Making the USPS Irrelevant One Disastrous Decision at a Time!

The viral post office | Viral post, Post office, Postal policeBy now, it is apparent that the USPS has utterly failed in its primary job of delivering the mail.  That the US PS has been failing for my entire life is a topic the politicians do not want to discuss.  That the business model the USPS is based upon has never been a profitable one, the overhead is disastrously expensive, and the labor costs beyond exorbitant are also not topics the politicians ever want to discuss.  They prefer smoke and mirrors, purple squirrels, and Hollywood celebrity scandals to actually doing their jobs.  But, I digress; last week, the USPS announced that postal service would revert to the slowest it has been since the 1970s, and the cost for that dismal service is going to increase dramatically.

All weekend the reasons for the USPS being in this fix have been stewing in my mind, and I would like your insight as I discuss the main reasons why the USPS is in such bad shape.  Feel free to disagree.  Feel free to comment.  Feel free to ask questions and research further.  To my mind, the most damning problems to the USPS come from the following areas, too much overhead, labor union expenses, business model, and no clear political place in government.Save the US Postal Service! By a zillion dollars comics | Politics Cartoon | TOONPOOL

Labor Union Expenses

Let’s get something clear, the labor unions in government are living high on the hog of taxpayer forced taxation and mandated union dues.  Consider the following comment from Representative Dennis Ross.

“UPS (Union) – about 66% of their total operating costs are labor. FedEx (non-union) – about 45% of their total operating costs are labor. USPS – 80-82%.”

Here’s the rub in comparing UPS, FedEx, and USPS; they are not apples and apples; it’s more like apples to rocks.  Why?  Because UPS and FedEx must show a profit to shareholders at the end of the year; thus, anytime USPS runs into an unprofitable situation, they rely upon USPS to fill the gap.  FedEx operates slightly differently based on its business model. From observation from living in extreme rural areas, it does not appear to rely upon USPS as often to cover the gaps in service.

However, the labor costs at USPS continue to run extremely high, and the excuses for these labor costs continue to run thinner and thinner every year.  Looking at six specific USPS explicit labor union-negotiated labor costs:

      1. Compensation levels – What each employee under the collective bargaining agreement is paid.
      2. Work rules – How often an employee works, who they report to, uniforms, and a host of other processes and procedures, which can and do increase business operating costs.
      3. Contracting – Includes independent contractors, contracts for retail locations, pickup locations, and much more.
      4. Network differences – Differences in the network affect the labor involved in delivery, sortation, transportation, and retail portions of an end-to-end movement.
      5. Capital intensity – Differences in capital requirements affecting the amount of non-labor costs needed to provide services offered.
      6. Congressional requirements – Congressional requirements focus on the aspects of the Postal Service that add more labor costs influencing capital spending.

Hence, if we take Rep. Ross’s statement as accurate, Congress is to blame for some of the added expenses the USPS incurs and the hidden taxes the taxpayer pays to interact with the USPS.  This is why the place in government is such an influential portion of this discussion.  Congress has been pushing the costs of regulating the USPS onto the taxpayer as a hidden tax since the USPS was started. This is unacceptable, especially since the taxpayers did not have a voice in allowing the USPS to become unionized, tripling labor costs year-over-year.P.S.E Context of PA: SWOT Analysis of the United States Postal Service

Please note, when discussing labor costs tripling, we are not just discussing wage earners’ take-home pay.  Labor costs, as shown above, include those six items, plus a host of labor union contracted benefits, plus retirement benefits, plus administrative staff to handle these benefit packages, the regulatory burdens, the reporting burdens, and much more.  Thus, while comparing UPS, FedEx, and USPS is unfair and illogical, the labor costs are pretty close to accurate even though they cannot be compared due to business model, Congressional reporting, and quasi-governmental meddling by politicians.  Any company with 80-82% labor costs will be struggling with labor problems and turning a profit.  Labor costs, fed by a labor union, are a reality that needs rectification and addressing.USPS 2011

Outdated Business Model

2009 the USPS paid a lot of money to have their business model reviewed, and the result was an excellently written document that outlined two potential steps for the USPS to take.  Where is the USPS in adopting either of these actions in 2021; nowhere!  Why has the USPS not taken any action on this document since 2009; Congress!  Item number six in labor costs continues to rear its ugly and monstrous head, and the problem is not so much on USPS; although they indeed share the blame, Congress continues to drag its feet and refuses to scrutinize the government appropriately.Several logos, mottos have represented USPS through the years | PostalReporter.com

When discussing the USPS business model, the industry is discussing “optimizing the last mile” in the supply chain.  That last mile is where the USPS has traditionally filled in the gap and made the final customer delivery.  However, USPS is inefficient, costly, and labor-intensive.  Yet, until science fiction realizes a Star Trek-like replicator in every home, optimizing the last mile is the discussion we need to be having, and solutions are available!

The 2009 business model review offered franchisee options as a business model — what a novel idea.  Imagine getting your mail on your commute route, no more having it delivered to an apartment box, packages waiting on a doorstep for thieves, stop by a convenient place on your regular commute route, and get all your mail.  Why not have your mail delivered to your office?  Then your office mailroom becomes an arm of the post office; it can sell stamps, handling packages, and then you do not have an extra stop at all.  Talk about an employer-based incentive!  Better still, for a fee turning over retail establishments to non-profit groups for work programs.  Guess what; that has the benefit of increasing public outreach and building communities.  Yet, the USPS languishes because Congress refuses to take up serious topics, and our tax dollars are squandered!

Place in Government

Engineering Professor Calculates How Fast The Eagle In The USPS Logo is GoingRead the US Constitution, the US Bill of Rights, other founding documents, wherein is a postal service discussed?  Find me the article claiming we need a Federal Postal Service.  Name me the reason why the Postal Service is required.  Selling stamps, that can be done using a myriad of different methods.  Sending packages, mailing letters, again, many other options are available.  Passports, hundreds of other options are available; why not put that into DMV’s across the US?  Why not simplify the Passport process entirely?

What is the reason for the USPS?  Give me the why and justify the existence for the next 20-years for the USPS.  My entire life, I have been asking why the USPS is needed, and I have been asking this since before email, fax machines, and other technological leaps.

Overhead

USPS TESSWhen was the last time the USPS had personnel layoffs to balance their accounts?  1970, under President Richard Nixon, USPS had a strike, got a unionized workforce, and, as they call it, “a living wage.”  From 1970 to 2021, there has been nothing but problems in the USPS; from retirement benefits costing too much, to labor expenses, to Congressional expenses increasing year-over-year, the overhead does nothing but balloon.  I was recently in a flagship USPS for Phoenix, AZ.  The building is a disgrace, the parking lot is neglected, the lobby is dark and missing half the materials, no forms, no boxes, everything is behind the barred and locked counter, and the retail associates are criminally negligent in their duties.  What’s worse, this was a good USPS office to visit in Phoenix, AZ.

Take an honest appraisal of your local USPS and ask yourself, are your taxpayer dollars represented in your USPS in a manner acceptable to you?  I visited a USPS in Las Cruces, NM.  The design of the building lends a bright feeling to the building atmosphere; the retail area is small and naturally illuminated.  Same problem with retail associates, but not as noticeable.  However, this was also before the latest changes from Washington, where the employees were told it was okay to work slower and charge more.More is Less at the USPS | Freeport Press

It is my personal opinion that the USPS has outlived its usefulness, and it is time for the USPS to be eliminated from quasi-government offices of the United States.  Nothing fruitful can be gained from continuing the charade of the USPS.  Congress needs to return to the states the ability to issue addresses and organize their communities and end the USPS debacle!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Rules for Achieving Production Goals

Knowledge Check!Some may scoff, others may scowl, but I will tell you an open secret, if you are not quality first, production goals will never be achieved.  Sure, a company may hit a target now and then, of course a quarterly statement might come in on target, but reliable production cannot be achieved without quality focus and the following rules.

With more than 20 years’ experience in manufacturing, supply chains, logistics, call centers, and much more, the following production rules are at least a moment of your time for reading and two moments for consideration.  Yes, there are a lot of people who will claim they have the path to success mapped and if you follow it, you to can achieve success.  I am not one of them!  I have tried and true lessons, I have common sense approaches, and I offer freely information that when combined with your knowledge, and the people you have working for you, solutions can be generated to achieve success.

  1. Quality is everyone’s job! – Tell me; whose job is it to pick up trash in the parking lot? How much litter is in your parking lot, trapped against the fence, collecting around the dumpsters, and crowding the floors of your facility inside and out?
    • A colleague states the following:
      • I can tell you within five seconds after arriving the quality mindset of the facility I am visiting, by looking at the parking lot.”
    • My colleague is correct; every facility I have visited that has had a clean parking lot, where employees and managers are picking up after themselves, has a quality culture worth emulation. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true!
    • What does your parking lot look like?
  2. Never take your customer, employee, shareholder, vendor, etc., where YOUR brain has not traveled first! – I sat in a meeting where the leader openly admitted, after telling the new strategic focus, goals, and mission plan, when answering questions about this plan regarding implementation, stated, “I haven’t thought that far ahead.” That company is bankrupt.  Not because they did not have good products, customers willing to buy, or great service, but because the leadership took the business places they had not personally already traveled in their minds.
    • How can you expect any goal to be achieved if you cannot answer implementation questions?
    • How can people follow if you do not know where you are headed?
    • Where are you going and has your brain already traveled there?
  3. Data will be misinterpreted if specific explanations are not included! – New manager, fresh from school, knew all the lingo, had all the buzzwords memorized, was handed a sheet of data, and failed to comprehend what the data meant. Worse, he led others into ruin by misinterpreting data.  If data is not explained, if the why behind data is not clearly understood, if the data story is incomplete, the data is useless, meaningless, and valueless!
    • What is your data story?
    • How do you train others in your data story?
    • Can other people explain the why behind the data, or do they have to come to you for that explanation?
  4. When in doubt, trust your people! – Time does not allow me to relate even a tenth of the stories where the people have proven the data wrong, have gone above and beyond expectations, and achieved miracles. Yet too often the people are the first ones cut in a crisis.
    • Juran’s Rule – When something is going wrong, 90% of the time it is the process, not the people. Yet, how many times are the people blamed for bad processes?
    • Appreciative Inquiry – The theory that states that when you have a problem, the people already in the positions doing the job, hold the answers needed to fixing the problems. Yet, how many times are the people the first one’s lost in crisis?
  5. Data lies; humans live! – Recently the data stated that the problem in a facility was in a specific area. The specific area was encouraged to perform better.  The management thought, “Problem solved.”  Production goals were missed, more counseling to this specific area, more encouragement to achieve, more focused spending to target pain points.  Still missed production goals.  Nobody looked beyond what the data said was the problem, and the data was suffering from a pretty severe case of GIGO (Garbage In = Garbage Out).  There was no production goal problem in the area specified, the problem was on the other side of the plant, and because of the investment in the wrong area, it took longer and more resources to fix the proper area.
    • When data is purported to have “concluded” anything, first give it a reality check!
    • Data is only as good as the inputs.
    • Humans live in the real world, whereas data lives in an altered reality that mimics (rarely) the real world.
    • Never forget, data lies. Data can, at best, only support a decision direction.  Data cannot conclude, prove, or justify anything.
  6. The Rule of 6-P’s – The Rule of 6-P’s is known in various forms and words, but the sentiment is always the same, “Proper, Prior, Planning, Prevents, Purely, Poor, Performance.” Yet, how often is planning done without proper prior activities?  How often is poor performance blamed on everything but poor prior planning?
    • Do you know what proper prior planning looks like as an activity?
    • What is involved in prior planning, and how do you tell the difference between proper and improper prior planning?
    • Who is involved in prior planning and why are they there?
  7. Celebrate small achievements! – Here is another open secret, rarely implemented, always discounted, but remains the single most powerful tool in a leader’s toolbox, praise! That’s it.  Praise is better than cash gifts for the brain, research and fMRI imagery support this conclusion.  The research is fascinating.  Yet, honest, regular, sincere praise continues to be the most overlooked aspect of leadership in business today!
    • Praise is celebrating achievement with someone else.
    • Celebrating success is imperative to moral, discipline, and enthusiasm in the workplace.
    • When was the last time you showed genuine praise for your people? When was the last tangible “Thank you” witnessed?  Who witnessed that gratitude, praise, and celebration?
    • Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Issue praise!  Celebrate all achievements, but most of all celebrate the small achievements.
  8. Success is a choice, but you need everyone making this choice! – Find me a successful team where one team member is not fully and wholly committed to achieving success, and I will show you a team that missed achieving the highest success. Production goals are the exact same thing, if everyone on the team does not know the goal, know the why, and are committed to achieving the production goal, that goal will be missed!
    • How do you find the person not interested in achieving the production goal; who is dropping trash and not picking it up?
    • What do you do when the person is identified; that depends, are you a learning organization or a money pit? If a money pit, that person is fired.  If a learning organization, then it is time to ask questions, discover reasons, and explore options.
    • How do you choose to lead, carrot or stick?
  9. Success is designed; who is drawing the lines? – One of the most egregious problems in today’s world is the delegation of authority to those not worthy or capable. On a consultation the boss had delegated his role to an author of a book.  Every question asked of the leader, he grabbed this author’s book and looked for an answer.  The book is a good resource, but the lack of application to direct business problems was not the author’s intent and was beyond the authors ability.
    • Who is drawing the lines designing what success looks like?
    • Why?
  10. The Pyramid Analogy – Use it, Live it, Love it!

The Pyramid Analogy

Consider the triangle from geometry, there are six different classifications, all of which demonstrate production goal attainment, but only the equilateral triangle makes up the pyramid, and only the equilateral triangle can report success in production goal attainment.

Right Triangles:

Right triangle - WikipediaA right triangle has one 90° angle.

The Acute:

Acute triangle | Acute angled triangle
The Acute Triangle has three acute angles (an acute angle measure less than 90°).

The Obtuse:

Obtuse Angled Triangle | Formula and Properties | Solved Examples & Practice Questions
The Obtuse Triangle has an obtuse angle (an obtuse angle is more than 90°).  Since the total degrees in any triangle is 180°, an obtuse triangle can only have one angle that measures more than 90°.

The Isosceles:

Properties of Isosceles Triangle - Definition & Solved Examples
The Isosceles triangle has two equal sides and two equal angles.

The Scalene:

Scalene Triangle (Definition, Area, Perimeter & Examples)
The Scalene Triangle has no congruent sides. In other words, each side must have a different length.

The Equilateral:

Properties of Equilateral Triangles | Brilliant Math & Science Wiki
The Equilateral triangle has three congruent sides and three congruent angles.  Each angle is 60°.

The Pyramid is an interesting shape, it is self-replicating from a single equilateral triangle.  The pyramid is a five-sided object that represents one of the strongest shapes in the galaxy, with integrity to flex without breaking and being destroyed.  Did you know that if you drew straight lines inside the equilateral triangle, and bent the triangle along those lines, a pyramid would take shape?

Volume of a Pyramid - Assignment PointConsider the production environment and the variables generally fall into three categories, inbound, or products needed to make something for a customer; outbound, the product shipped to a customer; quality, the need to ensure the product is acceptable for the customer.

Using a right triangle, if outbound is the 90-degree angle, your quality is way out of reach, and inbound inputs and outbound deliveries are not being properly reviewed by quality.  Thus, the production environment cannot function to its fullest potential, because all three, inbound, outbound, and quality, are not working equally together.

Bobblehead DollTake any other triangle and the story is exactly the same.  When the inbound and the outbound are not equally bound to quality, and quality is not equally bound to inbound and outbound, resources are not properly shared, time is wasted, and production goals will never be met!  Arrange the variables anyway you prefer, and if the pattern is not an equilateral pattern, there is a problem in the production environment and production goals will be missed, opportunities, lost, and money follows potential right out the door.

Follow the rules and watch production meet goals almost by magic.  Fail to follow the rules and production will continue to struggle.  Production goals are effort incarnate, humans pump efforts in, looking for results.  The goals are statistical symbols reporting success, failure, and percentages of improvement towards goals.  At then end of the day, the human element is the only variable worthy of consideration in meeting production goals, and quality is the badge of honor in human efforts.  Thus, quality is the tool that promotes production goal attainment.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.