TNT Express is winning worldwide recognition for its people development initiatives. HR director Maureen Rooney explains why
here’s a lot to boast about at global delivery firm TNT Express these days. Established in 1946, the company is now the world’s leading provider of on-demand business-to-business express delivery services, operating in more than 200 countries around the world and employing 43,000 people.
TNT Express carried more than 170 million consignments last year on its 43 jet aircraft and 18,000 trucks, reporting sales of £2.9bn and profits that were 12.2 per cent higher than the previous year. The company’s mission “to be the fastest and most reliable express delivery company in the world” doesn’t pull any punches; it encapsulates the go-getting, extra-mile ethos that’s part of the culture at TNT Express.
To hear director of human resources Maureen Rooney talk, people development at TNT is seen very much as a means to a strategic end: achieving profit growth and market leadership. It’s no surprise, then, that the accolades just keep coming for the company’s innovative approach to people development. Most recently, two of its European subsidiaries were ranked in the top ten of the annual ‘Best Employer in Europe’ survey by US-based human resources firm Hewitt Associates. TNT Estonia and TNT Austria were recognised for their outstanding training and positive attitude of their workforce – and judges remarked how the company’s double showing was indicative of a successful corporate culture within TNT Express worldwide.
“People want to improve here – that’s a culture within TNT,” says Rooney. “In that respect, I’m very lucky.”
But if there’s one thing Rooney needn’t be, it’s modest. Under her leadership, TNT Express became the first company ever to be recognised globally with the Investor in People (IiP) standard. Rooney says she wanted TNT Express to seek the benchmark “in order to build a people management platform globally” – the guiding principle of which would be standardisation of positions across the global network – and to hear her enthuse over the benefits of IiP, she could well be its biggest champion [see box].
As part of the process of preparing for IiP, Rooney oversaw development of competencies for all positions within TNT and a strategy for assessing people against those competencies so that training could then be designed to fill any gaps. “The idea is that it doesn’t matter what country you’re working in, you’ll still be working to the same competency.”
In July, Rooney will have been with TNT for 21 years, during which time her career has developed at the same time the company has undergone “phenomenal growth”. When she joined in 1983, the domestic and international sides of the business were separate and she was one of only some 200 people in the international division. Since then, says Rooney, TNT has evolved from being a “UK company which had an international dimension” – insofar as it exported products to other countries – to a “truly global company” based in hundreds of countries, employing local people on the ground.
Advancing technology, particularly in the transport arena as the company shifted from a dependence on roads to air, was the main factor pushing growth in the late 1980s. “That brought a whole change of dimension in how you run the business and how you manage your people,” says Rooney. “A lot more is out of your control.”
In 1999, TNT integrated its domestic and international divisions, and Rooney worked with the international business unit, which had responsibility at that time for 38 countries. In January 2004 she was appointed to the newly created position of director of HR for TNT Express, with responsibility for people management and development for the company’s entire staff of 43,000.
With such a global reach, cultural differences are bound to be an issue, yet TNT has been immensely successful at creating a consistent company culture that spans the globe – something IiP assessors noted in their 2000 report. The development of a standardised, competency-based approach has been central to achieving a unified culture at TNT, but it’s not about imposing “a TNT way”. Rather it’s an approach that also recognises – and embraces – the inevitable differences from country to country.
For example, corporate HR may be pushing a particular global initiative such as recognition, says Rooney. “Each country will have some form of recognition scheme, but they may differ.”
The same is true for learning and development, says Rooney, citing the example of about 200 TNT managers from around the world currently taking part in a bespoke management programme run by Warwick University. “When you see them in the classroom, they’re as one – all working with their tutor to get their qualification – but when you see them in the evening over dinner, they talk about how they’re applying what they’re learning differently.”
She continues: “They know that the core element is to standardise, but there is some local flexibility in recognition of cultural differences.”
That means not all TNT’s learning programmes are global; some, such as coaching schemes, are initiated by the units or countries themselves. “And there are a number of countries that work towards training awards not because we want them to, but because they feel they can,” adds Rooney.
It’s very much a give-and-take process between the corporate centre and individual units or countries, with global initiatives just as likely to originate outside the corporate centre. To encourage exchange and dialogue and as part of her effort to maintain a cohesive global culture, twice a year, Rooney brings together some 50 people throughout the worldwide company for an HR conference to discuss strategy and run workshops on new initiatives. In addition, there’s an HR Excellence Group of 14 people who meet four times a year to look after all people management initiatives.
Rooney’s appointment as HR director coincides with the promotion of Marie-Christine Lombard, who previously led TNT’s French business unit, to group managing director – Rooney reports directly to her – and it signals an even greater emphasis on people development by TNT’s senior management. Rooney has attended board meetings at TNT for the last three years to input on learning and development, but with her new appointment came an actual seat on the board. “The whole management of the organisation understands the importance of learning and development to the effectiveness of the business,” she says.
“We are prepared to learn from our people. It’s a two-way process. It’s important to understand what drives our people. It’s only then that we can meet our overall business goals.”
For Rooney, it all comes back to the bottom line. “I’d like to lead that legacy of standardisation but know that the business has improved through the learning aspect of people, that there are no inhibitors to learning. If everyone has been given those opportunities and those opportunities improve the operating results, then that’s good for business.”
2004 Director of Human Resources, TNT Express
1999 Director of Human Resources, TNT International and TPG Information Systems
1996 Director of Human Resources, TNT Express Worldwide Northern Europe
1991 General Manager Human Resources, TNT Express Worldwide (UK) Ltd
1986 Personnel Manager, TNT Express Europe
1983 Personnel Officer, TNT Ipec
70s-80s Employee Relations Officer, British Leyland Truck and Bus Division
From satisfaction to engagement
Rooney is big on empowerment, and thinks of it in terms of “employee loyalty that runs parallel with customer loyalty”.
TNT benefits from a real willingness on the part of staff to embrace learning – and this goes hand in hand with empowerment, says Rooney. “There is a culture of going beyond, going that extra mile.”
She has conducted an annual satisfaction survey for the past three years, and feels it’s time to take it up another level. “We’re concerned with job satisfaction, but also questions of learning and development, management effectiveness, relationship with customers, the local community and environment. We’re looking at moving into the realm of engagement, to ask ‘what makes me want to get up in the morning and go to work for TNT? What makes me want to pursue my career here?’”
But this isn’t merely a case of reinventing the wheel, it’s progress in order to understand, and thus both meet the needs of and benefit from, the company’s employee base. When employee satisfaction is linked to customer and supplier satisfaction, the end result is improvement of key performance indicators, says Rooney, who emphasises the new format will not be at the expense of measuring against the past three surveys. “We want to move it towards engagement but still be able to benchmark it against previous satisfaction surveys,” she says.
The TNT approach to improving business
Going for the global Investor in People (IiP) standard was never “about the badge, but what’s behind the badge,” says Rooney. On the face of it, such a claim could seem disingenuous, but not so coming from the HR director, for her actions speak for themselves.
Rooney has consistently used IiP as a springboard for building a global people management platform and company culture. In 2000, TNT Express became the first company to be awarded the IiP standard globally. “We wanted to align our people development with our business needs,” says Rooney. “That’s what the standard does, and it gives us a number of benefits. We know our training meets our business needs, our people are trained properly to do their jobs, they have the right skills and competencies and they are motivated.”
At the same time, IiP status gives line managers a better understanding of how training helps improve the bottom line, she says.
The route to IiP began in January 2000 when Rooney brought some 50 HR managers from TNT’s business units around the globe together to explore the possibility of achieving the standard. “I told them I wanted to get our learning and people development to a point where we would have standardisation across the business, and not only improve performance but be able to show we’re improving the business.”
Her idea met with an enthusiastic response, and by the end of that year, global IiP was a reality. Since then, the company has continued to work with new IiP models “above and beyond the standard” that come onto the market, says Rooney. The company already uses IiP models for achieving excellence with regard to work-life balance, recruitment and selection and management and leadership, and some countries are starting to look at a new IiP benchmarking tool called Profile, which allows organisations being assessed to compare themselves with their peers in size, sector and geographical area.
For Rooney, the attraction to IiP is simple. “It’s practical,” she says. “It drives people management towards business goals, and it can be understood at all levels.”