This is a picture of my mailbox:
As you can see, is resting on the ground next to the post. Two weeks ago I heard a crash in the middle of the afternoon and came outside to find the mailbox like this. For a few days, our mailman delivered the mail in the box. And then the mail stopped.
[Side note: I ordered a new mailbox and post a week ago, it came, but it’s plastic, so it’s going back.]
I didn’t really notice that the mail had stopped because I don’t care much about the mail, it’s just a bunch of bills and junk mail (that’s from a Seinfeld bit.) But my husband cares deeply about getting his mail. He came back from a trip on Monday and realized we weren’t getting our mail. Yesterday he went to our local post office and asked the clerk why our mailing isn’t being delivered. She said he had to speak to the postmaster. Here is their conversation:
Husband: It seems our mail has stopped being delivered.
Postmaster: That’s right.
Husband: Can you tell me why?
Postmaster: Sure. Delivering your mail is a safety hazard.
Husband: How exactly is it a safety hazard?
Postmaster: Bending down and delivering your mail is a safety hazard. It won’t be delivered again until you get a new mailbox.
Husband: Why didn’t you tell us?
Postmaster: I didn’t have a telephone number for you.
[Side note: Apparently looking in the phone book the Postal Service continues to distribute was too much trouble.}
Husband: Well, then, couldn’t you put a note in the mailbox telling us that?
Postmaster: It’s a safety hazard.
According to the official USPS regulations I found online regarding the size and location of residential mail boxes, “Subject to state laws and regulations, a curbside mailbox must be placed to allow safe and convenient delivery by carriers without leaving their vehicles. The box must be on the right-hand side of the road in the direction of travel of the carriers on any new rural route or highway contract route, in all cases where traffic conditions are dangerous for the carriers to drive to the left to reach the box, or where their doing so would violate traffic laws and regulations.”
Hmm, is bending down a bit to delivery the mail really a safety hazard? I admit it might less than ideal for our mailman, and perhaps I should have been more sensitive to his hardship. But, seriously, a safety hazard?
I have been writing about matterness lately. It is the sweet spot between people and organization; it is where the desire and talents of individuals meet the needs and interests of organizations. This is a perfect example of an organization that clearly doesn’t give a hoot about matterness. Of course, we all know they never have, that’s why they are the punchline of so many jokes. However, one would think they might have made a few changes in the last few decades to rectify that in light of the competition. In addition, we live in a very small village, the job of the local postmaster doesn’t seem so overwhelming that making one phone call would be unreasonable to expect. This lack of matterness is not only the absurdity of the situation, but the utter powerlessness to be heard. I suppose we could appeal to the next postmaster up the chain, but that certainly doesn’t seem likely to end in a different outcome.
Trying to make the USPS care about its customers is an impossible task. The culture of this slow moving, antiquated, dying institution is constitutionally (pun intended) opposed to caring about customers. What they don’t understand, what so many organizations don’t understand, is that the outrage of matterness is extraordinarily sticky. This is the super glue of sticky stories because it is so absurd. This is the kind of iconic story that will be told and retold many times over (which is in part why I shared it here with you, please retell this story!)
More important than trying to make the USPS fortress change, this is also a cautionary tale for all organizations. Making your constituents feel like they don’t matter is infuriating, demoralizing and demeaning. Organizations measure their internal processes and external outcomes. Are we efficient? Are we productive? Are we meeting our goals of selling our products, or serving our people, or changing the world? Every organization needs to add a new question to the mix, “Do you feel like you matter to us?” Only in that way will the power of matterness begin to work for organizations and not against them.