Imagining the future
Post & Parcel speaks to Margaux Meidinger, Head of European CSR Affairs at Le Groupe La Poste about a European project envisaging the postal sector in 2030.
Can you tell me about the project you have been working on?
I am involved in the European Social Dialogue Committee for the Postal Sector (SDC) which gathers together the posts of 27 EU member states and trade unions for the postal sector. Working together we have finalised a European project looking at the postal sector in 2030 to identify how it may potentially look like in the future using 5 diverse scenarios and also creating a set of 13 postal personas which could exist in the future. Within Le Poste the SDC I’m in charge of the project and chairing the employers’ (posts) side..
Why is it important for the sector to look at what it might look like in the future?
So one of the main roles of the social dialogue committee is to anticipate the main evolutions in the postal sector, and the social impact of these consequences. So we thought that the best way to anticipate these evolutions would be to work on scenarios. So the aim of the scenarios is not to define what the future will be. Of course you cannot foresee what the future will be. But it’s really to give operators a framework to make the necessary changes. We started working on the project in 2018 looking at five scenarios and the second stage began in 2021 and was all about the postal characters.
What are the five scenarios?
The scenarios we looked elaborated together at we as European social partners were the standardised society, the echo chamber society, the adaptable society, the vicious cycle society and the innovative society [ see the diagram for more detail].
Are some of the scenarios deliberately more optimistic than others?
What I often said when we were discussing the scenarios at workshops is it was not about whether you like the scenarios or not, and some scenarios maybe look less positive and present more challenges but they are actually the most useful ones because if we as a sector don’t want that scenario to happen then we need to put things in place to reach that situation. And even for a positive scenario it’s not like a status quo, you also have to put in place things in order for that scenario to become reality.
Why were the characters important?
Once we had the scenarios we thought the postal characters would make the scenarios more tangible for our organisations.
So the idea is that for each scenario, there are challenges and opportunities. And then we considered which character who can respond to these challenges or opportunities, and that’s how we reached this 13 postal characters.
Can you tell me about some of the personas?
The personas are grouped into 3 main functions: on the field, front office and back office functions. The personas on the field cover people who are in delivery functions today but whose activities will evolve towards proximity and social services based on their daily contacts and relationships of trust with customers. In a highly digitalised society, we believe that there will be a revival of the need for human contact. The front office function is about personas who are within post offices, they welcome customers and organise postal presence and operational activities within local territories. It is a key stakeholder in the territory, highly connected to other major local and national actors, having integrated the digital transformation within daily activities while answering the need for human contact. In back offices functions, we have two sub-groups with personas focusing on data related activities and personas focusing on human resources (HR) related activities. The back office data characters analyse data collected on the field by postal workers to transform them into business opportunities, they are a bridge between humans and smart technologies to create value. The back office HR family is in charge of adapting the work environment within postal operators to the changes of the work market. They focus on developing the employability of postal employees but also ensure that they work in a quality working environment which fulfils their professional and personal expectations.
Do any of the postal characters already exist?
We tried to base them on different job groups which exist today to see how these roles can evolve in the future. For example the Services Postman who delivers social and healthcare services to inhabitants – many posts already provide social services such as Jersey Post’s Call and Collect programme or Le Poste’s Veiller sur mes parents (Watch over my parents) service. But we have pushed this further and seen how we can extend this. Also it is important to mention that we considered the posts in 27 countries which have different levels of maturity in terms of diversifications and different business models. So what might be a character who already exists in our country, it can be something totally new in another.
But the idea is not to say these postal characters will exist with certainty in the future it more to show some of the trends and give some indication of how postal operators may diversify in the future.
How was the research conducted and discussed?
So for stage one we hired a German external foresight consultant which specialised in reflection and we worked step by step with European social partners, representatives of postal companies and trade unions. The first stage was to define parameters. Then we had a second workshop, where we discussed each parameter in detail. F for example if you take the issue of digitalization, we discussed what would be the different possible evolutions of this parameter for digitalization, it can be either full digitalization of society or a kind of digitalization backlash when people for security issues or people who aren’t digitally literate refuses to use digital tools. And the middle situation is kind of a divide between those people who are kind of fully digitally literate and some people are part of the society which refuses to do that. So that’s an example about digitalization, how you can see different possible evolutions. And then the last workshop was to see how we could combine the different possible evolutions of each parameter to reach the scenarios.
Did debates get heated?
What’s interesting is that we were discussing issues which are sensitive, because it’s about what could happen to jobs, therefore to human beings, in the future. As there are trade unions involved in discussions some topics are very sensitive, in terms of the evolution of employment, looking at employment models whether we go for instance, for a fully freelance sector or employ independent workers etc And while these are sensitive issues, it was easier to discuss these difficult questions in an open way considering the future when we aren’t facing the problems imminently.
Did anything surprise you during the course of the research?
In terms of the postal characters during the workshops, we were asked what would be the conditions under which the different characters could exist. And we listed a series of conditions such as a financial crisis or climate change. It was interesting to consider what might arise.
One of the conditions we considered was the revival of mail. And it was interesting to see that for all the postal characters we had imagined, the revival of mail was not a prerequisite for any of the characters to exist in the future. So it means that we were considering characters who could exist in the future of the postal sector without mail being one of the major activities. So that was a bit surprising.
Do you think working on this project after and during COVID helped participants to broaden their horizons of how the industry and jobs might need to evolve?
Yes, it was also interesting as in our original scenarios we hadn’t considered a sanitary crisis. So when we worked on the postal characters we were doing that during the pandemic and I think it influenced some of the missions of the postal characters characters.
For example we realised that people working ‘on the ground’ are not only responsible for delivery they are actually the characters who are in daily contact with the customers and so they are vital connection point and can also be used as a way to provide social and health services.
What are the next steps for the research?
So the next step is to communicate the results – the project concluded formally on 20 June so now we are putting together a communications toolkit and every participant will disseminate information into their organisation in each country. We want to communicate it in a cool way like putting the postal characters into playing cards so people can discuss them with the help of gamification. This will help postal operators to understand the results of our research and reflect on what it means for their particular organisation. And the project is continuing to evolve. The Directorate General for Growth of the European Commission is launching a foresight study where they want to develop scenarios for the sector in 2050.
Which departments is the research geared towards?
It’s mainly HR because there is a lot of emphasis on the future of jobs and future skills which will be needed for these jobs. And it’s also to some extent linked to strategy because behind the missions of the different characters, you also see some potential activities for postal operators to diversify in. Within trade union organisations, these reflections will also contribute to the give direction on how to implement the upcoming evolutions.
Do you think this is a useful exercise for all businesses?
Definitely, I think it really helps people to think out of the box, to consider the future. And also, I think one of the main messages is really that this was an exercise of collective intelligence that we did with people from different countries, from very different companies, but also from two sides of the industry, because we also had the company’s representatives. So it was really bringing together very different ideas and perspectives.
As Head of European CSR Affairs, Margaux Meidinger represents Le Groupe La Poste interests towards EU institutions on all Sustainability issues including the green deal and social initiatives. Prior to that, she has been working within the company on different positions related to Human Resources, European affairs and Sustainability.
Margaux is also the Chairwoman of PostEurop CSR Circle since 2018 and chairs the employers’ committee, representing the 27 EU postal companies, in the European Social Dialogue Committee for the postal sector. She holds a Masters’ degree from the College of Europe in Bruges and from the Institute of Political Sciences of Strasbourg.