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canada post's monkey business

canada post management retreat, not exactly as pictured
i've written recently about my own tribulations with canada post, but i've effectively avoided discussing the new "five point plan" that was unveiled by the corporation earlier this month, their strategy for maintaining profits in an era when less and less mail is being sent. this strategy has nothing to do with my recent tribulations, because canada post hasn't even started to implement it yet, but i will say that the same organizational "intelligence" that has caused the issues that i've written about is pervasive in the five point plan. which is a very long way of saying that this plan looks like it was put together by a gang of paste-eaters taking a break from shoving bottle rockets up their noses.

now, not all of the plan is bad. an infinite number of monkeys might be able to write all the great books given enough time and slightly further down the evolutionary scale, canada post managers have been able to come up with two points [well, one and a half, at least] out of five that aren't bad:

point #3 :: expanding franchise postal outlets. this is an excellent idea, because postal outlets located in retail locations are ultimately more convenient for consumers and less costly for the post office to maintain. so rock those franchises, canada post.

point #4 :: streamlining operations. this is the "half good" point that i mentioned above. first of all, streamlining operations isn't part of a visionary plan. it's a normal part of business and it's something that you have to do on an ongoing basis. work smarter, not harder. we've all heard that and at best, this should be mentioned in a section on "other things canada post is doing in order to limit costs". it's not a point on its own. furthermore, not all attempts to streamline operations are good. the process of streamlining was begun in 2010, but the brand new "five point plan" cannot point to any cost savings that the process has achieved in three years other than through attrition [positions eliminated with the retirement or resignation of employees]. if all this streamlining can't save money without eliminating jobs, canada post is going to start to see a pretty sharp decline in returns. but efficiency has advantages and the move to more fuel-efficient vehicles is a laudable one, so we'll give them a half point for this.

the rest of their plan involves relying on concessions from employees- no specifics given- and by reducing services while at the same time increasing costs. yes, that's right. canada post's grand vision is to ask their consumers to pay more in order to receive less.

the business diamond at the core of their planning tiara is to eliminate door-to-door service for the one-third of canadians who still receive it. these people are mostly in cities, as suburbs have already been transitioned to multi-unit "community mailboxes". canada post dresses this up as being a safe, convenient alternative, because apparently their managers live in a land where reaching their front door is too much of a chore. reading this section of the plan, i have to wonder exactly how much weed had been smoked when they were coming up for their entirely specious explanations for why this solution is, as they put it "optimal".

STAY WITH ME ON THIS...



no, canada post. it is not optimal. it is forcing people to leave their homes to collect mail, including the elderly and the sick, including in the middle of winter, which is no joke in canada. it requires them to go to a location that you have deemed convenient to clear out a box which you tout as "secure", in order to receive important items like, say, medication. you know what's optimal? being able to get such things delivered to the front door or lobby.

my in-laws are already served by one of these community mailboxes, along with around fifty of their neighbours. i live in a building with just under fifty apartments, on a street with similarly sized buildings and some which are larger. by that math, there is absolutely no efficiency to be gained from transferring our service to community mailboxes, unless you make those mailboxes much, much larger.

even if you argue that there are neighbourhoods where this isn't the case [and clearly there are, although the trend in urban areas is decidedly towards multi-unit dwellings] where exactly is canada post going to find affordable real estate on which to construct theses monstrosities? land isn't readily available in most metro centres, which means that canada post is going to pay a premium to purchase or lease the space for their community clusterfucks unless they are assuming that they will be able to get carte blanche from every city in canada to build on publicly held land.

since canada post has assured the public that these are locations that will be safely accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it eliminates the possibility that some delivery will be transferred to franchise outlets. since this is a plan outline, there aren't any details given on how this will be implemented, but in fact, the nightmarish implementation scenario is reason enough to reject this point without further discussion. and it's this point that would allow canada post to eliminate the most positions and thus save the most money.

increasing the cost of sending letters from $0.63 per stamp to $1.00 [$0.85 if you buy rolls] is insulting, in that the increase is so drastic, but chances are it will not greatly disturb the lives of most canadians on its own. regular letters are where the greatest decreases are being seen and this will only accelerate that trend. likewise, increases to bulk rates available to corporations to send general mailings ["junk mail"] will likely drive those customers to look at other options- either by negotiating with courier companies to find ways to add this service or by abandoning it altogether in favour of less costly electronic options. that might disappoint some consumers, but it will be a disaster for canada post itself, which relies on commercial customers to make money [which, by the way, they still do].

but what's truly terrible about canada post's five point plan is that it is so resolutely narrow-minded. it shows no evidence that those in charge have made any attempt to study what's been done in other countries in order to ensure the viability of a national postal service. the points they've come back with do not prepare canada post for the future; they only stave off a looming financial crisis for a few years by reducing costs. the five point plan is 100% reactive, 0% pro-active.

being pro-active would entail looking at ways to build canada post's business, not reduce it. other postal services have been able to turn profits by getting involved in banking. as canada's charter banks have greatly slashed the number of outlets they have available, the possibility of being able to do banking at postal locations, particularly in outlying areas, has an undeniable allure. more on that here.

the new zealand postal system [another country that has densely populated urban areas and expanses of almost uninhabited land between them] has made forays into the world of electronic communication- not such a stretch when you consider that the post is part of the communications infrastructure- even purchasing its own social media site. [they have also reduced delivery service as a cost saving option, which strikes me as a much better option than doing away with service altogether, even though it wouldn't save as much money.]

switzerland, always a great place to look if you want to achieve greater efficiencies and, like canada, tasked with supplying services in multiple languages, recently transferred the swiss post from a public utility to a corporation with special obligations. because of the "special obligations", this isn't quite the same as saying that the post has been privatized, but it does require it to be responsible for its own finances [as canada post already is]. in preparation for this, swiss post has transformed itself into a full logistics unit, offering myriad services for both private and business customers and state of the art tools for the management of mail and package delivery. they also having a banking branch and operate "postbus", a business unit that offers transport on buses and bicycles throughout the country. although the postal unit of the larger corporation has seen reduced profits in its first quarter as a private corporation, this is because it was subject to full taxation for the first time. other branches of the company [such as their banks and postbus] saw profits rise. and swiss post remains one of the largest employers in the entire country. [check out their web site]

i could go on, but i think that these examples make my point: the future of canada post cannot rely solely on where it came from: it needs to look at where it's going and, more importantly, where the people it serves are going. making deep and desperate cuts is a sure way to set the corporation up for a fall from which it won't have the resources to recover. personally, i'm not certain that canada post even means to implement these changes, or if they just want to use the threat of such drastic measures to strong-arm the government into coughing up more short-term support for their pension plan obligations. but if canada post wants to make a real plan for medium-to-long term viability, it needs to think outside the mailbox.

view the canada post five point plan here [link goes to pdf].

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