Peter Ramjug pivoted from a wire service journalism career to writing and strategizing executive communications. He helps thought leaders gather their thoughts.
Peter RamjugJune 13, 2024
Topics: AI

DHL Prioritizes Customer Success Through Innovation

When you think “DHL,” what comes immediately to mind? Couriers in yellow and red uniforms, no doubt.

But the company is so much more. Behind the iconic attire is a global innovation powerhouse with 600,000+ employees in 220 countries handling a billion shipments a year. Not known to many is another line of business — managing the supply chains of large companies.

That means that DHL is continually driving innovation by looking for ways to solve problems and find a better, faster, more cost-effective method to do it, Meredith Wellard, Vice President of Group Talent Acquisition, Learning and Growth, said at the annual IAMPHENOM HR tech conference in Philadelphia.

“Customer success is our success,” she said. “At the core of that is innovation.”

Wellard was interviewed by Cliff Jurkiewicz, Vice President of Global Strategy at Phenom. Watch their discussion, or continue reading for highlights.

DHL's commitment to finding new ways to do things better and faster is underscored by massive Innovation Centers in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas, and highlighted in various ways across both their corporate website and career site.

Innovation comes in different forms at the company.

Related reading: “How DHL Delivers an Irresistible Employer Brand That Drives Results” case study

A Robot Named Stretch

“I was out at one of our sites, and they have a Boston Dynamic robot called Stretch. It's very exciting,” Wellard said. “It’s basically a robotic arm that unpacks trucks for us. We have people working side-by-side with those robots, and they’re loving it.”

To anyone concerned about how employees may react working alongside robots, Wellard said, “What I have seen so far is it's actually pretty exciting for them if it's managed well.”

The company also recently snipped the grand opening ribbon on a new electric vehicle (EV) logistics hub in Italy. It is tailored to meet the increasing demand for EVs in the Italian market.

Human Work

Society is moving into an age of innovation where AI becomes almost like an employee. Organizational leaders, therefore, are going to be faced with understanding the difference between the human work and the work driven by AI. One prediction calls for AI being treated like a team member in a way that it almost personifies the technology.

Wellard said the topic of leadership in that environment is challenging because the skills are different managing a robot. “They don't need a conversation,” she said. “As much as we love (giving robots) names and putting smiley faces on them, they are just an inanimate object.”

Innovation is a Belief, Not a Process

Thinking and preparing for the future isn’t limited to global corporations. Even a non-profit like the American Red Cross is looking for ways to tap technology and data to better serve its mission.

Most organizations invite employees to share their ideas by writing them down on a slip of paper and putting them in a box in the office kitchen. That is too process-oriented for DHL’s liking.

“It needs to be enabled by quite a number of organizational factors, starting with understanding why you're doing it,” Wellard said. “Why we (DHL) do it is the customer.”

She explained that people need to be allowed to innovate fast, implement, fail, adapt, and change. They should not feel that they were punished or held back for an idea that didn’t work out.

For example, using the Phenom Intelligent Talent Experience platform company-wide was an idea that came out of one of DHL’s divisions.

Defining Innovation

The word has been used so much it means different things to different people. McKinsey defined it as “the systematic practice of developing and marketing breakthrough products and services for adoption by customers.” Wellard likens it to learning something new before everyone else does.

“The problem of learning is that it's historical — I learned something that everyone else already knew,” Wellard explained. “Someone at some point needs to learn the thing that nobody knows in order to make it a thing, and that's what innovation is.”

So let people learn as they go, and let them unlearn as they go is her point. Here’s a practical example of what that means:

A DHL employee working in airport operations once came up with an idea to ensure a small letter or parcel never got lost — turn the large, green parcel bags inside out. Then someone else suggested turning the bags inside out on sturdy wireframes. Building on that suggestion, another employee said multiple bags should be used on one wireframe for easier storage — bag on top of bag.

“That's now a standard operating procedure,” said Wellard.

Amazing story. And a testament to the fact that no matter how large an organization, there should always be opportunities for people to come up with a better way of doing things. That's innovation.

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