Have you ever thought about how your management views its mail operation? In my 30-plus years of industry experience, I have witnessed countless situations where management, by remote control of the mail services, was the best many organizations could envision. As technology advances, that remoteness will only increase unless we increase the level of professionalism in our field. Upper management needs a new awareness of the great potential that already exists in the ranks of mail services.
Receiving mail and distribution services within an organization are usually assigned to a department such as facilities, human resources, corporate services, etc. Typically, senior level management has no prior experience in mail and distribution services and has consistently indicated during our consulting projects that the importance of these services are often underestimated and difficult to understand. Too often we have found upper management views mail services as a necessary evil to be tolerated. Why is this the case, primarily because mail processing is a service. There is no product, lifecycle or timeline to completion. Rather it is an on-going invisible service. As long as it works, there is generally no communication needed with upper management. Mail services often develop an insular existence. As a result, there may be a lack of documentation of the processes and procedures for upper management to review. Often long-time veterans have all the information stored only in their memory. Without written documentation, it is difficult to grasp an understanding and nearly impossible to analyze and evaluate the operation. When external circumstances such as expansion or relocation occur, management will be at a loss to know what to do with the mail services. Major decisions are often made without the input of the key players. How often have outsourcing decisions been made without the advice of mail service personnel?
Technological advances in the past 10 years have meant increased operational budgets. This has focused the attention of upper management, which looks for justification for budget increases. In many cases, there is no one with the requisite management skills to communicate effectively the need for additional equipment or technology. As a result, upper management is not often confident the managers and supervisors can make sound decisions concerning equipment acquisition, staffing and opportunities for cost reduction. Most managers, supervisors and team leaders have grown up within the operation and have not had the opportunity for professional and skill development.
Advances in computer technology have multiplied our data processing capabilities. At the same time, they have diminished written and verbal communication skills. In many cases, the only opportunity mail center managers have to answer to upper management concerns are through written reports or infrequent face-to-face meetings. Polished business communication capabilities are vital, necessary and important. Marketing research with clients, prospective clients and attendees at seminar sessions has indicated a need for industry-specific professional management skills for managers, supervisors and team leaders.
Some large corporations offer in-house training programs that include computer skills, customer service and human resource issues and management development. Many managers have indicated the programs are too generic and broad-based. One shipping supervisor indicated he had recently purchased an automated shipping system and had no prior computer experience. The training provided by the shipping vendor was inadequate, so he enrolled in a corporate sponsored basic level computer skills program. He said the majority of the attendees had prior computer experience and the classes were taught at an intermediate rather than beginner level. The instruction focused on Microsoft Word and the majority of the instruction was in areas he would not use. In his case, a little bit of knowledge intimidated him further in the use of his shipping system. He noted that his younger staff members quickly adapted to the system. He came to believe he had a real technology gap in his work experience. In fact, the real gap came in the training. He needed to learn industry-specific technical skills applicable to his management challenge.
Another long time veteran of mail services admitted his two college degrees did not help him manage his operation. His management style was autocratic, which worked well as long as there were no major changes. However, when new senior management requested he provide a unit cost analysis for handling and cost per mailpiece, he was at a loss as to how to proceed. He requested my company's assistance for an overview to develop volume and productivity measurement programs and staffing requirements. He also admitted being intimidated by all the technology advances. We provided him one-on-one training on understanding technology applicable to his needs and the value of an ongoing volume and productivity measurement program to be passed on to his staff. This program gave him the capability to communicate effectively with senior management as well as raising the morale of his staff by introducing a team concept. The manager said customized documentation and training produced confidence, which was the best job security he could imagine.
I recently attended an all-day seminar on supervision by a nationally recognized training center to try to determine how applicable the information would be within mail and distribution services. While the program defined the types of management styles, it was more of a motivational presentation. Most seminars on supervision and management are limited to motivation because most audiences are too diverse to deal in specifics. In particular, mail service management training should always be industry specific. There are specific management skills in our field that must be mastered by managers and supervisors so they can evaluate their operations and look for process improvement and cost reductions. This is the only way we can raise the level of professionalism within our industry.
Contact Jacquelyn McPeak, CMDSM at 610-869-8699 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on a two-day certification program on Professional Mail Management Skills. The curriculum offers students the opportunity to evaluate their current work environments, document areas needing improvement as well as develop action plans that can be implemented when they return to their various workplaces.