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Postal Service Delivers Innovative HR Strategy

October 22, 2000
Related Topics: Intranets/Extranets, Service, Featured Article
From the Pony Express to airmail, the United States Postal Service (USPS) hasfueled American innovation for centuries. Today, the second-largest civilianemployer in the country is using Web-based technology to surmount a surge in HRdemands.

Madolyn Wiley used to spend a good chunk of her workdays searching throughprinted manuals and handbooks. Now the HR specialist for USPS’s Arkansasdistrict simply logs on to an HR intranet for the tools she needs to processbenefits and compensation. As part of the team that built USPS’s PersonnelDesktop, Wiley has helped the federal agency make strides in computer-based HRsystems. "It’s the way to go," says Wiley, who has seen a lot ofchanges during the two decades she has been with USPS. "Every one of our HRpeople around the country has access to the system. We get the forms andinformation we need immediately."

From Chaos Into Order

It was not always so easy. Two and a half years ago, Wiley and three of hercolleagues were recruited from another project to embark on an ambitiousmission: to streamline benefits and compensation processing for 1,500 HRprofessionals who deal with more than 800,000 employees. The four team memberscame from different parts of the country to Washington, D.C., where they wereasked to create a Web-based system that would offer step-by-step benefits andcompensation processing. Under the guidance of John Mahoney, HRIS manager, DonnaPeak, formerly USPS compensation manager and now CFO, and Dixie Wiles, HRISinformation systems coordinator, the team joined forces with five Webprogrammers.

"People were out there with large workloads trying to administerbenefits by searching drawers full of files," explains Wiles. "Theywere going through manuals, looking for correct and current forms, and trying tofind current compensation information that could be in a notebook somewhere ortacked up on a wall. There were pieces of information scattered all over theplace...The challenges were distributing and accessing timely information, alongwith standardized, consistent, and accurate benefits- processing procedures byeach office."

As if that weren’t enough, HR support was shrinking. "In 1992 we had a40 percent cut in support staff, but not in workload," says Wiles. "Wehad a buyout situation where we lost a lot of veteran staff members. It was amajor knowledge drain that really hurt us. And it will continue; in the next oneto five years, 20 to 25 percent more of that staff will be eligible forretirement."

The project team was not daunted. They began to map out a system that wouldincorporate a huge number of federally regulated procedures into a navigablesite. They decided to put the site on the USPS HR intranet, which had alreadybeen active for two years. "Our benefits processing is complex,rules-intensive, and forms-driven," explains Wiles. "Because we areregulated under the Office of Personnel Management, there is little flexibilityto streamline the processes. We had a Web team for HR and had already done somework on workflows, so it seemed like the next logical step to build our owndesktop system."

The Clutter-Free Desktop

Four months later, the team proudly introduced the Personnel Desktop at anational USPS compensation conference. They kicked off the event with seminarsattended by more than 200 field people who would spread the word among the HRworkforce. "People were absolutely speechless," says Wiles. "Whatit did for them was amazing. They had information, forms, manuals, and links toother Web sites in an organized, easy-to-use system at their fingertips. Theycould bring in new employees and sit them at the computer to easily learn toprocess benefits."

The system features 52 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), complete withonline forms, documents, memos, letters, and links to other agency sites. Withinminutes, the system guides users through actions that previously could takehours. It not only makes HR tasks faster, but also cuts down on errors andpaperwork, while improving work-flow processes. It instantly became the second-most-used site on the USPS intranet. The system combats the agency’s declinein HR support. "It created a high-level knowledge-based system that willprovide a way to train our new HR professionals on benefits processing,"explains Wiles.

Calculators for compensation packages were also a big hit with fieldpersonnel. "We have 41 different payment schedules," says Wiles."The people in the field loved the fact that they had historical payschedules online. They use the site to go back to the old pay schedule when theyneed to adjust employees’ pay. Believe it or not, they used to have to callheadquarters compensation to seek that information." HR staff members nowuse the calculators to determine things such as promotions within the same ordifferent pay scales and changes to lower levels. They also use the benefit-costcalculator to determine different scenarios for life insurance, health benefits,and flexible spending accounts to see how those packages would affect apaycheck.

Free at Last

Yvonne Maguire, vice president of employee resource management, was a majorchampion of the project. "Early on I saw the long-range value of thePersonnel Desktop," she says. "I knew that this was another greatbusiness initiative that would benefit HR and, in turn, benefit the PostalService."

Back in Little Rock, Wiley is thrilled to see her colleagues reaping thebenefits of the site she helped to create. The first thing she notices when shegets to the office these days is her co-workers logging onto the intranet. They’renot hurling their manuals into the trash yet, but more and more tools of thetrade are on the computer. "At first I didn’t know what to expect when westarted the project," says Wiley. "I knew that a lot of things hadchanged over the years and we needed some help. Each one of us had things weused locally that we knew would be good for the whole country. Getting it to thewhole country was a different story."

Bruce Lederman, HR analyst for NY Metro area and also part of the team thatdeveloped the site, says the hard work paid off. "It wasn’t fun everyminute," he admits. "We argued a lot about how to do it. But we knewwhere we were going with it." He says the advantages of using technologyfor standardization are clear. It used to take months, even years, for a manualto be reprinted with updates. "At a moment’s notice, you can go in fromthe headquarters level and change the way a procedure is written."

That type of enthusiasm reverberates around the country. It is now a snap tokeep up, says Richard Domis, HR specialist for USPS Western New York district."One of the best things about the system is the updating," heexplains. "I’m able to view and adapt them rather than using a hard-copyreference that might not have been reprinted with updates. You used to get intoa cut-and-paste situation with your handbooks."

Lederman, who joined the Postal Service as a letter carrier 30 years ago,says the HR intranet is among many major strides in technology he’s seen overthe years. "Everything used to be manual," he says. "We wouldwalk around with index cards trying to keep track of things. Just to seeautomation and computerization is incredible, almost mind-boggling. The workrequires less and less people and less cost."

The Word is Spreading

The Postal Service has a long history of sharing its advances in such areasas transportation and automation. Now it is spreading the word about its HRtechnology. When Wiles presented the Personnel Desktop at IHRIM 2000 in Boston,she was surprised by the positive response. "We had a 4:30 p.m. timeslot atthe conference, and I thought no one would show," she says. "We endedup with a full crowd. We also have had inquiries from another federal agencyabout our system."

Development on the site continues. Since the Personnel Desktop made itsdebut, Wiles developed and implemented an interactive Web-response system. Thisallows clerks, mail-handlers, and letter carriers to apply for or, in PostalService parlance, "bid" on open positions within the system. It worksin conjunction with the interactive voice-response bidding system so that HRpeople do not need to enter manual bid cards for the 1.3 million bid entries peryear. "It’s a great project and exciting," adds Wiles. "It isthe first time all USPS employees have access to the intranet for selfservice."

Workforce, October 2000, Vol. 79,No. 10, pp. 116-119 -- Subscribenow!

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