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DHL keeps employees connected: Best Companies to Work For in Greater China 2014

Express delivery company trains staff to be international specialists to ensure global success

As the world’s first international express delivery company, DHL prides itself on connecting businesses, people and goods all over the world in the most efficient way possible. Similarly, DHL connects its staff to its overall success and mission to keep them motivated.

Ken Lee, executive vice-president of commercial for Asia-Pacific and managing director of DHL Express Hong Kong and Macau, says the company trains its staff to be international specialists with the skills to achieve success in a global business.

“Our product in DHL is delivery services – something intangible that you cannot feel, touch or see, but that will improve your business,” Lee says. “We run a great network of business that is intimately linked to the world; a country problem is a regional problem, and a global problem.

“It is important our staff realise they do not only have to do well in their own line of business or own market, but also have to make sure that the parcel can be passed on to the next global destination successfully.”

In 2010, DHL launched its Certified International Specialist (CIS) programme  in 220 countries and territories.  More than 100,000 employees, including the 2,000-odd staff in Hong Kong, have undergone the award-winning programme.  

It teaches staff the history of the company and the fundamentals of the international shipping business, including import and export documentation, transport regulations, and processes. It also aligns global staff with the four pillar values of the company: speed, can-do spirit, passion, and “right first time”.

Lee says DHL leverages its global business network to constantly evolve and provide various training modules to enhance its staff’s ability to excel in their roles. For example, many small and medium-sized enterprises in Hong Kong ask DHL to help them expand their businesses into new markets, such as Latin America and South Africa.  

Experienced DHL business unit heads from around the world deliver training by travelling to different markets to share their knowledge and expertise. This ensures the cohesion of the company culture and standards, reinforces the notion of a global business, and facilitates international collaboration.

“A courier is not only delivering a parcel; a customer service agent is doing much more than just picking up a phone call,” Lee says. “We constantly remind staff that there is a bigger purpose than just delivering packages – we improve the lives of people.

“If we send some pharmaceutical shipments, we could be saving lives. If we send presents to loved ones, we bring joy. We also drive economies, because we are able to deliver shipments of goods in a timely manner. This motivates our people. They feel they are working in a great global company that is intertwined with the very fabric of life. They also feel they have a great future with us.”

On a management level, mechanisms such as mandatory targets ensure all business units help each other to achieve the overall success of the business.

For example, while operational units are evaluated on the time it takes to deliver a parcel, and customer services departments by how soon they pick up a client’s enquiry, all are held accountable to the overall company scores on performance, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction and profitability.

These targets affect the bonuses of individual departments, regardless of their own performance. This collective responsibility ensures no department feels left out, or left behind.

“Rightfully, if everybody is doing well, it should add up to the overall success of the company,” Lee says. “If the company is doing well overall, but your own set of key performances indicators [KPIs] is not looking good, there are different possibilities. You may need extra support from other departments, or there are things that we have failed to measure in the existing set of KPIs.

“If it is the former, all departments work together to solve the problem; if it is the latter, the management is willing to listen and adjust the way success is being measured so that we are doing real management work, not just scorecard management.”

DHL also holds its management accountable for whether staff members are happy working for the company. Every year, the company runs an employee opinion survey to gauge employees’ perceptions of the company, their work environment and their contributions. Such findings are translated into action plans, and the progress is shared in regular town hall meetings and get-togethers with managers. This interaction has led to improvements such as enhanced lighting facilities at worksites, paid paternity leave and scholarships for staff members’ children.

These steps have increased management’s credibility. Over 95 per cent of Hong Kong staff participated in a recent employee opinion survey, due to their confidence that management would make meaningful changes based on their input.

To add a human touch to the overall corporate effort in staff engagement, the management team regularly uses alternative ways to show care and appreciation. For example, senior management don chef’s hats and aprons and serve their staff buffet lunches to thank them for their service. Such small but meaningful gestures help bring staff closer together as they experience appreciation in a tangible way.

“We believe that people are the key enabler of our success,” Lee says. “We treat our staff with the utmost respect, without compromising the high standard of results.

“Things such as the employee opinion survey remind us that in the midst of working, we should not neglect the needs of our staff who are with us in order to sustain our business. They need a good work environment, and they need to be sure their needs are met in order to keep on doing a good job. We believe that once we are able to motivate our people – the key enablers of our company’s success – we can then deliver great service quality which results in customer satisfaction and loyalty.”

To further motivate staff to communicate with the company, DHL also has a transparent grading system for supervisors to share what they perceive to be their team’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as to listen to what their team members would like to achieve at work.

The company informs all staff of internal openings and encourages vertical and lateral movements. This has contributed to a high retention rate as staff have the flexibility to grow their careers.

“DHL has been in Hong Kong for over 40 years now, and we have been growing with the city, which has evolved into a regional hub,” Lee says.

“Our workforce in Hong Kong is known for being flexible, intelligent and diligent. Thanks to them, we are able to provide a unique combination of a global vision and a local mindset, as we work around the clock to deliver the best solution for our clients.

“As we continue to place people at the centre of our business, we are confident that DHL will grow even more successful in the years to come.”


Team spirit helps DHL deliver
Being part of the DHL team is both challenging and rewarding, as the entire global network works together to enable everyone to succeed in delivering creative solutions to customers in every kind of situation, say two staff members.

Zoe Kwan, tracing executive in the customer service division of DHL, says there have been many special moments during her 10-year tenure with the company. These include her responding to special requests in tracing the shipment status of parcels.

For example, a customer once wanted to send a Valentine’s Day gift to his girlfriend, who was on the road in a remote part of the mainland, meaning her location and schedule were unpredictable.

To make the situation even more challenging, her possible locations were not accessible to most of the local courier services.

“When I heard how anxious our customer was on the phone for his girlfriend, I made the promise to find a solution for him within the day – and I did,” Kwan says.

She called her colleagues in DHL China, who were quick to understand why she was so intent on completing the task and set out to explore different courier networks on the ground.

They were able to deliver the gift to the girlfriend, who was surprised and overjoyed that her boyfriend was able to send her a token of his love, regardless of where she was.

They both wrote to Kwan and her team to express their gratitude. “It was such a wonderful experience to have the whole DHL team supporting me in my mission,” Kwan says. “And I was so happy to hear from our customers. It made my day.”

Subsequently selected as employee of the year, Kwan was given the opportunity to act as coach to newcomers to the company.

“In customer servicing, we give new team members a month or more to ease into their new roles under the guidance of their coach,” she says. “It is a big commitment from the company in terms of time and resources, and is very rare in the customer service industry.”

The coaching system, which applies to all departments, allows new hires to shadow their coaches over a few months to build up their capability and confidence in handling various real-time situations.

Carl Chan, deputy manager of the quality control centre, says the company’s training programmes are invaluable, as they not only equip younger staff with necessary knowledge, but also ensure smooth operations, as everyone is on the same page.

“For example, on the topic of compliance, everyone from customer service to operations has the same concept of what needs to be done,” Chan says. “It makes quality control so much easier, as a lot of unnecessary misunderstanding is avoided.”

Chan, who joined DHL in 2008, appreciates the company’s family culture. He says this is important as staff spend a lot of time together in keeping the business running around the clock.

“There is a deep culture of trust and appreciation,” Chan says. “My supervisors and colleagues feel like family to me. It makes me feel secure and confident that I can continue to grow within the company.”