January 13, 2010

No “Mailing It In” at this Post Office

By Malcolm Fleschner

Rewards and recognition are always fun to share, particularly when times are good and the prizes, bonuses, and celebratory champagne are all freely flowing. But as motivational expert Bob Nelson, the legendary "Guru of Thank You" and author of 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees (Workman, 2005), points out, rewards and recognition can serve a useful function in helping focus employees attention and energy in challenging economic times.

As an example, Nelson cites the Orange Post Office in Orange, California. While he recognizes that the federal government is rarely considered a source of inspiration in the motivation and innovation department, Nelson says this is one such rare instance. As the most recent fiscal year approached, the Orange Post Office Postmaster, David Eng, acknowledged that his organization faced a tough year – budgets had been cut and his employees were pessimistic about achieving their goals.

Eng’s team, which consisted of a station manager, 10 supervisors and then 30-35 employees reporting to each supervisor, had consistently performed among the top 20 percent of the largest post offices in the district, but Eng sought to improve on that record.

"I’ve always believed that attitude is more powerful than skills," Eng explained to Nelson. Eng asked his supervisors what it would take to be ranked the best large office in the Santa Ana District on the U.S. Postal Service’s National Performance Assessment. Eyeing the leather jacket with a USPS emblem Eng was wearing, a reward he’d earned many years earlier, one supervisor asked whether, if they achieved that best overall ranking, each supervisor could get a similar jacket.

Eng readily agreed, then set about establishing metrics that would have the greatest impact on performance. The key goals were broken down into four categories:

  1. Work Safely
  2. Stay Healthy
  3. Be Productive and Efficient
  4. Provide Outstanding Service

These goals were discussed in brief team meetings every morning, while supervisors tracked progress monthly. "Stay Healthy" was defined as reducing sick days, which would in turn reduce paid overtime and the cost of lost attendance. "Be productive," meant encouraging daily and weekly positive feedback on office and street performance. To provide an increased level of service, employees came up with revenue-generating ideas such as holding weekly public workshops on how to sell on eBay, which (naturally) included information on shipping packages through the USPS.

Throughout the effort, employees were constantly encouraged and rewarded, whether receiving a certificate of achievement for going "above and beyond" in helping accomplish the team’s goals or through a raffle Eng held during the third quarter to renew interest and rededicate employees to the task of finishing first.

In the end, all the focus, recognition, and attention paid off when the Orange Post Office received the coveted #1 ranking among large post offices in the Santa Ana area, based on 11 nationwide metrics. Beyond the statistics, the bottom line results were also very good: Eng’s post office saw a $634,799 revenue increase along with a $476,851 savings on expenses, totaling a net contribution of over $1.1 million to the USPS coffers.

Eng and his supervisors celebrated the honor by taking each shift of employees to breakfast where the supervisors did the serving, along with the thanking. As for the supervisors, they received the promised jackets, along with the pride in knowing they had achieved something even they were not sure was possible.