If you think about Australian businesses that are vulnerable to digital disruption right now, Australia Post could quite easily be top of the list. We’re sending less and less traditional mail, but the iconic Aussie business is determined not to become the next Kodak by taking advantage of the opportunities arising from disruption and becoming disruptors themselves.
One of the leaders driving this change at Australia Post is Rebecca Burrows, General Manager, Small Business. “When your ‘do nothing’ option is fatal – like Kodak – you are presented with an amazing opportunity,” she tells me. “We have incredible resources available to support innovation – a massive physical network, a huge workforce, a trusted brand and a real case for change.”
“Disruption is certainly not new to Australia Post, but digital disruption has rapidly accelerated the rate of change so the business has had to become much faster and more inventive in how we work to not just respond to disruption, but to be courageous enough to disrupt ourselves first.”
This challenge is the reason Rebecca joined the business in 2011. After nine years working for Shell in a range of diverse commercial and change leadership roles, including a four-year stint in London, she was ready for something different. “I was looking for an Australian-based business with a big change agenda that I could contribute to. I came into the business originally to help set up an enterprise-pricing function – with the goal to drive a customer-centric approach to pricing.”
“When the opportunity to move into operations came up, I took a leap and threw my hat in the ring. I found myself leading our Business Hubs, with responsibility for a network of over 50 operational sites across the country with more than 2,000 operational, customer service and sales staff.”
The move into operations was a real career-turning point for Rebecca, a push out of her comfort zone that she was up for. “I knew I could do it, but I really thank and look up to the leaders who showed faith in me to transfer my skills gained in such different roles into the new environment,” she says. And that’s something she now carries through to her own leadership. “It’s something I have really embraced – looking at the whole person and what they can bring to a role – what is transferable from a totally different area, what new perspective they can bring and what support I can give someone to create a pivot in their career that will propel them.”
Now in her role as General Manager, Small Business, Rebecca is responsible for looking after Australia’s small business community. “Small business is the lifeblood of the Australian economy so it is in all our interests to help small business thrive,” she says. “Australia Post has always supported entrepreneurship in our community, and we see advocating for Australian small businesses – to help them go online, grow their business and sell overseas – as central to our role.”
Small business is also at the forefront of digital disruption as ecommerce continues to grow. “Disruption is certainly not new to Australia Post. Over the past 200 years or so we’ve adapted to telegrams, cars, telephones, faxes and more. But digital disruption has rapidly accelerated the rate of change so the business has had to become much faster and more inventive in how we work to not just respond to disruption but to be courageous enough to disrupt ourselves first.”
“Small business is the lifeblood of the Australian economy so it is in all our interests to help small business thrive.”
You’d be forgiven for thinking that innovation and Australia Post don’t go hand in hand. But hearing about the things they’re up to – like 24-hour hackathons and business incubators – might change your mind. The business has even completed a design sprint, which is a new approach to answering critical business questions over a five-day process through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers, an approach originally designed by Google.
“We needed to move quickly to design, validate and deliver new features in MyPost Business, so our team tried design sprints. We had a lot to cover so we didn’t do just one design sprint, but four, over just five weeks. We’re pretty sure we’re the first large organisation to do this within a SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework for Enterprise) delivery model, and certainly one of the first to do a series in quick succession. The team loved it and learnt a lot. It certainly proved that the sooner we can be in front of a customer, the faster and easier it is to deliver value to them. And we didn’t just learn what we should do, we also learnt what we shouldn’t. It also demonstrated the value of diversity in teams. One of the best ideas didn’t come from the strategist or the business owner, it came from the graduate student,” Rebecca shares.
Being a large, long-established organisation certainly has its challenges when it comes to disruption – like set ways of doing things and stakeholders to manage – but it’s also an advantage, Rebecca says. “When you can create a movement for change, you have the resources behind you to really make it happen.” And they’re also learning from the small businesses they work with every day. “Our small business customers don’t usually have legacy issues – they start with a fresh slate – and we’ve been learning a lot from the way great entrepreneurs work to see what approaches can help us be more responsive to our customers, and to surprise them with new ideas they may not have expected from us.”
Rebecca is the type of leader we need more of in corporate Australia. She is driven by values, champions diversity and, you can tell, genuinely loves her work. “I encourage people to just be a person when they are at work. We need to stop interacting as a role and start to interact more as people. A conversation with someone about their family, the important things in their life or an important milestone can give you a great insight and really extend your working relationship – people are not their job titles.” Amen.
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Images: Lisa Dieu photography