Saturday, December 17, 2011

Third Alternative

We know the US Congress isn't very effective, no matter which side of the political spectrum you fall, unless you're from the POP (Purely Obstructionist Party). If we apply Covey's 7 Habits as a metric, the Congress fails miserably on synergy and looking for the third alternative.

It requires understanding the other's perspective in such a way as to be able to repeat it back. The recitation has to have not only the words but the emotion and passion behind it. You employ empathetic listening to get at what your opponent wants. You also have to honestly express what you want and why, asking them to repeat back your position. Through this you can explore the issue and find a third alternative that doesn't require compromise. Both parties have to want to solve the problem, exhibit some maturity and work together.

The US Post Office (PO or USPS) has been in the news lately as they have publicized some alternatives to reduce costs. Some require closing outdated offices--many in small towns, or historic sites, that could lose an important link--because they don't have enough business for full-time staff. This move only saves 1-2% of their total costs, or reduces their losses by 1-2%--no matter which it is, it's peanuts. It's a move that has angered a lot of people. Another option is to get rid of Saturday delivery. It might not save 16% of their total costs, but it's probably higher than the PO closings.

Two of their biggest customers are FedEx and UPS, because the USPS goes to places, per the dictum to provide 'universal' service, that its competitors believe not to be cost effective--so they let the Post Office do it. It's the last mile that can be the most costly.

What is clear is that USPS is thinking like other businesses and still thinking in some of the same ways that got them into this big hole in the first place. "When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!" or as Einstein said in essence that we have to apply different thinking to solve a problem because the same thinking that got us into trouble can't get us out of it.

The small PO's that only need part-time staff could be operated differently. Perhaps mail delivery from them is not as frequent as it used to be, and yet the PO stays open, or....

What is it that customers want? What is it that the USPS needs? How many options to meet those demands can you create? Somewhere in the vast arena of ideas is the third alternative that could get people what they want.

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