Article: How DHL Group is raising an AI-powered workforce: An exclusive interview with global CHRO Dr Thomas Ogilvie


How DHL Group is raising an AI-powered workforce: An exclusive interview with global CHRO Dr Thomas Ogilvie

In this exclusive interview, Thomas outlines DHL's strategic plan to uplift its 600,000-strong global workforce for the AI era, leveraging technology to enhance efficiency while prioritising well-being.
How DHL Group is raising an AI-powered workforce: An exclusive interview with global CHRO Dr Thomas Ogilvie

As Global Chief Human Resources Officer directing over 600,000 employees across 220+ countries, Dr Thomas Ogilvie steers logistics giant DHL Group's strategic people priorities for the artificial intelligence age.

He outlines DHL's vision to integrate friendly AI - leveraging data-based tools predicting optimal parcel routes to automating customs processes - thereby freeing up staffers from repetitive tasks towards creative roles. Thomas believes emerging technologies will bolster operational efficiency if they drive job success and satisfaction in tandem.

However, Thomas recognises proactive skilling and role shifts remain vital too. Ogilvie gives profound insights on the group's challenges, and opportunities under his two-decade leadership developing DHL’s global workforce.

To ready staffers for future roles, DHL blends group-wide LEARN formal programmes, on-the-job PERFORM experiences and GROW recommendations tailored to each employee's strengths and interests using AI support. Thomas discusses how this integrated framework combines new tools with cultural nuance across dispersed teams worldwide.

In an exclusive interview, Thomas who is also a Board Member for Human Resources and Labor Director, outlines how DHL spotlights individual purpose alongside profit. Thereby creating an environment where every one of over half a million multinational colleagues asserts, “the company is great for me! Here are the edited excerpts:

Talent Priority: Key takeaways

  • Our talent strategy at DHL is simple - we aim to be a "Great Company for All"

  • Diversity is not just a goal; it's a key driver of success and better decision-making

How does DHL attract and retain top talent in a fiercely competitive global market, especially within logistics and supply chain management?

Our goal is to be recognised as the Employer of Choice and a Great Company to Work for All. While each employee individually determines the truth of this proposition daily, there are some universal factors that hold significance for everyone. Is my workplace safe, well-equipped, and are the working conditions favourable? Are we operating as a cohesive team, and does my leader treat me with respect? Can I witness the impact of my work and contribute to the greater good? Lastly, do I have ample opportunities for personal and professional development? These questions guide our approach to talent attraction and retention.

DHL Group offers an extensive range of jobs. What are your strategies to develop the skills and capabilities of your workforce to meet the changing demands of the industry?

We offer a diverse range of over 1000 positions at DHL Group. The majority of learning, around 70%, occurs on the job, supplemented by 20% near-the-job training, including role-specific updates. The remaining 10% is dedicated to off-the-job training to foster the acquisition of new skills.

Our unique approach, known as "CERTIFIED," ensures that everything our people need for their current roles is delivered in a certified specialist format. This is crucial, as we require certified specialists for every aspect of our operations.

To provide targeted development opportunities, we rely on tailor-made and focused development programmes delivered through our Career Marketplace. Here, employees receive job recommendations and training offers within the Group, aligning with the skills they wish to acquire and their interests in new roles within the organization.

How does DHL approach diversity and inclusion in its talent recruitment and management, and how do you measure the impact?

Diversity is a crucial factor in our business success as it aids in avoiding groupthink and enhances decision-making. Going beyond this, we focus on equity and inclusion to ensure equal opportunities and unbiased talent attraction in a competitive labour market. This approach fosters a sense of belonging and emotional bonding among our people with DHL Group. We actively uphold the principles of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging to be an employer of choice for everyone, not just a select few.

Technology and AI: Key Takeaways

  • DHL leverages AI for optimising delivery routes, enhancing employee efficiency

  • We tailor our learning programmes based on job-level implications 

  • I'm optimistic that AI will be a valuable support, not a replacement, for employees.

How is DHL harnessing emerging artificial intelligence to advance its logistics and supply chain operations? Can you provide specific examples?

AI is set to be a key driver in the continued development of our logistics services. We strongly believe in utilising AI to support our employees, making them more efficient and effective. Take, for instance, the planning of a parcel delivery route. The system analyses stops on the route, along with the cost per stop and kilometres driven, to generate a more efficient and sustainable route. In DHL Express, AI is employed at selected locations for the 'Product Classification Tool,' aiding in the creation of customs tariff numbers. DHL Supply Chain integrates AI with robotics and Internet-of-Things applications on a large scale, covering warehousing, order fulfillment, and asset monitoring. The opportunities for application are extensive and require ongoing development across our businesses and functions, with a small central team serving as a crucial link and thought leader in these advancements.

What challenges and opportunities do you see in integrating AI and automation into the workplace, and how is DHL addressing these challenges?

Certainly, with the introduction of AI and automation, we anticipate changes in tasks and skills that we need to proactively address. Despite concerns that these technologies might replace humans, I am optimistic that, instead, they will serve as support for employees in their daily tasks. Decisions will be made with more data, presenting opportunities for operational optimization and the reduction of repetitive physical or administrative tasks for our employees.

How does DHL ensure that its workforce is equipped to collaborate with AI and automation, and what training or upskilling initiatives are in place?

We are dedicated to ensuring that every member of the DHL Group can gain knowledge about AI. While we have various learning programmes and communities within the company, we recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach is insufficient. It's essential to assess the implications at the job level—whether demands and workforce sizes for a specific task will increase or decrease, and if the nature of tasks will change. Based on this understanding, we implement targeted strategic personnel planning, along with hiring and training programmes.

Engaging the Workforce: Key Takeaways

  • A standalone HR strategy is a one-way ticket to nowhere; I strongly advise against it.

  • Finding the right level of flexibility to meet the demands of our people is crucial

Are you rethinking any aspect of your work culture post-pandemic?  

Our culture and everyday life at DHL Group are defined by our company values RESPECT & RESULTS, you can only achieve sustainable success if both dimensions are in sync. The pandemic reinforced our belief that our employees are our biggest asset and that their health and well-being is paramount for the success of our company. In addition to that, we also developed a clear perspective that – for those roles that are suited for flexible working models – we need to find the right level of flexibility to cater to the demands of our people but to ensure at the same time a cohesive company culture by having enough time that our teams spent together at the workplace.

What initiatives or programmes does DHL have in place to promote employee well-being, mental health, and work-life balance? What have you learned about these well-being initiatives?

From a Group perspective, we have a comprehensive health and well-being framework and narrative. Regular well-being training courses and informational events are offered within our operational business units. These initiatives are planned and managed locally, recognising the diverse needs and cultural contexts. While a joint yoga session at an Indian warehouse is a common practice for the day shift, it might not be applicable in every other country.

How does DHL ensure that its HR and people management processes are aligned with the company's long-term business goals and strategy?

Our HR roadmap is an integral part of our group strategy which builds on the concept of stakeholder capitalism to ensure that we are the Employer, Provider and Investment of Choice. We want to excel in every single one of our three bottom lines. It is evident that a motivated and skilled workforce delivers exceptional quality which leads in turn to high customer satisfaction as a prerequisite for a profitable network. Having a separate and stand-alone HR strategy is a first-class ticket to nowhere and I can only heavily recommend not to do this.

Can you share some examples of HR or people management practices at DHL that have resulted in increased productivity or improved employee satisfaction?

Since 2022 we have one of the biggest company community networks worldwide in place. All of our 600,000 employees are connected via our employee application Smart Connect, which is the foundation to reach all employees around the globe, interact with them and provide them with seamless access to relevant and target group-oriented information and self-services from onboarding to digital employee workflows. The pickup rate is very high and the feedback is fantastic while we see at the same time an increase in efficiency on the HR services side —a classical win-win situation.

Global Perspective: Key Takeaways

  • Dealing with the complexity of workforce dynamics is a significant challenge 

  • We grant geo-based entrepreneurial spirit/uphold group-wide governance standards 

  • We focus on building a resilient/ future-ready workforce to tackle the complexity of workforce dynamics

With DHL operating in so many countries, how do you manage the global workforce's HR needs while also addressing local and cultural differences?

We follow the principle to have as much consistency as needed and as many degrees of freedom as possible. The company has a group-wide culture and a set of standards, guidelines and programmes that are non-negotiable from a governance point of view but also to ensure that we have a common DNA when it comes to our culture building blocks. Nevertheless, without the entrepreneurial spirit of our countries and their ability to execute locally, we would not be where we are. Therefore, each business unit can decide on various topics to do things a little differently, within the overall guiding principles.

What challenges do you see on the horizon for HR and talent management on a global scale, and how is DHL preparing for them?

One significant challenge is the increasing complexity of workforce dynamics, driven by technological advancements, demographic shifts, and the aftermath of global events. The demands of younger generations are changing, that’s what we learn when we interact with them in interviews. Certain industries are experiencing a shortage of skilled talent. In light of these challenges, we at DHL Group are proactively preparing by adopting a multifaceted approach: investing in learning and development programmes. DHL Group's commitment to continuous learning, flexibility, diversity, and talent acquisition strategies positions us well to navigate these challenges and build a resilient and future-ready workforce.

What’s your No. 1 priority today as the HR Chief of DHL?

That every colleague says: “DHL Group is a great company to work for me”.

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Topics: Leadership, BigInterview, Strategic HR, #ArtificialIntelligence

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