratitude has employees feeling great
DHL Express Hong Kong and Macau strongly believes that everyone’s contribution counts and backs up this belief through its encouragement of an atmosphere of appreciation among its almost 2,000 staff. The company’s annual events include public celebration of the achievements of staff who have served anywhere from five to 35 years and beyond.
The Employee of the Year awards are chosen by different departments and detail the things nominated team members did that showed service excellence.
“Last year we had 15 employees of the year in Hong Kong and Macau,” says Herbert Vongpusanachai, the company’s Hong Kong managing director. “All of us celebrate together. Some years we do local events, other years we do regional events. We gather all the awardees together and the CEO flies in from Germany to join the party.”
Donna Kong, vice president of human resources at DHL Express Hong Kong, says the company goes beyond usual levels of staff appreciation. “I talk to my HR peers in Hong Kong and they cannot believe that we hold so many appreciation events. Other companies recognise what we do – it’s uncommon in Hong Kong. But we know that it’s important for an employee to feel appreciated by management.”
Seeing itself as a family-friendly company, DHL offers employee benefits over and above what the law stipulates. A five-day paternity leave benefit was introduced in 2012, three years before the current three-day leave became mandatory. “The majority of our employees are male, so paternity leave is appreciated,” Kong says.
She adds that special facilities also exist for women. “The government has no policy regarding lactation rooms, but breast-feeding is highly recommended, so we are ahead of the law in providing working new mums with a dedicated room where they can feel comfortable.”
Vongpusanachai says that to engage younger employees, DHL makes sure it appreciates their different needs. “We all behave differently according to our generation and we change in different ways. We make sure that managers recognise this up front and realise that today’s leaders need a certain level of understanding and clear skills to manage Gen Y and Gen Z,” he explains.
“The company culture enables us to talk freely among ourselves in an open yet respectful way. Mentoring is important. This is part of the most enjoyable side of the job – you see people grow and establish a lasting bond.”
One of Vongpusanachai’s many treasured DHL moments happened when he was out enjoying a bike ride. By chance he encountered a DHL courier having a family day out. The two men chatted about life over bottles of water at a soft drinks stand.
“He talked about how he’s doing and how he feels about his career. That sort of conversation enables us to feel like a family. We spend more time at work than at home. That family feeling is very enriching – it is what makes me want to get up in the morning and go to work.”