As pointed out in part II of this series, the forty-year experiment of trying to provide mail service by using the principles of private enterprise has led to the postal service becoming so corrupt and inefficient that it's no longer able to perform its primary mission, delivering the mail. Much like what took place on Wall street, the profit motive attendant to the principles of private enterprise has overwhelmed the agency's mandate to provide a public service. The agency's old mandate has now been replaced by the primary mission of enriching it's top executives. That, in turn, has led to a culture of employee abuse, poor customer service, and the looming demise of the agency itself. Thus, in our previous article we advocated the abolishment of the "pay-for-performance" program for the agency's top executives. As we see it, that's an essential part of any hope to save the postal service.
The pay-for-performance program was initially put into place based on the widely held assumption that outrageously higher pay would draw a higher caliber of executives, but there is absolutely no evidence that there is any correlation between greed and competence. In fact, our recent experience with the postal service, and on Wall Street, seems to suggest that just the opposite is true. Thus, a more accurate rule of thumb should be, any person who places more emphasis on wealth than character is not smart enough to be trusted.
If the executives that we entrusted to run the postal service were actually worth the money that they were being paid, surely they should have recognized that the agency's nearly 600,000 employees and the goodwill of its customers are the agency's most valuable asset. Yet, the very first thing these executives did to offset the agency's losses was to undermine them both. Even as these executives enriched themselves with unprecedented perks and salaries, they began to excess, downgrade, and literally steal from their employees, and did everything they could to make it harder for their customers to mail a letter - including removing collection boxes. And if that wasn't enough, they then began to penalize employees for waiting for an elderly or disabled customer to bring a letter to the door.
The postal board of governors should consider putting people in place who are less interested in enriching themselves than they are in the personal challenge of problem solving. With that approach maybe they'd get someone who would recognize that it's human nature to work harder for a person who one respects, than one who makes it impossible to avoid punishment. Longstanding behavioral research shows that even rats work harder for reward than they do punishment.
In addition, a truly innovative executive would recognized the motivating power of being a part of a winning endeavor. An executive with that kind of insight would undoubtedly have come up with the idea of dividing the various work-floors into groups, and having each group elect their own leader. Then the various groups could compete to meet the unit's goals in productivity, attendance, safety, efficiency, customer service, etc. The groups' ongoing scores could be posted on a bulletin board, then at the end of each quarter the winning groups could be recognized, rewarded, and given certificates of appreciation to go into their personnel files, which could later be used for upward mobility.
Another advantage of such a system would be, since each group would have its own leader, if there's a problem within the group, the supervisor could discuss it with the group's leader to address. That would minimize confrontations between employees and management, save on grievances, free up supervisors for other tasks, and help to identify the natural leaders within the organization. Most important, however, is it would give the employees a sense of self-direction, raise employee morale, and the peer pressure attendant to internal competition would be vastly more effective in enhancing productivity than employee harassment. In short, the employees would begin to work with the postal service, instead of against it.
An insightful executive would also have recognized that one of the biggest drains on postal revenue is simply getting the routes put up for delivery. Due to the misguided impact of excessive downsizing there are literally thousands of unassigned routes across this country on any given day. In many cases these routes are being put up by employees who aren't familiar with them. This leads directly to miscased and misdelivered mail, and a delay in getting the mail processed. So it should be obvious to any executive focused on his job that every case in the postal system should conform to a uniformed pattern.
Currently the routes are setup to conform to the way they're delivered on the street. This results in a hodgepodge of numbers and streets going in every direction. So to an employee who's unfamiliar with the route it looks like a Chinese crossword puzzle. It requires a several-day learning curve to get a handle on it. That's a tremendous drain on postal revenue.
All routes should be uniformed in the way that they're setup in the station, then pulled down according to the way that they're walked on the street. That way, a new carrier only has to figure out the route once, when he's pulling it down, instead of every time he picks up a letter.
The routes should be setup in the natural way that the human brain organizes information. Larger streets should be at the top of the case, and smaller streets at the bottom. And everything on the case should go from low to high, with even numbers first, then odd. Then in order to pull the route down the way that the mail is delivered, the swings should be numbered and color coded - blue if the addresses go from low to high, and red if they go from high to low. If the cases were setup that way, anyone would be able to walk up to any route and put it up with no problem - it would be easier on the DPS machines as well, because machines don't like confusion.
There are literally thousands of things the postal service could do to make its operation more efficient, but unfortunately, as my kids used to say, many of these high-paid executives are "stuck on stupid." They never saw a problem that cutting their employees' throats wouldn't fix.
Eric L. Wattree
Eric L. Wattree, Sr. can be reached at