Creating meaning through sustainable corporate communications, part 2

Communications can create meaning for individuals

One of the primary target audiences of communications is a company’s people. With an eye toward gaining new and motivating existing employees to work in a meaningful environment, communicators must be proactive about making human resources (HR) a central topic. This means giving special attention to all appropriate issues that fall into this category. Deutsche Post DHL Group covers a broad range of topics in a wide variety of formats and channels to show that working here is more than “just a job.” The following examples illustrate the rich diversity of our HR communications.

A company’s business philosophy or guiding principles are key places to develop an overarching theme. Ideally, these corporate values express an explicit commitment to influencing people’s lives for the better. At Deutsche Post DHL Group, our corporate Strategy 2020 provides communicators with a prime and prominent basis to build communications that create meaning because it begins with a very clear purpose: “We connect people and improve their lives.”

We carry this message to key markets around the world through our global advertising campaign. TV spots, print and digital ads, and social media content highlight how by facilitating global trade our company has a positive impact on people’s lives. Internally our campaign highlights the specific contributions of employees.

This brand campaign and its meaningful messages are broadcast across all communications channels. Why? For one thing, they represent an important part of global HR marketing. That’s also why we also spotlight the campaign’s message on the Group’s new career website: Likewise, we link the campaign to other HR recruiting materials and formats. For example, we profile a variety of employees to illustrate that working here is more than “just a job” – that if you join our team you’ll have the opportunity to make a difference in the world and have a positive impact on people’s lives.

As one of world’s largest employers doing business in practically every country around the world, Deutsche Post DHL Group offers potential employees a huge variety of career options. Candidates have extensive latitude to apply their skills – which, I should add, is true for all levels of education or training. That’s because we are one the largest companies in Germany offering on-the-job training and qualification. Deutsche Post DHL Group trains people in 15 different professions – from couriers and IT specialists to mechatronic technicians. These aspects also play an important role in our communications – not just online and in marketing campaigns but also in public relations.

A perfect example of the degree of diversity found in mail and parcel delivery alone is illustrated by a story the company organized and we told this summer: the meeting of two mail carriers with very different delivery routes. Andreas Oberauer, who rides a gondola to deliver mail every work day to the top of the highest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze, met and assisted Andrea Bunar, who delivers mail by boat to numerous households in the small town of Lehde in the Spreewald forest southeast of Berlin. The two mail carriers demonstrate the diverse nature of postal work and represent a profession that enjoys a great deal of trust among the population. Mail carriers are generally well-known personalities in their local communities.

Deutsche Post DHL Group communicates another topic in which employees are highly interested: the company’s professional development program. And we do so using all internal platforms – from the intranet (“myNet”) to newsletters and magazines to town hall-style meetings. After all, our talent programs and individual career development opportunities help each and every employee to develop their full potential.

Our new Certified Program is an outstanding example of an educational opportunity designed to ensure that our staff members are some of the best in the industry. Through the program, which is launching around the world, we intend to transform more than 80 percent of our nearly half-million workforce into certified specialists by 2020.

Given its rich content, the Certified Program has serious potential to provide meaning and identity. The whole program aims to provide professional development while fostering motivation and recognition. Participants learn more than just important skills, they also learn how highly significant their own role is to the company as a whole. From a communications perspective, the Certified Program offers an enormous opportunity to increase the extent to which employees identify with the company.

Recognition and appreciation are two themes that cannot appear often enough in internal media, especially since employees are always highly interested in them. For example, we have had very good experiences with the thorough coverage of our CEO Awards, which honor outstanding initiatives from all divisions and regions each year. Our people also highly value the public tribute we pay to colleagues and their special achievements in the individual business departments.

At Deutsche Post DHL Group, we conduct regular internal reviews of how well we have communicated meaning and orientation to our employees. Our annual Employee Opinion Survey is one example, and it provides important insights. It covers many of the subjects mentioned thus far, such as professional development opportunities, a sense of appreciation, or personal motivation. The results of this Group-wide survey have followed a consistently positive trend for several years, indicating that we have made good progress toward achieving our own goal of becoming the Employer of Choice.

Documenting the contribution to society

In addition to creating meaning for individuals, companies today face the task of demonstrating how they are meaningful to society. In particular, this involves documenting your contribution to society. Being accepted by society – your “license to operate” – is reason enough to do so, though going down this road also leads to new opportunities. After all, if you are accepted in your local community, you will more easily tap into outside ideas and innovations that can lead to new business models.

The logical conclusion is that you have to gear what you do to public expectations and document the results, which includes, in particular, your performance as an employer and your sustainability. Deutsche Post DHL Group records these elements primarily in the form of our annual financial and corporate sustainability reports. Both publications, which are audited by third parties, present an overview of our contributions and provide transparency to external stakeholders.

In addition to training and professional development, we report on other HR-related subjects such as number of jobs and new hires, our social and health management services, occupational safety, and employee relations. Special attention is given to our Code of Conduct, which serves as an “ethical compass” for our nearly half million employees. Deeply anchored in the Code are core values such as diversity, inclusion and the principle of non-discrimination.

We also document our own contributions to society by reporting on sustainability. One of the mainstays of Deutsche Post DHL Group’s corporate responsibility strategy is our method of systematically registering changes in external requirements and expectations based on dialogs with stakeholders and an internal network, and integrating those changes into our business practices. The procedures associated with this system are outlined in detail in the sustainability report.

Likewise, we cover our commitment to corporate citizenship and shared value. For example, we are involved in disaster management at airports, educational support for young people and environmental protection. Here as well, we integrate our employees into these activities in a variety of ways. Beyond making a contribution to society, it appears that these programs are also having a substantial impact on employee motivation.

Numerous internal voluntary initiatives also show how creating meaning for individuals and society is often closely intertwined. These projects are opportunities to not only make contributions to society, but also to strengthen community spirit among employees. For example, our Global Volunteer Day initiative saw more than 100,000 employees volunteer nearly a quarter million hours for charitable causes. The volunteer spirit of our people is also alive and well in the refugee aid activities recently presented by Deutsche Post DHL Group.

By documenting our social contributions, we open up our performance to public scrutiny, in particular to the assessments of a number of ratings agencies. The positive ratings we’ve received in recent years demonstrate that we have succeeded in satisfying the high demands associated with making a meaningful contribution to society. We see our 2015 listings in leading sustainability indexes – DJSI World, DJSI Europe and FTSE4Good – as key successes.

Meaning is more competitive

We currently find ourselves in a time of acceleration and change. In this developing economic postmodern age, the demands on globalized companies to take action have risen enormously, not least of which has been caused by a new generation of workers. This group actively takes advantage of opportunities to participate and places increasing value at work on playing a personal role in creating meaning and contributing to society. As a result, adapting your company identity is becoming a key factor in the fight for the brightest minds and in efforts to ensure social acceptance.

Communication also has to adapt to the new prevailing conditions. This includes strengthening our own capacity for dialog and empathy in order to be more consistently attuned to needs. What’s more, the focal points have shifted. As the task of creating meaning gains significance, subjects that are not traditionally at the heart of classic communications become more important. This applies especially to staff and HR communications as well as to sustainability issues.

These topics offer a wealth of reasons that can be used to convince employees that their work offers them more than “just” an adequate income. And they are essential if you are to demonstrate convincingly your company’s own contributions to society. However, it is also clear that in the long run only substance-based communications remain convincing communications. If you take great pains to depict an artificially glossy world, your efforts run the risk of falling flat, since the on-the-job reality can only pale in comparison.

However, if you use appropriate communications to convey your real potential for creating meaning, you will not only score points with Generation Y, you’ll also generally convince your employees and the public. Herein lies the key for companies who want to set themselves apart from the competition and remain successful in the long term.


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