As independent consultants who have analyzed a number of mail distribution centers over the last 5 years, we found the biggest factor to a mail manager's success or failure in re-engineering or changing a mail function has been culture. Culture as defined in the Webster's NewWorld Dictionary is, "the ideas, customs, skills, arts etc. of a given people in a given period or environment".
A culture that embraces creative thinking and proactive solutions will grow, prosper and continue to challenge the capabilities of the given people within that culture. If creative thinking, goal setting and teamwork are not allowed to flourish within a culture, the end result will be status quo or lack of direction and purpose. A status quo mail center culture does not allow a member of a mail distribution team to grow intellectually or be recognized by others but rather puts that person in a limbo position where the existing environment is not challenged nor changed. Many of our mail distribution center evaluations disclosed more status quo environments than we cared to acknowledge.
The driving force for reviewing and analyzing mail center activities and the associated work behavior patterns, was to better understand what constitutes a mail center that should be benchmarked within the mail industry for both outstanding customer service and maximum team/member productivity. For the purpose of our study we defined benchmarking as the standard by which others can measure an individual mail related process or the entire mail center against, to achieve the highest level of service to a customer base while increasing the quality of the service offerings to the customers.
During our 5-year study we have often been told, "that's the way it has always been" or "if I have to start at the bottom, the mail center is the place to start". We worked with mail managers that had been responsible for mail related functions for less than a year up to more than 20 years. Quickly, we came to understand that every mail manager is of the opinion their mail center is unique and their customers are very demanding. Mail managers that did not stay current with technology and the educational aspects available within the mail industry mostly voiced the uniqueness of their respective mail center and a resistance to change.
Mail centers tend to emulate the culture of the environment the mail personnel work in on a day-to-day basis. Demanding customers will measure you every day with few if any letters of recognition. They seem to only remember the 1 late delivered Fed Ex rather than the 1000 Fed Ex packages that were delivered on time or the 1 piece of outbound USPS mail that was not picked up on the last run and bundled with the 5000 pieces of USPS mail that went out on time. It is also common today that mail manager have to multitask because mail is only one of their many Support Service responsibilities. The key factors that negatively affect a mail center culture, status quo, a don't rock the boat attitude and mail managers that are multitasking, were easily found in our 5-years of research. The intent of this article is to challenge some of the traditional cultural components found within the mail centers that were analyzed.
Because a mail related function has been performed in a certain sequence for a period of time does not make it effective. Because a specific person performs that mail related function over a period of time does not mean it is being performed in the most efficient and productive manner. Does rough sorting inbound white USPS mail 3 times and then 3 additional fine sorts before sorting the USPS mail into a mail cart make sense to you? It made sense to the mail personnel performing that task we interviewed. With some research we found it also made sense to the mail manager who had been training mail personnel in that department for 10 years prior to retirement, and who had been trained 15 years ago in the same sorting sequence we found last year. When asked why that sorting sequence was never reviewed for possible improved efficiencies, the retired manager answered "that is the way it had always been done".
During our 5-year quest for benchmarked standards of measurement, we determined there are a minimum of 30-40 mail processes performed every day in a typical mail center. The described inbound sorting sequence for USPS white mail enabled us to make the following changes:
Each reader can affect the same results if you just try to better understand why a mail process is performed in the manner observed and documented.
The mantra of a mail manager has to be "change is good if needed". Change for the sake of making changes with no given reason will only prolong a staus quo culture. The longer a mail center operates within a staus qou culture the harder it will be to affect any type of change. Always remember that nothing in life changes until the first positive step is taken and there is a clearly defined roadmap for success as the end vision in the mind of the manager attempting to begin the change management process.
Once the mental decision has been made to re-think some or all of the mail processes in a mail distribution center, the next biggest step is to develop an action plan that involves the team of people that actually perform the mail processes every day of the week. With their involvement and your direction, creative thinking will occur and if change is needed they will feel like part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Research has validated that a person will only execute a thought 15% of the time if it stays as a thought. It rises to 30% if a person verbalizes the thought and desired results and reaches almost a 60% success rate if the thought is written in the form of an action plan and potential options are discussed.
As you move from thought to action try to eliminate all process steps that are redundant or not necessary in the observed and measured process. Also concentrate on those areas where no one seems to know why a specific process is done a certain way. Once all of the process steps are documented and discussed, work to tighten up that process for maximum efficiency and output. After the process has been re-engineered, go back after a few weeks and take another look for possible additional changes. Slowly you will find, "that's the way it has always been done", changing to, "that's the way it will be done because it makes sense".
Kim Harrison has over 15 years in the Mailing and Outsourcing Industry. She started her career has a Account Representative for Neopost and currently is the President of Creative Management Services. Kim is currently engaged in several Mail Distribution and Federal Express Audits for CMS clients.
Scott Incognito has over 12 years in the Outsourcing and Shipping Industry. Scott's past work experience with FedEx Kinko's has enabled him to create a Accountable Courier Audit process that has delivered an average of 20% savings annually for CMS clients. Scott is the Vice President of Creative Management Services.
Creative Management Services (CMS) is dedicated to educating the mail industry and improving the overall efficiency of mail centers and the productivity of mail personnel.
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