DHL has been able to create a strong image with the public through an extensive presence on the roads and a bold and bright brand. This has meant that this image has been maintained with minimal advertising, as DHL are advertising themselves and new services when the public see their fleet of vehicles on the road. Together with clever sponsorship of events such as Formula 1, this has resulted in the general public perception of DHL being a brand that is strong and reliable – two vital attributes in the logistics industry.
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However, there are still some areas for DHL to improve its communication strategy. By perhaps communicating employees an idea of the success of the service centre they work in, they could have a greater sense of belonging to DHL. Also, there could perhaps be more scope for DHL staff to communicate to higher levels of management if there is a need to, rather than going through various levels of the hierarchy. The revamping of the company magazine has been one way that DHL has combated this, by bringing the ideas of those at the very top of the hierarchy with those at the bottom. However, by doing this in a more work-related manner, communication may be improved.
DHL is a courier service that is currently active in more than 220 countries around the world and employs some 300,000 employees. Therefore good and clear communication throughout the organisation is vital. DHL’s success can only be achieved if a consistent message is delivered throughout the whole company. By aligning the message given internally to the message it conveys to its different external stakeholders, DHL has built a brand that is solid, respectable, and consistent. This is all the more impressive given that DHL has been taken over by another organisation-Deutsche Post – in the past 10 ten years.
DHL’s mission statement has four main themes which contribute towards reaching the ‘DHL Vision’. This vision is that the company is trusted by customers as “the preferred global express and logistics partner, leading the industry in terms of quality, profitability and market share”. The four main parts of the mission statement cover issues such as product quality, quality of staff, returns of the business (again the three relate to different stakeholders), and finally DHL’s role as a responsible corporate citizen. Argenti (2003) argues that “firms need to consider their corporate communication effort as manifested in the company’s vision and mission statement”. Therefore, it is likely that these goals are at the centre of how DHL organises its communications effort. For example, DHL points towards its multi-cultural heritage and the ability of the company to find solutions at all levels of the business process. These are undeniably important assets to the company but are only useful if they can be incorporated into an effective communication model.
Given the nature of the logistics industry, there is a need for a precise route for messages to be delivered on time. It comes as no surprise to see DHL’s UK hierarchy is one that is well-balanced and clear. Ken McCall, the MD of DHL Express UK sits atop the hierarchy. Next there is the board of nine Directors, who are reported to directly by the operations field director. He gains his information from the head of each of the 39 service centres in the UK. Within the service centre, the hierarchy has five levels, but cross-communication is much easier, especially amongst the bottom three levels. There is a head of the service centre, who manages a supervisor. Then there are the office staff and the sales team. There are then senior couriers before the lowest level made up of couriers and warehouse staff.
At the top of the hierarchy, DHL Express is set out similar to a pyramid network, in that the 39 different service centres each report to the same person. However, upon breaking this network down, each service centre seems closer to resembling a chain network. Argenti (2003) believes that part of the problem in many companies is that “senior managers simply do not involve lower-level employees in most decisions.” This is a problem when talking about the whole of DHL Express, as goals and strategies are imposed upon service centres. However, where DHL excels, is the close relationships and communication between managers and employees within the service centres. On the warehouse floor, managers, couriers, and operatives are all in constant communication. Whether it is informal or formal, this communication is constantly building relationships and trust. This will be helped by the idea of DHL adopting the ‘carrot principle’, which involves giving staff constant praise to try and motivate them. Although there has only been limited research on this principle, from my experience, the manager always tries to give some praise when talking to you, even when telling you that something is wrong, he will reassure you afterwards, and this does aid how much attention workers pay to managers. It is evident from the way that people converse out of the working environment e.g. in the canteen, that workers trust managers and talk to them the same as they would to other couriers for example. Although on the warehouse floor communication concerning work is generally one-way, managers tend not to use authoritarian language. They will word instructions in such a way that it seems they are asking people to do things rather than telling them to. This ensures for the smooth running of the business from a daily perspective. Mobile phones are a very important tool used by managers and couriers to aid this, as it allows for more direct communication and gives couriers the ability to be able to find solutions to problems quicker, by contacting managers.
When talking about furthering the goals of the company and not just improving the working atmosphere, Argenti (2003) argues that “communication must be a way two-way process”. Upper management introduced the idea of “Business Tuesdays” into the warehouse at DHL around 12 months ago. At each warehouse, an employee representative (generally a senior courier) heads meetings with any employees who wish to discuss issues within the workplace. Any issues are then dealt with between management and the employee representative. Although this is not technically direct face-to-face communication it gives employees a regular meeting where they can speak confidently, and relationships with managers are not harmed. The regular nature of these meetings means that communication is ongoing meaning employees can be given updates at subsequent meetings as to how their ideas have been taken on. Although feedback on this activity has been positive, there are still some workers who feel detached from senior management.
Nearer the top of the hierarchy, a member of the board aims to visit the centre at least once a month in order to gain an update on performance. This ‘hands-on’ approach can give employees perspective on how a centre fits into the national hierarchy. Also, it means that the director strengthens the ties between the centre and the board, as he/she is no longer just a face on a wallchart. This is important because there is not really much scope for communication across service centres. When problems arise communication must travel upwards before being fed back down. Therefore it is up to the board to act as the link between centres. It seems that this authoritarian approach slows down the process of rectifying problems.
One method suggested by Argenti (2003) to improve internal communications is through internal branding. It is especially relevant given that Argenti believes internal branding to be “critical when an organisation is undergoing changes such as a merger.” In 2001, DHL was taken over by Deutsche Post. However, given the strength of the DHL brand, it was maintained. However, top strategic decisions made by Deutsche Post now affect DHL. For example, the “First Choice” programme implemented by Deutsche Post was designed to make DHL the public’s first choice courier. Posters about the programme adorn the walls in the workplace and canteen, and on them, is the Deutsche Post logo. These posters highlight exactly how employees should operate and what traits they should show and highlight to employees the role that they can play in making DHL first choice. This can instil a sense of pride and belonging into employees regarding DHL’s primary position in the market. Methods such as this help to strengthen the alignment between how employees operate and the visions of a company’s CEO.
A further way DHL try to align the behaviour of employees to the company’s goals, is by promoting the ‘seven key values’ that employees should take into account. These values are driven into employees during training and while in work – even appearing on screensavers on company computers. This comprehensive approach ensures that they are taken note of. However, the impression I got is that these values only seem to be in place to give DHL a personality for employees to align themselves with.
One informal way DHL communicates with the whole hierarchy is through bi-monthly magazine “On the dot”. Recently the magazine has been revamped to focus more on lower level employees, for example, their hobbies out of work, in order to try and improve a sense of a ‘DHL community’. It has introduced a new feature whereby an employee has the chance to interview a Director. Also, the new feature includes a regular column from Ken McCall, allowing him to talk directly to all employees. The magazine also encourages employees to contribute to the magazine. This could allow more senior management direct insight into a general sense of how employees feel about DHL.
The two most important functions for a company to consider when thinking of external communications are the image they are portraying, and the identity that they want to create for themselves. There are clear differences between the two. According to Argenti (2003), “A company’s identity is the visual manifestation of the company’s reality as conveyed through the organization’s name, logo â€¦and all other tangible pieces of evidence created by the organisation and communicated to a variety of constituencies”. From this, the constituencies of the organisation then form an image of what they perceive the company to be about. Creating a strong image through branding can eliminate the need for advertising heavily, thus saving money. DHL do this very well. The basic design of their logo and bold colours mean that the DHL brand is very recognisable. DHL have made their vehicles recognisable by painting them in the ‘DHL yellow’. The huge volume of DHL vehicles on the road means that there should be great familiarity between the public and the company. DHL have realised this and took the decision not to advertise on television. Instead, they have advertised new services on the back of their vans. This is a way of gaining free publicity for this service, and making it eye catching as it differs from the usual yellow covering of the vans (the back of the vehicle is dedicated to advertising).
The DHL website is extremely efficient in guiding people to specific services. Customers can even check exactly how much a product will be to ship without having to contact anybody, saving time for both the customer and DHL. The website also gives a range of ways to contact DHL and clear directions to each service centre. The website supplements DHL’s choice of advertising well, and carries through the brand image by being set out in the bold yellow and red associated with DHL.
One way to exercise some control over the way people perceive a brand is through sponsorship. Companies can become synonymous with certain events through sponsorship and target certain markets. DHL’s decision to sponsor Formula 1 is a clever one in that it is a worldwide event. Wolfgang Giehl (Director of Corporate Advertising and Branding) said, “We want to show that you can be fast only when performance, endurance, and reliability are finely tuned and all team members pull together”. The sponsorship was not only successful from an external point of view, but also internally. It led to the introduction of the ‘Pole Position’ campaign. This promoted to internal staff that DHL were “at the front of the grid”, but that this hard work had to be carried on to remain ahead of competitors. This aimed to ensure that all team members worked together. This strengthened the consistency of messages running through DHL both internally and externally – something that Munter, Aristotle, and Argenti all believe to be vital to effective corporate communications.
Each service centre has a sales team whose job involves cold calling potential clients and maintaining relationships with existing clients. Although a difficult way to initially attract custom, the small size of the sales team mean that relationships are built with clients, as it is the same person ringing each time. This means that there is generally one channel of communication linking DHL and clients. Therefore, there should be no distortion of the message conveyed as the same person is both delivering, and receiving information from the customer.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The way in which DHL’s hierarchy is set out is suited to the nature of the logistics industry. Information can be cascaded down quickly and efficiently, before eventually falling into the hands of those to whom it is relevant, saving time. For example, it is no use for the sales team to be briefed on a large shipment coming. Internally, mobile phones act as a good link between managers in the warehouse and couriers. These work well as drivers are able to be redirected as soon as managers know there is a problem. One point that could be improved however is for couriers to contact each other so they do not have to go through the manager. Mobile phones also allow for the couriers to contact managers to warn of any uncharacteristically large pick-ups, so the warehouse staff can then make room for them. In offices, the use of an internal e-mail system means that any member of staff can be searched for in a company address book. This allows for users to quickly find an address for somebody they need to contact in order to save time. The feedback I have gained is that this system works well and is easy to operate. Also, this ensures that there is no mistranslation of the original message as there might be if phones had to be used. However, there is no way to e-mail more than one level up the hierarchy, something that could be looked at.
One way that internal communications could perhaps be improved, is for lower levels of staff to be given more information on how the service centre is operating. Despite being given plenty of information on schemes used by DHL on the canteen wall and on the board, performance figures are not openly published. Staff may feel more immersed in the company, feel a sense of pride, and more importantly, trust what the managers are doing if they had such insight.
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Externally, DHL have found a very cost-efficient way to advertise. Despite FedEx running regular TV campaigns, DHL are arguably as well known a company (in Europe) and they use this brand awareness to their advantage. Although effective, this method does not give DHL much of a personality. People are well aware of the brand, but may not have much idea of what it stands for. On the other hand however, this lack of personality could work to DHL’s advantage as there is no scope for any message the company transmits to be distorted. The adverts on the vans merely describe services and cannot be perceived in different ways by different people. DHL have used sponsorship cleverly to cover for this lack of personality, as they have been able to control the image portrayed by them, using the events they sponsor.
Overall, DHL Express has a very efficient and well-run hierarchy, with clear paths for messages to run through. The messages and images promoted internally and externally are very closely aligned. DHL has been successful in creating an identity that has been transferred to a public image. This is undoubtedly a major reason for their success in the market.
Appendix 1 Pyramid Network of DHL hiearchy
Board of Directors (nine members)
Operations Field Director
Service Centre 3â€¦
Service Centre 1
Service Centre 2
â€¦Service Centre 39
MD DHL Express UK
Leading to chain network of individual service centre set out in Appendix 2
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