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What Don’t You Understand?
By Brian J. Wagner
“If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.” —Haruki Murakami
“Misunderstanding—A ‘Missed Understanding’ because of the human preference to Assumption over Clarification.” —Drishti Bablani
After reading my column this month, I hope you understand the message I am trying to convey. Otherwise a misunderstanding has occurred. Here's the scoop!
As many of us probably have stated sometime during our postal careers, the Postal Service is in the communications business. But, somehow, the agency fails at times to properly and clearly communicate its mission, business strategies, policies and instructions to EAS employees in a way that can be easily understood and further shared with those they manage and supervise. What we do know is that such postal communication often can be misunderstood by those on the receiving end, including EAS employees.
Therefore, some in postal leadership have devised a unique way to protect themselves, but not protect the EAS employees they manage. Such leaders are requiring EAS employees to sign a local document stating the EAS employee fully understands everything they read, including all postal policies; all instructions given them by their manager; and are responsible for the actions of those they manage or supervise, to name just a few.
What I find interesting is that some postal leaders, instead of leading, want subordinate EAS employees to sign an acknowledgment or confidentiality document stating they understand all that is expected of them. One such document that some EAS employees received and recently shared with NAPS reads:
“As a Manager of the United States Postal Service, I recognize that I hold a position of visibility, responsibility and trust. I understand that the following statements serve as a framework within which I may view and understand the degree to which managers, as individuals, are accountable for their personal decisions and actions and those of subordinates. These statements are not intended to be comprehensive regarding the details of each area, but, rather, to identify the basic areas and the nature of the responsibility associated with them for which management must always be accountable. A lack of personal knowledge of detailed procedures or other information about these areas does not reduce the accountability.”
Following this paragraph was a list of acknowledgments pertaining to EAS employees’ understanding of various postal policies, rules, regulations, confidentiality requirements, contractual agreements, laws, FLSA, OSHA, collection of postal funds, OIG reporting, ethical conduct and behavior, safeguarding, conflicts of interest and notifying appropriate authorities about significant changes in either performance or level of activity—again, to name just a few of the many they were being required by their manager to sign.
By signing this document, an EAS employee is stating they fully understood the litany of requirements in the document. Requiring EAS employees to sign this type of document is not postal leadership. It’s an “I gotcha” tactic that insults the intelligence of EAS employees. Furthermore, it projects a lack of trust of EAS employees and sets the tone for them to become less engaged or totally disengaged as postal employees.
It is evident that, especially as EAS employees, we all come from different backgrounds, diverse cultures, varying educational levels and generations. Although we all work for the same Postal Service, it does not mean we all have the same understanding of how the same postal message is received.
Even if a person signs a document acknowledging they understand what it says, that may not mean their understanding is the same as that of the person requiring them to sign the document. As Miles Davis said, “If you understood everything I said, you’d be me.”
The position of NAPS Headquarters is that members not sign these types of “acknowledgment” or “confidentiality” documents. Signing such documents is not a requirement of one’s postal employment and is redundant of the duties and responsibilities of the position the person was hired to do.
NAPS considers these documents similar to those of a “Letter of Concern” or “Letter of Information” that others in postal leadership have issued and required EAS employees to sign. Such documents are not worth the paper on which they are written because they cannot be appealed under Section 650 of the USPS Employee and Labor Relations Manual (ELM).
Again, NAPS does not encourage members to sign these types of acknowledgment documents or even annotate on them: “signed under protest” or “signed under threat of disciplinary action.” If you do not sign or initial the document or make any annotations on it, you avoid possible future manipulation of that respective document. Plus, if a member’s signature or even initials are not on the document, it is difficult for postal leadership to make a charge or accuse the member of having an understanding, acceptance or recognition of the respective document’s content.
Also, if any active NAPS member is being threatened with discipline for not signing this type of document, the member should file a grievance immediately on the grounds of harassment. The member may consider filing a formal complaint stipulating the postal leader violated the 1992 Joint Statement on Violence and Behavior in the Workplace (JSOV) memo for trying to bully the EAS employee into signing a docu-ment under duress.
Furthermore, if a member receives disciplinary action for not signing this type of “acknowledgment” document, then they and their NAPS representative should file an appeal under Section 650 of the ELM.
Postal leadership should stop wasting time trying to get a standard acknowledgment document of understanding signed by their subordinate EAS employees. Instead, they should take the time to review and implement the procedures in ELM 651.3, “Nondisciplinary Corrective Measures:”
“Accountable managers/supervisors are responsible for the direct day-to-day performance management of subordinates. The accountable manager/supervisor monitors subordinates’ performance and provides appropriate resources, coaching, and feedback to the subordinates. The manager/supervisor is responsible for leading the employee to a higher level of achievement. Performance improvement should be a shared concern and effort between manager and employee. Early dialogue and guidance are critical to achieving positive results and continuance of an effective manager/employee relationship.”
Early dialogue, coaching and mentoring are excellent ways for postal leaders to communicate to their EAS staff. This helps address any work- or job-related misunderstandings and provides further understanding of job expectations to ensure the employee is led to a higher level of achievement in their current EAS position.
This column may have gone longer than planned, but, as Luigina Sgarro once said, “There is no communication that is so simple that it cannot be misunderstood.” Furthermore, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Everyone hears only what he understands. Therefore, parties need to listen to one another.”
How best to accomplish this is to consider what Stephen Covey defines as the fifth habit in his bestselling book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” He said it’s critical to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Seeking real understanding affirms the other person and what they have to say. Therefore, let’s stop signing documents of superficial understanding and start signing onto a dialogue of real understanding of each other.
I hope you will sign on to my April ice-cream-flavor-of-the-month recommendation; it should be easily understood. It is not German, Dutch or midnight—just chocolate!