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.

Timing

Rather, the single most notable aspect of DeJoy’s reorg is its timing – not only for happening soon after his appointment but for being undertaken in the midst of a pandemic and related disruptions.  As has since become more evident, starting what he did when he did reflects what seems to be a lack of situational awareness, or perhaps indifference, that in turn is perceived as a version of “tone-deafness.”

Last summer, the USPS was struggling to keep its operations running as its workforce – like the general public – was dealing with the cresting pandemic.  At the same time, the hyperpolitical atmosphere was causing mundane actions by the USPS to be viewed through a lens of political motivation, particularly because of DeJoy’s political background and the mushrooming allegations about his impact in the Postal Service’s role in voting by mail.

Nonetheless, given his own vision for how the USPS should be organized and his concept for what needed to be done to rectify the deficiencies he saw in the agency, DeJoy pushed ahead with the first phase of his reorg.  In early August, he reshuffled his executive team, rearranged functional groups, and replaced the seven field areas with two regions.

Now, seven months after the first phase, despite the pandemic still very much an ongoing problem and the USPS trying to recover from historically bad performance over the holidays, DeJoy again has taken his next step, implementing phase two of his overall reorganization of the agency.  This time, he’s redrawn the map of USPS field organization, and pushed downward his scheme for line-of-sight functional management (or, to cynics of such a plan, functional silos).

Cost/benefit

As the PMG, DeJoy doesn’t need to get approval to reorganize his functional or management structures, though he likely assured himself support from the governors beforehand, to provide political cover if nothing else.

Nonetheless, while DeJoy’s reconfiguration of the field management structure, and his vertical end-to-end alignment of several functional groups, may embody his vision for how the Postal Service should be managed, it’s not clear how the first two “phases” of the revised organizational restructure will yield the results he claims it will.

As noted, past PMGs have done their own reorganizations as well, also presumably to make the agency run better, but the results of these periodic exercises all seem to be the same – just a new version of what was there before, with little impact on cost, efficiency, or service.

The logical reason for this is that, below the district level, where the real work gets done, the reorganizations have little effect: the post offices, processing facilities, and employees largely remain unaffected even if reporting relationships and non-bargaining staffing are altered.  The performance of craft employees and front-line managers is not inspired to improve simply because there’s a new executive in a new position as part of a new management structure above them.

Moreover, DeJoy apparently did not learn from the first phase of his reorganization that the continuity of the agency’s operation is disrupted – and becomes less efficient – when people and reporting relationships are reshuffled, and more so if it occurs in multiple “phases.”

People

Less obvious but perhaps more consequential to the agency is the potential loss of senior staff – the people with institutional knowledge and experience.  Given that the reorgs so far have been at the executive and upper management levels, where the incumbents are long-tenured USPS employees, likely in a position to retire rather than relocate, the loss of experience is disproportionally higher.  Now that an early-out offer has been added to the mix, senior staff, as well as tenured managers, maybe taking their leave as well.

Aside from the “brain drain” this may cause, there will be the months-long ensuing churn as the remaining staffers bid to fill residual vacancies or new positions.  Concurrently, by collapsing the areas and districts into fewer management units, people who could be facing relocation may instead choose to leave the USPS.

A secondary motive for a reorg often is to clean house, i.e., get rid of managers and staff who are holdovers from past executives, and who are assumed to carry their mindset, and replace them with persons presumed to be like-minded with the new executive in whose management structure they’ll be working.  While that may offer a pleasant consistency of opinion, it also negates the presence of the useful diversity of thinking that the holdovers could have offered.  As an unschooled novice at running the USPS, DeJoy might benefit from some veterans’ advice rather than focusing on a team of subordinates ready to simply follow him.

Regardless, the fundamental practical impact of the recent reorg is the same.  By choosing to push forward with his reorganization as the pandemic continues to impact the entire USPS, managers at processing facilities already juggling a series of operational challenges will now have to deal with the demands and directions of a new set of superiors in the new field organizations where staffing is in flux and policies are under revision.

As a result, if service performance continues to struggle for a few more months, we may have a significant reason for it unfolding before us.

 

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