Editorial: USPS Loose Change for ‘Paid Performance’

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.

25 thoughts on “Editorial: USPS Loose Change for ‘Paid Performance’

  1. The writer of this article hit the nail on the head. The only thing you have to do is go down to Midtown Atlanta 30309, and you will see how sorry the leadership is. The last time I was there they had a profile running the floor as the 204B (name GF) Every time they get a change of orders from the top they hide her. You may want to ask them why she hasn’t been let go with the rest of the profiles.Talk to the carriers in private you may learn something.

  2. Pay for Performance is junk in and junk out. Management put in what they want
    and expects the real workers to make them look good. The real workers are always harrassed and are told if we can’t make there numbers we are going to walked with and counted. i don’t mind if management wants to make a extra buck but some of there goals are not real. Since all contracts are being review this year maybe congressmen need to step in and say if the postal service is not making any money the they need to throw out the Pay for Performace needs redone too.

  3. The postal service has provided a wonderful living for its employees. This is one of the most amazing companies that has made it through many tough times over the years . They have done it without any layoffs or major changes that have hurt all employees. You all should be thanking God for your job and how blessed you all are to have a job that provides for you and your family.

    The greed of all of you will soon ruin the wonderful organization. Instead of pulling together and coming up with solid solutions to save your jobs. Better yet just do your job and stop bleeding the system dry. Soon the well will run dry and for real they see how bad you will have it looking for a job in this economy at the amazing pay you all get.

    Imagine in your 30’s, 40’s and 50’s no college education the postal service announces they are broke and have to reorganize because of the greed on all sides. Everyone is to blame not managers, supervisors, clek or carrier crafts, or truck drivers, no everyone is to blame.

    Personally I think the postal service should go with evaluated routes work the regular force 4 days a week 10 hours and on weekends have a part time force in place so you don’t lose the 6 day delivery. This way there would be no more overtime, and when you get your route done your done for the day. The part time force would be in place for Friday and Saturday as well as filling in during the week at times for regulars. This would save the postal service so much money and morale would rise. I also think the postal service should start a parcel delivery service creating new jobs and taking back the business they let go long ago. I also think employees should be rewarded for getting customer leads with incentive bonuses like the great companies do. The employees are the best resource for getting new leads and contacts they just don’t get the proper respect when they do get the leads so it discourages them from getting involved.

    The postal service needs to refocus on a new approach and not by numbers because we all know numbers can be fixed. This is evident in every industry . The unions need to think with their hearts not their membership number because you may soon be putting many people out of work. Stop the bleeding now you all can do it ! Come together and save your jobs for the future now. Do what is right and go to work thanking God for the money he has provided you to be able to pay your bills and feed your family through many good and bad times.

    God Bless

    Pray for positive change


  5. Can someone tell me why any manager of a company that is supposedly losing so much money, revenue and business should be getting any kind of incentive? Our delivery times are later, our mistakes have increased, our lines are longer, our box mail is never up on time, first class mail is kept in the stations overnight, we don’t even deliver the dated bulk mail when the mailer requested it. Our sick leave usage is up, our overtime has increased like crazy and contract grievance settlements have risen. So who exactly should be rewarded for this kind of “performance”?

  6. Here’s how they meet PFP in Colorado Springs. If Priority Mail arrives at the Stations too late to get to the carriers in time, then we hold it overnight instead of delivering it. If carriers refuse to try and deliver mail that requires a signature– and instead just leave notice for the customer to come and get it themselves– that’s considered okay. Because it get’s them back by five. But if a carrier misses one scan out of 100, then discipline is immediately warranted.

    If there’s one clerk on the window and the line is out the door, it doesn’t matter how many customers complain. But if a Mystery Shopper waits 9 minutes, then all hell breaks loose. Do you see where I am getting to? PFP hurts customer service. PFP causes supervisors to delete clock rings. I thought the latest PMG might actually have the desire to see how things function at ground zero level. Apparently he’s going to ignore it like the most recent did.

  7. Any business who has managers that excel and do a great job and increase revenue, increase customer satisfaction, or productivity should be rewarded, but on the other hand your reward is your pay, you are paid to do a job, why do you need a bonus?

    I have been on both sides of this fence, and unfortunatly the PFP is the driving force behind most managment’s goals, not actually delivering the mail or providing customer service, all levels of managment seem to have tunnel vision and just simply focus on numbers, and do not even understand what employees actually do or all the work their jobs entail,

    There are a select few good managers out there, but alot of managment manipulate numbers and understaff window lines just to make their PFP numbers. For example paying out of schedule pay instead of overtime, it cost the exact same amount, but does not show up as Overtime used. Or if managment violates the contract to make the numbers look good, and end up paying large amounts in greivance settlements, these settlment amounts arent counted against the PFP. I have saw several occasions where managers intentionally violated contracts to increase their PFP results prior to thier retirement, only after they were retired and got those last PFP’s, the post office got stuck with the bill of paying for all their contract violations that were settled in the slow grievance/arbitration procedure after the managers retired.

    I am not an expert on PFP, but until managers are held accountable for both negative or positive, real and true customer service and over all total costs or overall savings for a office or area they manage instead of just a select few numbers that are so easily manipulated, the PFP will continue to cost the post office not only money, but the loss of future customers.

    Like i said i have been on both sides of this fence, and I have had great managers and worked in offices where we were treated like adults and trusted and allowed to do our jobs, and have managed great workers whom we treated like human beings, and supprisingly the mystical number goals fell in to place on thier own when people were treated with respect, treated equally, and led by example, instead of by abuse of authority.

    Unfortunatly most of those managers have been weeded out and replaced with micro managers, whom bark orders, just completely ride employees whom are already busting their arses, and expect them to be able to get done what even superman couldnt get done, on top of doing all the other tasks managment has no clue that we also have to do. On managments defense, what kind of system, doesnt allow for a front line supervisor or Postmaster make a simple decision to use an hour of overtime without authorization from district managment?

    So my opinion is, PFP should be done away with. Give the managers Cola’s equal to what us the workers get. Take the reward out of the system for manipulation, and let the reward be your pay. As with workers, we are paid to do a job, that is your bonus. Without the PFP, if managers or an office performs well, give all the employees in that office a nice thank you for once. If an office doesnt peform well, then maybe the manager isnt doing what they are paid to do and shoud be held accoutable, just as workers are if they dont do their job correctly or make mistakes repeatedly.

  8. As a new USPS employee, your message has really helped me to understand why the postmaster in our office is so obsessed with “his” numbers. Thanks for the info !

  9. F**k the supervisors. Our plant manager is telling us now that when the contract passes he will take the regulars off the SPBS machine and put the “assistants” on.

  10. ” 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.” Ain’t it the truth! But, unfortunately the USPS OIG is too disengaged to do anything about it.

  11. pfp only created conflict w/in the management circle with disciplinary action against each other. And discipline onto the crafts. Yes there are stiffs and it’s a circus trying to remove those bums!!!!!

  12. Supervisors do not get bonuses – we are just supervisors. What we get is a raise – if our goals pan out – which they don’t normally. The goals are given to us at the beginning of the year, and don’t change no matter how much he operations change. We also have not gotten cost of living or overtime for many years. We don’t get penalty either, or double Sunday pay. No supervisor I know wanted PFP and fought against it, but we are an organization, not a union and have no rights without going before Congress. Oh – and job security – not there. If I’m riffed, I have a time limit on finding another position, or I’m gone. If you have a bad supervisor, I’m sorry. There are a lot of great supervisors out there who work really hard with their people to make the offices successful. But the world is not perfect – if you don’t like the caliber of supervisors you work for – step up and try the job. I’ve been in it for thirty six years – I wanted to make a difference. Now all I want is out. It’s really easy to arm chair quarterback – but you need to put action to words if you want change.

  13. The employees want to do the right thing which is process the mail in the most efficient manner possible BUT the managers want to process the mail in a way which makes the numbers look as good as possible. Unfortunately good numbers are not always related to processing the mail for the least amount of money. In almost every situation, processing the mail for maximun numbers results in increased cost to process a piece of mail.

  14. This article describes exactly what is going on in my facility.

    Only supervisors and managers would disagree with this article which is another example how closed minded and institutionalized they have become over the years.

  15. The use of the word paradigm is quite appropriate in this instance , as the perception of the subject being viewed seemingly changes and not the object itself! It remains stationary. One can see the same with the post office’s use of their various surveys and supposed quality control studies! When you let the fox guard the hen house you fall asleep resting assured that the fowl are well protected, only to find upon awakening you are minus a brood in the morning!

  16. Did some of you even understand the article? Most supervisors do not want to be in PFP. The Unions chose not to participate, that is why you are not part of the program. This was a way of blocking raises for the lower level supervisors, and when some of us actually hit the targets, they change them each year to make them harder. Bonuses stopped almost 5 years ago, we get no COLA, only a % raise depending on how well you made the goals. If you are at the top of your scale, you get a lump sum, and no raise. If you want a piece of that, get your Unions to participate…

  17. I can’t think of 1 supervisor that did not get a pay for pud-dunce bonus ? How fair is that ? You can be a total screw up and you get a pat on the back and at least a 5 % bonus . Or a bigger asshole and get $15,000 check that i saw with my own eyes !

  18. the “numbers” the evaluation criteria is wide open for any individual or group to manipulate data to impress the big bosses. Ethics have been thrown out the door.

  19. It never made any sense to me why the people that don’t move the mail get all the bonuses. I’m sure most clerks, carriers, etc can get the mail out without them.

  20. “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.”

    Sounds like Colorado Springs.

  21. Talk about blowing it out your a**
    Can you imagine this stup handeling a crew of carriers or clerks.
    Maybe he should try? Think of how the Postal Service would improve? Ha!!!
    We would eat him alive.

  22. Craft employees receive no pay,or cola increase yet have to pay more for health care. Management keeps getting bonus pay. So much for fairness.

  23. The author uses a lot of big words but his writing is not so good. His points could have been better made in an essay half the length of this one.

  24. Ever since they implemented PFP,the quality of service given to the customer has diminished period.When’s the last time anyone in management brought in any kind of revenue.Put all managers on an annual salary,working split days,and no extra pay,and the PO would be back in black.Nobody’s going to convince me that any stupervisor is worth 100k a year.And that’s what alot of them make.Don’t even get me started on L’Eflunk Plaza.

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