bpost group is Belgium’s leading postal operator and a parcel and e-commerce logistics provider in Europe, North America and Asia. Delivering mail and parcels to millions of doorsteps and providing logistics services to businesses and consumers. With over 34,000 employees in Belgium and across the globe, bpost’s significant operations are totally focused on reducing its impact on the environment and the communities it serves.
bpost’s efforts and commitment to creating sustainable working practices and outcomes are to be commended. Pierre De Lit, Director Mail & Parcels Operations in Belgium provided further detail on how one of Belgium’s most significant corporate citizens is tackling COVID, climate change, and sustainability.
As Director of Mail & Parcels Operations what are your primary areas of responsibility?
As Director Mail & Parcels Operations, I am responsible for operations within the Mail Business Unit (intake, sorting, transport, distribution; ~20000 FTEs in total). Mail & Parcels Operations is responsible for letter mail and parcels in Belgium. Responsibility encompasses budgets, operational efficiency, quality, safety as well as continuous improvements, projects, and the support to the design and implementation of the operational strategy.
You have responsibility across several sites. What challenges does this create and what does the reporting structure consist of?
My responsibility covers the whole of Belgium, across the operational chain. We are organized according to the operational chain, Collect & Distribution North/South, Logistic and Preparation (Sorting), each headed by a Director. These operational units are supported by a central Operational Support team (helping out on real estate, fleet, support equipment, but also entrusted with the operational support on our key IT applications). Dedicated teams are also responsible for operational excellence and for our key projects, that are designed and run in close collaboration with teams in the field.
The key in a responsibility across several sites is to understand and accept that you cannot be everywhere, and that you have to give direction, but delegate and entrust your teams to run the operations on a day-to-day basis. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, I hold a daily call with my team members. In less than 30 minutes, we make a short status of the situation, discuss main issues and opportunities, and take the necessary decisions that are then cascaded throughout the organization. These daily calls are an excellent complement to our more classical performance management (performance dialogues happening throughout the organization).
In order to keep contact with the field, I “come along” on the field informally (at least, it was the case before the sanitary crisis). My ops directors (direct reports, with a responsibility going from 1000 to 7000 FTEs) are in the field on a daily basis. I believe this is absolutely key in operational management.
During this time of COVID-19 your business has seen a significant upturn in volumes. How were you able to manage this substantial rise in volume and implement a safe working environment given that many parts of your service are very labour intensive or require manual input?
The commitment of bpost personnel has allowed us to continue all services since the beginning of the crisis. Our CEO and the Group Executive Committee have emphasised five priorities, namely:
- to protect the health of employees and clients,
- to develop solidarity between employees and departments,
- to ensure maximum operational continuity,
- to ensure the group’s financial health,
- and to demonstrate our essential role in society.
The huge increase in parcel volumes (they doubled during the peak of the crisis) created a major operational challenge, without weeks to prepare. bpost succeeded to adapt in a fast and flexible manner.
To ensure our colleagues could do their job safely, face masks, hand sanitizer and gloves have been provided to all members of staff. Operational layouts and work schedules have also been reviewed when necessary to ensure respect for social distancing at sites, and operational processes have been adapted too to ensure social distancing could be respected.
We used our sorting capacities heavily and launched an afternoon distribution wave for parcels to be able to serve all clients. We also hired about 800 employees on fixed-term contracts and engaged hundreds of temporary workers. Tents and trailers were also used to store and process products when space was no longer sufficient at some sites. For the end-of-year peak, we will reinforce our operations with more than 2000 people.
What lessons do believe have been learnt and will be taken forward during this forthcoming phase of ‘a new normal’?
The crisis has taught us that we were capable of achievements that none of us would have dreamt of before and claim an essential role in society by keeping citizens and business connected to each other. We have adapted our processes in no time with a constant end-to-end mindset, we have drastically increased our “time-to-implementation” and our adaptability, our workers were proud to serve the population and it created a very positive feeling of belonging amongst them. We wanted to build on the remarkable traits and abilities we had shown at the peak of the crisis to evolve to a new normal in the way we conduct our Mail Operations.
So, we launched the Proud! (F¡ER!) approach, as we are proud of who we are, proud of what we do. Together with my management team, we first defined our ambition: “We build a forward-looking, agile and proud organisation that takes decisions quickly,as one team,in confidence, with respect for people and mission.”
We have conducted workshops throughout the organization, both locally (in a given site) and end-to-end (across sites and operational processes, also involving central teams), in order to let our management express concrete actions and levers to further build on the positive dynamics unleashed by the crisis (following an appreciative inquiry approach). In total, 140 workshops have taken place, with more than 1100 colleagues involved.
Sustainability is embedded in the culture of the business with a CSR strategy focused on three pillars of people, planet, and proximity. Internationally recognised for its achievements so far can you provide an overview of some of the main successes and the current ambitious plan to turn the city of Mechelen into your first carbon neutral operation.
As a logistic services provider, bpost is aware of the potential impact of its activities on the environment. bpost manages and steers its environmental pillar, ‘planet’, using its CO2 footprint as a metric. In 2018, bpost set an ambitious objective for the Group: its goal is to achieve by 2030 a 20% reduction – compared to 2017 levels – in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from its activities.
To achieve this goal and reduce the impact of its activities on the environment, bpost acts on different levels, from its fleet to energy consumption, waste production, etc.
In the past few years, we have started transforming our fleet by selecting vehicles with a lower -to-no carbon footprint, such as (electric) bicycles, delivery three-wheelers and electric vans. By 2022 we aim to have 600 new electric bpost vans driving around in Belgium and by 2030 50% of our last-mile fleet should be electric. We introduced new double deck trailers, which enable us to transport 60% more letters and parcels, reducing with 30% our traffic by 2030.
bpost is also making investments to reduce the environmental impact of all its operations, its buildings, and facilities, all of which consume electricity, gas and water. Where electricity is concerned, bpost has been heavily investing in renewable electricity. It has also introduced 33.000 photovoltaic cells on the roofs of some of its building in all Belgium.
Another recent example of bpost’s efforts to act for the planet is the launch of its pilot for a zero-emission zone in the city of Mechelen. This pilot, which will take place in phases over a period of 2 years, will enable the implementation of sustainable solutions for the sending and distribution of letters and parcels in the city, thanks in particular to the installation of a large network of parcel lockers but also to the deployment of zero-emission vehicles (bicycles, electric “Colibus”, etc.) for distribution.
Many of your achievements in driving sustainability throughout your processes would not have been possible without supplier collaboration and innovation. How important is the relationship between bpost and its core vendors in continuing to push the boundaries of what is possible?
Our project teams work in close relationship with our suppliers, both on more classical projects such as parcel sorter design and letter sorting machine improvements, and on more prospective developments such as the use of robotics combined with artificial intelligence in the sorting centres to assist staff on physically demanding work.
Also, on supporting fleet and equipment, we extensively test prototypes from several suppliers, ask for design adaptations in order to make sure the tools and equipment we purchase will combine safety and ergonomics requirements, operational efficiency, sustainability, and costs. As an example, we are heavily testing electric trailers that can be used both with and electric bike or by a pedestrian distributor.
Being the largest private employer in Belgium must be a great help when recruiting. How does the business attract the brightest brains for areas outside of your core operations?
bpost is indeed a very well-known company and employer in the Belgian employment market, everyone sees our mailmen and women in the street and knows our company.
At the same time, the big diversity of challenges and jobs, even at an international level, that is so obvious to us, are not always known by the global employment market.
Aside from the personal networking of our thousands of employees, we have invested in several initiatives over the last years to spread the word that bpost has what it takes to challenge e-commerce, data, agile, finance… enthusiasts.
Our 34.000 colleagues worldwide, the people behind the innovative products and the technological challenges, are the most important and authentic ambassadors, hundreds of stories every day. We share them through diverse social media channels to show all the faces of bpost that, in the end, put a smile on the face of our customers. We have partnerships with universities across the country and offer several corporate trainee programs in all areas of our activities. A unique opportunity for them, a great network and new ideas and inspiration for us.
A challenge for any industry leader is maintaining growth especially in a competitive market such as yours. How do you continue to achieve year on year growth? Forgetting the COVID situation what do you see as the biggest challenge/threat in the future?
The bpost group has articulated its strategy around e-commerce logistics. The growth will come from the activities from Radial in the US and Europe, and from our parcels activities in Belgium and the Netherlands. The crisis has brought us two years forwards in the blink of an eye, our biggest challenge is to be able to put in place the necessary infrastructure and appropriate processes to serve our clients with high quality and at an appropriate cost. Being able to adapt to changing client needs will also be key to stay in the race in this extremely competitive market.
Pierre De Lit in his own words.
I joined bpost in 2011 in the field of large projects and technological transformations. I became responsible for overall Mail Operations Business architecture, for major programs related to buildings, sorting systems and IT projects in the context of Vision 2020 Operational Strategy. I was also in charge of the coordination and ensuring coherence of IT developments at Mail Service Operations and responsible for providing support to business analysis to projects when required.
I moved to operations in 2016, becoming responsible within Mail Service Operations of the five 5 Industrial Mail Centers (IMCs) and transport antennas of Belgium (responsible for Product Intake, Sorting and Transport organizations). Responsibility encompassed budgets, operational efficiency, quality, safety as well as continuous improvements and lean management.
In 2018 I became responsible for Belgian parcel operations, and later evolved to my current position of Director Mail & Parcels Operations in Belgium.