What Is a Sense of Urgency? Musings from The Postal Tsunami
Tuesday Morning Beat Down
I work at Bi-polar Post Office, USA. One day our manager calls us to gather around for a group hug because we are the best in the city, a week later we are running the butt kicking gauntlet because our numbers have incurred the royal displeasure of the powers that be. Tuesday morning was one of those days.
Whether it is good or bad news, my friend JR always yells out a demand for "Donuts!" He is our station's donut coordinator. He could have picked either safety captain or donut coordinator, but he thought he could make more of a positive impact in the latter role. Any occasion, good or bad, is worthy of being feted with donuts, in JR's view.
When the request for donuts issued forth, our manager gave us a we are not amused scowl. This was a serious situation, because we had fallen flat on our faces on a Monday. There were still Red Plum coupon books scattered around in untidy piles across the workroom floor. This mail was supposed to have been delivered on Monday, but had been deferred for Tuesday instead, and still we had failed to make the magic numbers. No matter how hard the supervisors had worked to prod, squeeze, and manipulate reality to fit their figures, reality just wouldn't budge, so there was nothing left to do but blame us. Letter Carriers are always at the very bottom of that proverbial summit from which fecal material rotates in a downward direction, so sooner or later something lands on us with a messy splat.
I was off on Monday, so I couldn't be blamed, but that didn't exempt me from punishment. In the Postal Service, punishment is not a matter of guilt or innocence, but rather a consequence of standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, particularly downhill from that fabled sewage treatment plant with the leaky pipe, the one from which odiferous effluvium rolls according to the dictates of the laws of gravity . Anyhow, the manager started off the beat-down with a math quiz, one of her favorite techniques to get us to go faster. She always picks on Sandy for these math quizzes, probably because girls are notoriously good at math, and the boyz in our office certainly aren't wearing Postal blue because we're good at it! Looking over at the Tuesday flats, she asked Sandy how long it should take us to case a foot and a half of them. Now, doing some quick math in my head, I realized the correct answer was 22 and a half minutes, but Sandy answered about half an hour. God bless Sandy for rounding up. We love her for that.
Nonplussed by the postal math not producing the intended results, the manager now turned the floor over to the supervisor, who is a grandmother, and usually treats us like we are an extended set of her grandchildren. I don't know about you, but if I am going to be grannied to death, if I have to endure an occasional spit bath and a spoonful of castor oil, I want to be spoiled too. I want her to get me good and sugared up sometimes. But that never happens.
Our surrogate grandmother commenced to give us a severe beating, as grandmas will do when they are frustrated because you are behaving badly, Mom and Dad were supposed to pick you up at ten and it's now eleven, and she wants to get her dentures soaking in a jar and go to bed. For endless minutes she ranted and raved about our abysmal failure of the day before, her conclusion being that we had neglected to measure up to her expectations because we don't have a sense of urgency.
Postal Tsunami Musical Guest FOREIGNER - a band that definitely has a sense of urgency
Granny supervisor beat us over the head with sense of urgency again and again, like Indiana Jones flailing his bullwhip around at turbaned warriors trying to slice his head off with scimitars. The difference is that Indy's whip has some pop and some sting, because you know what it is and you know what it's made of. Sense of urgency, however, is a vague, ambiguous term, and the supervisor never took the trouble to define or quantify it.
In spite of the fact that sense of urgency sounds daunting, giving the impression that y'all better hurry your asses up or else! - just what is it? Does the expression have any basis in the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) contract? Is it listed in our M-41 handbook as a requirement of our day to day job functions? Really, is it? Somebody help.
I know letter carriers that are constantly rushing back and forth. They buzz hither and yon at light-speed, looking like they do the work of ten people. They practically stumble over their own feet to get their mail out of the office and onto the street. But even though these Tasmanian devils of frenzied activity definitely look like they have a sense of urgency, some of them are only spinning their wheels. They return to office at the same time as everyone else, or even later, because in spite of dizzily bouncing around like a pinball they are not focused, and in reality are working less efficiently than others.
I tend to be one of these people. One time a cute clerk told me you're running around everywhere but you're not accomplishing nuthin'. Because she was cute I let her get away with this, otherwise my honor would have been gravely injured, and it would have been dueling pistols at dawn, at 15 paces.
Other letter carriers are cool as cucumbers. They glide through their routine in a graceful, smooth moonwalk, and although they look like they're taking their time, if you stop and marvel at the economical use of their God-given appendages, you see they get the job done really quickly, with a minimum of apparent effort. They never seem to sweat, although one used to say his butt crack got sweaty, sometimes. Definitely TFI. These smooth operators beat everyone to the street, and they return to office before everyone else too. How the hell do they do it? - is the most frequently uttered question heard in conversations about these folks. Such carriers definitely do not appear to have a sense of urgency, but the best mailmen and women I know are of this variety.
Therefore, sense of urgency appears to be an arbitrary thing, a completely abstract concept, unrelated to productivity at all. Perhaps it is just an attempt to shame you into skipping your unpaid lunch and perhaps your breaks too, in order to squeeze the harsh reality of an overburdened route into some neat mathematical model, kind of like stuffing one of those big ships into a tiny bottle.
The bottle-squeezing flavor of the month is the new PET program, a system that tries to predict today's postal reality by demonstrating what reality has been for the last few weeks. Can a meteorologist forecast today's weather based on what happened six weeks ago? Can we really say with confidence that it is not going to rain this Friday, just because it didn't rain on Friday six weeks ago? Even the freshest CCA knows that his or her pace is going to be determined by today's completely unpredictable factors, such as accountable mail, parcel volume, weather conditions, and how long the five minute stand-up talk, where he was beaten up for not having a sense of urgency, ran over into ten, or even fifteen minutes.
The union tells us to give an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. Your supervisor may be urgently trying to get off somebody's s**t list for failing to make some imaginary, pipe-dream number, but he or she signed up for that BS, not you. Their urgency does not constitute your emergency.
Tsunami Comedy Moment with Dilbert, by Scott Adams
Do you have a sense of urgency?
Bonus Capsule - It Ain't The Giftcards, Folks
A couple of months ago I wrote an installment of the Postal Tsunami in which I commented about the drastic increase in parcel volume, then speculated on various factors that might be responsible for it, including hoarding for the Trumpocalypse. The Trumpocalypse may have been a stretch, I'll admit, maybe driving a little too fast and drunk on an expired journalistic license, but some of the comments that this speculation generated were off the mark as well.
In particular, I received a comment that the parcel increase was strictly seasonal, not a sign of trends to come, merely a consequence of Postal Customers spending their Christmas gift cards.
Sounds like a legitimate theory, but is it true? Being a numbers nerd, in order to debunk the idea I examined the statistics I collect on my route on a daily basis. The following results were revealed:
During January through February 2016, my route averaged 88 scans daily. Through the same period of 2017, I averaged 108 scans. That is nearly a 20% increase, one year to the next. If this was only due to gift cards, the numbers should have been similar one year to the next, but 20% is a hefty boost. I think the real reason is the increase in Internet commerce, the closing of brick and mortar stores everywhere, and the economical shipping alternative that the Postal Service offers.
Furthermore, I fear the parcel volume is only going to keep going up, whether the Postal PET system - which I have serious Pet Peeves about, realizes it or not. Rather than letting us be horse whipped for our alleged lack of sense of urgency, our union should put pressure on the USPS to get busy readjusting our routes down to a manageable size, in anticipation of further parcel gains to come.
Lets face it, ladies and gentlemen. In the Post Office, every day is Christmas now.