Two simple words that have taken on a particular resonance over the past year, as each of us has dealt with the disruption caused by the pandemic, and adapted to a new normality.
At DHL Supply Chain, enabling people’s everyday lives is a pretty good summary of what we do, and that’s defined in our purpose: ‘Connecting people, and improving lives’.
In such an extraordinary year as this, it is therefore particularly pleasing that we have been certified for the second year in a row as Top Employer Europe. It’s recognition that we provide an excellent working environment for people who are passionate about being an essential part of everyday life and together keeping global supply chains running. Our determined approach to the pandemic has once again proven that it’s strong HR fundamentals that help us to navigate through challenging times. These fundamentals have been built up over time and I’m really proud to see the certification as an acknowledgement of the creative thinking, innovative mind set, desire for continuous improvement and strong people and business orientation of all our HR professionals.
So as an HR leader, what is my perspective on the part that our people have played in our response to the pandemic?
Five strengths within DHL
I think five qualities, in particular, have helped us: experience, resilience, flexibility, communication and a sense of purpose.
Firstly, experience and preparedness. While none of us have ever lived through a pandemic before, as a global business we have seen events in recent years – such as the earthquake in Fukushima, or the volcanic eruption in Iceland – that very seriously disrupted global supply chains. These have helped us to prepare for such eventualities. We are focused on the resilience of our customers’ supply chains and have business continuity plans ready that take into account the biggest risks and include effective mitigation and recovery plans that shape our response.
We’re very focused on developing our leaders in DHL and our set of six leadership attributes includes being results-oriented, leveraging strengths, having and creating trust, providing purpose, focussing on clear priorities and being positive about challenges, uncertainty and change. These have served as a compass for our leaders to follow during the pandemic. We quickly brought together cross-functional task forces at all levels of the organization, starting at the top, for a fast, consistent crisis response.
DHL has a “Safety first!” culture. Because we have a consistent health and safety management system in place, it meant that we could activate additional health and safety measures like social distancing and personal protective equipment quickly to keep our employees safe.
In addition, our flexibility has helped us. Our customers seek our capability to ramp up even the largest of warehouses in a very short time frame. They trust our capacity to react fast to changing demand patterns. It’s the nature of our business to adapt resource needs to volume forecasts. The techniques we have in place – usually used for preparing for a Black Friday or Cyber Monday – helped us to react to the sudden drop of demand in fashion retail, for example, and the steep rise in consumer demand for e-commerce at the same time.
A core element of good crisis management is of course communication, communication and communication again. Even if you don’t have the full picture yet, you should reach out, be open and honest and share. You also need to pay attention to people’s feelings and be very sensitive to the fact that no one’s situation is like another. We are a large business spread across different geographies and we were all affected with different stages of C-19 impact and lockdowns at a particular time. The truth is everybody responds differently in a crisis situation and goes through different emotions.
Fortunately, we are a global organization used to interacting and sharing best practices with our colleagues around the globe. Staying connected and being together has been more valuable than ever in picking up learnings and in turn sharing our own experiences with colleagues.
I mentioned before our purpose, and I think our people live and breathe a high sense of responsibility.
A large majority of our work cannot be done remotely – picking and packing goods in warehouses and delivering to stores. We are incredibly proud of our people in keeping essential supply chains running and at the same time keeping colleagues safe. Everybody wants to get through this pandemic together, and the last year has fostered a real sense of togetherness in DHL Supply Chain.
An important time for HR
These five qualities have meant we had the tools ready to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.
I think a positive that will last beyond the pandemic is how we in DHL, like more and more companies, are putting our people at the center of our strategy and at the heart of our activities. C-19 has given an enormous push to the digitalization agenda and fostered truly collaborative ways of working. We have seen the HR tools and processes that we have built over many years strive in a crisis stress test.
We are proud of all of our colleagues and feel more together than ever. In that sense, I can say there has probably never been a better moment to work in HR.