It is interesting to find the commonalities shared in managing a mail center whether the operation is a two-person shop, a large corporate conglomerate or a college/university. In any case, managing the mail center has become increasingly challenging since September 11, 2001. Since this event, I have entered into a growing number of discussions with many of my colleagues around the nation, resulting in a common theme of the ever-increasing challenges of effectively managing mail center operations under arduous budgetary conditions.
It appears that within the last year or so, I have had a growing number of conversations with other mail professionals surrounding the topic of budget cuts, downsizing, closures and outsourcing. In those conversations, there have been a myriad of recommendations, suggestions and well-thought plans of how best to mitigate these ugly circumstances.
Additionally, in reading the various list-serves and mail-print publications there, have been many examples provided, to assist in preparing one's institution to offset these challenging issues to include RFP examples (what should or should not be included) Budgetary/Operational Best Practices, Vendor Profiles; Service Level Agreements, etc.
Although all of the aforementioned topics can have significant implications to the mail operation, I am of the opinion that the Big O (Outsourcing) by far requires and involves the most skill, attentiveness, planning and executive-level management support. The very thought of outsourcing translates to workers: The threat of job loss and management's way to cut salaries and benefits. At the onset, the mail center manager has to take charge of the situation by mastering this very sensitive issue by positioning oneself as the liaison (between upper-management, subordinates and the outsourcing firm) through Clear, Concise, Continuous Communication what I term the four Cs.
Simply put, it is extremely important to manage with uprightness, despite the ever-increasing challenges that may come your way from all directions and all levels. Whether to term it as fortunate or unfortunate, I now have experienced both sides of the outsourcing double-edged-sword. Now that I find myself, and the operation I manage, under the proverbial outsourcing microscope, managing the situation, oneself, time and team has nevertheless required me to approach this new change with undeniable fervor.
When executive-level management begins contemplating outsourcing its mail services, pragmatic research analysis is a critical and necessary component when weighing the advantages and disadvantages.
It is absolutely necessary for the mail professional within the organization to provide the necessary and appropriate data to executive-level management in an effort to determine if outsourcing is right for the business. Whatever data you provide executive-level management make certain it is correct!
Before contemplating outsourcing, we, the mail service professionals, must raise the questions:
After you have asked the above questions, the next step is for you to counter-offer or provide specific detail as to how you could improve your own operation. Do not allow an outsourcing vendor to enter your place of business and cozy-up with the ultimate decision makers while you sit back and relax. Allowing this to occur is what I term... "The kiss of death!"
It is no secret that low labor cost is the most compelling advantage to outsourcing; however, when sitting down with an outsourcing vendor to negotiate a contract, the following three points are a limited listing of the beginning of a bad outsourcing experience:
1. Finance and legal discussions dominate the decision-making process.
2. Vendors are not "pre-qualified" based on their total experience and capabilities.
3. Short-term benefits dominate the rationale for outsourcing.
It may be a bit presumptuous of me to assume we, the mail professionals, will have the opportunity to be participants · in the discussions; however, the above short-list are topics that should not dictate the direction or decision to outsource.
Conversely, it is extremely critical to incorporate measures when entering into discussions with potential vendors that protect your business in its decision to outsource, develop sensible and structured characteristics of successful outsourcing and incorporate a system to manage the outsourcing firm by a "mail professional."
Protecting the Business in Its Decision to Outsource
An important element of ensuring the Outsourcing Firm has the best interest of the company is to include proactive measures that protect it in its long-range interests. It is also necessary to incorporate financial performance penalties for under-achievement and/or poor performance, which seals performance expectations while separating those expectations from subjective scenarios.
In the last year or so, a growing phenomenon has surfaced where companies, large and small, have outsourced various components of business just to turn around and transition the businesses back into an insourced business unit. This is clear indication that the firm's proposal and the initial research analysis performed by the company were insufficient.
On the other side of the coin, there are many companies that have outsourced business units the business, projected profits, savings, etc. did not come to fruition, yet the company turns its proverbial head while maintaining outsourcing was the correct decision. In this example, there are NO winners.
Developing Structured Characteristics of Successful Outsourcing
Prior to contract development, there are critical objectives needed in the successful transition, whereas the contract development process must be based on clear, well-understood and measurable objectives in an effort to achieve a win-win relationship while incorporating a purchasing process that is disciplined.
In order to obtain this, the measurable objectives, product knowledge, regulations, etc. have to be a part of the decision-making body in order to soundly determine the best case solution. Thus the effort to make the best, most appropriate and cost-effective decision requires the most qualified people to be a part of that body. In other words, the mail professional has to be a part of the negotiations!
Managing the Outsourcing Firm From Beginning to End
It is requisite executive management understand the outsourcing initiative does not relieve the business of any/all oversight. It is critical to maintain close-controls, ensuring the initiative would be in the best interest of the business and not the best interest of the vendor, thus managing the mail vendor with a mail professional from an unbiased vantage point while solidifying the necessary predetermined performance objectives needed to successfully transition the business.
Another key factor of great consequence to consider with regard to managing the mail negotiations by a mail professional is to make certain the promises of the vendor "marketing team" (can be/will be) implemented by the execution of the vendor's "production team." Remember, the marketing team's job is to sell; it is essential your business receives the services it would pay for not just a good sales pitch.
While the above activities are developing, it is important care is taken in your communication with one's staff. It is times like these that are equally stressful for the employees who often have no choice other than to guess, speculate or fabricate what is going on if there are missed opportunities on our part to clearly, concisely and continuously communicate with them. In doing this, the increased propensity of work-related errors and low morale will be lessened.
Although difficult, it is very important to make one's staff aware if there are no activities to report at all. Additionally, if you don't know the answer to something, you simply don't know. The last thing you want to do is to pretend to know all of the answers or even worse, make things up. In most cases, your staff has been there for you, so the least we can do is be there for them.
We must help those (upward and downward) around us understand the institutional mission/vision statement could easily be compromised if placed in the hands of a third party. This key point is very frequently overlooked. It is equally important we help others understand that handing over meter mail is allowing a vendor to "control your dollars," further allowing the vendor to choose where the money goes. Moreover, where does the responsibility land when explaining cost overruns? The examples above merely touch the surface of the inestimable questions, issues and requirements that need to be soundly answered before moving forward into outsourcing.
Likewise, as you balance the enormous yet limited listing of items above, it is vital the customer receive uninterrupted service excellence from your operation. In the end, it is paramount we make those around us understand that it isn't just mail. Instead, mail operations is the communications infrastructure of the business.
Keith A. Battle is a certified Interaction Management Professional with more than 10 years of experience in the print-to-mail industry. A graduate of Concordia University in Wisconsin with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Management and Communications, Keith works for Purdue University as the director of Postal Operations & Mail Services. You can contact Keith at IUPUI by phone at 317-274-8123 or visit www.mail.iupui.edu.