THE BLOG
11/20/2013 10:41 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

How DHL Instilled A Customer-Focused Mentality Among Its Employees

"Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the earth-or slinks through slimy seas has a brain!" - Noel Langley's "Wizard of Oz"

It's not enough to have a brain. You need a diploma - or a certificate. Logistics company DHL Express took this to heart and trained every single one of its employees to be Certified International Specialists. As useless as a clockwork heart or a toy medal? Not so. This was all about changing the culture.

Refocus

DHL determined to refocus its business on customer centricity and international products in line with its brand attributes: global expertise, service excellence and international focus. To do so, DHL leaders knew they needed to involve the employees. With this in mind, they cascaded the training from top to bottom, training the trainers and leaders first, and then having them train others, drawing on their own personal examples.

BRAVE Culture Change

Culture may be an organization's only truly sustainable competitive advantage, but changing it is hard. The best approach is to pick one dimension and change that first. This is exactly what DHL Express did through a change management program that U.S. CEO, Ian Clough, piloted within his U.S. organization. They changed the organization's mindset - the "A" in BRAVE culture. (Behaviors, Relationships, Attitudes, Values and Environment).

As Clough explained to me, where before if people didn't know where a package was supposed to go, they guessed. If a package was sitting, people let it sit. Now people ask, call out to their supervisors and get things moving. That's a fundamental and valuable attitude change. The general standard for shipments left behind at a hub at the end of the night is 500-600. With this change in attitude, DHL Express has reduced that by over 97 percent.

The key was getting everyone to think about what's inside the packages they are handling. People feel very differently about cardboard boxes than they do about "grandma's Christmas gift" or an "important document."


Moments of Impact

The training was an important moment of impact. Clough and team set it up by giving people 4-6 weeks notice of the training from their supervisors and conducting the training during normal shift hours. As follow ups, there are continual sets of additional training to refresh and re-certify. And the basic training has been embedded in DHL's new employee onboarding process.

What was initially piloted in the U.S. has now been transformed and adopted as a global program involving 100,000 DHL Express employees worldwide - reinforcing and reinvigorating the company's corporate culture, equipping its employees with fundamental skills in cross-border shipping and helping focus their attention on international growth.
Implications for you

Impact - Start by clarifying the result you seek and the impact you're looking to make. No one appreciates change for change's sake. No one appreciates investments that don't pay off. Let the result drive the required changes and investments.

Dimension - Choose one cultural dimension to change - likely attitude. Trying to do too much at the same time produces lots of activity and little impact. Distracting at best. Counter-productive in many cases.

Chunks - Make the change in chunks, step by step, likely starting with the leadership team and moving out from there.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com