The chairman of Australia Post, John Stanhope FAHRI, talks about embracing digital change and why HR needs to be at the forefront of strategic thinking.
Q. What do you think will become a focus for HR professionals in the next few years?
HR has tended to move away from operational HR and managing payrolls to strategic HR. This is about assessing the skill base of the company and analysing how the nature of work will change.
What’s going on at Australia Post is change caused by our customers, which was most likely instigated by digital disruption. This is very much changing the nature of the business.
I think HR has a central, strategic role to play in managing that change and determining what the workforce will look like and how it will operate in the future.
From a global perspective, I think HR understands how business is changing and we are becoming more closely aligned as a profession due to a focus on being more strategic.
Q. What are the types of things that Australia Post is doing in order to amend its workforce for the future?
It’s difficult to predict perfectly what future needs we’ll have. But I can be very sure that there’s not going to be as many people sending letters, which is due to people sending emails and using various other ways of communicating. That’s just the reality.
On the other hand, I also know that the digital disruption impacting Australia Post is causing people to shop online; as a parcels business, that’s a good thing. So for us there are good and bad consequences brought about by the digital age.
I do know in a macro sense that change is happening quickly, which means that the business will be very different in three to five years’ time. So part of an HR practitioner’s strategic thinking should be about agility and optionality. With the accelerating rate of change, flexibility becomes very important.
HR has a very important role to play in building that sort of agile culture, and frankly I don’t think that the HR role has ever been more important.
Q. What do you think great managers do differently? Is it all about leadership?
The really great HR managers have their head around agility and optionality. HR directors are often part of the executive team but you don’t usually see them at the forefront of strategic thinking. It’s time for us as an industry to step up.
Line managers all know that a focus on the future is important, but it needs strong leadership to keep that focus front-of-mind and make sure actions are happening. It’s the job of HR practitioners to make sure that the talk is being walked.
Q. What are your most significant challenges at the moment?
As chairman of the board, it’s my role to ensure that we’re continually overseeing the strategic direction of Australia Post. We need to make sure that we’re questioning it, testing it and keeping various things in equilibrium.
In other words, you can focus too much on the declining letters business and not enough on the growing parcels business. So it’s about getting the mix right.
Companies are ultimately about people. Our posties know that fewer letters are being posted; they’re not silly. They look to the board and management for what’s going to happen next and what their opportunities are going to be in the future. They know Australia Post has to change and that’s why we’re keeping them involved in the strategic planning and explaining to them what we have to do and why we’re doing it.
It’s a bit like delivering the budget. The treasurer said that if we don’t do certain things then we’re going to leave a mess for our children. If you don’t describe the ‘mess’, and what it will look like if we don’t do these things, people will struggle with understanding what you’re trying to do.
At Australia Post, our direction is called ‘being part of tomorrow’. Every person in the business needs to know how we’re going to be a part of tomorrow.