What if you learned that your outgoing pieces will jump 22,000 per day or per month? What if you faced a 15% budget cut that forced you to lay off two employees yet continue to meet the same needs with fewer resources? How are you responding to the mail-security issues following terrorist activities within our borders? It doesn't matter whether we are discussing inbound mail for an internal mailroom or someone shipping two million pieces for a direct-mail campaign, managing the constant flux of technology is a challenge for every manager. Do we purchase new equipment and services and scrap the old, or do we change how we're utilizing the resources we already have? The answers are as individual as the people seeking them, and every manager can find answers by exercising strategic decision-making skills in order to protect the safety and stability of his organization.


Education regarding the purchase, implementation and utilization of technology is often overlooked, yet knowing more about it is where you'll find the solutions to many of today's mail-management dilemmas. Most of us admit that we do what we do the way we do it based on how our predecessors did things, or we respond to the demands of the situations we encounter. When we do make decisions based on our own research, we find discomfort in secretly admitting to ourselves that we didn't have as much time to research an area as we would have liked. As management, we try to do the best things for our organizations, and just as a plumber needs a pipe wrench and a tailor needs a sewing machine, we need "mental tools" a mind shift and decision-making tools to accomplish the tasks and objectives that sit on our plates.


Mind Shift

In order to effect change, we must first make changes in our minds. We recognize a problem, become dissatisfied with it and want to make the change. Even though we intend to solve the problem, if we begin at the wrong starting point or without an accurate assessment of the problem, we head down a path that veers away from a solution, causing waste in time, energy and money. A common misconception about problem solving is avoided by understanding the simple 80/20 Rule. The premise is 80% of the success of a firm and the employees within the firm is based on the tools and systems created by leadership or management of the firm. The 20% represents the employees and how the same investment in anything but systems will give you a much smaller return.


The 80/20 Rule requires a mind shift from solutions that are employee focused to solutions that are rooted in systems, procedures and tools. Place 80% of your time, energy and money on the systems, procedures and tools that enable your employees to successfully service your customers. This means spending time reviewing and fixing overall areas of concern so that errors, bottlenecks and breakdowns do not occur by design. Then there is no need to wait for human decision making, increasing the odds of management not achieving the results needed to move forward. Expend the remaining 20% of resources directly on the employee. Once the structure is in place, input the individual or team to make it function. A car amplifies the speed with which a person may travel. Eliminate the car, and the individual will not hit a constant speed of 65 mph even if he receives the best motivational coaching. Now, imagine that your talented employees show up to work only to find that all your equipment is gone! Would your personnel still be able to sort or ship the packages in queue? The key ingredient to employee empowerment and team building is the understanding that you're only as good as the tools with which you and your staff have to work. Turn off the electricity and you're completely down try sorting by hand or communicating with others outside your office walls without the technology that you currently use.


As a member of the management team, it's your responsibility to supply your people with the correct tools, structure and systems needed to succeed. It's up to you to think things through. Don't expect your employees to be motivated to do more just because you put up an incentive program or pat them on the back. Also, don't penalize them if they're unable to problem solve as well as you can; you should know more about the organization than they do. However, you can utilize their input to make better decisions. Start by developing the framework for them to perform at optimal levels. Then, plug that structure into the overall system and teach your people how to do their jobs right. Many managers try to get a consensus on change or to "group think" their way to productivity. Ask yourself, "What is my role? Why was I chosen to act in this capacity?" Once you understand this concept, you'll never see your role the same way again.


Decision-making Tools

Look at how you allocate time. Remember, management exists in the future! You should be spending the majority of your time planning and developing for tomorrow. If you do this, you will spend less time putting out the fires of today. That's because proper planning eliminates the causes of unnecessary problems which can rob the management team and the whole organization of progress. If you find yourself handling mail, then you aren't managing. If you're stomping out crises day after day, then you aren't managing. Yet your organization needs leadership, even when you can't find the time to lead and manage. Combining two tools from the marketing discipline will work wonders.


The first tool is called the Funnel Theory, developed by Steven C. Wheelwright and Kim B. Clark. Start with a big funnel. Traditionally, problem-solving ideas are put into the large end. When the few ideas are reviewed, one idea is chosen as the winning solution. (See Figure 1, next page) The best managers expand the scope of the mouth so that more ideas/solutions are placed up for review in the earliest stages. Look at these areas when searching for ideas: customer needs, vendor reviews, industry publications, customer-service staffing needs, consultants, existing users of your products/services, sales force needs, Internet, employee needs, association advice and trade show exhibits. Gather as many options as possible. ·


Step two is to modify the funnel and not to select one idea but to narrow down the selection of ideas to a few that offer the most prospects (See Figure 2). Robert Cooper created a "Gate" system for his solution to marketing that is a dual process. First, it forces management to make ground rules for what passes through to the next step while at the same time narrowing the range of options. An example might be that two of the Gates would be a $35,000 price-tag limit and a capacity to handle 23,000 pieces per month. All gates are determined before the selection, not during the process. Desirable ideas move through the funnel, in the phase, more in-depth research is conducted. Most management will say it already does this step, remember that more ideas were first introduced and the breath of research should be more structured. A day or a week spent now may save years of misery and expense, and the name of the game is probability. If Coke came up with only one new product out of all the ideas it implements, it could make billions over the next decade. If managers could increase their success rates just a few percentage points, it could mean a windfall in years to come. Too often, we are so interested in getting a solution that we don't slow down enough to make the best decision.


Another method for the second analysis phase is to rank the importance of specific characteristics on a scale from one to 10, and then weigh each option to give an overall weighted total. In this example, Vendor A would have been selected:


This is also the point at which you get quotes on transportation, electrical needs or other essential costs. For example, if you need a compressor to run a piece of equipment, look into the extras that come along with it such as mufflers to quiet the noise and electrical wires that require the services of an electrician, financing variables, history with the firm, concessions and pricing. Often, saving on one end results in additional costs on the other, so don't leave anything out.


To illustrate our point, let's look at two CEOs from two different firms who faced purchasing decisions. CEO #1 assigned the purchasing task to his IT department. The CEO expected that after a fact-finding mission, his IT manager would end up selecting the vendor with the most promising software solution to meet internal, operational and customer needs. (We discovered later that the IT manager put only three firms on his original list.) An initial payment of $42,000 and six months later, the CEO had no results. After much discussion, the CEO's main concern was not the extras but the speed. We moved IT back to its original role, upgraded the RAM on all the machines, upgraded the server's hard drive and reinstalled the old software. The result was a fast-running solution that fit the needs of the firm for less than $5,000. If the CEO and the IT department had worked together, or at least followed this simple formula, there would have been 30 vendors with proposal submissions in which to start choosing the right vendor.


CEO #2 had the same task of auto-mating the firm. Senior management was kept in the loop of the selection process, and it used the Funnel Concept. A $55,000 application was purchased to tie accounting to production and to fill specific needs known only by senior management. The result was the elimination of six positions over the course of six months, a gain of more structure and a return on investment in less than three months. The error rate in the firm diminished drastically, inventory personnel eliminated all non-moving items for cash and the entire process of information was streamlined.


Although it may seem like a lot of work, think about how expensive it is to make a poor decision. Even if you end up with the same solution with or without these simple tools, you now know that your firm is more prepared to bear the costs, meet human labor needs and possess the operational capacity to work in synchronization with your decision. The best choices enable organizations to run more smoothly, enhance the customer experience, reduce customer and employee turnover, improve morale and boost the bottom line. By adding the right "mental tools" to your mind's toolbox, you too can enjoy the benefits that come with making the right purchasing decisions.


David A. Goldsmith is the co-founder of the Goldsmith Organization LLC and MetaMatrix Consulting Group Inc. For more information, visit www.metamatrixconsulting.com.