The COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on HR to construct meaningful change for employees as they navigate a disrupted workplace. Lothar Harings, CHRO of Kuehne+Nagel, joined us for our virtual event, IAMHR, to discuss how his company is rethinking the talent experience.
Read his key insights here for inspiration on how you can foster balance and belonging, customer excellence, and the leadership necessary to build a thriving culture amidst uncertainty.
Initial Response: Pivoting to Remote Work and Addressing Health and Safety
Kuehne+Nagle is a global logistics company with more than 100,000 employees worldwide. Its workforce comprises (formerly) office-based employees who facilitate the organization of global cargo movement, and workers who physically handle cargo in warehouses and on loading docks.
In the beginning of the pandemic, more than 45,000 employees transitioned to remote work within four days without a drop in productivity, Harings said. (He attributes success to some key infrastructure characteristics, including harmonized communication structure, synchronized operating systems, and well-deployed IT resources.)
Meanwhile, the company activated safety and security protocols to protect the physical health of frontline workers. Leadership addressed mental and emotional health needs with clear, honest messaging to assure employees of the company’s support, and leveraged options to avoid layoffs and preserve as much of the fixed workforce as possible.
Moving Forward: Coaching Employees through Post-COVID Changes
Society is still operating in crisis mode, which means people accept circumstances they typically wouldn’t in normal times. “We’re still in the middle of the storm,” Harings said, and unforeseen challenges may still lie ahead.
Work won’t return to the way it was, Harings believes, because we’ve learned a lot. “There are certain things we are now doing better and we want to keep that momentum,” he said.
But it can’t be assumed that employees will automatically accept changes going forward. It’s up to HR to preserve the best aspects of changes forced by the pandemic and integrate them into a new way of working.
Establish a Framework to Define Culture and the Employee Experience
Establishing a framework and providing clear messaging is key to preparing for a post-COVID future of work. The goal is to balance individual preferences with what’s best for the company, Harings said.
Kuehne+Nagel’s frame addresses four components: culture, technical, leadership and customer perspective. While the frame ensures consistency of culture, Harings said Kuehne+Nagel also provides a playbook with practical guidelines to help leaders adapt the framework to fit their own national or local context.
“Here's the mistake of some companies: They are not seeing the interconnection between all these components — the culture component, with the technical component, with the leadership component, with the customer perspective,” Harings said. “If you miss out on one of them, you're running a big risk that, ultimately, you're doing something that will not work.”
Balance Individual Needs with Organizational Goals for Sustained Productivity
Sustaining productivity will also depend on balancing individual needs and preferences with the goals of the organization, Harings said. To achieve this balance – and manage expectations – employees need clear orientation based on defined criteria.
Along with taking individual preferences into account, Kuehne+Nagel is examining job roles in terms of tasks and requirements for best fulfilling them. Some tasks can easily be completed remotely; others need group work and immediate exchange of communication.
This approach helps strike that all-important balance between respect for individual preferences with organizational goals.
Make Workplace Learning On-Demand and Immediately Relevant
Career growth and development will be a primary driver of the employee experience, as well as organizational agility and resilience. The time of long, multi-day leadership seminars are over, Harings believes.
Modern workplace learning needs to be on demand, directly connected to the workplace environment, and focused on closing skills gaps, he said. Other key learning trends Harings identifies include:
- Personalization to meet learning preferences balanced with efficiency for the company
- Coaching that focuses on storytelling to teach culture and best practices
How AI and Automation Fit into the Future of Work
From providing a more personalized employee and candidate experience to streamlining processes for managers and recruiters, automation and AI-driven technology will become increasingly essential. It can also play a role in change management. “Technology can help people change and enhance their perspective,” Harings said.
Kuehne+Nagle is working with Phenom on designing a new Career Explorer tool. “We’re putting people in the driver’s seat of their own career,” Harings said. Phenom’s AI-driven technology uses intelligent matching to provide employees with insights and recommendations to help them advance their career and grow within the organization.
It’s garnered a very positive employee response, Harings said, in part because the use of AI here is purpose-driven, and insights stay private to the employee, dispelling the common fear that AI is “spying” on individuals’ digital actions.
Kuehne+Nagle also plans to explore how AI and automation can improve customer service. “I believe the potential for service upskilling and excellence is great if we use automation to free up time for high-quality interactions with customers,” he said.