Editorial by Ronald Williams, Jr.
Recently at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing the USPS Postmaster General made statements to the effect that 65,000 non-bargaining employees get no COLA or step increases. He summarized that the pay-for-performance system has been around for 10 years and his experience is that managers like it because it is competitive, and it sets goals for national service, finance, people and individuals…
In the business world the workforce is expected to adapt to change and do more with less using advanced technologies, and platforms for operations. These ideals can present improved paradigms if endorsed, and measured by the management. Bottom up thinkers pray that every performance based system devised to reward bosses incorporates how they transparently coach the players beyond the captains who shout-out the numbers in the “bored-room.”
The R&B group the O’Jays wrote the song “For the Love of Money” people will…
In a hands-off leadership approach where bosses don’t care who, what, where, when, why, or how their direct reports get the “numbers” the evaluation criteria is wide open for any individual or group to manipulate data to impress the big bosses (Seek ways to circumvent collective bargaining agreements, and find loopholes in the system to exploit people for administrative purposes anyway you can.) On the postal workroom floor we all know that the craft employees drive productivity, and the managers drive numbers.
Management is ultimately responsible for the success of processing and delivery procedures. The first echelon supervisor has got to be familiar with what craft employees are expected to deal with if they anticipate providing constructive feedback up, down, and across operations to minimize workflow disruption. “Un-suck-cessful” leadership styles spend ninety-nine percent of time interpreting and controlling data without any review of the associated realities of the actual process. Author Darrell Huff wrote a very enlightening book titled “How to Lie with Statistics.” It details remarkable examples of the boundaries number crunchers will traverse to influence the figures. When exposed to a multiple layer top-down culture managers at the lowest levels responsible for the critical entry and critical close times are physically stressed, and mentally pressured to bring-in-the-numbers leaving no time for employee engagement.
Faced with having to deal with human emotions and unfamiliar with operational details compels our upper level leaders to hide behind one-way forms of communication like we would get from a traffic light, a webcast, a public address system, or a dictator. When floor level leaders fear their bosses which is the case with many postal supervisors I’ve encountered it stifles their creativity, and presents no opportunity for them to offer intelligent feedback as the frontline resident experts. By only knowing how to respond with yes-sa-boss (the way it sounds) their superiors become authoritarians symbolically riding on the backs of hardworking employees. Trepidation results in supervisors discounting their own abilities with a loss of confidence. It sequentially results in aggression towards the lowest levels to look and sound effective further eroding opportunities to build healthy working relationships among all employees.
A short time ago a USPS sales representative met with craft employees on the plant floor to talk about the importance of Customer Connect leads, Click-N-Ship packaging, and Delivery Confirmation opportunities to enhance the consumer experience. It was amazing listening to employees provide critical feedback to the representative about internal issues that impede quality achievement of those services. Mostly cited were uninformed managers who tell us to do things wrong because they don’t know what we do and what is supposed to be done. The sales manager quickly realized that the people who could gain the biggest benefit of his training were the supervisors and managers as he ended his talk. A top-down approach in a non-emergent environment will always breed bad connections with reality.
Brian Blasko an energetic, enthusiastic motivational speaker and author hired through the Postal Service was in town to meet with postal employees. His objective in a two-hour session was to discuss with employees how to roll with the changes, lead, develop, and grow. The unfortunate reality of this informative presentation was he was only available to select groups of management and craft employees. No group should have been excluded but in typical fashion many were. Management did not participate in the session with craft employees to hear our feedback about changing, leading, developing, and growing. Most attendees voiced this point as a critique and suggested various approaches for the facilitator in future presentations.
Important as a last resort like a tourniquet to stop the bleeding, we have venues to proactively improve our postal culture through employee labor unions and management associations if they are interested in engagement. If we comfortably reside in a bureaucratic system then busy managers are by no means ever going to listen to one, two, or ten people with practical feedback. I once met with a local head manager of human resources and one of the things we talked about was the facility chain-of-command. I was very surprised that as we reviewed the upward lines of authority of postal management he stopped me after I recited Senior Manager Distribution Operations (SMDO) and corrected me that the next person in the chain was not the Senior Plant Manager, but my labor union. Wow! I guess we know who he works for. I quickly recalled to myself how I was born at night, but not last night. He continued to blow smoke where the sun don’t shine, informing me that an installation head(supernatural being?) is too “busy” running the plant to ever meet with an employee even if they’ve exhausted the lower lines of command. Does that thinking have anything to do with pay-for-performance?
Pay-for-performance might be a good thing in the eyes of our leaders but from the perspective of the people holding the ladder to the executive victory it is a myopic data driven incentive manipulated by hungry directors looking to be the highest contributor at any cost. The system may well create competition but it also presents the opportunity to selfishly conquer and divide cooperation among the team so that #1 crab can get out of the barrel.
Please chime in to the comments section with thoughts about improving postal culture. What will it take to turn the current culture into the highest performance work organization?
Ronald Williams, Jr.