Writing on his blog over at Workplace-Excellence.com, Dan Bobinski ponders why it is that the US Postal Service could have managed to lose $3.5 Billion in the last quarter.
His conclusion? USPS is a classic example of an organization in which micromanagement to enforce inefficient procedures has run riot. What's more, it's one in which individual initiative is stamped upon and finding ways to operate more efficiently is actually punished.
Dan writes: "The USPS is not really a government agency, but it has so many government regulations that employees can't even blow their nose without having to comply with some government-dictated nose-blowing directive. And according to the people who work there, supervisors pay close attention to how you blow your nose, and you'll hear about it if you don't do it according to their rules.
Obviously, my example over the top, but the point is not: People are not allowed to choose more effective and efficient ways to do their jobs. The USPS is more concerned that employees follow regulations – which cover everything – even how you sort the mail you're going to deliver on your route.
Did you just find a way to sort your mail that will save you an hour each day? Tough. You can't do it. Even if the method is safe and cuts sorting time as well as time needed to deliver the mail, you can't do it.
Don't misunderstand, I'm all for workplace rules that keep people safe, but with an organization the size of the USPS, one size cannot fit all. And at the USPS, efficiency is often sacrificed for the sake of uniformity.
Essentially, the USPS operates on a platform of fear: "don't violate regulations." Why are FED-EX and UPS are making money? They, too, have plenty of rules (I know, I drove for UPS one holiday season after getting out of the Navy), but their primary motivation is customer service. Their main focus is getting a package from Point A to Point B as fast as possible.
"Customer service" is a much different motivator than "don't violate regulations."
I suggest putting this knowledge to work for your business. Identify the main motivations under which your people operate. If it's "serve the customer" you stand a good chance of thriving. If it's "don't violate regulations," you run the risk of losing effectiveness and efficiency … and also reporting huge financial losses."
If you're unfortunate enough to be part of an organization suffering from a similar obsession with petty regulations, take that last paragraph to heart.