DHL ESS and the secrets behind success – Agile apprоach, autonomous team, startup culture with a focus on business goals and their achievement

Iva Nikolova, Human Resources Manager, DHL ESS, shares her thoughts on creating a startup company, positioning it as a desirable employer and what are the key ingredients for success. She also spoke about the obstacles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and how they were overcome.

Iva Nikolova defines herself as an HR visionary with over 10 years of experience in international product software companies. She has a master’s degree in Strategic Human Resources Management from Sofia University. She has won several awards in her professional field for Young Human Resources Manager and HR Manager of the Year. She has extensive experience in the international business environment, which includes: selection, introduction to work, management of employee engagement and motivation, performance management, training and talent development, creation of various wellness and wellbeing programs, as well as organizing various team events and employer branding campaigns.

She considers herself a purposeful and dedicated professional, using diverse and innovative approaches, and applying modern HR strategies in her work. Proof of this are several professional achievements such as: “Best HR project of small and medium enterprises, Bulgarian Association for People Management, 2019“, “Marketing Campaign of the Year, Global Tech Summit, 2019” and others.

Over the past few years, she has worked hard to build and develop employer branding strategies that position DHL Enterprise Software Solutions as a recognizable and preferred employer among a target audience of software professionals to attract top talent in the organization. 

DHL is among the 10 most recognizable brands in the world and among the leaders in the field of logistics. What are the challenges to building the reputation of DHL Enterprise Software Solutions (DHL ESS) as an IT employer in Bulgaria?

It was important for us to differentiate ourselves from the global brand and to promote a startup company with an autonomous young team working for and with the huge support of the parent company. A team, responsible for one of the most significant business transformations of DHL Freight. That is why in the middle of 2019 we started intensive work on the challenging transformation to establish the employer brand of DHL Enterprise Software Solutions. Our project went from internal branding and renaming of the development center in Sofia to a strategic plan for positioning the company as a preferred employer among experienced IT professionals in our country. Behind the success of our employer branding project are clear goals, key strategies and measurable results. Our goal was to conduct marketing and PR campaigns so as to establish DHL ESS as an employer brand among a segmented audience of experienced software professionals, thus increasing the number of applications, reducing recruitment time, generating contacts and followers. And we achieved it! But even now we continue to create valuable content for our social channels and increase both the number of our followers and the number of new colleagues.

The changes in the way we work related to the global pandemic have come very abruptly and unexpectedly. How is the remote work of an entire company organized in such a short time?

Being an IT company has definitely given us a bigger advantage thanks to our work-from-home policy and the experience our colleagues have. We managed to cope quite quickly with the reorganization of work and it went extremely smoothly. At the end of February we started the preparation and organized the conditions for remote working a week before the lockdown. We prepared clear rules and guidelines on how remote work will take place, which platforms will be used and for what purposes. We work on the Agile methodology, which is the other big advantage in terms of frequent communication and work planning. The expectations of the business towards us are very high and we measure the quantity and quality of the work done, not the place where it was done.

I can definitely say that the situation was challenging, but I am grateful for the patience and dedication of all colleagues and the support of our team leaders. During times of social distance, the most important thing was not to lose personal contact with the team and even virtually, we did not stop communicating and dealing with the situation together. Moments like this show the importance of corporate culture, teamwork, and trust in managers, so the work can continue smoothly and without major problems.

In the preliminary conversation you shared that you continue to hire and introduce new colleagues remotely. How does this happen, which is easier, and which is more difficult?

Yes, we have successfully continued to hire and onboard new colleagues. We expected new colleagues to join us in the beginning of March. I believe that, given the situation, it was important for us that we had a good preparation, as our training materials were recorded so that each trainee could go through the different lectures and exercises at their own pace. Also, the meetings with the mentors were held virtually.

We continued with the active recruitment in the upcoming months and even managed to hire and introduce nearly 10 new colleagues. In my opinion, the facilitation for the candidates themselves was in conducting online job interviews, mostly in terms of saving time. Significantly more difficult was the lack of personal contact, which further complicates the perception of the candidate’s reactions.

We really missed personal contact, despite the virtual sessions, communication in the office is much easier and more natural.

Will we return to our old habits after the pandemic or will the way we work change forever and how?

We are beginning to return slowly to the new normality, but I notice that employers have become more open to giving more freedom to their employees as to where the work will be done. I believe that managers will begin to build more trust in their subordinates, the focus will be on the business goals and their achievement, rather than on strict monitoring of working hours and micromanagement. It will be important to accept the new, more precarious situation and get used to being more flexible and adaptable to the changing environment. I strongly believe that the implementation of Agile thinking will give a competitive advantage to many companies. The new normality will teach us to make shorter iterations when planning tasks with focus on risk management. On the other hand, the pandemic helped us think about automating processes and introducing new work models and good practices adapted to the new environment. The common understanding has changed, and we have realized that online we can do: the selection, the trainings, the introduction to the work environment and even the team activities while achieving high results. Many companies have started thinking about how to digitalize their processes more and more. In our company, most of these processes are already digitalized, others are still being worked on.

Your campaign for building an employer brand was awarded during the annual awards of the Bulgarian Association for People Management, winning first place in the category “Best HR project”. What are the prerequisites for success?

Behind the success of our project lies the hard work of both our HR team and the good collaboration and expertise of our partners from Acta Verba, Gobox and Digital Sales Experts. Our confidence that we have achieved our goals is supported by quantitative data based on a detailed analysis of the results of all planned activities in our social channels and our participation in external and internal events, marketing and PR campaigns. We analyzed daily our actions related to creating and publishing content. This gave us the opportunity to better plan our next strategic decisions, minimize mistakes and achieve the set goals, namely: increase the number of applications, reduce hiring time, generate contacts and establish an employer brand among a segmented audience of experienced software specialists.

In November 2019, DHL Enterprise Software Solutions (DHL ESS) announced that it had opened a branch in Prague. How is it developing?

 At the end of last year, we started working on the formation of a second strong team to be led by the team in Bulgaria. We were able to hire the first colleagues in Prague, but the global pandemic made it difficult to recruit staff, mainly because of the inability to relocate employees. Also, unlike the market of IT specialists in Bulgaria, in the Czech Republic we noticed a tendency of reluctance to change jobs during the precarious pandemic situation.

 What are the expectations of the people you interview? What are they looking for in the future employer?

 The motivation for changing jobs in each candidate is different, but it is noteworthy that the most important prerequisites for this are the stability offered by the company, working on interesting projects, which allows to upgrade and accumulate new knowledge and skills and last but not least the work environment and the team. The importance of the project that my colleagues are working on brings the satisfaction that you are actively involved in creating something new and you have contributed to the digitalization and transformation of DHL Freight.

If you had to point out an aspect of your job that gives you an incentive to start the day with a smile, what would it be?

The satisfaction that comes out of a job well done. I like my profession and find challenges in my work every day, but what brings me the greatest satisfaction is the opportunity to work with and for inspiring leaders and wonderful professionals. Working in an international company is a huge advantage because you have access to a huge range of resources and practices, but at the same time you have the freedom to create and adapt your own. The reasons for a smile are the achieved results and the positive feedback from colleagues, stakeholders, candidates, and contractors.

 What is the last book you read and what impressed you?

I am currently reading Thomas Edison’s book “Surrounded by Idiots”, which reveals information on how to understand those we do not understand. Communicating with people in the work of any HR professional is perhaps the most challenging, but also a key skill. This book examines the four main types of behavior – dominant, inspiring, stable, and analytical and goes into detail about specific behavioral specifics and personal qualities of individual types. All this would help us know how to communicate more effectively. “After all, the world is a colorful and friendly place, where we are actually surrounded by colorful people,” says the author, and I agree with him.