DHL’s Marlene Badul shares how she used learning to grow as an HR leader

Marlene’s skills are complemented by her scientific knowledge of human behaviour.

Marlene Badul is the current head of HR: Africa, for DHL Supply Chain Pty Ltd. She says what led her to this position is a fascination with human behaviour.

Marlene has 20 years of solid corporate experience where she has gained invaluable skills in strategic positioning, change management, leadership and team development.

During her years as an HR Executive, she has had to provide strategic leadership in areas of talent management, organisational and employee wellness as well as guiding the business in implementing DHL’s employee value proposition.

Being an HR leader
She joined DHL in 2010 as an HR Business Partner. It was during this time that her skills as an HR generalist were harnessed, developed, and complemented by her scientific knowledge of human behaviour, having qualified as a Psychometrist.

Having years of experience in conducting, analysing and reporting on psychometric assessments for large corporate companies provided her with the ability to not only understand the needs of employees, but the demands of running a successful business in the ever changing and competitive business landscape.

“In my current capacity, my job is to ensure that the DHL business, across the countries in Africa, is fully equipped to achieve its strategic agenda. In order to achieve this, I provide leadership in all aspects of the HR function.

“In my role I need to ensure that all sites and operations within the business operate within clearly established and globally aligned HR standards and procedures; there is legal compliance to all laws and policies within the countries, as well as to provide a conducive environment for our employees to bring their true authentic selves to work everyday, be engaged and perform at their fullest capability.”

How the role has morphed
She says in the past 11 years, the role has evolved. “When I first entered the organisation, HR was perceived to perform a transactional role instead of being true business partners. People were mostly promoted because they had been in their roles for a long time, not because of how exceptional they were.”

Marlene describes the previous culture as being driven by top down instructions, where there was a lack of synergy of ideas and robust engagement.

Marlene articulates that they brought in new blood and developed the leadership into 21st Century managers, which helped to cultivate and create teams that were more diverse and inclusive in nature.

She insists that the way the organisation was being led required change. “It’s now OK to make mistakes and we have more of an open dialogue and communication culture which encourages employees to voice their opinions or ideas in a respectful manner.”

She says she is proud of how much the culture has transformed over the years, but admits that the journey is one that is ongoing.

“Navigating ingrained norms is a long journey that takes persistence and resilience. Not everyone has a growth mindset, in fact many people who had been in leadership for a long time had a fixed mindset,” she says. She adds that in the interests of the business, you have to shift to forward-looking leadership and develop them through learning and education.”

Marlene explains that the role of leadership is crucial in creating a new culture. She says that whilst producing results is important, she advocates embracing the DHL culture of delivering the results with respect.

“Sadly, in this process, we had to let some people go because they weren’t able to embrace the new culture, but for the most part, people were receptive and that has resulted in a more inclusive, progressive organisation.”

Intense growth in leadership
During periods with the greatest level of complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty, is when Marlene says she has grown the most.

Such situations would include when organisations have to deal with protracted strikes or navigate complex labour markets within different cultures and belief systems. As a leader, she believes that her resilience and positive mind-set has been harnessed as a result of such situations.

“It isn’t easy managing a team of people, let alone a workforce of over 5000 colleagues. You have to apply fair and consistent treatment to all and provide an environment where colleagues feel appreciated and engaged”.

The Covid-19 pandemic was a further accelerant of change and leadership which really tested one’s true leadership capabilities, she added.

“The organisation was massively reliant on HR to provide direction. As a leader, I grew a lot and I found myself having to make quick decisions with limited information, being more agile and flexible.

“The matrix organisational structure in which we operate; where we have multiple reporting lines and clusters spread across different regions, presented its own challenges. How you manoeuvre relationships in this context had to be effective in addressing the challenges that the pandemic presented to the organisation.”

She recalls that, “When the pandemic first hit, we didn’t know much about the virus and this created a lot of panic and uncertainty amongst our colleagues. Safety was our number one priority.”

She says following social distancing and other protocols was new and it was a discipline that had to be acquired within the organisation.

“There was a further need to emphasise a safety first culture, which gave people the assurance that the organisation prioritises their safety. We developed HR frameworks providing guidance on changing shift patterns, staggering lunch breaks and working from home. We also had to address how to manage time-off within the framework. This approach helped and supported the organisation to pull through.”

As a glass half full person, Marlene is always looking on the bright side, and says while the pandemic slowed down some aspects of life, it also presented opportunities for growth and development.

“Yes, we worked furiously in the first year of the pandemic, but as we acclimatised, I gained a new appreciation for living life to the fullest and cherishing time spent with loved ones. The pandemic has given me an opportunity to deeply reflect and focus on the important things in life.”

During this period, she says her team has gotten closer and got to know each other better on a personal level. “Even though communication was different, despite it being virtual, we had more personal conversations. As a leader, one of the biggest things I came to learn was that you had to have trust in your team in pushing the HR agenda, albeit virtually oftentimes.”

Outside of the office
Marlene has multiple roles, as a wife and mother of twins. She describes herself as a vibrant, energetic, warm person who is results oriented.

“I like dancing, pilates, yoga and practicing mindful meditation. I enjoy good dinners with great company and believe life is short, so you have to grab moments of happiness where you can. I believe keeping fit is key to leading, because you have to take care of yourself to lead others.”