Archive for November, 2013

The USPS: An Early Contender for the 2013 Ebenezer Scrooge Award

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

At a time when retailers around the U.S. are bemoaning the shortened Christmas buying season and holding their breaths to see its impact on their 2013 profitability, there is one vendor that apparently is doing just fine. In fact, while other merchants are making it easier for customers to shop by staying open more hours and augmenting their sales staffs with seasonal workers, this one has decided to CUT its normal business day by 2.5 hours. As of December 7th, it will be open from 8:30 a.m. till 5 p.m. Monday through Friday – and closed on Saturday and Sunday.

Who is this retailer? My local branch of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Yes, beginning two and a half weeks before Christmas, during the busiest mailing/shipping season of the entire year, the USPS is making it harder for customers to do business with it. Today I noticed that this branch has two kiosks that allow some customers to purchase stamps and send small packages. Unfortunately they are located in the part of the lobby that is locked during non-business hours. Honestly, what other business in the world deliberately throws obstacles in front of customers who want to use its services?

Could the fact that the USPS agreed to provide Sunday delivery for have anything to do with its decision to cut the branch’s hours of operations by 23% beginning the first Saturday in December? Based on my understanding of what I’ve read about that deal, its executives said they could take on Amazon’s business without incurring additional labor costs. So maybe they decided to cut branch employees’ hours during the week and have them deliver packages for Amazon on Sundays instead. I have to say I’m skeptical: surely the union contract has something to say about how much more employees must be paid when they work on Sunday rather than during the regular work week.

For the above reasons, the USPS gets my vote as the organization that best exemplifies the miserly spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge this year. Although I will allow for the possibility that the USPS decision-maker will go through a Scrooge-like transformation and reverse this anti-customer service choice, I’m not holding my breath. I suggest you don’t either. Ship FedEx.

©2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions November 20, 2013

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013


Alignment solution: To assess the likelihood that your employees’ efforts are fully aligned with the organization’s goals, ask them, “What’s your job?”

If you ask your employees, “What’s your job?,” what percentage of them would respond by listing the tasks or functions they perform? What percentage would tell you how their efforts contribute to achieving the organization’s mission or goals?

And why should you care about how they answer?

An organization cannot optimize its performance unless all of its people, processes, systems, and programs are aligned with its mission and goals. Thus the difference between a workforce with a task-oriented view of its efforts and one whose perspective is results-oriented can have a dramatic impact on organizational success. My experience as a FedEx employee during the company’s early years was that no matter what tasks or functions we performed individually, we viewed our collective job as ensuring that every package was delivered “absolutely, positively overnight.” The company’s success speaks to the effectiveness of alignment between the organization’s mission and employees’ perspectives of how their work supports it.

The first step in ensuring alignment throughout your organization is to assess how your employees view their work. Asking staff at all levels, “What’s your job?” is an easy, quick way to determine where their attention is right now so you can decide whether, or to what extent, you need to re-direct it to the desired end results.

To see examples of the striking differences between task-oriented and results-oriented perspectives, and to learn six steps you can take to improve your organization’s performance dramatically by changing your employees’ perceptions about their work, take a look at our article The Transforming Power of Asking, “What’s Your Job?”

To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at

Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

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© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

19 Lessons from the Affordable Care Act’s Roll-out

Monday, November 18th, 2013

There seems to be widespread consensus that the Obama administration’s roll-out of its signature Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been a nightmare. Although one may say that “hindsight is always 20/20,” the fact is that this debacle could have been avoided – or at least mitigated significantly. Simply stated, it seems that the people in charge failed to think through this enormous undertaking.

Organizations cannot optimize their performance unless they execute their projects successfully. Toward that end, here are nineteen lessons that leaders can learn from the ACA’s experience and apply to the implementation of virtually any large project:

    1. Create a clear “big picture” of the desired outcome, including users’ expectations of what it will do. Work backwards from that picture.

    2. In advance, gather ALL the people with relevant knowledge and expertise and have them collectively think through what it will take to develop and implement the project successfully. Don’t wait till things fall apart before you go back to ask the experts for their advice.

    3. Insist that ALL players/stakeholders be actively engaged and that everyone’s voice is heard.

    4. Make sure the end result is user-friendly by hiring “interpreters” who can speak the language of both the end users and the experts who are charged with creating the system or process.

    5. Conduct a pilot program with a small sample of the end users. This allows you to get valuable feedback, work out the bugs, and maximize your resources.

    6. Communicate truthfully, fully, and in a timely manner to clients and stakeholders before, during, and after implementation.

    7. Ensure the decision-makers are fully informed about short- and long-term consequences of the project as well as potential pitfalls.

    8. Test the system before rolling it out. Address the deficiencies and re-test. Do not go “live” until the system truly is ready for its debut.

    9. Have one or more experts or nay-sayers play the devil’s advocate role to poke holes in the implementation process.

    10. Create an implementation plan (vs. an action plan).

    11. Assign responsibility and create meaningful, timely consequences for non-performance.

    12. Set realistic timelines for progress and completion. Monitor them continuously and investigate promptly if they are not met.

    13. In the face of evidence that the implementation is not on track, stop and address the problems; do not insist on moving forward anyway.

    14. Make the roll-out process transparent to all stakeholders.

    15. Justify the costs at all stages of the project, beginning with the initial estimates and including any bid amounts. Closely scrutinize cost over-runs as they occur and take immediate action to stop or mitigate them.

    16. Make sure the costs are realistic: not extremely high or low.

    17. If you use a bid process, weigh expertise more heavily than cost. The lowest bidder is not necessarily the best choice.

    18. Don’t tell the experts how they must do the work. Tell them what outcome you need and let them determine the best way to achieve it.

    19. Put the right person in every job.

The above lessons can save you time, energy, and significant resources, not to mention keep your organization’s reputation intact. Many of them cost nothing to implement; others are likely to have a large ROI (return on investment). Why not apply them when developing your next large project?

© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions Newsletter

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. It focuses not just on WHAT to do to improve performance, but offers tips on HOW to move things forward. You may read it here on my blog, or you may click here to subscribe. If you’ve got a specific issue you’d like me to address, let me know! I’m open to suggestions.

Alignment Solutions November 6, 2013

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013


Alignment solution: For any project or initiative, agree on a clear desired outcome before you consider the methodology and inputs.

What are the benefits of beginning a project with the end in mind?

  • Compelling results: employees and stakeholders become inspired when they focus on the desired outcomes, and they quickly see the value the organization provides.
  • More efficient use of resources: with a clear, common picture in mind there is less wasted effort and more flexibility.
  • More rapid achievement of the objective: people are more productive when they can connect with results rather than with tasks or methods.
  • Higher morale: when everyone is on the same page there is less conflict, confusion, and frustration.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make at all organizational levels is focusing on the means instead of on the end results. That is, they get so caught up in HOW they will do something that they often spend precious time debating over the merits of one methodology over another, forgetting entirely WHAT it is they want to accomplish. As a result, they get bogged down unnecessarily at the beginning of a project, which drags down the entire effort. Or they become so immersed in identifying why various methods will not work that they conclude the outcome is impossible to achieve, and they give up.

When you focus on results rather than on methodology or inputs, an important shift occurs: the questions about the project change, as do the answers. For example, instead of asking, “CAN we accomplish the desired goal?” – which leads people to look for reasons why they cannot do so – asking “HOW can we accomplish the desired goal?” causes people to look for ways they can be successful. They also can be more creative and flexible because they haven’t been tied to a particular methodology in advance.

The strategy development process provides a common example of how things go awry when the focus is on methodology. When people are more concerned with doing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis and fighting over terminology (e.g., whether goals have objectives or vice versa), the effort is doomed. To ensure success, articulate a clear picture of what the outcome will look like, then select the methods that are aligned with that result.

To learn what specific steps you can take to ensure everyone in your organization is focused on outcomes instead of on inputs, take a look at our article How to Set Your Organization Up for Success.

To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at

Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

Click here to Join Our Mailing List!

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© 2013 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.