David Gee talks to Simone Bachmann, head of information security, innovation and culture at Australia Post.
Simone as head of information security, innovation and culture at Australia Post – you have the coolest title of anyone I’ve met.What exactly are you key responsibilities and what is the hardest part of your job?
It’s not just a cool title; it’s a really fascinating job.
The innovation part is using customer-led design and lean innovation methodologies to solve customers’ pain points. This means anything from delivering solutions to keep people safer by default, through to creating discrete, revenue generating products and services.
Fundamentally the culture part of the job is about educating people such as our employees and customers about online security. Our mission is to help Australians be safer online.
To help make this a reality we use a variety of education principles and techniques, as well as behavior change models and partnerships with a variety of organisations.
It’s really easy to be passionate about striving to make a real difference to both these areas because the customer is at the heart of everything we do.
This is also the hard part of the job. Australia Post has such a broad range of customers (almost anyone), so there certainly no one size fits all approach.
Thinking about your own strengths what is your strongest soft skill?I would bet that is it all about influence, communications and interpersonal skills?
I think it’s the ability to try to put myself in other people’s shoes to see things from their perspective. It’s also not assuming that I have the all answers and asking others for help.
This helps me in many ways, such as when making decisions about people’s careers, creating customer solutions, and trying to explain why people should join you on a strategy.
When you think about leaders that you model yourself on, what attributes have you tried to emulate?
That’s a hard one, because to me the most important attribute is authenticity. And by definition it’s something you can’t really emulate - it kind of just has to just be the way you are.
Another key attribute is bravery. Sometimes I have bouts of ‘imposter syndrome’ when I look at what I get to do and the amazing people I get to learn from and work with, and feel like I don’t quite belong.
I’m aware of this, so I remind myself that it’s not about me. It’s about representing the work the whole team does. This helps me have the level of confidence and courage of leaders I look up to.
In terms of self-development, are you a person who likes to identify tough and perhaps unachievable goals?Or are you more pragmatic and centred?
I definitely like to challenge myself in many forms. This can involve taking a new job or project with many unknowns. As long as the team and I are well enough supported and set up for success to deliver something great, I’ll give it a go.
Outside of work I like to challenge myself by testing my perceptions. For example a few years ago, I would have told you that boxing was a silly sport — a test of macho bravado. So I did a class and three years later I am still training and have even competed in two boxing matches.
Fighting is counter to everything I know, so this was one of the most confronting things I’ve done. It was therefore one of the most incredible feelings of achievement.
I’d be lying if I said either of these were part of a grand goal. They were both totally opportunistic as most of my best decisions have been. However, when they come across my path, I often have moments where I think ‘wow, this is what I have been preparing for’.
Do you have a mentor that helps guide your career?
Yes, in fact I have three people who I consider mentors. They are people who have amazing perspective and are not afraid to offend me by challenging what I think or say.
With each of them, mentoring was an organic process and I didn’t actively think about what I wanted from them. They are just brilliant people in their own right and are people whose advice I have taken and applied in so many situations, both professionally and personally.
What’s the best piece of career advice that you ever received?
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There are many, but the one that comes to mind is that being underestimated can be a powerful advantage.
Early in my career, I was a mid-20s, blonde female in a male dominated IT industry. Wearing my suit, heels and makeup. I was often mistaken for the secretary when I was actually the head of the largest revenue generating division in the company.
It used to bug me but one day a customer pointed out that because I was considered less threatening than the other execs, people tended to be more open with me about what they needed to achieve and how I could help them.
I never misused this trust, but it taught me that what I perceived as a weakness could actually be a unique strength.
Just to understand more about what makes you tick — could you share what drives you?
This is where I sound like a walking cliché, but it comes down to two things. First, helping people achieve things that make a positive difference to their lives – I love seeing people achieve something they didn’t think they would or could.
Secondly, learning something new. It could be a random topic or something unexpected about a person that changes the way I view the world, even just a smidge.
What’s the hardest career decision that you have had to make?
Leaving a company where the CEO was both my manager and one of my closest friends on the planet (and still is). We made a formidable team. It’s unusual to be able to work with someone so closely who almost knows you better than you know yourself.When I was leaving I felt like it was betraying them. I shouldn’t have worried in the end, but I’ve rarely dreaded anything as much as having that conversation. It was the right career decision, but it was the hardest.