The Berkshire Company Blog
“If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” - Peter Drucker
All quality improvement techniques, including benchmarking, Total Quality Management (TQM), and Six Sigma, have one thing in common: accurate measurement. As Peter Drucker points out in his famous maxim, measurement is the foundation of good management.
Unfortunately, most print and mail operations don’t have effective measurement programs in place. Some departments aren’t collecting any information at all, while others are only tracking production in a few areas. Managers should strive to implement comprehensive metrics programs wherever possible.
Today, computers and machine systems make it easy to collect and store volumes of data. Devices can be attached to most machines to record the number of pieces metered, copies made, or pieces processed. Software packages, like Access and Excel, allow anyone with minimal PC skills to manipulate and analyze data.
Collection devices and software don’t make a metrics program. To develop a successful program, a manager must decide:
My friend Karyn is a high school physics teacher. To start the school year, she assigned her students a challenging project. She gave each pupil an unbroken Pringles potato chip. The assignment: package and mail the chip back to Karyn – unbroken. The goal would include creating the smallest and lightest package possible that would keep the chip intact.
As she was taking questions from the class, one student asked, “Miss, is that your home address?”
“Then what address is that?”
“That’s the address of the building you’re in right now.”
It would be easy to dismiss this exchange as another example of the lack of awareness of the younger generation. After all, how could you not know the address of your school? Or your workplace?
After decades of working in the mailing business, I can assure you that there a lot of people that don’t know their correct business mailing address. And for companies that use internal mail codes, many people don’t know those either.
The mailing address for a company may be different than the physical address for many reasons. Companies may not use the street address, but instead use Post Office boxes to speed up delivery and sorting of the mail. Or, a person may work in one building within a complex, but the centralized receiving and mail center may be in another building. Sometimes a company may want all employees to use the headquarters’ address, regardless of where they work.
Internal mail codes add to the complexity of addressing. Many companies use a unique code indicating the physical location within a building. For example, a company may build a code based on floor, plus cardinal direction, plus aisle. If a person’s cubicle is located on the 2nd floor, west side of the building and the 4th aisle, then their mail code would be 2W4. Large companies may have more complex codes, depending on the number of cities or buildings.
The proper placement of the internal code for mail being received is important. If an internal mail code is placed on a separate line below the street address, the U.S. Postal Service’s automated sorters may decode it improperly, and send the mail to another company. Follow the guidelines set in the Mailing Standards of the United States Postal Service (aka Publication 28) to ensure your mail is processed accurately.
Clearly defined mailing addresses, combined with internal mail codes, help speed the delivery of inbound and interoffice mail. However, unless employees are properly informed about their proper addresses, and why those addresses are important, they won’t use them.
Mail center managers must take responsibility for educating their fellow employees. Not just on the first day of orientation, but on a regular basis. Growing up in the 60’s, I remember the ads from Post Office Department featuring Mr. ZIP, encouraging consumers to use the correct ZIP Code on their cards and letters. The ads may seem “basic” or “cheesy”, but they worked. A similar internal campaign may work for your company.
Physical mail continues to play an important role for businesses, government and educational institutions. Properly addressed mail will make sure that the right piece – will get to the right person – at the right time.
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“Cooperation gets teams pulling together. Staying focused on the organization's mission ensures they pull in the right direction.” – Eric Harvey
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In the springtime, many mailers attend the National Postal Forum to hear from United States Postal Service (“USPS”) officials and fellow industry professionals about the current state and future of our industry. In the fall, the focus shifts to National Postal Customer Council (“PCC”) Week, which takes place September 8 – 12 at multiple locations throughout the country.
In the past, this event was called “PCC Day” and was held on the third Wednesday in September. The Postmaster General would participate in a live simulcast from the city that had won the PCC of the Year award. PCCs needed to hold their events at a location that could broadcast a satellite feed of the speech. Usually after lunch for the East Coast, and breakfast for the West Coast.
A few years ago, “PCC Day” transformed into a week-long event. The Postmaster General pre-records his speech, and distributes it to the districts. This allows PCCs greater flexibility in selecting the location – and the day of the week – that works best for their organization. The result has been better turnouts across the country.
PCCs are an underutilized resource – by both the USPS and mailers. I know of no other industry where the customers volunteer to organize, and then pay for, educational events on how to use a vendor’s service better. USPS management needs to better use the PCCs as a two-way communication platform. The PCCs are a great way to distribute information to business customers, and educational seminars are needed.
But management needs to listen to the customers as well. Not just parry comments with prepared defenses of postal policy, but attentively listen and react to what the customers are saying. Large mailers may be represented by professional organizations, but the PCCs represent the small and mid-sized mailer as well. Business mailers – First Class, Standard, Package and Periodical mailers – represent the overwhelming majority of the USPS income. Their voice deserves to be heard, and their opinions matter.
Too many mailers don’t take advantage of the opportunities presented by their local PCC either. There are classes on postal regulations, USPS initiatives and industry trends. We’re in an era of transformative changes on how we create, print and prepare mailings. We owe it to our organizations to keep ourselves educated. And PCCs provide that educational opportunity.
To find more about your local PCC and their National PCC Week event, check out the PCC Locator on the USPS website. Or, call your local USPS District Business Service Network representative for more information. Most of the events are more than reasonably priced, so bring some of your co-workers with you. The benefits far outweigh the expense.
PS – I believe in practicing what I preach. I’ve been a member of the Greater Boston PCC for decades, and currently sit on their Executive Board. During National PCC Week, I’m presenting for 3 different PCCs – the Omaha PCC Advertising Expo on September 10, the Greater Kansas City PCC event on September 11, and the Carolinas (all 5 PCCs) Postal PCC Forum in Charlotte on September 12. As always, I’m waiving my speaking fees for these mailing organizations.
Hope to see you at a PCC event soon!
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Last week, I was visiting with friends I hadn’t seen for a while. While catching up on each other’s lives, I shared some good news about my business. Recently, we’d been selected to design the mail center for a new hospital.
One of my friends, a nurse, asked, “Hospitals have mail centers?” Of course, how else do you think they handle all of the incoming and outgoing mail? I’m sure that they have a mail center at your hospital.
Her response – “I don’t know. When I started, we toured the morgue, but not the mail center.”
After I stopped laughing, I explained the different services the mail center at a hospital performs. Sorting and prepping inbound mail for delivery to the floors. Processing patient bills and other outgoing correspondence. Imaging documents for the hospital’s records department. My friend agreed all of this work had to get done, but she never thought of the hospital having a “mail center”.
Her attitude isn’t unique – and not just among people who work in hospitals. When we visit companies, many of the employees don’t realize that there’s a mail center for their organization. Even when their department receives or sends large volumes of mail. The mail arrives and the mail goes out. No one gives a second thought on how it happens.
Often the mail center is so physically removed from the rest of the company, that no one ever has a reason to go near the shop. In many cases, the operation is located in the basement, next to the loading dock or in a separate building (at one hospital we worked with, the mail center was next to the morgue). Out of sight, out of mind.
The mail center manager needs to accept some of the responsibility for this mindset. While we may not be able to change the physical location of the operation, we can work on changing the attitude of the people around us. We can promote the department through an internal customer communication plan. Using email, the company’s intranet and newsletters, we can inform them about the services we provide for the company.
We can make sure that the department’s space is kept tidy and neat. Even though large quantities of paper, packages and mail pass through the shop, the area can be organized. While employees are required to perform physical labor, they should be dressed neatly and professionally. Equipment, counters and shelving must be kept clean when not in use.
The department should offer regularly scheduled tours promoting its capabilities. Managers can volunteer to brief all new company employees during orientation. In addition to explaining how to use inbound and outbound addressing, the briefing could end with a tour of the mail center. Separate tours could be held for new officers or executives.
We live in a digital age, but physical mail is an integral part of any company’s communication plan. Make sure your fellow employees – your internal customers – understand how you contribute to the company’s success. And make sure they know where the mail center is located.
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"You can finish school, and even make it easy--but you never finish your education, and it's seldom easy." - Zig Ziglar+ Read More
When I started in the mailing industry (way back in the 20th century), the Domestic Mail Manual (“DMM”) was a bound, hard-copy reference book. Having the look and feel of a phonebook for a major metropolitan area, the DMM was regularly criticized for the small print, lightweight paper and dizzying cross-references. Updates and corrections had to be stored in a separate binder.
However, being a true “mail geek”, I looked forward to its annual publication. I would spend a weekend reading all the sections impacting First-Class Mail, adding tabs for key areas on mail preparation. I would carry the DMM with me when meeting with US Postal Service (“USPS”) representatives. This was very helpful if there were any disagreements on a particular mailing my company had submitted.
In 1994, the USPS announced it was streamlining the DMM, making it more accessible, easier to use and more convenient to update. The new format included the migration from bound book to a 3-ring binder, larger font sizes and heavier paper stock. Updates would be sent as shrink-wrapped packages to replace entire sections.
Unfortunately, this also meant increasing the physical size of the DMM. The hefty 3-inch binder wasn’t as easy to flip through, nor simple to put in a briefcase when going to a meeting. I created an “alternative DMM” binder, containing only the sections that impacted my mailings.
About this same time, the first digital copy of the DMM was produced by Window Book, Inc. Available as a package of 3.5-inch diskettes, the digital DMM could be loaded onto the hard drive of a computer, and then searched by key terms. Although basic by today’s standards, this was a significant leap forward for DMM users.
That lead to the current on-line DMM, available through the USPS Postal Explorer website. Now, when users search for a particular term, the website not only returns DMM citations, but also information from Quick Service Guides and Customer Support Rulings. And for people like me, you can download a complete DMM to your hard drive.
In addition to the improved search functionality, updates to the online DMM are seamless through the DMM Advisory system. Users can see the latest up dates by visiting the DMM Advisory website, or they can sign up for email alerts by sending a request to firstname.lastname@example.org. The alerts include proposed changes to the DMM, as well as price adjustments or USPS filings in the Federal Register.
Overall, the new DMM is much better than the hard copy “phonebook” we used 20 years ago. The USPS continues to streamline the manual by eliminating duplicate sections or conflicting regulations. The DMM Advisory alerts help conscientious mailers stay up to date with new and proposed changes.
But the system still needs improvement. Any search engine is only as good as the terms users enter. Mailers still need to read through not only the Quick Service Guides, but all the related DMM sections when preparing a mailing. And some requirements, like the Intelligent Mail Barcode and e-Doc specifications, aren’t in the DMM, but are separate publications on the National Customer Service or “RIBBS” website.
Individual interpretation of the DMM – by mailers and USPS acceptance clerks – can still differ. For example, I recently participated in a discussion about a multiple choice question. Here’s the question and responses:
“Congratulations! Since you’ve done such a good job with the Boston operation, we’re now putting you in charge of the New York and New Jersey operations as well.”
Despite the positive tone in my boss’s voice, I wasn’t sure that was good news. Yes, we’d been able to make some positive changes in the Boston mail and distribution center. But could I effectively manage three operations in three different cities? Soon, I was going to find out. And the lessons I learned would come in handy when a similar opportunity arose at another company five years later.
Whether managing one site or five sites, continue to use the basic management techniques that have made you successful. Developing a solid business plan; communicating that plan to all involved; knowing your customers; and motivating employees remain the foundations upon which to build. The only change is the method you use to execute those practices.
Although you’ll probably modify it before everyone’s had a chance to read it, you need to develop a business plan for the short- and long-term. This is your opportunity to share your vision for the unit with management and employees. Use the plan to explain where you want the unit to be in six months, a year, even five years. Circumstances will dictate changes (some drastic) to your plan. But as the saying goes, failure to plan is a plan for failure.
The plan should represent your unit as a whole and not each site individually. Though the sites may serve different clients and have completely different functions, they must see themselves as part of a larger team. The business plan is the place to start building that sense of team. Everyone needs to know how they can contribute to the big picture.
How you communicate that plan is essential to its success. You can’t deliver every message personally, and you can’t be in two cities at the same time. Even with cities in relative proximity, you can’t be on the road all the time and remain effective. You must choose one site as your base of operations, spending most of your time there.
However, don’t let that base become an isolation booth. Make sure that you reach out to the remote sites at least once a day. Send a short email update. Make a quick phone call. Or hold a virtual meeting, using Web conferencing. Whatever the method, use these opportunities to disseminate important information and provide support. Don’t turn your communication into a daily “big brother” surveillance tool.
Plan onsite visits on a regular basis, at least once a month. Schedule one-on-one time with the site manager. Introduce yourself to new employees and welcome them to the team. Make sure you spend some time on the shop floor with the employees. Shake hands, ask how things are going, and take the pulse of the unit. Remember: there’s no such thing as a typical day. But if things don’t feel right, schedule a return visit soon.
Use these visits to meet with your major clients at that site. If possible, form a user group with open forums. Have your site manager sit next to you at these forums, reinforcing the concept of one team. Take notes on compliments and complaints. When you return to your office, prepare written minutes and responses to any questions and concerns. After reviewing this document with your site manager, distribute the information to the whole group.
Also, when onsite, schedule “face time” with the highest ranking manager of the business unit or their deputy. Don’t worry if you only get 10 or 15 minutes of their time. This is just another way to emphasize that you care about your internal customers and that you’re aware of what’s going on. Again, follow up on any concerns with an email or phone call as soon as possible.
When you’re back at your home office, be sure to respond quickly to any phone calls or emails from remote customers. In fact, you need to respond to these requests faster than those from people at the home office. Because these customers aren’t located close to you, they may feel isolated and less important. Go the extra mile to reassure that distance has no impact on service, and that your onsite manager is more than capable of meeting their needs.
Keeping your employees motivated from a distance will probably be your greatest challenge. You need to be proactive in this area to counter the perception of “out of sight - out of mind”. When an employee anywhere in your organization does something commendable, call them immediately and thank them. Don’t substitute an email for a phone call, and don’t just leave a voicemail. Take a minute to have a conversation with this person and reinforce how important their actions were.
Keep a list of these events, and make sure you recognize people in front of the entire group during your next onsite visit. And any team successes should be recognized at all locations. If your New York unit set a record on getting the monthly shipments out early, don’t just celebrate in New York. Have celebrations in every location, strengthening the concept of team.
The key to success in each of these areas is the site manager. They must be an independent person, and a strong supporter of the team concept. Your site manager needs to keep the lines of communication open; sharing ideas, news and events. Most importantly, they must be confident enough to get any bad news to you as soon as possible, especially if it involves customer service.
Similarly, you must trust that manager to make the right decision. With the exception of hiring and firing employees, you must empower the site managers to do what they think is best. Often important decisions will have to be made without consulting you first. Make sure they inform you of these decisions as soon as possible. When people make errors in judgment, be careful with your critique. You want your managers to make a better decision the next time; you don’t want them to freeze and take no action without your prior approval.
Managing operations in multiple locations is a challenge for any manager. Time and travel will force you to be a better planner, communicator, motivator and delegator. Stretching these basic skills will shorten the distance to success.
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