DHL Express: Happy Birthday CIS!

Happy 10th Birthday CIS  

As CIS turns 10, I look back with absolute pride and joy in playing a part in this incredible story… and reflect on why this assignment more than any other has been the landmark one of my career.

A different kind of brief

When you start reading a brief, written by a CEO, that says ‘I want my people to feel sick to their stomachs when something goes wrong for a customer’, you know there is something different about this assignment. Too often, client briefs land on my desk that have all the hallmarks of being written by an HR automaton on a ‘go slow’… bland, full of buzz words, lacking in commerciality and wanting a safe ‘cookie-cutter’ solution. As I read through the 10-page brief, it was visceral, passionate, straight forward… and it stood out from the crowd. My interest was piqued from that very first sentence. 

A real burning platform

I grew up in the 90s loving the iconic ad that made DHL a house hold name, singing along as Diana Ross belted out ‘Ain’t no Mountain High Enough’. As I carried on reading the brief I discovered a startling story of how this famous brand had fared under a new parent and the ‘rise and fall’ of the US domestic market. It didn’t make for happy reading. Employees were confused, DHL’s ‘international expert’ differentiator had been diluted, their customer experience was at best inconsistent and the legendary Express service reputation seriously tarnished. The financial impact of this was obvious .. and the CEO had decided to act – and fast. Too often my client assignments are a ‘tick box’ exercise… this had real teeth… this one mattered – and NKD could help make a real difference… for me, this just became personal. 

The boldest of ambitions

The brief posed the simple question… what would happen if 100,000 employees decided to take up the challenge of rebuilding the once ‘famous for service’ DHL Express brand from the inside out? Would it impact service quality, customer experience and ultimately profitable and sustainable growth? That’s what Ken Allen and his GMB team believed. And they had crafted their signature FOCUS strategy with 4 clear pillars all aimed at stabilizing the organization and preparing it for long term growth. And that strategy was a simplified version of the Harvard Business School Service Profit Chain… the very model I had built NKD around. It sounded too good to be true… a company genuinely in trouble and committed to a transformation based around people and customer experience… just the kind of genuine, commercial turnaround assignment I love. 

A big idea

There was a central belief that at the very core of every human being is a need to count, for it to matter that they showed up, and that what they did today really made a difference. Ken and his team understood that basic human need… and they had put it at the very heart of their strategy execution approach. They also understood that without the herculean effort of 100,000 passionate employees around the world – their dream of re-establishing DHL Express as an industry exemplar would remain just that – a dream. So, their challenge to me was – to re-engage 100,000 employees, in over 220 countries, in under a year with one simple ambition… to become Certified International Specialists… delivering Great Service Quality and changing the financial fortunes of DHL Express. How could I not want to be part of that dream! 

A dream team

If it all looked good on paper – the defining moment was meeting Ken and Charlie shortly after I won the pitch. They literally ‘burst’ into my office, they were fired up, they had all the enthusiasm and optimism for this project of my then 18-month-old Cocker Spaniel puppy. And to this date, their belief in what their people can achieve, their passion for their customers, their visible and on-going support to deliver and attend programmes, to plough through countless detailed designs and help us find the golden nuggets has never failed. They not only actively and positively lead from the top, they hold everyone else in the company to do the same. They are my inspiration. It’s my privilege to have worked alongside them and co-create possibly the most successful company turnaround in the last 30 years!

A new era

10 years on and so much has been achieved – 100s of global engagement interventions, industry leading employee engagement scores, 4th best place to work on the planet and of course that jaw-dropping financial turnaround that rocked the logistics industry.  And with a new CEO and his team it’s full steam ahead, building the next 10 years of CIS, hardcoding the engagement culture, keeping people connected and committed. 

Here’s to the next 10 years!