The Uses of History

August 4th

As noted in an earlier post, in 2011, the U.S. Postal Service faces certain bankruptcy if the Congress does not act to modify the retiree health benefits payment required by the 2006 postal reform law.  Some might find it perverse to imagine that a strategic plan of more than a decade ago could be seen as a positive contribution when there a crisis today.

Yet a review of the 1997 strategic plan shows interestingly that the problems that are creating the crisis today were anticipated years ago.  The plans forecast that mail volume would decline and there was an imperative to rethink the nature of the mission of the agency and the means with which it delivers service.

In the introduction to the 1997 five-year strategic plan the Postal Service presented a vision of the future the follows.

As certain and clear as this path is, the future is not. Ten years from now, this same environment may be transformed by technologies in their infancies today. Ten years from now, the United States Postal Service mission responsibilities may be met only by a new understanding of universal service, access, and how best to deliver them. A decade from today, the Postal Service may have embraced technologies and systems as dramatically different as jet airplanes and robotic package sorters would have seemed to the 19th-century letter carrier.

Because this fiveyear plan is a living document, conceived to be flexible and adaptive to such environmental shifts, these challenges and external factors will be examined, weighed and where appropriate — addressed in the years ahead. Ultimately, the philosophy underlying this plan, these goals, and their strategies is to create unique customer value as the Postal Service grows, improves and strengthens its financial foundation. This is a philosophy that embraces change. Because, in change, there will be opportunity for the United States Postal Service to serve its customers better.

Ultimately, government leaders and for that matter, leaders in every sector, are necessarily limited in their capacity to reshape markets, to alter macro economic trends or to change the nature of their agency missions.  Leaders cannot anticipate that their actions will be judged failures if their plans are undercut by massive societal and market shifts.

In coming years there will’s most certainly be frustration with the need to realign government service and to downsize its presence.  Yet, seeing in a larger context, the requirement to publish a formal strategic plan offers an opportunity for proactive leaders to create markers, waypoints on a journey long journey of continuous improvement.

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