Aug. 10 2006 01:02 PM

In Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare wrote, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." In his poetic fashion, Shakespeare was telling the audience that it was not the name or title that mattered; rather, it was the essence of the person (or thing) that was important.


While I find it difficult to criticize the world's greatest writer, I must disagree with him on this point. Names are important. What you call your operation is not some mere detail but an essential duty in your role as a manager.


Isn't our birth name important? It's normally the first thing we learn to spell as children. We make sure others spell it right and pronounce it correctly. If we have a nickname, we make sure people use that correctly as well. Watch what happens when you call someone "Rob," when they go by "Bob."


In the past, most managers in this industry were known as "mailroom managers." But you can't manage a room; you manage an operation. Thanks to many leaders in the industry, this term has begun to fall from use. For some, it's even considered pejorative or insulting. I still enjoy dropping in on conference sessions by Don Archer of Pitney Bowes as he discusses this point. Don won't say the word "mailroom," all that comes out of his mouth is, "mail rrrrrrrr, mail rrrrrrrr."


It's much more common today to hear of units called "Mail Services," "Corporate Mail Services" or "Mail and Distribution Services." The focus has correctly shifted from a room where the work takes place to the service the unit provides.


For many operations, providing mail services is only one aspect of their responsibilities. It's not uncommon for units to also handle printing and courier services. I've been part of one group that even distributed travel and  airline tickets. Sometimes, mail may not even be the most important function the unit performs.


A few organizations have produced some interesting names for their departments. At State Street Corporation, the unit handles mail, document services, receiving and transportation. As part of a company that is a leader in information systems, it chose the name "Document Technology and Delivery." It encompasses all of what they do, and it provides a great acronym DTD. Northeast Utilities in Connecticut focuses on the mission of its unit. Everything the department produces revolves around bills and supporting documents. So their production print and mail operation is properly called "Customer Billing Operations." Wells Fargo has several mail operations, and each has its own unique name. At that company, the name of the unit is tied to the larger division it supports. My friend, Jeff Jordan, is the "manager of Mail, Office and Proxy Services," and his counterpart across town is the "manager, Minneapolis Statement Services."


Creating a name for your department is a worthwhile exercise, and it's not something you should do on your own. Involve the very people who will be most impacted by the new name. Put together a team of your unit's managers, supervisors and employees. Start by conducting a brainstorming session. It's important that all ideas are accepted and no one is criticized. List all the mail services that your unit provides. For example inbound mail, interoffice mail, metering mail, etc. Be as specific as possible. Next, write down all the other duties photocopying, filing, office supplies, whatever. Look for the common threads and words shared by these responsibilities. "Service" is probably one of them and perhaps "customer" is, too. Circle or highlight these words in a different color marker.


Now it's time to put together a mission statement. A mission statement should be a brief sentence that clearly states what your unit strives to do on a daily basis. Don't use flowery language or catch phrases from some management book. Use clear, concise wording to develop a mission statement that is attainable and measurable. ·


At this point, your department's name is probably already jumping out at you. If at all possible, choose action words that get to the heart of the matter, for example, service or delivery. People who are reading the name should immediately understand what exactly the unit does. If your operation only handles mail for one aspect of the organization, include that name in the title. You could potentially choose something like, "Corporate Mail Operations" or "North Campus Mail Services."

Check to see what type of acronym is formed. You'll want to do this for two reasons. First, you don't want an accidental acronym that is insulting. Also, many companies use acronyms for most departments, so you don't want to choose one that is already used by another unit.


Once you've come up with the new name, you can start the exciting process of publicizing the change. Develop a campaign to notify everyone in the company of the new name. Work with the marketing and human resources departments to make sure the message gets to everyone. Include information on the different services your operation provides with contact numbers in all of your communications. Hold a "Mail Services Open House," inviting the rest of the company to tour your area and meet your employees. Have some fun.


You want to choose a name that proudly states what your unit does. Although it's the lifeblood of most companies, the mail department is not always held in the highest esteem. The anthrax scare helped many organizations become aware of their mail departments and the professionals that run them. Build upon this newfound respect and ensure your name reflects that.


Reinforce your role through the new identity you've developed. When you introduce yourself at meetings, clearly state the name of your department. When someone uses the old name, politely correct the person.


A rose is a rose is a rose, but a well-run mail operation is an important part of your company that deserves a name of its very own.


For more information, contact Mark at