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Time to Change the Message

Persons who’ve heard Postmaster General Louis DeJoy speak more than once note that he tends to use the same format every time:

  • First, trash your predecessors, dismiss critics, and blame them all for the “mess” you found when you arrived.
  • Next, explain how easily you determined the solution and developed your 10-year Plan.
  • Finally, declare victory by saying that your executives and entire workforce are ”energized” by your initiatives and that turning around the USPS is within reach.

Along the way, keep referring to (1) anyone who isn’t dogmatically committed to the Plan as “resistance” and “noise,” (2) the PAEA’s ratesetting system as “defective,” and (3) the Postal Service’s trucks as always carrying a lot of air.

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In His Own Words

It’s hardly news that hard-copy mail volume is shrinking – it has been for fifteen years as the uptake of electronic messaging has accelerated.  However, the diversion to electronic media that may work in some applications – personal emails and texts in place of written letters and cards – doesn’t mean all messages translate well.  Many individuals still prefer paper bills and statements (though they make payments electronically) and marketers understand that hard copy messages have a better success rate that an electronic message that ends up in the spam folder.

For its part, the Postal Service, and its predecessor, the Post Office Department, have been in the business of moving hard copy mail for 230 years and have experienced the changes in how Americans live and communicate.  Traditionally, the post has been viewed as a government service, not a business operation that’s supposed to make money.

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Seeking Equilibrium

The concept of balance is present in many philosophies, operations, and financial considerations, and requires that competing factors and forces be in equilibrium for balance to be achieved.

The analogy can be applied to the Postal Service which, financially, has been off balance for many years. The agency was debt-free at the end of fiscal 2005, i.e. until the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act took effect in 2006.

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Caveat Emptor: Buyer Beware – Commentary

Attention members of the commercial mail production community: You’re being pitched. After nineteen months in office, and ten months after issuing his 10-year Plan, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is getting out of his office at USPS HQ and taking his sales pitch to the people.

Actually, his Selling the Plan tour began last year; he appeared at selected USPS facilities, at carefully arranged Postal Customer Council meetings, and in a protracted infomercial during the virtual National Postal Forum. His most recent venue to win friends and influence customers was last week’s Mailers Technical Advisory Committee meeting.

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It’s Showtime

After all the controversy, arguing, and heated exchanges, we’ve reached the point in postal matters that really counts. We’ve been told how the Postmaster General’s 10-Year Plan will make everything right, and how, as part of that Plan, the Postal Service is going to have an outstanding 2021 peak season. But now, less than seven weeks before Christmas, the hanging question remains how much of that will come to pass; will the 2021 peak season live up to the hype?

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Caught in the Spin

As everyone involved in commercial mail production realizes, we’re heading into a second atypical fall mailing season.  Supplies of the essential raw material – paper – are tight, trucking companies are busy moving backlogged shipments from ports, drivers are still in short supply, and companies are struggling to find workers despite high unemployment.

Concurrently, the Postal Service is reworking its processing and logistics networks – consolidating some operations while adding annexes and installing package sorting equipment – and planning to move more mail by truck and reduce its service commitments.

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Pushing Forward, No Matter What

Clearly Louis DeJoy did his reading – reports by the Office of Inspector General, GAO studies, and such – and probably Envisioning America’s Future Postal Service, the 10-year plan developed by the Boston Consulting Group and released by then-PMG Jack Potter in March 2010.  All of that, plus what he’d been told by his circle of selected advisors and his own strong opinions, likely influenced what eventually emerged in his own 10-year Plan, also released in March (2021).

However, unlike Jack Potter or, for that matter, any of the PMGs who’ve led the USPS over the past two decades, Louis DeJoy has no real, first-hand knowledge of the Postal Service or the businesses of its customers.  Holed-up in his office at L’Enfant Plaza, he’s spent scarcely any time learning about the mailing business or the connected industries that take messages from concept to recipients’ mailboxes.

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Suspension of Disbelief

For anyone reading a novel, or watching a play, television show, or movie, a requirement applies that the individual participate in the story by setting aside any logical analysis, in favor of accepting the premise of what’s being presented. This voluntary engagement is referred to as “suspension of disbelief,” a term coined by Samuel Coleridge in 1817, based on one used by the Roman poet Cicero centuries earlier.

Of course, the story need not be purely fictional; in The Crown, for example, the characters and general plot are factual, but “suspension of disbelief” is necessary to accept that events and dialogue occurred as re-enacted. For the viewer, how the writers and actors present the story can shape perceptions of the factual background and, in turn, the conclusions the viewer reaches about the history being portrayed.

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More than Geography

It’s practically part of the routine: when a new boss takes over, a reorganization soon follows.  That step accomplishes many purposes, including setting up a functional and management structure that reflects the executive’s vision for the organization’s best configuration; reassigning or replacing members of the executive’s immediate and next level subordinates; redesigning territorial responsibilities; and revising reporting relationships.

A “reorg” happens at the Postal Service usually after a new Postmaster General is installed, if not more often, and typically impacts functional organization, executive team membership, field structure, or complement levels.  So it’s no particular news that Louis DeJoy began his own reorg shortly after being named PMG last summer.

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Kremlin on the Potomac: Postal Service Communications

Readers old enough to remember the Soviet Union also remember how skilled it was at saying nothing – about anything – no matter what.  If something happened, regardless of whether it was visible to the outside world, it simply wasn’t acknowledged.  A natural disaster?  Never happened.  The disappearance of an important figure?  He’s fine.  A bomber crash into a village?  No bomber, nothing happened.

If outsiders posed a question about any event, the basic answer, if there was one, was denial, deflection, or obfuscation.  The Soviets never admitted to anything going wrong, to any internal failures, or to any event or condition that might break the illusion they so ardently projected or that might provide an outsider a peek into what’s really going on.

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The Right Audiences Need to Get the Message

Over the past few months, and especially over the recent holiday season, there were many occasions on which a postal customer – a representative of a commercial mailer, a mailer’s client, or just a retail customer – delivered a message of dissatisfaction about service (to put it nicely) to a frontline postal employee.

Whether a retail window clerk, a city or rural carrier, an employee at the local BMEU or DMU, a customer service rep, or a call-taker at the Business Service Network, that person neither had anything to do with the reasons for the customer’s dissatisfaction and likely had little to go on to offer an explanation or information about the reported service problem.

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When a Monopoly Is No Longer What It Was Meant to Be


Once upon a time, there was a company that was given an exclusive charter to build and operate a railroad between two cities that were quite far apart.  That charter required certain levels of service to the cities and to each town along the route and, in exchange, afforded the company the exclusive right to carry certain types of freight and passengers.  To be sure the fares the company charged weren’t excessive, an independent panel was established to review the company’s income and costs.

For decades, the railroad thrived, with more passengers and freight every year.  Even though it was the only railroad allowed to operate the route, the company’s customers still were satisfied with its fares and service.

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The Post-Election Postal Service, Part 2

Part two of two in a commentary, originally published in the most recent issue of Mailers Hub News. Click here for part one

 

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The Post-Election Postal Service

As of this writing, it seems fairly clear who will be the president as of next January.  That person will materially impact the Postal Service by his support or opposition on a variety of issues relevant to it – such as eliminating (or not) the prefunding mandate, advancing (or resisting) postal reform legislation, and appointing additional members to the Board of Governors.  Regardless, the Postal Service can do little to avoid always being at the mercy of him or other politicians and what they may choose (or fail) to do.

Despite this fact of life, the agency isn’t without opportunities to improve its circumstances on its own and, in the wake of the election, and after the anxiety over possible delays in delivering mailed ballots has subsided, the USPS might want to reflect on what went well or not and what it should consider doing differently in the future.

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Still Paying the Price for Poor Communication

A commentary in the August 3 issue of Mailers Hub News opined on the Postal Service’s failure to offer meaningful communication during times when the popular media is regularly publicizing rumors, leaked documents, and union allegations about what’s going on in the agency.  In concluding that commentary, we urged the USPS to provide accurate and timely information before other parties told their story first.  Similar messages for better communication by the Postal Service came from others in the mailing industry before and since that commentary was published.

From all appearances, the urging has had little effect, and the consequences of the Postal Service’s silence continue.

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Who Do You Trust?

There was a TV quiz show in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s with the grammatically incorrect title Who Do You Trust?  (The show became the springboard for Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon, who later spent the next three decades together as fixtures on late-night TV.)  The premise was simple: three couples would appear on the program, and Carson would ask the male a question and he’d have to decide whether to answer it himself or ask the female contestant.  (Attitudes toward gender roles were different back then.)

Though that format may not be applicable in today’s postal world, the title question is very relevant.

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Paying the Price for Poor Communication

The current level of negative publicity about the Postal Service – notably for slow or infrequent delivery, the impact of reported changes in mail processing and delivery procedures, and the potential consequences of these changes on election mail – might not have to be what it is if the USPS simply were more communicative.

Institutional Reticence

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If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride

The 400-year-old Scottish proverb used for the title simply translates into how easily things could be attained if nothing more than wishing for them were needed to make them real.

That adage was brought to mind when reading the documents discussed in the preceding articles of the July 20 issue of Mailers Hub News.  Assuming they’re legitimate, they first reveal a determination to act to reduce costs, the need for which cannot be disputed. However, at the same time, they also reflect not only an attitude that whatever is needed or desired will be made real by simply commanding it, but – of greater concern – a misunderstanding of the people to whom the order is being given.

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High Costs and High Overtime: USPS Reports Challenge Insight

In its May financial data (see the article on page 8), the Postal Service reported mail processing costs that were 8% over plan and workhours that exceeded plan by 8.5%.  The agency commonly attributes this situation to the workload associated with higher parcel volume.  However, while it’s reasonable that more work hours are needed to handle surging parcel volume, there’s been no indication whether the USPS is concurrently capturing workhour savings because of greatly decreased letter and flat mail volume.

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Packing the Postal Service in Five Easy Steps

Note: This article was initially published with an error in attribution; this article was written by Leo Raymond, Managing Director of Mailers Hub.

In the midst of the Great Depression, newly re-elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937. The measure would increase the size of the Supreme Court to as many as fifteen justices by allowing the president to appoint up to six additional justices, one for every member of the court over the age of 70 years and 6 months. Roosevelt had chafed at the court’s rejection of several of his New Deal initiatives, so the plan would have let him add enough new members to the panel to ensure a majority would favor his proposals. Opponents, however, called the proposal “court-packing,” for obvious reasons.

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