Improving Service Delivery
Based on revenue, the United States Postal Service is the eleventh largest enterprise in the nation. As the second largest civilian employer in the US, the Postal Service employs nearly 770,000 people. Having established an accounting shared services center two years ago, among other things to facilitate the individual business units’ regular financial reporting requirements, a key problem emerged concerning staff’s ability to understand and use the Postal accounting systems. Hence training, to ensure that Accounting Help Desk agents, postmasters and other field personnel who perform financial transactions understand the end-to-end process for financial accounting, was crucial in improving service levels.
Some 40,000 US Postal Service retail units sell products and services each day. At the end of the day, each office is required to submit a daily financial report. Prior to the implementation of shared services accounting two years ago, postmasters and retail associates relied heavily on their district accounting offices for help with these daily financial activities. However, with the implementation of shared services, the 85 district offices were replaced by three centralized accounting service centers.
Today, postmasters and retail associates use various types of technology to process financial transactions at the window. When all goes well, the daily financial report is transmitted and the data is compiled along with that of all other reporting offices; but if a correction needs to be made and the retail unit does not understand the basics of Postal Accounting, things can easily spiral out of control, financially.
Additionally, the Postal Service has implemented newly designed financial reports from the Accounting Data Mart (ADM). These new reports need to be explained so that users know what to do when reports showing exceptions are received.
Training Need Identified
This situation alone was enough to justify the need for some basic financial training; add to this, however, a recent early retirement option and the fact that approximately 1,500 postmasters have opted for it this year. Plus, over the past year, calls to the Accounting Help Desk and feedback from postmasters identified gaps in knowledge related to managing daily finance activities. The need to hire and train replacements has now become even more urgent.
Realizing that the intellectual capital of long-time employees would soon be walking out the door, Service Management initiated a "Back to Basics" Financial Accountability Training curriculum for existing and incoming postmasters – and the rest is history.
The training development process began with a Financial Accountability Curriculum charter outlining the purpose, scope, audience, return on investment, and training deliverables. This training initiative has leadership support as well as sponsorship from both executive management and accounting organizations.
The purpose of this training is to ensure that Accounting Help Desk agents, postmasters and other field personnel who perform financial transactions understand the end-to-end process for financial accounting.
The scope of the training curriculum is to offer standard training that provides the foundation (Daily Financial Reporting Basics- -1412), builds upon that foundation with training modules specific to each reporting technology (Reporting Technologies), and reconciles banking, master trust accounts, stock accountability, and Money Orders (Reconciliation Processes).
The audiences for this curriculum include:
- accounting help desk agents
- financial service specialists
- retail associates
Return on Investment
Return on investment will be measured by tracking:
- reduced calls at the accounting help desk related to financial reporting
- fewer problems with financial performance reports
- fewer exceptions
Deliverables for each course include:
- a participant workbook
- a facilitator guide
- a self-guided PowerPoint version of the course
- quick reference guides
- web access to updated training materials via the Accounting Services website
The Training Development Team
In October, 2004, a group of users (postmasters) teamed up with professional services specialists in the Service Management organization to develop and deliver the training materials. Users provide actual experience and knowledge on daily financial activities and using technologies, while the professional staff (including accountants, management analysts, instructional designers, and writers) create the training materials. Fifteen crossfunctional team members participated in the design and development of the training.
Training Development Process
Even though very few post offices still use paper forms to prepare their daily financial report, these forms provide the basis for the technologies used for daily financial reporting. Going back to the basics makes it easier to understand Postal Accounting procedures and helps users understand how to fix problems after they have submitted their daily financial report. To ensure that the training meets the needs of our audience, management analysts researched the most common problems based upon calls to the Accounting Help Desk. These problems were included as exercises in the training material.
Once the course objectives were decided upon, a draft of the Facilitator Guide for each course was developed and distributed for review to a group comprising:
- subject matter experts
- a focus group of users (postmasters)
- the national accounting organization
The initial course was presented to a group of Accounting Help Desk agents and their supervisors. At each step along the way, changes were made and suggestions incorporated. The result is a curriculum created by many hands and minds.
In January, 2005, the team delivered a four-day pilot of the training curriculum to a select group of users (financial systems specialists, postmasters, and station managers) and presented a sample of the self-guided PowerPoint version to determine whether this format alone would be acceptable for users in the field.
Users recommended that the PowerPoint version of the training be used as pre-course material and as a resource after the training – not as a replacement for facilitator-led training.
In a nutshell, the pilot training was a huge success! We were told, "We really appreciate the work that went into this," and "You’ve done a great job filling the gaps between policies and real-life transactions."
We are now beginning the training delivery phase and we plan to develop tools to measure the effectiveness of the training by:
- distributing customer satisfaction surveys
- tracking related calls to the help desk pre- and post training
- tracking financial performance reports
- tracking the number of exceptions preand post training
As with any project, we have learned some valuable lessons. Here are some important things we learned.
- Get users involved early on in training design and development. By enlisting the support of postmasters to help design, develop, and deliver the training to their colleagues, we developed a working partnership. This not only enabled us to create more effective learning materials, it also added credibility.
- Plan your work and work your plan. Develop a high-level plan and make sure you have management support for your training initiative. This is critical to the success of any such plan. In our situation, the audience is extremely large, so support is needed at many levels–from executive management to Postmaster organizations.
- Maintain version control during the review cycles. In our situation, reviewers are not all in the same location. Some of the files were too large to send in an email. In the end, we decided to use public folders in Microsoft Outlook and established permissions for approved reviewers to manage the versions of the materials being reviewed and approved.
- Define the course objectives from the learners’ perspective before developing your training materials. When faced with an aggressive timeline, it’s tempting to just get started. But, our experience and knowledge of instructional design proved that it was important to establish clear learning objectives before developing the learning materials.
- Remember your audience. This seems simple. But it is not as simple as it seems. By involving users in the development process, you build in checks and balances that will help ensure your training initiative is successful.
- Establish a review process and manage the documents as they move through the process. Working with up to 15 team members who are disbursed in different locations, we found that it was important to manage the review process. To this end, one team member was assigned to coordinate the reviewers’ feedback and manage the changes to the materials during the review process.
- Don’t try to rush the development cycle. Speeding up the process or skipping steps doesn’t necessarily save time…it just means more re-work. In the rush to prepare materials and create a PowerPoint CD for the pilot training course in January, the writers were unable to proofread some of the materials before they were distributed for review, which led to an additional final review cycle.
About the Authors
Manager of Service Management
US Postal Services
Bob Foley is a recipient of the USPS Quality Partner of the Year Award, and has held a number of management positions over his 35- year career with Postal Service. His primary focus with has been Finance and Operations. In 1999, he facilitated process management training and taught teams how to use quality tools, leading them to success as recipients of the AQP Bronze Award and the RIT/USA Today Quality Cup Award. For the past three years Bob has been implementing the Shared Services Accounting project. Bob completed the decision analysis document that obtained the necessary funding. He manages the service of these centers and provides the necessary technology for the reengineered processes. The technologies implemented within the USPS are a call management system, a knowledge management system and a workflow management system. Bob sits on the technology review board for both the Call Management and Workflow Management systems and facilitates the contracting for third parties engaged in the project.
US Postal Services
Marj Kyriopoulos has more than 20 years’ communications and management experience in business and technical environments, including Unisys Corporation, Cray Research, Inc., and MRNet. She was Director of Information Design Services for Spherion Technology and President of MLK Solutions, Inc. As a member of the Service Management team, Marj provides support for users in a changing shared services environment by creating knowledge objects, intranet web site designs, newsletters, tip sheets, information packets, training materials, and timely updates for the shared services web site. She is also working to establish best practices for populating and managing the knowledge base used by USPS Accounting Help Desk agents.