Fixing the Post Office

The United States Post Office, once an organization so revered and respected, is in serious trouble. They are on the brink of running out of cash, and are more importantly struggling to survive as one of the only government services that must compete directly in the open markets. To their credit, they use no tax dollars to operate, but that is one of the only upsides to the post office right now. One could argue that we no longer need the post office. Maybe we should give in to the free markets and ditch the idea of a government run postal service. I just can’t buy that as a viable option. The USPS does have a solid vision. The initiatives they are attempting to implement by 2013 seem good, but as we enter the back half of 2011, I begin to wonder about the ability to execute on these ideas. It doesn’t seem as though we are seeing a lot of results. Maybe some of these ideas would work for them.

1. Put The Romance Back In It: Have you ever seen the movie The Postman? It’s the story of a heroic postal service man that battles his way through epic danger to delver the mail. It just makes you want to stand up and wave an American flag, eat a hamburger, and sing the national anthem. Not to long ago Starbucks was struggling in similar ways to the post office. One of the things that helped Starbucks regian their edge was putting the romance and history back into their coffee and service. They launched new espresso machines that looked more Italian at the coffee bar and increased the espresso aroma in the shop. They celebrated anniversaries, retrained baristas to poor the perfect shot, and just took the entire romance with coffee up a notch. And it worked.

The USPS needs to regain that sense of patriotism. They need to play on that brand and bring customers back because it’s American. They need to blow up this DMV culture they have developed and regain the patriotism, pride, and romance, involved with working in THE US Postal Service. Your culture is your brand, and they need a brand that goes back to their roots. Interacting with the Postal Service should be one of the most American things we can do!

2. Make Deep Cuts: This is tough, but it needs to happen. The USPS needs to play with the rest of the industry, not the rest of the government. While government can just keep burning cash, the USPS needs to respond to the changing economy and ditch the bloated structure. They need to make deep and permanent cuts to staff and operating budgets. Currently they are looking at cutting over 200,000 jobs, about half of which will come through attrition. I’d look to double that amount. Tough to do with the labor unions, but they are all going to have to realize that the health and future of the USPS must be lean and effective.

3. Crowd Source Success: One of the initiatives for 2013 with the post office is to listen to customers. I’m not exactly sure what they have been doing to implement this, but I guarantee it isn’t enough. Everyday I see people interact with brands on Facebook and Twitter. I encounter brands having conversations with customers like Ford, Starbucks, Bestbuy, Zappos, and local companies as well. I never see the post office though. This may be the right initiative here, but it seems that execution is a bit lacking. We live in a culture where people will tell you what they want, you just need to listen and execute. Take, for example, web sites like My Starbucks Idea that have been a huge success. The post office needs to step up not only the listening, but the execution on crowd sourcing their future success.

4. Find Your Core: USPS once was the only line of communication in our country. It was how we connected with each other. It was Facebook, so to speak. We connected not only through the mail, but we connected locally in and around the post office. Now they ship coupons and direct mailings to your door. Hope you don’t miss that next LL Bean catalog! They’ve lost their spirit and their core. I would challenge the USPS to infuse significance back into what they do. Cut the peripherals and sell what matters. They need to get back to a place where we connect around them and through them. They let UPS steal the significance right out from under them. I need to get something somewhere tomorrow, with a guarantee, I ship UPS.

5. Inspire Your People: I’d challenge you to walk into any post office these days and find it inspiring. I’ve been in a few that have very old buildings that are a bit inspiring, but the DMV culture quickly squelched that out. As Seth Godin points out, the industrial age is over. Though the vision for the USPS is noble, that might be news to most of the actual employes on the ground. They are obviously laking inspiration.

6. Innovate: No excuses here. The postal service has failed to effectively innovate at all. If they are going to play in a sand box with other business organizations, they need to innovate. They need a few new products and services that can leverage their unique strengths and strategic advantages. Starbucks went after breakfast sandwiches, new espresso machines, and entirely redefined the instant coffee market. Amazon revolutionized the way read books. UPs revolutionized service in the postal industry. What would it look like for the USPS to entirely redefine the postal markets or logistical markets? How can they leverage their unique strengths and strategic advantages to push ahead? These questions must be unequivocally answered.

In the end, the Post Office has to battle the desire to fight decline and instead look towards growth. As Bill Hybels says, our job as leaders is not to manage against organizational decline. Out job is to lead towards growth. If the USPS continues to focus on not failing, they will fulfill their own prophecy. If, on the other hand, they can focus on growth and ridiculously execute at a very high level, there is no reason they can’t be incredibly successful again in five years.

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