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Interview

Change is hard! People fear it, hate it and resist anything that challenges the status quo and the tried and trusted. So imagine a change programme that is wholesale, fundamental, total, and must translate into 47 different languages across 220 different countries and territories? You’d better get your messages clear. Rick Jackson, Vice President Global Head of CIS at DHL Express, headed a team that did just that, in one year flat. Jason Spiller interviews.

Rick give us an idea of how you came to be at the centre of what is, arguably, the biggest corporate change management and employee engagement programme of all time.  

I have to confess right here at the beginning, my background isn’t founded in HR, it’s IT! It stems back to a computer science and maths degree, and first experience in the workplace was at the Burton group and Arcadia retail, where I was, for five years, entirely in an IT environment. Everything I was involved in though was very much aligned with how the business operated, as opposed to technical IT programming, and most of the work focused on how the business could benefit from IT. In 2003, I left and secured a post at DHL Express UK working in the IT department, focusing on RFID technology, HR SAP and managing all the business IT for Customer Services. As a result of working on HR SAP, the HR Director asked me to pull together a HR Tactical Projects team to bring different perspectives and inject some new ideas and approaches into HR project management. This I did for six months, my first taste of HR, outside of the IT world.

That job complete, I went back into IT, in a European role in Brussels and assisted in the set-up of the regional business IT function. I worked in the newly-founded team for two years, then my career suddenly and totally changed track. DHL Express had got a new CEO who came in to run the Europe operation and, to my surprise, he asked me to be his Chief-of-Staff and run his office. So I was thrust into a high-level management function, and I continued until 2010, when the Global CEO, Ken Allen, asked me if I would join the Certified International Specialist (CIS) programme. I was part of the team that had the responsibility of bringing to fruition a massive scale, global change programme and, in 2012, this turned into a department in its own right, under the management of the CEO, and I was asked to manage it.

What is running a logistics express delivery company all about?  

In terms of logistics, it is one of the oldest industries in the world. Going back to the very early eras of trade, there has always been a need to move goods from A-to-B and there always will be. DHL started the international Express industry in 1969 by operating a door-to-door express service transporting documents between San Francisco and Hawaii. The name DHL is derived from the founders of the business Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom and Robert Lynn. DHL Express has grown to be the most international company in the world with 100,000 people in over 220 countries and territories.

Give us an idea of how the CIS programme came about, how you planned to execute it, and what were the challenges to consider across the international business?  

The whole CIS programme stemmed from the rapid pace the business had grown. The growth of DHL Express was through mergers & acquisitions on a large scale and this brought many different domestic businesses around the world under the DHL Express brand, which presented challenges, one of which was competing with the other integrators like UPS & FedEx, in their home markets. Before becoming Global CEO, Ken Allen was charged with turning around the USA market, which was DHL’s largest loss maker bar none. Competing with the US integrators, which had a tight grip on their domestic market, was a huge challenge and a drain on resources on the global operations of DHL Express. After much deliberation, the board took the decision to close down the domestic business in the US. They took a call that we were never going to be domestically competitive and we needed to channel our resources into the international business. Needing to motivate the workforce on the back of these major changes led to CIS being born. In the US, CIS set out to ensure all employees in the newlyfocused international business could feel proud of being a Certified International Specialist. It was the CIS programme there that was the basis of where we are today. In fact, one of the team who works with me now was part of the original USA group.

On becoming Global CEO, Ken focussed the entire organisation on the International business and to building a profitable network. Motivating and engaging the people became a number one priority and the team came together and took the challenge to motivate and engage 100,000 people across 220 countries and territories who speak over 47 different languages. It was about making everyone Certified International Specialists and ensuring they understood why they work for DHL, how they contribute to the network and to the success of the business. And, we wanted to reach all 100,000 people in one year. We began with the CIS Foundation, and sat down to present our challenge, plan our approach, strategy and implementation with our learning partner, NKD Learning and marketing partner, Maverick Advertising.

We needed to understand our limitations and have confidence in the expertise and knowledge of our partners. It was always useful having the CEO as sponsor as he acted as an important focal point. Of course, changing a company culture is a huge task and with such a mix of cultures across the world we had to ensure we designed something that would be consistent. The experience in countries with 5,000 people had to be identical to those countries with 50 people. So we said, right from the beginning: “whether you’re in the UK, USA, South Korea, Uruguay or Mozambique, you will all get the same experience”. And finally, the only way we were ever going to make this a success is if DHL employees delivered it. We didn’t want an external company facilitating the programme! We wanted to take our people and teach them how to facilitate, making them the facilitators of the change programme and the deliverers of the messages to the business. As we progressed, we began an internal marketing campaign and ensured every country in the world assigned a CIS country champion, who worked with the global team, to ensure local planning for implementation took place.

You talk about “the CIS Foundation”, can you explain what that is?  

The CIS Foundation is the initial programme we embarked upon. It is a 1½ day experiential learning programme which outlines the history of the company direct from our DHL pioneers, explores our customer structure, our global network and the end-toend business process of how we operate. This is combined not only with providing fact and figures, but discussions on the impact on our customers and network when things go wrong. Finally, this is all wrapped up with the spirits of how DHL Express people behave and live by. The experience uses multi-sensory techniques to increase the learning; Auditory through facilitation, Visual through video and animation and Kinesthetic through activities. On completion of the programme, there is a test which allows us to measure the learning and certify our people. Everyone who graduates is provided with a CIS Passport, which is stamped on successful completion of any course. This has quickly become a badge of pride in the company and a record of your learning career in DHL Express.

The usage of films and a passport are neat ideas, but how can you make sure the messages and principals stick for long enough to make the changes permanent?  

As I have mentioned, we needed a champion in every country to be responsible for CIS, a country champion who owns the process, takes responsibility for the implementation, plans the resources, controls the budget and ensures the messages are embedded across the organisation. This is aligned with the global direction, to ensure everyone receives the same experience. Everyone thought we were crazy, but this was it, this was the process we worked by, and we gave them a mechanism to ensure it was sufficiently funded and all managing directors were onboard. We began by implementing a Train-The-Trainer programme and trained 1200 facilitators globally. Our first live courses were with the Top 120 Leaders of the company at the 2010 global conference. Once they had graduated and could hold their passport with pride they could go back to their countries and ensure the programme was a success.

What were the first signs of traction in the change programme?  

As soon as we started, we knew we’d struck on something and once we heard the results from the courses, that backed up our optimism and we realised we’d started something great! The team was so focused and concentrated for so long setting the programme off, that the first time we had a chance to really understand the impact, the Foundation was already in full swing and, whether it was engaging new recruits or reengaging people that had been with the business for many years, the positive impact was the same. Initially, we started to measure actual delivery, and the goal was to get 100,000 colleagues through the programme in the one year. Next, we measured the impact in our annual Employee Opinion Survey, looking at Strategy, Employee Engagement & Learning and Development. Working with our EOS provider, we agreed that a one to three percent year on year increase in all categories would be a great achievement. We used the 2010-2011 year-onyear results in the three specific categories, to measure how the programme was performing and in each category, we had made great strides. There was an increase globally of 11 percent in Strategy and seven percent in both Employee Engagement and Learning and Development. In 2011-2012, all the categories have improved again. The best result is that customers are seeing a change in DHL Express. Anecdotal stories from across the globe are telling us we are moving in the right direction.

So, what is the next stage?  

While we were rolling this out over 2011, we always kept in mind “what do we need to do next”?, and “how are we going to continue what we have started”?. We understood the knowledge and skills of all our people were the most important consideration and if we were to become an Employer of Choice, CIS would be a major factor in the company to achieving that. Now we have a suite of courses following on from the Foundation, which all 100,000 people will attend. These have been developed around specific topics we believe are necessary to improve the knowledge of our employees as international specialists. They are delivered in one hour sessions to allow everyone to attend without any disruption to service. And again, they have been designed in an experiential way and are facilitated by the DHL team. We are now working on individual functional curriculums, that are developed by specific role, covering the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in your career. Whether you work in Sales, Customer Services, Network Operations, Aviation, IT or HR, there is a mix of classroombased learning or eLearning, to help you on your learning journey.

Finally, we are working on our Certified International Manager programme (CIM). We have designed and have begun implementing our own world class leadership training programme. It’s top of the range, innovative and comprehensive for all levels of management. It involves a multi-layered approach focusing on knowing yourself, knowing your business, knowing your people and knowing your numbers. Since beginning 2013 we’ve graduated over 1000 leaders through the first module of CIM with at least one from all the 220 countries and territories we operate in. What is key to CIM is that we have followed the philosophy of the Foundation. It is being facilitated by DHL’s executive board and global leaders. We have taken over 400 managers, including the Global Management Board, away from their roles and countries for two weeks and taught them how to facilitate a leadership programme. Just consider how powerful that is for a manager to attend a leadership programme and be facilitated by the CEO or a global leader of the company? It’s immeasurable, there is nothing like getting engagement from the very top and the feedback we get from people from CIM is that they’re seeing an active change in their leaders which is encouraging them to perform better.

And all this was done in the shadow of recession and making a tough decision about the US market.  

Absolutely… everybody is experiencing what’s going on in the world, business is tough, and the recession has been challenging. But you’ve got to keep investing in people, even when times are tough, and the companies that come out in best shape, once a recession is over are the ones that do invest in people and their development at difficult times. To date the focus of this change management programme has centred on training and development, and I am now working closely with our EVP HR Global, Regine Buettner, into how CIS can support the HR organisation to enhance our HR processes, including Talent Management and Reward and Recognition.

What is there next for you to do, and have you achieved all your objectives?  

For me, its still full-steam ahead, we need to think smarter, and really use what we’ve done so far to our advantage, ensuring the mindset and philosophy is embedded into our organisation. I want DHL Express to become an Employer of Choice and I will do whatever it takes with HR to ensure this happens. If you have an organisation of motivated people, they will provide better quality of service to customers, if you have great service quality and customers experience, then you will increase customer loyalty, and maintain a profitable network. This will enable DHL Express to keep investing in people, skills and knowledge. In terms of my goal? If the team and I can get 100,000 people engaged and motivated, knowing how their role contributes to the success of the company and our customers’ satisfaction then that is an achievement we can be rightly proud of, it is as simple as that!

What do you think the future business challenges will be?  

Well, it’s always going to be how we can we do better for our customers? That’s the main focus. All around the globe, businesses are struggling and they are constantly looking for services that deliver for them, but they’re also looking for efficiencies, and that impacts on our business, as it does across all industries. We can monitor trading patterns, keep an eye on all markets and be mindful of pending events that could impact the economy. We have the knowledge and the entry into all markets in the world and the expertise to ensure all our customers can trade seamlessly, that’s the technology of logistics. But it helps too, in spades, to have 100,000 motivated people, who are putting the customer first and always willing to go the extra mile, and that is proving essential.

And what have you learnt about yourself, especially in consideration of the fact that you did not have a HR background?  

I’ve learnt that anything is achievable if you are focused and you really want to make it happen. I don’t think an HR background is essential to managing a programme such as this, if you understand the task in hand, and importantly, you like people and are passionate about the business, you can make it happen. As we began this journey in 2010, if someone had told me where we would be today I would never have believed them. I also think having empathy and understanding for people, how they think and learn and importantly, helping them to enjoy their job and enjoy life, that seems to me to be very important. If a large percentage of your waking time is spent with people you work with then you should have an environment where you are allowed to grow personally as well as professionally and your company has a huge responsibility to make that happen. People want to do a good job, they want to have a purpose, if we can provide that then we will have the most engaged workforce in the world. From what we have delivered so far it’s humbling to see people all over the world take on something like this and own it. I think this is a game changer in the industry and this is only the start.

IT people stereotypically, tend to be quite reserved and analytical, what qualities has this brush with HR brought out of you?  

I’ve always been an outgoing person, and seeing what people can do and seeing what a positive impact we have had on improving performance is really overwhelming. I’ve never taken for granted what the team have been able to achieve. I suppose I have never been your stereotypical, reserved IT person, but I can tell you there are many more out there who don’t fit that stereotype either! Personally, I’ve grown so much in terms of my capability and my outlook on life has changed, so has my management style and my understanding of the world and different cultures. I am a very detailed person, but I have made a point of being open and communicative in everything, particularly in building a global team to make this a success, which I’m immeasurably proud of and its achievements. But if you asked me now what I will be doing in the next five years, I don’t know. I know I still have a lot to do here, and what we’re trying to do in the next few years is enormous.

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