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DHL’s Radically Simple Approach to Employee Training

DHL’s Radically Simple Approach to Employee Training

“Radical Simplicity” changed the way DHL Express does business and made them the most international company in the world. In fact, DHL operates in more countries than the United Nations.

During the 2020 For All™ Summit, Great Place to Work® CEO Michael Bush sat down with Ken Allen, CEO DHL eCommerce Solutions and previous CEO DHL Express, for an in-depth conversation. Listen to the full discussion on our podcast about how Radical Simplicity can work for businesses whether they have 100 or 100,000 employees.

What is Radical Simplicity?

Radical Simplicity tells the story of Ken Allen, both personally and professionally, turning DHL Express from a company that lost €2.2 billion in 2008 to making €1.0 billon ten years later.

Ken breaks down the philosophy like this:

  • Radical describes the fervor behind your goals and strategy

    “You have to know the detail of the industry that you're in, Ken says. “You've got to be able to convey that message in a clear, concise manner to everybody through the organization.”

  • Simplicity is about “knowing in huge depth your business and being able to explain that to everybody in the organization, what their role is and where you want to get to”

In other words, it means ensuring all employees know the organization’s core business and mission, the strategy for achieving them and how they each contribute to success.

It starts with “SELF” reflection

Ken’s philosophy is what he calls “SELF” reflection.

Simplicity is the idea you have.

Execution is executing the strategy.

Leadership is pulling all the components together and keeping them going.

Focus is connecting all the elements to a singular mission.

Ken used this approach to train everyone at DHL Express on the core business and saw incredible results for his people and the bottom line.

DHL’s approach to employee training

When looking to expand DHL’s presence in the U.S., Ken chose to focus on one of DHL’s unique strengths: time-definite international shipping.

He implemented the Certified International Specialist (CIS) program - an extensive training for all employees on the principles of international shipping and DHL’s strategy.

DHL’s approach to training stands out for a few reasons:

  • Instead of outsourcing trainers, DHL leaders and people managers became facilitators and trainers, becoming experts themselves in the process
  • This in-house approach strengthened relationships between employees and their leaders
  • As a multi-national company, DHL emphasized communication in the CIS program, using native speakers to translate the curriculum to into 42 languages.

In other words, the employee experience was front and center for DHL’s training.

The program was huge success, garnering external recognition three times in six months from 2012-2013 and catalyzing a stronger company culture.

“It was a cultural booster. We invested a lot of money and we’d just started to turn the corner. And this was a $100 million program.

“The CFO came to me and she said, ‘Ken, Ken, what if we invest all this money, and people leave? And I said, ‘Melanie, what if we don’t, and they stay?’”

— Ken Allen

How you can use Radical Simplicity in your organization 

In the continuing wake of COVID-19, implementing a large-scale training program isn’t feasible for many organizations.

However, there are ways to implement Radical Simplicity for your business today:

Regularly monitor your company culture

Ken believes that without monitoring your company culture and employee engagement, business can suffer greatly:

“I think this is the key essence of leadership: it's got to be somehow monitored.”

“Because leaders can create greatness, or they can totally destroy it. When people don't run businesses properly, it's not the C-suite who suffers that much.  It's the people on the front lines who have been working like crazy to try and keep the company going. Frontline workers are the ones trying to cover up some of the faults that the management's made.”

- Ken Allen

Since 2015, DHL have been monitoring their employee experience with Emprising™, Great Place to Work’s survey and culture management platform. It enables DHL to analyze and measure their employee experience against different focus areas.  

DHL doesn’t just survey their people annually. The company conducts pulse surveys throughout the year to understand employees’ needs and how they evolve and change with the times.

Especially during this pandemic, surveying now can provide leaders with crucial real-time data that helps them decide how to support employees’ pressing needs.

Ken says the area of employee engagement that he is most pleased about improving under monitoring is knowledge of company strategy. “It went from 56 to 88 [percent over a ten-year period] which in a business like ours, is almost unheard of.”

Continuous, prolonged monitoring of employee experience enabled DHL to accurately identify these knowledge gaps and address employees’ needs regarding the ins-and-outs of the business.

Year over year, they were able to track and decrease these knowledge gaps, creating more informed and confident employees.

Find ways to keep your people motivated

Inspired and engaged people are a key force in driving business forward.

Ken sees better service quality from motivated employees for two reasons:

  • Motivated employees will have a better grasp of the tools and steps used to deliver for customers

    “They will follow a process because they know systemically, the network works. If you do everything right, the shipment will move from San Francisco to Montevideo, Uruguay without problems.”

  •   Motivated employees understand the importance of the customer experience

    “They know, that if something goes wrong, they have to show a lot of empathy for the customer, because the customer is our rallying cry. We call it ‘insanely customer-centric culture’.”
Help employees see more than just revenue targets

Ken explains that when employees know your core business and purpose, your company’s mission can go further. “A lot of the problems I've seen, is people chasing a revenue growth figure. And to do that, they go outside of their core business and what they're really good at. And they start chasing it down just to keep the top line growing.”

Ken believes that with focus on your core business comes growth. “Employees must know intimately every detail of your business. This is why you need to educate the salespeople a lot as well.”

At DHL, “Everyone's a salesperson.” But they know they sell more than just products, they sell core business and value. “Don't sell price,” Ken says. “I think that's one of the pitfalls that people fall into.”

Learn your company’s strengths and ensure everyone at the company is on the same page. Tap in with people leaders to ensure they have tools to communicate the core business with their teams.

We see how Ken used Radical Simplicity to lead DHL, turning it from a floundering company to now operating in over 220 countries and territories around the globe. Monitoring, educating, motivating and connecting your employees are invaluable measures to ensure your organization keeps growing, even in these uncertain times.

If you want help monitoring and your employee experience like DHL, reach out to us to learn about our culture management platform.


Seth Willis