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.

Call Center Chaos and Appreciative Inquiry

While this article discusses government call centers generally, and New Mexico (NM) Government call centers specifically, please do not think the problems described are specific only to, or lessons could not be applied to, many other call centers.  New Mexico Government call centers all have a common problem, they are purposefully designed to not help or serve the customer.  Worse, the work processes are convoluted to the point that work takes anywhere from 10 – 15% longer than it should, costing 30 – 50% more than it should.  Worse, if a customer gets connected to an “Escalation Department,” the workers in that department have no authority, no tools, and nothing they can do but repeat marketing materials, and hope the customer goes away.

Cute CalfEssentially, the NM Government call centers, at the city and state levels of government are as emasculated as a spring-born calf!  Let that sink in for a moment.  No tools, no authority, no support, and only their verbal wits to make the customer go away.  If you think this problem is only apparent in government call centers; well, you are wrong.

AT&T has a very similar, though not as endemic issue.  Sprint, the problem is both apparent and not considered a problem.  AIU, COX, Comcast/Xfinity, FEDEX, UPS, UoPX, and more, you all have very similar issues where the work processes and the customer service are disconnected, leaving employees emasculated and stuck spouting marketing lines in the hope of appeasing the customer.  Sure, some of you have better call escalation processes, but these escalation processes only show the emasculation of your people more exactly.

For example, take today’s interactions with a NM Government Call Center.  The representative on the call escalation line could very easily reach out to their supervisor and take the criticisms and ideas from the customer’s call, put them forth as their own ideas, and improve the call center and customer attentiveness of the organization.  Unfortunately, sad experience has shown that new ideas in NM Government Call Centers are anathema to the good order and discipline of the call center.  Thus, proving that the endemic lack of customer attentiveness is systematic in NM Government Call Centers and considered a benefit to the customer/taxpayer using the government service.

Purposeful customer abuse is not appreciated, not acceptable, and eventually leads the call center to ruin.  Which is a monumental waste of the potential in your employees, as well as being ruinously expensive for some future disaster.  In speaking with retail associates at Comcast/Xfinity and COX Communications, one learns from frontline representatives what to expect from calling the call centers.  If the retail associates are frustrated with the inability to be served, this is automatically passed to the customer.  Bank of America has this problem in spades!

Appreciative InquiryAppreciative inquiry is a growth mechanism that states that what a business organization needs, they already have enough of, provided they listen to their employees.  Appreciative inquiry and common sense tells leaders who want to know and change their organization, how, and where to go to begin.  Appreciative inquiry-based leadership is 6-continuous steps that start small, and cycle to larger problems as momentum for excellence permeates through an organization.  But the first step, just like in defeating a disabling addiction, is admitting there is a problem.

Coming back to the NM Government Call Center, the front-line supervisor upon hearing about this representative’s experience, chooses to believe there is a problem.  Knowing that the problems are endemic and systematic in the organization, decides, “For my team, we will be the core of excellence.”  Thus, this supervisor is now motivated to take the second step in the appreciative inquiry cycle, “Define.”

The supervisor defines what they can change, and then from that list of items that they can control will select the first item to change by asking themselves and their team, “Which item on this list can we tackle first?”  Thus, leading to the third step in appreciative inquiry, “Discover.”

Imperative at this step is the focus upon what is already going right on the topic selected.  Not focusing upon what is wrong, or upon what cannot be controlled or influenced by the team.  Focus on the positive, list the best of what is going right!  For example, if the inquiry will be reducing hold times, and the team has been trending down from multiple hours to single hours of hold time, focus on the positive, and get ideas about tips used from those who are successful in reducing hold times.

The idea in discovery is to create the motivation for the next step in appreciative inquiry, “Dream.”  But, do not dream small!  Remember, when you shoot for the sun and miss, you still land among the stars.  Dream BIG!  Dreaming is all about setting your sights on what currently is considered impossible, that your team can make possible.  Going back to reducing hold times, set the dream at 30-minutes.  You can always come back and dream bigger or repeat the appreciative inquiry cycle on this topic again in the future.

Next, “Design,” design the future and it becomes your destiny; which also happens to be the remaining two steps in the appreciative inquiry cycle.  President Thomas Monson is quoted as saying, “Decisions DO Determine Destiny” [emphasis in original].  If you decide the status quo is acceptable, that decision determines the destiny, and ruination will follow.  If you decide to pursue excellence, this decision will determine how successful you and your team can be.  Design the future you desire, state the goal, write it down, post the goal, speak positively about the goal, and build momentum through accomplishing small steps towards the goal.

Thus, the destiny is born into fruition and what today is impossible, is tomorrow’s reality.  Destiny in the appreciative inquiry cycle is defined as creating what the future will be.  Positive growth occurs through incremental steps and changes the destination.

A pilot friend of mine loves the story about a new pilot who is making their first cross-country flight with a more experienced pilot.  The young pilot is close to being able to solo, and the experienced pilot knows the route, the weather, and decides to let the young pilot fly solo for a few hours.  The new pilot gets bored holding a single course and wavers a little to the left, and a little to the right of the base course and does not think anything of the consequences.  Several hours go by and the experienced pilot returns to the flight deck to discover bad weather is moving in fast, the small lane cannot fly in the weather that is coming necessitating an unscheduled landing, and the plane is 400-miles off base course.  The young pilot said, I only moved a few degrees left and right, we cannot be that far off course.  Later the experienced pilot shows a track of the airplane on a map to the young pilot and reality sinks in, by a matter of a few degrees, over time, the plane got in trouble.

A few DegreesAppreciative inquiry is exactly like the plane, by having a destination, defined according to positive desires, through the process of discovery, dreaming of the possible future, while designing the future, the appreciative inquiry leader can make the small changes today that move the destination from ruination to success.

The first step is admitting there is a problem, and desire to fix that problem at all costs.  What are you passionate enough about to fix at all costs?  Whether you are a representative or a company director, the same question applies and the answer will determine your ultimate destiny.  The key is action at all costs.  The efforts, time, resources, etc. will be spent to achieve does not matter, the new destination does matter.

A call center supervisor friend of mine had three stellar and highly experienced employees on their team.  My friend also had some young talent with incredible potential.  Because the three stellar employees did not want to become supervisors, this effectively blocked the new employees from achieving potential.  My friend had to make a choice, lose the new potential, or reorganize the team.  My friend chooses to keep the experienced people, and shortly after this decision was made, two quit for other opportunities, the new potential quit because they longed for professional growth, my friend was promoted, and the new supervisor had no depth of experience left on the team.

Some would blame the new employees for quitting too soon, others would lay the blame on the supervisor for not developing the talent pool, others might express dismay at the senior talent leaving; honestly, they are all right, and all wrong!  My friend decided to hang the costs, and the decision was a tremendous learning experience.  Using appreciative inquiry will provide similar learning experiences, prepare, and commit, now to learn first and stay focused on the positive.

Appreciative inquiry can help; there are six operational steps:

  1. Admit there is a problem and commit to change.
  2. Define the problem.
  3. Discover the variables and stay focused on the positive.
  4. Dream BIG!
  5. Design the future and outline the steps to that future.
  6. Destiny, create the destination you desire.

Follow the instructions on a shampoo bottle, “Wash, Rinse, Repeat.”  The appreciative inquiry model can be scaled, can be repeated, can be implemented into small or large teams, and produce motivated members who then become the force to producing change.  Allow yourself and your team to learn, this takes time, but through a building motivation for excellence, time can be captured to perform.

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

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