Challenging times need agile decision-making – crisis management in COVID-19 times @ DHL Express Germany

By Markus Reckling, Managing Director, DHL Express Germany

Net Promoter Score of DHL Express Germany (image: DHL )

Logistics is about integration of countries; not only in terms of the flow of goods and services and people, but also in terms of blurrier borderlines, stronger connections between nations and a higher degree of connectedness. In times of a global pandemic, we needed to act very swiftly to keep global supply chains remaining intact while ensuring the safety of all our employees and customers.  

I think three factors are important in order to act sensibly in such a situation: Firstly, clear decision-making structures and responsibilities, secondly, agility, especially the ability to adapt to the rapidly changing situation - because what was right yesterday can be wrong today, and thirdly, the ability to implement decisions quickly and consistently.

As all of our DPDHL entities, we at DHL Express Germany, had our pandemic and emergency plans in place, but none of us had ever experienced a pandemic of this magnitude before. So it was good that we had certain plans in the drawer - but we also had to realize that we hadn't thought of all aspects in advance. Just to name a few examples: How do you get thousands of employees into your home office, virtually overnight, how do you approach the procurement and handling of respiratory masks or how can an effective contactless delivery work for all of our products? And more questions are being added now as the pandemic continues like how can customer needs be catered to while the flight network is globally limited, how do we cater to changed customer needs, how will work look like in a ‘new normal’?

We are currently receiving a lot of positive and motivating feedback on our service, our swift decisions and actions as well as the commitment of our DHL Express colleagues. Our Net Promoter Score (an effective and simple method to measure customer satisfaction based on the willingness to recommend a company's products or services to others) shows this development very well and motivates us to go the extra mile for our customers in this crisis. 

In order to tackle all decision needs, we – on the one hand –  have an emergency officer for every DHL Express station in Germany, who can assess the situation on the spot, who is in contact with the regional authorities, who can quickly come up with solutions for his or all stations and who can identify the need for decisions locally as quickly as possible. On the other hand, we have a crisis management team, in the beginning with daily meetings, to ensure the agility and consistency in decision-making where more central approaches where necessary. As the pandemic continues and Germany’s new infection rate is quite low, the frequency and duration of those mostly virtual meetings is of course adapted. One central effort was, for example, that all our couriers were equipped with protective masks as soon as possible. We are very happy about this, because we are jointly taking steps to minimize the risk and to protect employees and customers. Such decisions can only be made in a very close and intensive exchange between all parties involved.

To implement decisions quickly and consistently in uncertain times of crisis, communication is key, but at the same time, the lack of physical proximity makes it considerably more difficult. Nevertheless, to ensure that we keep both our own employees and our customers fully informed, we use the following principles:

  1. A lot helps a lot: you can't inform too much. That is why we communicated with everyone every day during the first few days. In the meantime, we have clearly established cross-functional crisis management structures that continue to interact on a daily basis. Information to everyone now tends to be provided two to three times a week.
  2. Open, honest and clear: this should of course always be a credo, but in uncertain times the importance of understandable and honest communication becomes particularly clear.
  3. Serve all channels: We use e-mail, conference & video calls, special microsites, FAQs and social media.
  4. Enable dialogue: It is very important to give all employees the space to articulate their questions and concerns.
  5. Personal: Direct dialogue between employees and superiors is also very important. Especially in the home office this can easily get lost, so it is important to establish appropriate routines and structures here.

        Communication examples (Images: DHL)

We did not yet overcome this pandemic as a health and economic crisis. At DHL Express, we will continue keep global supply chains intact and cater to our customer needs in these turbulent times with the health and safety of all our employees and customers as a main priority.

Published: August 2020