• Corporate culture can have a significant impact on the world as employees promote a spirit of tolerance.
  • Companies have the means to support employees in their development and how they engage with others.
  • The way to drive a more inclusive global agenda is through the desire of large corporations to drive change.

At a time when some politicians seem keen to promote nationalism and protectionist policies, companies need to step up and show the world at its best. I believe in the concept of motivated people driving economic and social change – and in the responsibility of large corporations as key enablers, motivating and supporting their global workforce to effect that change.

Last year I had the opportunity to attend a football tournament like no other: it wasn’t the FIFA World Cup or the UEFA Champions League, tournaments that feature world-class players like Messi and Ronaldo. It was quite the opposite, in fact. All players were DHL Express employees from across the Middle East and Africa region, who had come together in order to compete in an internal company competition. There was a cheering crowd and a surprisingly high level of nimble footwork on display, considering it was an ordinary, annual company event.

And yet the tournament wasn’t ordinary at all. As I sat there, I wished that some of the world’s politicians were there, too. If they had come, they would have seen Saudis, Afghans, Syrians, Egyptians, Iranians and people from many other nations all playing and celebrating together.

And the people playing football were not just men. In a region generally thought to have a long way to go when it comes to gender equality, there were also female teams competing. These included women from Iran, Egypt, Syria, Kuwait, and even an all-women’s team from Saudi Arabia – something I never thought I would see in my lifetime.

A key role for global business

Watching these teams of smart, enthusiastic and passionate people competing on the pitch made me think about our company’s culture and the role played by company cultures in the wider world. Many thought pieces I’ve read about the role of leadership in business have offered theories about how corporate culture can influence employee engagement and a company’s financial results.

My theory is rather more ambitious: it is that corporate culture can influence the world in a broader sense. Quite simply, if large companies like ours can succeed in engaging and empowering their employees in a positive way, then I am convinced that this effect will flow outwards, like the ripples in a pond, and will cause real change around the world.

The importance of corporate culture in the McKinsey 7S Framework
Image: Personio; Tom Peters and Robert Waterman

A global base, one common culture

As the most global company in the world, we don’t pay any attention to nationality, colour, religion or sexual orientation. At the same time, we encourage everyone to go out there and engage with the world.

For example, colleagues from around the world frequently volunteer to be part of our Disaster Response Teams, which help manage logistics in the aftermath of major disasters. We have a Global Volunteer Day every year, where some 100,000 colleagues across the globe participate in one way or another, doing everything from cleaning up beaches to helping build houses in underprivileged communities. We also reward our employees who volunteer for good causes in their spare time. Each year we encounter incredible stories of amazing human beings who have chosen to spend their free time selflessly helping others.

Companies play a critical role in society

We hold similar events to that football tournament all around the world, and I witness that same spirit of togetherness wherever I go. At a time when some governments are becoming increasingly nationalistic, where some abdicate responsibility for the fight against the threat of climate change, and where wars are waged for territorial or ideological advantage, this seems more important than ever. And it seems clear to me that companies – especially large multinational ones like ours – have a critical role to play in society.

And that means we must encourage stronger bonds whenever we have the opportunity – it’s a win-win situation for our customers, international trade and people everywhere. We have the means to support our employees in their development and in how they engage with others. And we have the will to help tackle climate change and develop fresh ideas, innovative solutions and new initiatives that can truly make a difference at every level of society.

I firmly believe that at a time when our planet is in grave danger due to environmental problems, when people suffer because of war and famine, and when protectionism is on the rise, we all have a responsibility to do what we can.

This is not just an issue for DHL– there are many other big global players (and of course also smaller ones) which are stepping up to the challenge. If all make the effort, I know we can make a big difference and achieve great things. Because, as simple as it may sound, each of us has the capacity to move the world forward, and together we can make it a better place.

This is a modified extract from Ken Allen’s book “Radical Simplicity”.