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Mel's Mail-Management Misgivings - The Quality of Postal Management in 2013
Dog of the Day - Peyton the Postal Pooch
Is anybody as concerned as I am about the current quality of postal management?
I know I promised when I started this blog that I was going to be fair to both sides of the labor-management fence, but lately it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. Perhaps I am just upset because of the attitude my supervisor took toward me last Wednesday. Normally quite charming, she demonstrated the darker side of her sparkling personality as she took me to task about my reluctance to commit to returning by Five PM. Of course, the fact that I had Advos the regular left me from Monday, a full coverage of Get One Free booklets, 21 inches of letter mail that the DPS machine had for some reason spit out, and I had also cased two routes that morning had no bearing upon her attitude. She had the fixed notion in her head that all her letter carriers were going to return by 5 PM, and no one was going to disabuse her of this idea.
I am normally a very cooperative carrier and I was not trying to be difficult, I was only pointing out the annoying facts to her. After a few moments of meditating upon my perceived mistreatment I approached her again to elaborate upon my original explanation. Especially vexing to me was the fact that I was not going to get credit in DOIS for the exceptionally large quantity of letter mail I had to case that day. To do the postal math for you, 21 inches = 1.75 feet x 227 (letters per foot) = 397. These were 400 pieces of mail that simply did not exist, according to current postal mail measuring techniques. If they did exist they somehow cased and delivered themselves. When I told her that DOIS was going to show me being over in the office and wasn't going to give me casing credit for these 400 pieces of pieces of mail she replied "probably not" and went on her way without further comment.
I know what you're thinking. I hear the collective yawn of all of you letter carriers out there. You're telling me to stop my belly aching because this is the kind of treatment that a lot of you receive on a daily basis and you just deal with it as part of the cost of making a living. I admit I pouted and griped for a while ( oh wowzy-wowzy woo woo) and now I'm pretty much over it. I understand that postal supervisors have an extremely difficult job to do and they are subject to intense pressure from higher level decision makers, many of whom have never worked in a delivery unit, directing the business from some insulated ivory tower cubicle light years away from any real post office. What is really bugging me is the inability of postal management to evaluate reality as it truly exists and to execute its business strategy accordingly.
I started my postal career back in what I think of as the "golden age" of the postal service, in late 1993. At that time Marvin Runyon was the Postmaster General. The best thing about Marvin is that he was not brought up in the USPS "ostrich-head in the sand" school of management. He earned his stripes in the private sector, where the use of professional management techniques is essential for survival. After surviving the rigors of corporate America he cleaned up the Tennessee Valley Authority, a wasteful quasi government entity with massive debt (any sense of deja vu here?). After bringing solvency to this organization he later was appointed Postmaster General. Although Marvin was a slash and burn cost cutter, earning him the nickname "Carvin' Marvin," he was also a strong advocate of customer service. As such, he bulldozed managers away by the thousands but hired more letter carriers, one of them being yours truly.
The most impressive thing to me about PMG Runyon was that he did not ignore reality. Instead, he is known for distancing himself from management and spending time talking to craft employees, something the present postal administration does not engage in to any great degree. Marvin understood the essential importance of gathering feedback from people doing the actual job. For an example of the kind of disastrous, productivity killing monstrosities that occur when management does not communicate with its workforce, read my previous hub entitled "Mel' Malodorous Mail Machines Memorandum," which deals with the woeful state of postal technology.
In contrast to Runyon's enlightened attitude toward his soldiers in the trenches, the current business killing disposition that seems to be brainwashed into postal supervisors from day one is that all letter carriers are liars and cheats, and only complain about postal business practices because they are trying to "get one over" on the post office. To be sure, every postal delivery unit has its collection of chronic bellyachers, malingerers and malcontents, but the most prevalent attitude among career carriers is that they want to take care of their customers. The large percentage of letter carriers go out of their way to go the extra mile for the public that they serve and to make every effort to do so in a productive manner. But the simple fact is that letter carriers cannot make the magic numbers projected by management when the magic numbers are calculated using faulty, incomplete math.
To cite a perfect example of this, every letter carrier, and every competently done time-motion study will tell you that the DPS mail does not deliver itself. 2000 pieces of letter mail cannot be delivered in the same amount of time as 1000 pieces. Yet this is exactly the assumption that is built into DOIS, the postal service's primary information system used to manage the delivery of the mail. DOIS assumes that street times are fixed every day regardless of the mail volume. If a carrier has 3000 pieces of mail on a Monday and 1000 pieces on a Saturday DOIS does not care - the street time it uses to measure a carrier's performance will still be the same. The fact that this is a patently ridiculous assumption that flies in the face of reality seems to be of no consequence. Of course, as every letter carrier will tell you, a supervisor will assert that Saturday's light mail does indeed make a difference when they are forcing pivots, but will contend that the heavy Monday mail does not matter and you don't really need overtime to deliver it. In other words, the obvious difference between light and heavy mail days is only recognized when it is convenient for management.
My contention is that effective management is not possible if real data from real numbers are not used to manage the mail flow. The primary cause of the bad data comes about because supervisors are instructed to input only a minimal amount of cased letter volume, presumably to keep the delivery unit's DPS percentage high. This is why my 397 pieces of letter mail are of no consequence. Not coincidentally, DPS percentage is a criteria that managers often select for their performance evaluations, probably because the number can be manipulated so easily. For more thoughts on DPS, please read my hub "Mel's Mail Moments - DPS Dance of Death." To me it is inexcusable, even criminal, the way that numbers are manipulated in the Post Office so that unrealistic managerial projections can be reached.
In closing, I hearken back to a comment that our station manager made when Jack Potter took over as Post Master General. His words were to the effect of "At last we have one of our own back in there again." His words were probably spoken out of relief, because Runyon gave thousands of superfluous managers the axe. I am not inclined to agree with this assessment. I think that higher management becomes too deeply enmeshed in "postal think" to make realistic assessments of the business situation and how to deal with it. Perhaps these home grown PMGs are too deeply indebted to their postal "cronies" to make any hard decisions and changes. On the other hand, I think it will take fresh eyes and a brain uncorrupted by "postal think" to make the changes required to get this organization back onto the path of financial viability.