ATD Blog

Instilling a Customer-Focused Attitude Among Employees

Monday, January 13, 2014

Culture may be an organization’s only truly sustainable competitive advantage, but changing it is hard. Often, the best approach is to pick one dimension and change that first. A good place to start is attitude. 

Enter the BRAVE Cultural Framework 

People have different ways of defining an organization’s culture. Some do extensive analysis to uncover what is really going on below the surface; some simply view culture as “the way we do things around here” and don’t worry about the specifics. 

In other cases, a middle approach may be necessary. The BRAVE cultural framework encapsulates components of culture. 

  • Behave: What impact, including the focus of actions, discipline, unit of organization
  • Relate: How to connect, including which group or sub-group people identify with, communication, and control of power
  • Attitude: How to win, including the approach to work, posture, and emphasis on execution versus innovation
  • Values: What matters and why, including approach to risk, learning, and commitment to purpose
  • Environment: Where to play, including openness to history, colleagues, and the organization’s world view. 

Change at DHL Express 

The CEO of DHL Express U.S., Ian Clough, took me through a program he piloted within his U.S. organization. DHL started by changing the organization’s attitude. 


The general standard for shipments left behind at a hub at the end of the night is 500-600. The key to changing that was getting employees to think about what is inside the packages they are handling: people feel very differently about cardboard boxes than they do about “grandma’s Christmas gift” or an “important document.” 

Clough and his training and development team set up this change by investing in training to make all employees “Certified International Specialists.” Attitude was a critical point of that training. DHL gave existing employees notice four to six weeks before training, and conducted training during normal shift hours. For follow-up, there was additional training to refresh and recertify employees. And basic training has been embedded in DHL’s new employee onboarding process. 

Before the change, if people didn’t know where a package was supposed to go, they guessed. If a package was sitting, people let it sit. But now people ask, call out to their supervisors, and get things moving. That’s a fundamental and valuable attitude change. And with this change in attitude, DHL Express has reduced that by more than 97 percent. 


What was initially piloted in the United States has now been transformed and adopted as a global program for some 100,000 DHL Express employees worldwide, reinforcing and reinvigorating the company’s corporate culture, equipping its employees with fundamental skills in cross-border shipping, and helping focus their attention on international growth. 

Change at your organization 

What can we learn about change at DHL Express? First, you need to tackle cultural changes step-by-step, perhaps leading with attitude. Be sure to align senior leadership around the change you’re trying to make and why. 

Next, institute training and development designed to change the cultural dimension of choice in line with the overall organization’s direction in a way that produces tangible results relatively quickly. Once you’ve done that, people will beg you to cascade the effort to other geographies, units, or dimensions.


About the Author

George Bradt has a unique perspective on transformational leadership based on his experience as a business leader, consultant, and journalist. He progressed through sales, marketing, and general management roles around the world at companies including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and J.D. Power’s Power Information Network spin-off as chief executive. Now he is a principal of CEO Connection and managing director of the executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis.

George is a graduate of Harvard and Wharton (MBA), co-author of four books on onboarding, including The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan, and co-author of a weekly column on, The New Leader’s Playbook.

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