The Post Office is one of the UK’s oldest and most trusted brands.
So what do you picture when you hear “the Post Office”? Possibly a dimly-lit room with a counter at the back of a small shop, with racks of brown tape and padded envelopes for sale; or perhaps a twee, green-painted building with an awning in the middle of a town high street.
Chances are, your mental image doesn’t feature sleek, open-plan offices in shades of grey and blue with glass-walled meeting rooms – but that’s what greets me on my arrival at the Post Office’s London offices in Liverpool Street.
“People are surprised when they come to our offices – they expect something old-fashioned, something more like a Post Office,” says Jamie Flynn, Recruitment Manager at the Post Office.
But refashioning itself into a modern, digitally innovative brand is one of the Post Office’s foremost goals in 2018, along with attracting the next generation of digital talent to work in its offices – all without losing touch with the history and legacy that has made its brand such a trusted part of British culture.
Proud to be inclusive
In fact, the first thing that I notice when I arrive at Post Office HQ isn’t its open-plan workspace, but the enormous, glittery, rainbow Post Office logo adorning a pair of double doors on the ground floor.
This is one of the many steps that the Post Office took to celebrate the LGBTQ+ individuals working in its organisation during Pride Month and beyond, along with deploying a number of colourful rainbow vans across the UK, and taking part in the London Pride celebrations with a parade float.
Pride at the Post Office
The Post Office is incredibly proud of its diversity and inclusion, Sharon Gilkes, Post Office’s Digital Channel Director, informs me as she greets me, sporting a rainbow lanyard.
As well as a dedicated Diversity and Inclusion Team, the Post Office has an internal network for its LGBTQ+ staff members, nicknamed “Prism”; a network to support staff members with disabilities, “Disability Confident”; and sub-teams for women in leadership and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) members of staff.
The Post Office strives to keep diversity “top of mind” when recruiting, and is investing in CV screening software that will remove unconscious bias during the recruitment process.
The company also runs a number of campaigns around mental health awareness and religious diversity. Its inclusive attitude is clearly visible around the space, with informational displays about Pride, a dedicated “Wellness/Prayer Room”, posters and collection boxes for charity appeals, and even a meeting room named after Pudsey Bear, the Children in Need mascot.
The Post Office’s welcoming stance has already helped it in netting outstanding digital talent: Gilkes told me the story of a top commercial analyst with specialist skills in digital analytics who made the decision to join the company after seeing its rainbow Pride logo – despite having already received an offer to work elsewhere. As a gay man, he placed a high importance on working for a company that shared his values and made recruiting a diverse workforce its top priority.
“The Post Office has been at the heart of the UK community for more than 370 years, and has been there for what matters to our customers,” says Gilkes. “This includes fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion in our workplace, which reflects so much of UK communities today.
“It also extends to trusting our people to take a proactive, collaborative approach to problem solving and bringing ideas to life, especially those ideas which make it easier for customers to work with us.”
Yet the Post Office still faces challenges in persuading the best and brightest in digital talent to work for its organisation. The company is extremely proud of the history which has seen it become the UK’s second most trusted brand (after the AA and above Boots, two other British stalwarts) – but this legacy also makes it difficult for the Post Office to position itself as a top digital recruiter.
“We’re not normally people’s first choice for working in this sector,” says Jamie Flynn. “But we want to be a brand that people are proud to have on their CV.”
Tradition and innovation
The first general post office in London opened in 1643 under King Charles II, meaning that the Post Office brand stretches back 375 years – and counting. The Post Office is woven into the fabric of British society, acting as a hub for communities – particularly rural communities – and social space, as well as the source of many important services.
“We’ve kept people and communities connected,” Sharon Gilkes says. “If you don’t have the Post Office, then what does it mean to be British?”
The company’s London offices, for all their sleek modernity, still retain a strong sense of the Post Office’s history and character.
Meeting rooms are named after significant places and events, such as Lisburn City, the first main branch of the Post Office. One wall is decorated with postcodes of Post Office branches around the country, from Donard, Newcastle to Chapel St Leonards, Skegness. Another is taken over by a large memorial to Post Office workers who gave their lives in World War One.
Postcodes of Post Office branches around the country
A plaque honouring the Men of the Secretary’s Office of the General Post Office who gave their lives in World War One.
This long history provides the Post Office with numerous benefits not enjoyed by other brands, such as its massive branch infrastructure – the Post Office has more branches than all the banks and building societies in the UK put together – and the high level of esteem in which it is held by the British public.
However, while the Post Office has earned its customers’ trust when it comes to postal services, this doesn’t always translate to success in some of the new areas it would like to move into. In 2014 the Post Office tried to make its mark in the competitive mobile network market, launching a Pay-As-You-Go SIM service in partnership with EE.
But after a disappointing trial that saw limited uptake, the company decided not to roll Post Office Mobile out on a national scale, and the scheme was terminated in 2016.
Today, the Post Office is focusing on building credible financial services and identity products, making services like tax returns, driving license applications, buying travel insurance and banking digitally-enabled and seamless.
Thanks to an agreement with high street banks forged in 2017, 99% of banking customers can carry out their day-to-day banking at a Post Office, providing a lifeline for bank customers who may not live within easy reach of a bank branch.
The Post Office is keen to expand its reach and bolster its credibility in the financial services sector, an area where trust has historically been very fragile.
“The Post Office could do amazing things with our brand reputation in financial services, if we can earn that trust,” says Jamie Flynn.
To accompany these strides into a new age, the brand is adopting some new marketing straplines that help to communicate its message. One is “Think you know the Post Office – think again”, which focuses on challenging long-held perceptions of the brand, and surprising consumers with innovative products and services.
Another is, “Here for what matters”, which hones in on the crucial social function the Post Office holds in many communities, and will involve rolling out a number of campaigns and initiatives aimed at tackling social exclusion, financial exclusion, and isolation.
The Post Office also holds closely to its “North Star”, which Gilkes tells me guides everyone in the company from the Board down. The idea of a North Star, or North Star Metric, originates from Silicon Valley: a single concept, or measure of success, by which a company can gauge whether it is holding true to its core strategy and fulfilling its key purpose.
OnePostOffice, the Post Office’s corporate communications website, describes the brand’s North Star as, “Ensuring that we matter as much tomorrow as we do today”.
We’ll use this statement to keep us on track as we build a sustainable, thriving network of Post Office branches which will flourish for many years to come. We’ll never lose sight of it and it’ll help guide us on our way.
One of the biggest challenges of digital transformation can be not just recruiting new employees with the right capabilities, but upskilling the company’s existing workforce.
In a bid to support its employees in continuing to learn and grow throughout their careers, the Post Office offers opportunities for “lifelong learning”: from online learning modules, how-to videos and TED talks, to an extensive apprenticeship scheme which is available to anyone regardless of their age, or the stage they’re at in their career.
To help usher in a new generation of young and passionate digital talent, the Post Office also has a two-year grad scheme, which involves graduates spending six months in each division – Retail, Financial Services & Telecom, and Operations – and three months in-branch.
Yes, for all the focus on new digital products and services, the Post Office hasn’t abandoned its brick-and-mortar branches, which are a crucial part of the Post Office’s infrastructure. Gilkes described to me how, every Christmas, employees from head office across all levels spend up to eight days in a branch, helping to manage the Christmas rush.
“It’s really important for all of our employees to have that hands-on involvement with a Post Office branch,” she says. “Everyone pitches in – including the Senior Directors. We all do our bit.”
Even the Post Office headquarters has its own Post Office branch!
Does the Post Office have any exciting new digital ventures on the horizon? At the moment, the company is putting a big focus on user experience, with a push to recruit UX designers and UX architects.
A major overhaul of the Post Office website is being planned, which will improve the navigation and user journey, and hopefully make the Post Office’s digital products that much easier for customers to find and interact with.
The Post Office also has a dedicated “innovation team” who focus primarily on producing apps, recently launching a brand-new travel app. The team is currently on the look-out for new designers and app developers to join its ranks.
However, it’s not all about the products. Gilkes tells me that the Post Office’s goal is first and foremost to be the source of great, trusted advice, with products coming second to that mission.
I asked Gilkes and Flynn about the ideal qualities that make a great Post Office employee. What attributes do they look for when recruiting?
“We look for people who have “can-do” and “solution-focused” attitudes,” says Gilkes. “People who look to find the best way to do their jobs and help our customers.”
“We also need people who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo,” says Flynn. “In the digital world, things move at such a rapid pace, and it doesn’t make sense to just stick blindly to the way things were always done. So we look for people who will question everything.”
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