Business

Smart Postal Service Move

The Postal Service has arranged to do Sunday deliveries for Amazon. This strikes me as a brilliant move for both parties, in particular for the USPS in gaining revenue both for that service, and by gaining overall volume by association. It strikes me that it will work best if they offer the service to others as well.

I don’t know the exact logistics of the USPS, but I know that people work behind the scenes, transporting and processing mail of various types, seven days a week. Since it is essentially an enhancement to overnight service, that’s the part of the operation that matters.

At FedEx Ground and Home, adding this would make less sense. First, those aren’t marketed as overnight/express services, for all they can be remarkably speedy. Second, while there exists no possibility of union quibbles, it would take some doing to persuade independent route owners to commit to an extra day. For that matter, two days, since both Home and Ground – and this would by definition be Home – only deliver five days per week. You couldn’t just commandeer their vans, and you’d need part time drivers. Third, to expand days of service would require the entire operation to run extra days. It’d be crazy. But this isn’t the direct competition, anyway.

I know less about the operations of FedEx Express, or the equivalent services of UPS. The USPS commitment impresses me in part because I can see the challenges involved with adding that day, with filtering out those specific packages, delivering those alone, when behind the scenes it might be normal routing of all the packages to distribution centers/terminals, or local post offices. I love these kinds of logistics.

RIP Wayne Hurlbert

It was with great sadness that I learned of the recent death of blogger Wayne Hurlbert, who suffered a massive heart attack while at his computer, waiting to start an episode of Blog Talk Radio. Wayne was a long time blogger on business, blogging for business, business books, and other topics. While it was not the only impetus, this was one of the factors influencing me to take on a revival and redirection of this fallow blog.

Messy and Fluffy

Rob May has possibly his best post yet, which rang a huge bell with me, on both business and personal levels. Not surprised, mind you, just that it’s cool to see someone come out and say it, reminding me of what I have observed to some degree.

On the personal side, in going through old posts to find milestones for my kids, for school paperwork, it struck me – and hard – that I was reading posts that made our life sound idyllic, as in some ways it was in, say, 2005, while in the background I was angry, frustrated, there were problems, and much wasn’t or couldn’t be said. Not to rehash personal problems in a post otherwise unrelated, but as a top of my mind example of how life for us may not be how others see it, however much we do or don’t obfuscate the realities. Naturally it’s enhanced by obfuscating the reality, also known as marketing, but people can see what they want or expect to see, even without encouragement.

Mostly, though, we encourage. “There is hype, and there is substance, and the two are rarely in sync.” Hype. Marketing. PR. Personal glorification. Sharing only the good news. It happens in the workplace, which is where I first realized such a thing existed.

When I worked for Christy’s Markets, floating from store to store for a week at a time to cover manager and assistant manager vacations during the summer, there was a girl in one store who was almost legendarily awesome. She was the best. Nobody knew as much or did as much as she did. Everyone knew it!

Somehow I didn’t see it, myself, but man, everyone said so. I had encountered someone who was her own personal PR engine, making sure everyone knew she was great. She was adequate. Or maybe not, considering that she was fired a few months later. Fluff and nonsense can only do so much if the substance slips or if you do something genuinely wrong.

I was in awe of that self-promotional ability, which I have yet to master. I managed a touch of it when I worked in tech support, but there was also substance there. All I had to do was use the types of self-promotion the company was fond of toward the end of being promoted, and it worked. Trouble is, hype can never sleep.

Which brings me to business and the current day and my own foibles. I am probably better at certain technical things than almost anyone, more of a natural, and yet I was unable to get a job and have trouble drumming up work as a self-employed person. I not only don’t hype or market myself well, am not only prone to excess honesty about my own limits, but also tend to have too much self-doubt.

You cannot have self-doubt and show it. The world, the prospective customers or employers, the prospective dates, to get personal, must see the self-assured, all is rosy perspective, even to the point it might sound absurd to you, living the reality.

I know this. I do! And yet… ugh… I Just Can’t Do It. And I can’t do it on behalf of “let me support your computer usage” or “let me manage your site” yet, no matter how good I am. Which raises havoc with pricing, too. I suspect it might help if I were part of an organization beyond just myself, looking to do work myself. It might feel more natural to build a mythos.

Down with imposter syndrome! Fake it ’til you make it! Yeah. Something like that… just need to internalize it.

Toil and Trouble

My first reason for blogging this was going to be my exclamation part of the way through: “I didn’t know Hallmark owned Crayola!

Then I got to the part where Zubbles were mentioned, which clarified my confusion. When I saw that colored bubbles were a new product and by Crayola and had issues, I remembered reading about the invention of Zubbles, what a great story it was, and realizing I had never seen them. At first I assumed that the Crayola product was the one I’d read about way back.

Clearly not, given the differences in reaction, funding, marketing, distribution power, and functionality. It made me want to track down some Zubbles for the kids. Or maybe the Crayola version, to be used outside and in clothes that are expendable.

Or perhaps it’s time simply to break out the standard bubbles, since it’s a beautiful 54 degree day and the kids have opted not to go outside…

Crazy Dream

I just remembered that earlier I dreamed that the owner of the law firm that was my company’s main client scheduled a meeting with me to discuss whether it would be viable to have me take back over their IT support, as he’d become unhappy with the company that replaced me.

That’d never happen. He’d more likely go with yet another outfit, but the one he has is such a local and relatively major one, I’m not sure who that might be. I get the impression that they’ve been made to expand their infrastructure and relicense their software more vigorously than they were used to, and were not thrilled at having to make a remotely major expenditure more frequently than their traditional ten years.

That’s how it appeared. They made a really huge IT expenditure circa 1995-1997, had issues, landed with us in 1998 to pick up the pieces, stopped spending money after 1998. In 2006 they had no choice but to start spending money again, being already years out of date, and compensating by overspending on duct tape and baling wire. In 2007 they spent comparably to what they had in that initial burst, and that involved my replacement with a larger IT services firm. I long assumed that it would take someone else to sell them, since they wouldn’t upgrade as needed at my behest, but then were unhappy things took so much effort. Ironically, they spent like there was no tomorrow, then went onto a more or less fixed price contract that was for approximately the amount they averaged paying me, but that their big burst of spending had made possible to handle inexpensively.

What a racket! Get the customer to spend the money needed to make the fixed price support contract profitable. Plus have fine print so some of the worst possible incidents that could get out of control are not under the fixed price. Why didn’t I think of that! I mean, besides that the client would never have agreed to spend, say, 150 grand on new stuff if I’d proposed it. But then the client also turned down the opportunity for a fixed monthly rate, too, then provoked situations where the charge for the month could swing dramatically.

More on the Merger Plus Wireless News Generally

Fear the merger? Don’t fear the merger? Mileage varies!

Maybe everybody loses and it’s unthinkable, or maybe the industry overall is so vibrant there’s no need to block it (which we all know has no bearing on whether or not it actually gets blocked).

Perhaps the carriers ought to work on the problem of cell reception worsening, focus on service offering innovations that seem cool, or concentrate on technological solutions to the expense and regulatory hurdles associated with building up capacity with traditional methods in the face of NIMBY. All NIMBY were the suburbanites, and ye cell users outraged…

I still don’t like it, despite seeing some business and regulatory logic to it. It ought to be an interesting next several weeks trying to figure out who will be least evil and most useful as I try to work out my own phone decisions.

Yuck! T-Mobile Swallowed By AT&T

Subject to regulatory approval, of course.

I have T-Mobile, and have been known to complain, but that has more to do with having a horrible phone over the past two years. An alleged “BlackBerry,” which sensibly is no longer made, on which the screen cracked about a month after I received it, with weak ability to get signal even where it should, now on death’s door, begging to be replaced. Thing is, I am annoyed with Verizon over my home service, and that makes me less inclined to go with them. AT&T is the evil also-ran with the horrible reputation, overloaded with iPhone users, though they seemed to handle the crunch unexpectedly well. The whole phone thing is the subject of an entirely different post I haven’t written yet. This complicates things, even with it being a year until it’s likely to be completed.

The sad thing is, after learning recently about T-Mobile having become the leader in building up their network and jumping ahead of others, and in offering good deals on plans, I sort of predicted that they were a likely takeover target. Better if they and one or more of the smaller players had merged, though. A shame the technology in use is closest to matching that of AT&T.

This article wasn’t too amused with the prospect.

T-Mobile USA has information for customers, which is an excellent move on their part.

Deutsche Telekom, owner of T-Mobile USA, has a press release of interest. They will become the single largest shareholder of AT&T, 8%, on top of getting an infusion of cash. It’s a pretty winning deal from the perspective of the companies involved.

Customers? Depends, but I’m skeptical.

Book Writing Question

I’ve had a book idea in mind for a few years, but in part due to the Kindle and 99 cent success stories am newly excited about getting around to it. Thing is, while a business book, it’s true and autobiographical. How much need I change the names to protect the, well, sometimes innocent? Including my own, such as using a pen name?

I am most concerned about naming clients, which would not be necessary to the story and lessons it will convey, but also concerned about naming partners, who are also friends, which is one of the lessons to be detailed. Yeah, I think I’ve answered my own question, but still…

Missing the Point

I work part time for a pretty large company. I’ve been there almost two and a half years, which is forever in terms of their retention, if hardly the longest in my location. It’s a bit like human mortality, in which infant mortality drags the average down, but if you make it past the early days, you’ll probably last a while.

They have two big concerns: retention and safety. They like people to stay as long as possible, because you get better at the work and can be more effective, more than outweighing the higher pay. On the other hand, the last pay increase you ever get as a part-timer is at the three year mark. Raises a refront-loaded at rapid intervals, then annual, then end. I’m not sure anyone there knows the term, at least at my location, but retention affects institutional knowledge, which has a meta effect on how well operations run.

They also prefer people not to get hurt, which makes sense from both fiscal and humanitarian perspectives. Retention even factors in, as you presumably work more safely as well as efficiently. It costs money. It costs efficiency. It makes life harder for the people who aren’t injured and have to cover the load.

If there have been no injuries in the previous month that required seeing a doctor, we get pizza. Mind you, the shift starts between 2:30 and 4:00 AM, depending on expected volume, largely but not entirely a seasonal thing. There are no pizza places open at 2 in the morning, unless you count a nearby convenience store that happens to offer a limited selection of pizza. So when we get pizza, it is cold, having been picked up by the manager on his way to work late the night before. The pizza is extraordinarily popular, though it works better if we are told the day before we are getting it that day and can eat accordingly in anticipation. If there is one problem, it’s that they get not quite enough of it.

One time, months ago, a day manager was covering and ran to McDonald’s instead, so we each got a double cheeseburger and fries. It was fresh and warm, but it wasn’t pizza, but she was filling in and meant well, and we at least were sitting down for a meeting before work proper started, making it easy to eat. Another problem with McDonald’s, to me, is ketchup. I always put extra ketchup on a burger, since they don’t come with enough, and use it on my fries. There was none.

We have a new manager, and I don’t believe we have had pizza since she started. We knew we’d finally made an injury-free month again, and would be getting pizza soon, but nobody warned us what day. Usually it’s a Wednesday, and they let us know on Tuesday (we work Tuesday through Saturday). Saturday morning we walked in to find bags of McDonald’s waiting for us. The fries were cold and soggy. The burgers were thinking about still being warm. Maybe.. Not sure when the manager got the food, but it clearly was no time close to when we started our shift, even if it wasn’t on her way there at 11 PM or midnight.

Missed the point.

It felt like the manager did it as an obligatory thing she just had to do and didn’t care about. It felt like she went for the option and timing that was convenient for her. It made employees make fun of her behind her back (or in full view, going entirely over her head) even more than usual.

After maybe a year of monthly meetings with a few employees to talk about retention, what makes those who stay do so and what would make people inclined to stay longer, there was a major thing that came of it, company-wide. Benefits for part-time people. Starting this year, if you had worked enough hours – basically a year worth – you could opt into any or all of a reasonably decent medical, dental and vision plan at very low cost as these things go. Later in the year there will be vacation days and holiday pay. That’s a sensible, direct, and surprising thing to have done to encourage retention.

There was also a minor thing.

Apart from it simply being a hard job at crazy hours, sometimes being held or kept by people only because they need something until they find a real job in this economy, or because their other job isn’t a real job either, the biggest reason people choose to leave is abrasive managers. The guy who runs the overall facility used to sometimes come in during our shift and irritate people so much they’d quit. He learned from that and improved dramatically. There is a part time manager who can be similar, but who has also improved. I think highly of her, yet if I’d had the wherewithal to do so, I’d have quit due to her. Nobody wants to say this in the retention meetings. They hovered around it when the meetings were run by the old manager, widely respected and not a retention killer himself. Now that the new manager is even worse than the part-time manager at being imperious, abrasive or otherwise off-putting, and she runs the retention meetings, it really doesn’t get said. The meetings are kind of strained and uncomfortable, not aided by the manager seeming not to have ever run meetings before.

So what has kept coming up, over and over, is coffee.

As in, free or really cheap coffee for the employees as a benefit. Traditional at some companies or in some industries.

Well, they’d tried having a coffeemaker a few years ago, but apparently one employee would steal all the sugar packets or such, and it was a mess. So there was discussion of getting a vending machine for it instead.

And they did. With all kinds of fancified coffee options, all at a dollar a cup. I saw it and thought it seemed too expensive. Apparently so did other people, and I haven’t seen anyone buy any yet. Oops.

Missing the point, they put in a coffee machine at full price, using the water hookup that used to go to a cold and hot water dispenser that allowed people to bring in and make instant cocoa. Appropriately, near the bathrooms, as that’s another factor, at least for me.

You see, coffee is a diuretic.

My wanted-to-quit fight with the part time manager was over going to the bathroom, using my judgment to run in, from close by, while everything had come to a stop for a minute or so. What made me so mad was I’d just been thinking that retention shouldn’t be a problem, because they were treating us increasingly professionally, so we could use our judgment in many situations like that. That’s the real answer to the retention issue: learning to trust your employees (and which ones you can trust, and how far) and treat them with some professionalism.

Yes, we are lucky to be allowed to go to the bathroom at all… and they gave us a coffee machine? That nobody will have time to use… or to relieve themselves from? Which brings it back to the coffee suggestion being half-joking on the part of the employees who kept making it, and the sweet spot for it actually going over being free or very cheap.

The company missed the point of the “benefit” entirely. And in a way the safety pizza is a benefit, too, as well as an incentive unrelated to retention, so it’s a case of missing related points.