By Stephen Gilliland
I was visiting the corporate headquarters of an international transportation company in Dubai and was greeted by a barrage of signs announcing the “Be Fit” program. In front of the elevators, you actually had to reach around it to press the button, was a big Be Fit banner. Right above the elevator button was a sign recommending use of the stairs. In the stairway (yes, I took the stairs!), there were signs every 6 to 8 feet showing overly expanded bellies and factoids on the health benefits of climbing stairs, pictures of fit people climbing the stairs with smiles, and also pictures of their own company executives using the stairs. When I met with my contact, she was wearing a polo with their Be Fit logo on the front. You simply could not escape the message that fitness matters.
If this company was in the USA, you might think they were trying desperately to control healthcare or workers compensation costs. But this was Dubai and the objective was more about doing the right thing, than generating an immediate financial benefit. This company takes a long-term perspective with employees. Loyalty is high and turnover is low. When they introduce automation (and they are an industry leader in this) it is not to eliminate jobs and reduce labor costs, but rather to improve efficiency and performance. They assure their employees that through efficiency and performance, the company will expand and prosper. Automation will create more jobs not less.
You see, despite the automation this company is about the people. The CEO continually reminds everyone that a company is only as good as the people, that teamwork is a greater key to success than technology, and that the health and safety of employees is paramount. The long-term perspective is that physically healthy employees are going to create a better, more sustainable company.
But was it overkill? All these signs “defacing” the corporate headquarters of an industry leading company with 30,000 employees spread across six continents? I don’t think so. It certainly was extreme. But it also sent a message that was impossible to ignore. Employees owned the message and customers got the message. Within minutes of walking into this company I knew it was different – that it was special. The Be Fit campaign was producing a culture change by making fitness something everyone thought about – employees, suppliers, customers, consultants. Their culture change campaign is having ripple effects that extend beyond the walls of the company.
As I was leaving after my meeting, the receptionist for the executive suite on the 6th floor pointed me toward the elevators. With barely a pause, she added that if I preferred, the stairs were at the end of the hallway. I gladly took the stairs so I could look at more of their creative fitness posters!
Associate Dean, Executive Education