Digitalization has been all the rage lately, even in extremely hands-on, front-line industries. But new technologies have to serve a purpose towards the organizational mission, says Mateen Thiruselvaam, Senior Vice President of HR, DHL Express Asia Pacific. People Matters asked him how he is applying that approach to the HR operations of DHL—an essential service that has been steadily moving towards digitalization and automation since before the pandemic. Here's what he shared.
With COVID-19 having forced the acceleration of digital transformation, how have you had to change your own investments and implementation of HR tech?
Digitalization has undoubtedly received a major boost from the pandemic. But even before that, we are fortunate to have started early in our digitalization efforts and have not needed to drastically change our implementation plans. If anything, the pandemic has accelerated it.
At the beginning of the pandemic, our focus had been on over-communicating the tools that are available to our employees with step-by-step instructions and guides to use them most effectively, especially in the home office.
Now we see employees who were skeptical about many digital solutions suddenly realize that they can work from home without having to upend the way they were used to working and can maintain their productivity and efficiency.
In fact, recent surveys we’ve conducted have shown that some of our staff felt that they were more productive than ever before.
Have you implemented any "new age" technologies such as AI, RPA, or blockchain to digitalize your HR processes? Where in HR's work do you see these technologies being the most effective?
As an organization, we are quite far along in the area of Robotic Process Automation, which is especially helpful in relieving our employees of mundane and repetitive work. We have also been looking into technologies such as AI and digital assistants to see how we can apply it in specific HR processes.
But when we look at new technologies, it is important to consider it from a larger organizational perspective of how it impacts our employees.
Take for example the use of autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) at our South Asia Hub in Singapore. These “robots”, intelligently sense the environment around them to assist workers with tasks to move shipments, palettes of cargo and containers safely and efficiently. Such technologies at the surface may seem to benefit us only from an operational standpoint, but it actually has an impact on the wellbeing, safety and skills advancement of our employees as well—all critical considerations in an employee’s career with us.
What I’m most excited about currently is a new state-of-the-art recruitment platform, which gives DHL Express the ability to attract and connect with candidates and process their applications more efficiently. The new tool allows our recruiters to post positions with ease and connect to social media with just one click. They can also make use of preselection tools like video interviewing, which helps them build closer connections right from the start. With the new tool, time to hire has been reduced by 75 percent, which means candidates get on board and start contributing sooner.
How are you aligning your investments in HR tech—whether financial, time, or training-wise—to the broader business goals?
The key question to ask is am I investing in this piece of technology because everyone else is using it, or am I investing in this because it will help my colleagues do their jobs better?
If the answer is the latter, then I believe we are on the right path in terms of aligning to our organizational goal of being the Employer, Provider and Investment of Choice.
At the end of the day, we want to use and benefit from new technologies as best as we can, while at the same time acknowledge its limits. Like how AI cannot determine whether a potential candidate will have chemistry with a team, or like how robots cannot carry a parcel up to the third floor like a human courier would do. At least not yet.
Where do you see technology playing a role in aspects such as employee engagement and well-being?
I think technology plays an important role in all of these aspects, and in DHL we have come a long way in integrating useful technology that can help us connect with employees better. Take for example a new mobile app we rolled out this year for employees, called Smartr. It helps employees to manage their day-to-day workload better, access the latest company news, ask HR questions directly and engage with other colleagues.
The key thing to remember here is that technology has to be an enabler, rather than a hindrance or just another tick in a box—it has to always serve the organization’s HR objectives.
Finally, have you found any practices particularly useful in advancing the implementation and adoption of HR tech?
Having open two-way communication always and maintaining a strong feedback culture has always been encouraged in our organization, and it is absolutely essential when it comes to the adoption of HR tech. Our employees know that their voice and opinions count, whether it is through the annual Employee Opinion Survey, the daily Performance Dialogue huddle with the teams, coaching sessions, or simply through email or messaging applications, the leadership teams make it a point to be accessible to the employees.
Only by practicing honest and open feedback can we determine whether the adoption of a technology is truly successful or not.