Mail Segregation

In response to Fim’s comments regarding Mail Segregation – I discussed this with a few people at POL including Branch Standards and senior management.  At one point I very luckily received a screen snapshot of the system RMG and POL use to communicate branch errors to each other.  Their solution was, and remains, farcical.   I did offer the following suggestion but clearly they did not take me up on it….

From:  timandagi@outlook.com on behalf of Tim McCormack (dunspostoffice@btinternet.com)You moved this message to its current location.
Sent: 29 August 2013 03:35:54
To: kevin.gilliland@postoffice.co.uk (kevin.gilliland@postoffice.co.uk)
Cc: george.thomson@nfsp.org.uk (george.thomson@nfsp.org.uk)
Thanks for the reply Kevin.

My overall impression of this process is that you are trying to achieve the impossible and probably spending vast sums of money in doing so.
I will explain why and provide you with some detail of my proposal for an alternative simpler and less costly system.The requirement

The rational behind mail segregation is that POL receive from RMG a payment for providing this service. If agreed performance levels are not met then POL is liable for financial penalties.

It is therefore logical that POL should put in place a system that monitors performance of SPMRs in carrying out this work in order that steps can be taken to improve performance where necessary. It is equally logical that the cost of implementing and maintaining this system should be a small proportion of the financial penalties that may be incurred for non performance.

Monitoring performance.

This is totally impossible unless all items of mail handed over the counter and segregated into mail bags are recorded. This has never been done other than for occasional sampling and would be impractical on an ongoing basis.  I recall payments of £100pw being made to SPMRs involved in this sampling process so a baseline has been set and the cost therefore becomes ridiculous.

No error count and no percentage system can mean anything unless it is measured against a truly representative total.

And no recourse against the SPMR will be possible unless the SPMR can reconcile the total number of mail items checked against the number he has recorded as being delivered to RMG on any particular day.

Should you choose to implement a system that does not measure performance against a total then there can be no relevance attached to comparative error level reporting. e.g. number of reported errors could increase while actual percentage of errors against total segregated falls.

Then of course there is the problem of categorising errors.   Is a bag labelling error as serious as a 1st Class packet in the 2nd Class bag.   I can only assume that from a RMG handling perspective there are different categorisations.   So how can this be relayed back to the SPMR?

I mentioned in my email how could there be an odd number of errors.   If a packet in a wrong bag is classed as an error then surely another error exists because it is not in the bag it should be and how does that affect the percentage of errors in that bag.  I know this is pedantic but it hopefully it makes the point of how complicated you could make this process.

And while there are too many other problems associated with implementing an all encompassing system to mention here the one that stands out and completely kills off any notion of success from POL’s perspective is the current random behaviour of RMG posties, some of whom routinely empty half filled bags into each other and push single items through the openings in tied bags.   The ‘REDX’ system is not an answer to this.

It is, as I say, an impossible task.

Risk or Reward

The NFSP EC Minutes from March last year revealed that POL was contemplating a penalty system for non compliance. Later in 2012 you introduced what was described as an ‘incentive’ payment.

How could either method work? What would be the recourse for SPMRs who challenged the system? How expensive would it be to fight these challenges?

Recent emails declare that segregation payments are included in the mails acceptance fee which, while it is at the discretion of POL to declare it so, I personally disagree with this assertion, having reviewed the documentation of the period that that payment was introduced and especially when comparing it to the work carried out then to the work required of us now.

But if for arguments sake Mail Segregation Payments are included in Mails Acceptance how could you introduce a penalty system?   Based on what performance measurement?   Would it be a fixed penalty or a variable one?   And again how could the SPMR challenge the penalty?   If he challenged the penalty in the courts the courts would uphold the challenge without any shadow of doubt because of the problems associated with the measurement of performance.

Branch Focus

The concept of even trying to deliver some form of relevant and meaningful mail segregation performance report through Branch Focus is frankly absurd.    First of all the amount of information necessary to be shown.   The date of inspection, the bag type, the total count of items in the bag,  an individual breakdown of the types of items within each bag, the pick up time, each individual error.   The process of recording this information and relaying it through the required channels and into Branch Focus may well become automated but is the cost of doing so worth it?   How costly would subsequent changes to the system be?   How will the SPMR reconcile the performance report to his recollection of what mail his branch processed some day several weeks ago?  What will the SPMR use this information for?    And that is the key question – what will all this mean to the SPMR and what effect will it have on performance?  None whatsoever.

Trust

 My solution to this whole debacle is based on the premise of trust.    Trust is inherent in the relationship between the SPMR and POL.   Without it the relationship breaks down.    Trust relies on both parties doing their best for each other without question.    Trust is also I presume an integral part of the relationship between POL and RMG.  If so, then if RMG require POL to segregate mail and POL pass through that request to SPMRs it should be accepted that SPMRs will segregate mail to the best of their ability.    Always remember though that ability levels are variable and we all make mistakes.   Those with less ability will make more mistakes than average.

The solution

If we look at individual branch performance this could be broken up into three classifications : a) Performing b) Under Performing and c) WIlful Neglect.

RMG and POL set revisable criteria for determining branch classification however it will always probably remain a subjective decision of a RMG checker.  (the missing error on the MS sheet that I keep referring to is indeed the result of a subjective decision by the RMG checker)

Performing branches are no longer REDX.   Trust is implicit and there is no reason to assume that they would wilfully start non segregation other than through industrial action.    It would be acknowledged that mistakes may occur but for the most part these would not be deliberate.

Under Performing Branches automatically receive on site training and the promise of a later on site audit (again aspects of the audit need to be detailed and negotiated and could be carried out by a nearby accredited SPMR)  They are placed on a watch list and will continue to be REDXd.     In this category however falls those offices that require monitoring because of their lack of ability – a fine line perhaps between that and wilful neglect – but these offices would never be recategorised as Performing.   There would be a transitional process that defines how an under performing office can attain performing status.

Wilful Neglect is easily defined as making no attempt whatsoever at mail segregation.   In that case the trust in the relationship has been lost and there can be only one outcome although there may be a requirement for a statutory warning before contract termination.  If an SPMR is found to be wilfully neglect in terms of Mail Segregation then it is fairly certain that attitude would prevail in other aspects of his work for POL.

A fourth category would probably be required for new entrants with obvious need for initial monitoring before being recategorised.

How does this solution differ to current proposals:

First it would incorporate a challenge system.   A branch classified in either of the two sub categories could challenge the classification and as a result receive a site visit.   The very fact that a challenge is made proves that the trust aspect is still there.   A site visit with training if required will quickly and easily identify problem areas and a watchlist program can be put in place.   This site visit could even be undertaken by a nearby accredited SPMR.    The challenge could also reveal a problem with the integrity of the mail after it is dispatched from the office.

Conversely the absence of a challenge to one of the sub categories classifications would be just as significant and warrant more attention.

Secondly it would reduce the need to monitor a substantial proportion of the network on an ongoing basis.   Yes there is a problem with change of personnel and new staff but problems associated with this are more to do with management of staff rather than mail segregation and would probably resolve themselves in other ways in the course of time.

Thirdly it resolves the need to identify and report down to a detailed level on individual errors and by doing so removes an immense amount of cost.  The process of checking the bag would involve opening it, looking at the contents as a whole and making an informed decision as to which category the branch should be placed in.   Of course a report would be generated detailing a list of errors as happens now but the difference is that the checker looks for wilful neglect and monitors common mistakes.    There might perhaps be a secondary checking process so that the checker can request further samples from the branch in question before the categorisation may be finalised. 

Finally, the only penalty involved in this process is the ultimate sanction of contract termination.    Again from a cost perspective the implementation of any form of risk and reward in an alternative system carries with it high overheads and these would be avoided using my system.

What’s missing?

I have obviously no access to the performance criteria laid down by RMG to POL.   I do not know how that performance is measured nor how the financial penalties would be implemented.    Could for instance the categorisation process be included in the RMG/POL criteria so that the cost of monitoring is reduced for RMG as well? 

Currently most SPMRs are not performing mail segregation as a result of industrial action.  There would need to some acknowledgement of that in a defined system.    e.g. removal of MS payment from a branch involved in industrial action

You say  that you are reviewing the requirements of Mail Segregation to make it physically (perhaps mentally as well) easier for the SPMR – any changes then may have an impact on my suggestion.

There would be a problem where Performing branches routinely make the same mistake (e.g. through not understanding a change in MS requirements) and in my system this would not be reported back to them.    RMG will require a system to monitor performance levels in general terms.   If one branch is making the same mistake repeatedly it is reasonable to assume that other branches will fall prone to the same wrongful interpretation of the MS requirements.  That may be harder to implement but the ability of RMG checkers to communicate with each other across the country would be a starting point.  Perhaps some form of monthly report from the checking team.

There would be a problem with controlling the performance of RMG checkers and providing a consistent approach whilst using a subjective checking process.  

The information that would be most relevant and indeed interesting to SPMRs with regard to MS performance to be published in Branch Focus would relate to the network as a whole.   Perhaps the number of branches in each category.   Passing a BF round the office showing that your branch is under performing should motivate at least some branches to improve their performance and of course the odd report on a contract termination as a result of wilful neglect would be ‘inspirational’! 

Then there is the question of payment.   I cannot imagine there is one SPMR out there who does not feel that given the amount of extra work involved in mail segregation these days – particularly for handling mail items not processed through HOL – an additional payment is required.  I leave that one to George and his team but frankly without that POL remain exposed to the threat of industrial action.    A compromise should be found – just don’t call it an ‘incentive’ again please.    Such a payment could be removed from ‘Wilful Neglect’ offices.

In conclusion

I acknowledge that I do not have all the information I would require to come up with a complete solution and therefore some of my comments and deductions may be seen as naive.   However, I think I offer a simple yet cost effective and pragmatic solution to a problem that if tackled any other way would be impossible to solve in a way that was both viable and feasible.     It should be relatively quick to implement and I feel that it would and should meet with with universal approval from the SPMR community.

Hope this helps

Cheers, Tim

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