The big interview: Henry Fares, VP of HR, DHL Express MENA

Written by
Karam Filfilan

25 Jul 2018

25 Jul 2018 • by Karam Filfilan

As a multiple award winner for employee engagement in the Middle East, DHL Express is clearly one of the region’s premier employers. So how does vice president of HR Henry Fares foster this culture, and what effect is logistics technology having on his people?

How do you ensure employees continue to connect with DHL and grow in the business?

By making engagement and motivation a central theme of learning and development programmes, HR can promote a customer-centric culture within an organisation.

However, we all know that once employees have left the training room, it is down to the managers to keep that culture going. We also focus on encouraging efficient, good-quality and relevant reporting which enables to us to make supportive and relevant decision making.

As HR professionals, we strive to build all our HR processes and policies with the end customer in mind, and ensure that the team knows what contribution they make, either directly or indirectly, to enhancing the overall customer experience. This is key to creating a great service culture in a global company that has so many different parts that make up the whole.

Our employee and brand engagement programme, Certified International Specialist (CIS), has been instrumental in demonstrating to every individual the role that each person plays and how this fits within a global network; it has also reinforced the company’s values, and this has been reflected in DHL’s growth and success over the years.

As a leader, how do you live the company values?

With our guiding principle of ‘Respect & Results’, our three bottom lines come together. We show respect to our customers, our employees and our investors by understanding their needs and meeting their expectations. We believe that customer loyalty, employee satisfaction and investment attractiveness are closely related.

Only when the spirit of respect and results is lived on a daily basis, and felt by all, we will become first choice for our employees. It is important that both managers and employees understand that respect and results are not like the two sides of a scale. No one ever forfeited results by showing more respect.

What employer branding strategies do you employ?

One cannot be everywhere, but our employees are brand ambassadors and advocates. They live and promote our core values and represent DHL in a positive way every single day.

Social media has helped take this to another level, as all our employees post the company events and great achievements on their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, and this live and unedited coverage is extremely valuable to our company.

Over the years, we have been fortunate to win more than 20 awards from ‘Great Place to Work’ and ‘Top Employer’ to Aon Hewitt Best Employer. We have mastered the ability to showcase our achievements but we believe the message is much stronger when someone shares their first-hand experience.

Do you see any trends in employee engagement?

Employee engagement is based on two factors: rational and emotional. The rational aspect of commitment is based on elements such as salary, monetary benefits, job growth potential and development. The emotional aspect is based on the worker’s ethics, beliefs, and satisfaction in regard to his/her job choice. I believe you need to strike the right balance of both.

How do you future-proof the organisation against rapid change?

Business is a combination of science and art. As technology develops and ‘science’ offers even greater tools for management, companies will continue to deliver better results across all their metrics.

However, I believe many of these improvements will be subject to a diminishing marginal utility of returns, as more businesses are able to take advantage of them. While ‘science’ will continue to dictate appraisals of an executive’s performance, it is the ‘art’ of management that will drive successful businesses of the future. And engagement, however you measure it, will define the very best.

We invest more than half-a-billion Euros per year in maintaining our global infrastructure. We have a large asset base, including cargo aircraft, delivery vehicles, warehouses, and sorting systems.

Like most businesses, we employ modern technologies and sophisticated IT systems in order to track and manage our processes. But as a service company, we still depend on people to deliver the customer experience, and all these investments would be rendered meaningless if our people were not motivated to provide great service. It has shifted the responsibility of HR from a traditional back office function to that of an enabler.

For any services business today, whatever the level of automation you have been able to achieve, it is still likely that your customers’ perception of the service you provide is significantly influenced by interaction with your staff. Given that most service businesses have numerous touch points, there is a strong chance that much of that interaction is not just with your sales or customer service team.

From delivery drivers to credit controllers, right down to the people interviewing candidates for a job, you are creating a lasting impression that could drive – or deter – a future purchase decision and determine customer loyalty. As HR professionals, we are in a better position to influence this than many might think.

What challenges does DHL Express face in the era of technology?

New challenges are more or less the same as the old ones. The questions we ask are the same but the answers have changed, matured and evolved, according to the new circumstances.

We like to approach challenges as learning opportunities. We train for certainty and educate for uncertainty.

At the human capital level, the trending concern today is around millennials. As generation Y enters the workforce and baby boomers begin to retire, HR and managers will need a new mindset and to address changing employment preferences, adopting a new leadership style and adjusting employee value propositions.

What is your advice for your fellow HR leaders in the Middle East?

Success comes mainly from being clear about who you are, what you believe in and what you want. You cannot climb to the next rung on the ladder until you are excellent at what you do now. Hence, continuous learning is crucial to ensure you are up to speed with new trends.

What would you like your own leadership legacy to be?

‘Legacy’ is such a big word. I have learned that people will forget what you said, and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

I would like to be remembered as a leader, coach, friend and mentor. I believe that with each step you take, you identify new ways of mastering the fundamentals of leadership which, in turn, leverage and improve your leadership approach and communication style – complementing respect with results, profits with ethics and doing well while doing good.

Too many people think leadership is about control. I believe a true leader is one who inspires and then gets out of the way.