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The Creative-Destructive Process of Organizational Change: The Case of the Post Office

Author(s): Nicole Woolsey Biggart


Source: Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Sep., 1977), pp. 410-426
Published by: Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2392181
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The Creative- Studies of organizational change have tended to focus on
Destructive Process of identifying the reasons for change while ignoring the
OrganizationalChange: process of change. Even those that analyze the process
of change are concerned with the challenge of creating
The Case of the Post new organizational structures. This paper discusses the
Office destructive aspects of reorganizing that must take place if
change is to be successful. The 1970-71 reorganization of
Nicole Woolsey the U.S. Post Office Department is used as a model.*
Biggart
Studies of organizationalchange have most often been
concerned with the reasons for change and have taken the
process for granted. Researchers have attempted to identify
the stimulithat triggeradaptive behaviors and have seen
change as a productof such influences as organizational
structure(Hummon,Doreianand Teuter, 1975), growth and
ageing (Labovitzand Miller,1974), technological innovation
(Bell, 1973), environmentalchanges (Sherwood, 1976), con-
stituency changes (Mazmanianand Lee, 1975), leadership
style (Meyer, 1975), and the dissatisfaction of the deprived
(Benson, 1973). Such studies emphasize the initiatingcause
and the evolutionarynatureof the process ratherthan see-
ing change as inherentlyproblematic.Even those that do
identify change as problematictreat it as a problemof the
creation of territoriesand structures (Downs, 1967) or of
managerial"teams" and conducive climates (Golembiewski
and Kiepper,1976).
It is not generally recognized that change is an act of de-
structionas much as of creation. Because most organiza-
tions do change slowly, experimentingwith and selectively
incorporatingnew forms, the destructionof old forms and
methods is relativelyobscured. But the destructive process
must either precede or exist simultaneouslywith the cre-
ative. This act of undoing and dismantlingis important
theoretically:reorganizationpresumes the rejectionor
supercession of old methods in favor of the new and the
organizationmust systematicallydestroy former,competing
structures before it can successfully implantthe new.
Generally,destruction is an extreme concept but in an or-
ganizationit rarelyfinds expression in any dramaticway,
principallybecause few organizationalchanges are of revo-
lutionarydimension and are often never completed before
opposing interests can mute the effects. The concept of
destructionas partof organizationalchange is useful be-
cause it properlydescribes the treatment of organizational
accouterments that have lost their use or are in disfavor.
Destruction,as used in this paper, includes any action that
abolishes, discredits,suppresses, or otherwise renders use-
less an organizationalstructure.Among the features a new
regime often destroys in the course of conversion are the
formerformalstructure,leadership,ideology, power al-
liances, decision-makingmodel, and technology. This pro-
cess can in some ways be thought of as the resocialization
of the organization:an organizationcannot be isolated from
its formerself (althoughsymbolic attempts such as moving
the corporateheadquartersand changing the name are
Iwould liketo thankGaryG. Hamilton,
Universityof California,Davis, for his common), but punishments can be meted out for re-
help and encouragement. establishing old patterns and rewardsgranted those adopt-
September 1977, volume 22 Science Quarterly
410O/Administrative
Creative-Destructive Process

ing new ways. Empirically, this process is importantbe-


cause it explains many of the actions priorto and during
government and corporatereorganizations,actions which
may otherwise be incomprehensibleor attributedto other
causes.
THEMODEL
The 1971 reorganizationof the U.S. Post Office Department
(POD)into the U.S. Postal Service (USPS)is an unusually
demonstrative model of the creative-destructiveprocess for
largeorganiza-
several reasons. First,it is an extraordinarily
tion. At the passage of PublicLaw 91 -375, the Postal Reor-
ganizationAct, the POD had over 700,000 workers, almost
1 percent of the U.S. workforce (AnnualReportof the
Postmaster General,FY1971). In the federal government,
only the militarywas a largeremployerand among private
organizationsonly AT&Twas comparable.Such dimensions
tend to magnify organizationalprocesses.
Second, the reorganizationwas close to revolutionaryin
scope. In one momentous action the President and Con-
gress transformedthe POD's formalstructureand legal rela-
tionships, forms that had existed virtuallyunchanged for
100 years.
Third,the reorganizationwas not evolutionary,that is, the
culminationof internallyfelt needs or power struggles.
Rather,it was a transformationimposed by a coalitionof
external interests onto a bureaucracythat neither sought
norwelcomed the change. The majorityof the employees
had taken pridein or at least were comfortablewith the
forms that were repudiatedby the external interest groups.
Finally,the Post Office is a publicorganizationwhose ac-
tivities are more availableto publicscrutinythan most pri-
vate organizations.
The structureof the Post Office has features of both indus-
try and government and is, therefore, both similarand un-
like other organizations.While the Post Office is not a typi-
cal organizationstructurally,the processes of change in this
extreme model demonstrate what can be found generally
throughoutorganizations.This study distinguishes broad
analyticcategories that appearto have had importancein
this case. In some instances the assignment of events to a
particularcategory has been arbitrarybecause few organiza-
tional activities performa single function or act in any uni-
taryway.
Formal Structure
Article1,Section 8 of the United States Constitutiongrants
Congress the right to "regulate commerce . . . to establish
post offices and post roads,"but it was not until 1792 that
the Post Office had consolidated its position as a perma-
nent agency (Cullinan:27). Congress retainedthe exclusive
rightto establish and regulatepost offices, a rightof con-
siderablepower in a growing nation that depended heavily
on the mails for the conduct of business and the mainte-
nance of communications.The Post Office Departmentwas
located under the Executive Branchand the President ap-
pointed the Postmaster Generalwho in turn appointed his
41 1/ASQ
top aides. The Congress assumed the role of a boardof
directorsand involved itself in the dailydecisions of the
POD.The Senate reserved the rightto confirm postmaster
appointments made by the President.Thus Congress and
the Executive branchshared the single largest source of
patronagein government (Cullinan:79).
This pool of favors was traditionallymanaged by the Post-
master Generalwho was typicallythe President's campaign
manager or close politicaladviser; his postal management
chores were usuallysecondary to his politicalduties (Fowler,
1967). This posed no problemas long as Congress con-
tinued to appropriatefunds for maintaininga deficit opera-
tion; but expensive capitalexpenditures needed for modern-
izingthe growing concern were always passed over in favor
of more popularand visible publicprograms,and, duringthe
1960s, the VietnamWar. Emergencyappropriationsusually
paid for the hiringof additionalworkers to process and de-
liverthe mail.The Post Office thus became heavilylabor
intensive with net assets per employee only 1/25th as great
as those of AT&T(KappelCommission,Annex 1,1968: 17).
Eighty-onepercent of the PODbudget went for salaries
(AnnualReportof the Postmaster General,FY1969: 166).
These politicalconditions strongly influenced the internal
structureof the Post Office Department.The Postmaster
Generalpresided over a headquartersstaff of six Assistant
Postmasters General,each with a separate bureau(Finance
and Administration,Personnel, Transportationand Interna-
tional Services, Operations,Facilities,Research and En-
gineering) plus the Chief Postal Inspectorand the General
Counsel. Because Congress retainedthe importantpowers
of budget allocation,capitalexpenditures, wage determina-
tion and pricecontrol,and made planningimpossible by
refusing to grant long-termappropriations,the only activity
of any consequence left to postal administratorswas the
dailyoperationof the mail network.The Bureauof Opera-
tions, in charge of mailprocessing, dominatedall the other

Postmaster General
and
Deputy Postmaster General

General Counsel Chief Postal Inspector

Financeand Transportation Researchand


Administration International Engineering

Posta l Regional
Data Center Directors

Figure.1. Post Office Department, 1968.

412IASQ
Creative-Destructive Process

bureaus,controlledover 80 percent of the budget (Kappel


Commission,Annex 1,1968: 44), and reviewed and ap-
proved all significant decisions by any other office. Structur-
ally,each person in Headquartershad his functionalcoun-
terpartin each of the 15 RegionalOffices and he in turn
had his counterpartin each post office. The strong vertical
hierarchydiscouragedactivities between peers at any level
and coordinationwas pushed to the very top where it was
controlledby the Bureauof Operations.
Controlwas exercised primarilythrough detailed and
numerous directives such as the weekly Postal Bulletinand,
especially, the Postal Manual.The Manualwas a continu-
ously revised nine-poundcompendium of postal regulations,
rates, and operatingproceduresthat prescribedactions and
behaviors for every possible contingency. Innovationand
local discretionwere not rewarded,only administration"by
the book."The tenure system tended to precludeinnova-
tive persons from access to positions of authority.A worker
was not eligible for promotionalconsiderationfor five years
(PostalBulletin,November 10, 1960: 2), and, realistically,
selection took several years longer untila workerbecame
the most senior candidate.The policywas not designed to
attractambitiousor creative people to the supervisoryranks.
The seniority system tended to discourage innovationwhile
the Manualkept the system from breakingapartby making
innovation unnecessary and impossible.
The result was a very rigid,authoritariansystem unable to
cope with change but well suited to maintaininga standard
level of performance.The highlydecentralizedphysicalop-
eration (44,000 facilities),strong verticalhierarchy,and
rule-governedbehaviorcombined to place what power
there was in the hands of a few top administratorsin
Washington who ruledthrough voluminousdirectives and
maintainedadherence to the system through two primary
sources, the Postal Inspection Service and Postal Service
Officers (PSO's).The Postal Inspection Service, the POD's
internalpolice force, conducted surpriseinspections of post
offices about once a year. Ostensibly to see that postal
employees did not embezzle taxpayers'funds, they con-
ducted detailed reviews of postal proceduresand reported
"irregularities"of Manualpolicies to the RegionalDirectors.
In addition,they made unannounced visits to inspection gal-
leries, enclosed catwalks suspended from the ceiling of
every post office with more than 20 or 30 employees. In-
spection galleries give one-way views of the floor below
and have entrances at the buildings'exteriorsso that even
the postmaster sometimes did not know when surveil-
lances were being conducted. Thus rule-governedbehavior
was maintainedmostly by fear.
Another, though transient, controlwas the use of Postal
Service Officers as troubleshooters in the 1960s. They
mediated between the regions and the thousands of post-
masters that reporteddirectlyto them. Such measures were
fairlyeffective in maintainingthe system in an orderly
manner with emphasis on uniformityand speed of service.
Monitoringand policingactivities largelysubstituted for
manageme nt.
413IASQ
LaurenceO'Brien,PresidentJohnson's campaign manager
and Postmaster General,carriedon his duties in much the
same manner as his predecessors, but duringthe 1960s the
mounting mail volume, outdated equipment, and unrespon-
sive management system led to a crisis that could-notbe
ignored. In the autumn of 1966, the Chicago Post Office,
the largest mailprocessing facilityin the world, ceased to
function. O'Brientestified before a House Subcommittee,
"ten million pieces of mail were logjammed.... Outbound
mailsacks formed small grey mountain ranges while waiting
to be shipped out" (House Subcommittee on Departments
of the Treasuryand Post Office and Executive Office of the
President, February27, 1965: 5), and for three weeks the mail
was almost stationary.This situation forced O'Briento take
emergency hiringmeasures to start processing again.
The Chicago breakdownled him to push for an overhaulof
the system; he favored a corporatestructurethat would
give importantpowers to the Postmaster General.Reform
was an acceptable idea to many, but the concept of a cor-
porate structurewas revolutionaryand had few supporters.
Publisherswere afraidof losing millionsof dollarsin rate
subsidies, the unions had nurtureda comfortablerelation-
ship with Congress for decades that they were reluctantto
dismiss, and ruralconstituents, knowing how expensive
ruralpost offices were to maintain,had nothing to gain by a
more efficient service. Congress held hearings on the mat-
ter, however, and O'Brienmade an effective spokesman
for reform.Congressman Thomas Steed (Democrat,Ok-
lahoma)summarizedO'Brien'stestimony:
Mr.Steed: General... would this be a fairsummary;that at the present
time, as the managerof the Post Office Department,you have no control
over yourworkload,you have no controlover the pay rates of the em-
ployees you employ,you have very littlecontrolover the conditionsof the
service of these employees, you have virtuallyno control,by the natureof
it, of yourphysicalfacilitiesthat you are compelledto use - all of which
adds up to a staggeringamount of "no control"in terms of the duties you
have to perform....
Mr. O'Brien:Mr.Chairman,I would have to generallyagree with your
premise . . . that is a staggeringlist of "no control."I don't know
[whether] it has ever been put more succinctlyto me. If it had been at an
appropriatetime, perhaps Iwouldn'tbe sitting here. (House Subcommittee
on Departmentsof the Treasuryand Post Office and ExecutiveOffice of
the President,February27, 1967: 27-28).
As frequentlyoccurs with disputed publicproblems,a Presi-
dential commission was formed to investigate the state of
the Post Office and to recommend solutions. The Chairman
of the Commission, which was formed in the spring of
1967, was FrederickR. Kappel.Kappelwas formerChairman
of the Boardof AT&Tand had served in numerous gov-
ernment advisorypositions. More importantly,he had just
I
completed work on the Ash Commission, whose task had
Othermembersof the KappelCommis- been to make recommendations on the modernizationof
sion were: George P. Baker,Dean, Har-
vardUniversityGraduateSchool of Busi- the entire federal structure.Kappelwas joined by eight
ness Administration;DavidE. Bell,Vice members of the business and educationalworld,1and
President,The FordFoundation;FredJ.
Borch,President,GeneralElectricCom- George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO,to which most
pany; DavidGinsburg,Partner,Ginsburg unionized postal employees belonged.
and Feldman;RalphLazarus,Chairman,
Boardof Directors,CumminsEngine The KappelCommission agreed that reorganizationwas
Company;W. BeverlyMurphy,Presi- overdue and considered five structuralalternatives: main-
dent, CampbellSoup Company;Rudolph
A. Peterson, President,Bankof America. taining the post office as a Cabinetdepartmentbut with
414/ASQ
Creative-Destructive Process

improvedmanagement techniques; a sub-cabinet govern-


ment agency insulated from some politicalinterference; a
government corporation;a government corporationwith
strong influence from the privatesector, called variouslya
"mixed"or "conglomerate"corporation;and a regulated
privatecorporation(KappelCommission, Annex 1,1968:
181-220). In its June, 1968 report,TowardPostal Excel-
lence, the Commission, with a dissent from Meany,2gave
its supportto a government corporationwith a formalstruc-
ture very much likea regulatedpublicutilitybut wholly
owned by the federal government. Of the five alternatives
considered, the government corporationgave the most
power to the Postmaster Generalwith the least interfer-
ence from external agents.
RichardNixon, elected President in 1968, appointedwealthy
businessman Winton Blountas Postmaster Generaland
charged him with guidingthe corporatereform proposals
through congressional hearings. The postal corporation
movement survived despite protest from large mailers,
postal unions, the postmasters' and supervisors' organiza-
tions, and ruralcitizens. Perhapsthe most importantreason
for the corporation'ssurvivalis that Congress had tired of
the great patronageordealof appointingpostmasters and
ruralcarriers,a chore that many felt was not worth the
advantages.3Too, Congress was pleased to have a popular
bipartisanissue like better mailservice duringthe divisive-
ness of the VietnamWar.
With reforma certaintyopposition groups developed their
own legislative proposals, but the billthat passed in the
summer of 1970, and became effective on July 1, 1971,
was much likethe originalKappelCommission proposal
with some changes that reflected politicallobbying.By then
it had the supportof the publishersand other large mailers
who were promised improvedservice, but the unions were
still reluctant.George Meany gave his supportonly after the
inclusion of a 14-percent pay hike for workers into the bill
and the promise of the AFL-QCIO's exclusive rightto repre-
sent unionized mail employees at the bargainingtable
(House Committee on Post Office and CivilService, April
22, 1970: 2-4).
In additionto-a nine-member Boardof Governorswhich
appoints the Postmaster General,the billestablished an in-
dependent Postal Rate Commission, gave the unions the
2
rightto bargainfor wages, removed all postal positions from
Meany'sdissension reads, "Iagree with the patronagesystem and largelyfrom the control of the
the goal of modernizingthe postalsys- CivilService Commission, authorizedthe new United States
tem.... However, the status of the Postal Service to borrowup to $10 billionfor long-termcapi-
Post Office as a CabinetDepartmenthas
a positive valuethat should not be dis- tal improvements and removed control over postal funds
cardedlightly"(KappelCommissionRe- from the TreasuryDepartment.The Postal Service was
port:2). given until1984 to breakeven. In the interimCongress
3
would appropriateenough money to pay for the difference
Congress held hearingsin 1968 before
the release of the KappelCommission between costs and revenues (Title39, U.S. Code, 1970).
findingson the subjectof removingpoli-
tics frompostalappointments;there was In this reorganization,much of the new formalstructure
supportforthis independentof postal was imposed by a law that also destroyed the formerstruc-
reorganization. See hearingsbefore the
House Subcommitteeon PostalOpera-
ture and codified the defeat of opposition groups. The de-
tions February6, 7, 8 and March26, 28, structionwas incomplete, however, as the internalstructure
1968. of the organizationwas not mentioned in the legislation.
41 5/ASQ
| Postmaster General

Planning Research Consumer Communications General Chief


Advocate and Public Affairs Counsel Inspector

Deputy Postmaster General

Senior Assistant Senior Assistant Senior Assistant


Postmaster General Postmaster General Postmaster General
Customer services Mail processing Support

r ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Employm
Opportunity

5 Regional Postmasters General

International

Finac] Management
Information Personnel Administration Affairs
PostalI

Figure 2. U.S. Postal Service, 1971.

This was one of the firsttasks that Blountand his staff


attacked in the transitionyear before the legislationbecame
effective. Blount's strategy reflected the model favored by
the Ash Commission: he retainedwhat policy-makingau-
thority had traditionallyexisted at the top and added new
offices to reflect the increased authorityof the Postal Ser-
vice in areas such as planningand research, and decen-
tralizedall operatingauthoritiesto the field. The Postmaster
Generalbecame the Chief Executive Officer and the Deputy
Postmaster Generalbecame the Chief OperatingOfficer.
The regionaloffices were reduced from 15 to 5 and they
reportedto the Deputy Postmaster General.The Deputy
Postmaster Generalalso had Headquartersoffices that re-
portedto him but these were largelyfield supportgroups.
The regions became independent subunits and to cope with
the increased span of controlthey were subdividedinto
metro areas and districtswhich were furtherdivided into
sectional centers. Blountsought support for the new struc-
ture among the still reluctantpostal supervisors by denounc-
ing the formerorganizationand appealingto their pride:
There is a need for a basic change in our entire approachto management.
The structurewe have livedwith for years is a civilservice-style hierarchi-
cal organization.What a man earns is measuredby how many people he
supervises. People lookto the bookto tell them what they are supposed to
be doing. Andwe spend a lot of time fillingout forms. We need to shift to
a new orientation.... It [decentralization]will get away fromthe strait-
jacketof the past, whereby the postal system was runby the book and the
bookwas written in Washington.We want to give managersa chance to
manage, to innovate and initiate- and even to make mistakes....

41 6/ASQ
Creative-Destructive Process

Treating our service people in the field like messengers guarantees an


experienced, well-trained staff of messengers, but it doesn't breed manag-
ers (Postal Leader, June, 1971: 1).
The formalstructureof an organizationis usuallywhat is
most easily changed in a reorganizationand the act of im-
posing a new structureeffectively destroys the formerin
most instances. In the case of the Post Office, the destruc-
tion was completed by law after considerablestruggle; in
most other organizationsit is decreed by top management
and reflects management's philosophy. Unwillingsubordi-
nates usually have littlechoice but to accept the change. In
retaliation,they erode its effects by re-establishinginformal
networks that approximateold lines of authority.Erosion
was a secondary concern, however, for the new postal
structure.Blountwas quickto recognize that the legislation
had many enemies and the new structurecould be de-
stroyed by Congress as readilyas Congress had destroyed
the POD should any dissident groups gain power. The most
potentiallypowerful enemies were his own employees -
the postmasters, supervisors, and postal union members-
who had established contacts in Washington, represented a
great many votes, and controlledone of the largest contri-
bution funds in Washington. The fact that postal employees
contact nearlyevery household in the United States six
days a week gives them a great opportunityto influence
others as well. Another influentialgroupof adversaries
were the organizedpostal customers, such as publishers,
mailorder firms, the greeting card industry,and institutional
mailers.The Post Office's competitors, express companies,
package deliveryfirms, and courierservices, were newly
alertto the aggressive action of a formerlypassive rivalas
well. They lobbiedto raise postal rates before the Postal
Rate Commission.
Blountwas correct in his estimation of the tenuous position
his organizationfaced. In the spring of 1973, less than two
years after the reorganizationtook effect, over 70 billswere
entered in Congress to modify the legislationor to return
postal management to Congress (Myers, 1975: 127). Al-
though this case is extreme, other organizationsface the
same conditions. "The single most importantdeterminant
of whether a bureaucan establish autonomy (and how fast
it can do so) is the characterof its power setting. If its
suppliersor beneficiariesare strong and well organizedin
comparisonwith its rivalsand sufferers, then it will quickly
gain a clearlyautonomous position" (Downs, 1967: 10). The
new U.S. Postal Service quicklydestroyed the formerideol-
ogy, power alliances, and leadershipin orderto impose new
ones favorableto the new structureand neutralizeopposi-
tion.

IDEOLOGY
Ideologyis usuallyassociated with politicalparties,social
classes, and advocacy groups, but rarelywith businesses.
This seeming oversight is because the profitideology,
widely shared throughoutcapitalistindustries, is considered
a given by most organizationalanalysts. Untilreorganization,
the ideology behind the PODwas service, service at all
costs. Itgave logic to the POD's operatingmethodology,
417/ASQ
sustenance to the entwined power relationsamong mailers,
postal employees, and Congress, and even supportto such
economicallydebilitatingpolicies as subsidized rates and
ruralpost offices.
Dependable publicservice is a noble ideology and gives a
sense of purpose to employees in routinejobs in factory-
like conditions. The fact that the PODwas not in business
for profitelevated the workers' positions in the minds of
many employees. Phrases such as the "sanctityof the
mails"and the "mails must go through" reifiedthe postal
mission. Callingmailers "patrons"and workers "civilser-
vants" emphasized the subservient relationshipthat existed
between the PODand the general population.Postmasters
had to reside in the town in which they worked so that
they could be accountable to the citizens there (Kappel
Commission, 1968: 41).
The almost exclusive preoccupationwith this concept of
service was expressed in the absence of financialand cost
data, even for processing activities. In its investigation, the
KappelCommission found "postal financialmanagement
concentrates on acquisitionand controlof the inputside of
postal operations,"and informationabout costs was "inad-
equate or non-existant"(Annex 1,1968: 89). Postmasters
were given "budgets" of man hours, not dollars,and were
paidaccordingto the numberof employees they super-
vised. There was no incentive to be efficient; ratherthe
incentive was to use as many workers as possible and
elaboratejustificationproceduresgrew up aroundrequests
for more workers.The best justificationwas that service
would suffer.
This ideology of good mailservice uncompromisedby con-
siderations such as cost, competition, and even marketde-
mand had considerableemotional appeal even if, objec-
tively, service was deterioratingwith increasing volume and
outdated methods. Such traditionalvalues were held most
tightlyby the senior employees who had the greatest per-
sonal investment in them. There was no doubt that change
was coming with the recruitmentof younger employees in
the 1960s as volume soared, but the senior employees still
held power as supervisors and in the unions where they
largelydetermined the posture of employees on issues be-
fore Congress.
The PODwas what Downs calls a "non-market"organiza-
tion where "there is no direct relationshipbetween the ser-
vices a bureauprovides and the income it receives for pro-
viding them" (1967: 30). The service-at-all-costsideology
was congruent with this organizationalform but posed a
fundamentalthreat to the new "quasi-market"government
corporation.The ideology of service gave reason to the
non-rationaland justificationto the inefficient. Unless chal-
lenged and destroyed the old ideology would be the founda-
tion for the new business-like structure.The Postal Service
management used a four-foldstrategy to discreditthe old
ideology and implanta new one supportiveof the new re-
gime: symbolic reorientation,internalcommunications, ex-
ternal communications, and trainingand indoctrination.
418/ASQ
Creative-Destructive Process

Symbolic reorientation. Whatever image citizens, em-


ployees, and customers had had of the POD it was severely
damaged in the fight over the reform legislation.This had
the additionaleffect of demoralizingemployees and, in
some instances, predisposingthem to opposing the new
regime. Discreditingthe PODwas followed by removing the
signs of its existence.
The first and most obvious move was retiringthe 200-
year-oldname of the organization.Only federal cabinet
agencies are called departments and the name change
symbolized its removal from a politicalstatus to that of an
independent agency. Italso dissociated the new organiza-
tion from the old.
Postal management hiredthe industrialdesign firmof
Loewy/Snaithto develop new symbols and performa corpo-
rate "make-over."They designed a new logo, chose a
modern type face for all publications,stationery,and con-
tracts, and selected brightnew postal colors. Thousands of
olive green postal trucksand mailboxeswere painted a pa-
trioticred, white and blue. Loewy/Snaithalso chose a series
of color schemes for repaintinglobbies and a new sign
system for post offices to replacethe largelyhand-lettered
sig ns.
The new image was developed duringthe transitionyear
between passage of the billand the effective date of July
1, 1971. Burnafordand Company,a promotionfirm,was
hiredto linkthe new symbols with the occasion of the
reorganization.A birthdaypartytheme was chosen to sym-
bolize the death of the PODand the birthof the USPS;
partieswere held in every post office in the United States
on July 1. The USPS issued a stamp of the new logo on
that day and gave free commemorative covers to the public.
Post offices were open to the publicand tours were given
of the processing facilities. In many areas there was a sym-
bolic removing of the old POD seal of a colonialriderand its
replacement by the new USPS eagle poised for flight.

Internalcommunications. Internalcommunications,that is
the formalcommunicationnetworkwithin the postal organi-
zation, are forms of symbolic reorientationbut they are sep-
aratedin this study because they were directed exclusively
at employees and includedsubstantive as well as symbolic
content. The internalcommunications effort was aimed at
both preachingthe new ideology and counteractingoppos-
ing efforts by employee unions and supervisoryorganiza-
tions. The POD's Office of PublicInformationwas reorga-
nized into the Departmentof Communicationsand Public
Affairsand includeda new Office of InternalCommunica-
tions whose mission was to formulatepolicy for explaining
corporatedecisions to employees, create house organs for
disseminating informationand act as a clearinghouse for
offices wishing to communicate with employees through
mass publications.The highlydispersed work force placed
unusualburdens on printedcommunicationsas a medium
of information.Eventually,videotape equipment supple-
mented printedpublicationsas a method of communicating
with middle-levelmanagers.
419/ASQ
The POD had initiateda fairlyprofessional employee house
organ, Postal Life, in the mid-1960s that was issued
bimonthlyand sent to the homes of all employees. Itwas a
generally innocuous compendium of human interest stories
and bits of informationabout postal historyand lore. After
the reorganizationit became an importantmedium for dis-
seminating management's point of view on automation,
labornegotiations, work conditions, and other issues of im-
portance to management-union relations.It also served as a
way of breakingdown the formerways of thinkingof em-
ployees used to the previous ideology and non-competetive
posture of the POD.Articlespraisedpost offices that were
meeting new efficiency standards- "What Makes Ft. Worth
No. 1," May-June 1971: 8 - encouraged employees to be-
come aggressive in their selling of postal products- "Little
Stamps, Big Business," March-April1972: 17-and even
sought to instillsome fear of competition, something postal
workers never considered when Congress appropriated
funds- "ThatOther PackageService and How It Suc-
ceeded," November-December1972: 12.
Middle-levelmanagement was perhaps the most important
target of top management: without convincing them to
supportthe system there would be no way to controlthe
rank a nd file employees. In 1971 the InternalCommunica-
tions staff initiateda monthly management newsletter,
Postal Leader,that denigratedformer policies - "SmallP.O.
Inspection No LongerNit-Picking,""Postmasters Get Free-
dom to Move," May 1971 - and praised new ones -
"PromotionsOpen to All in Seattle Region,"January1971.
The Postmaster General held unprecedented management
briefingsstaged by Burnafordand Companyfor field man-
agers all over the countryto make them feel partof the
"team" and managers were flown to Washington to con-
tributetheir ideas for the new organization(Meyers, 1975:
158). The contrast with the formerlyhighlystructuredand
authoritariansystem was striking.Certainly,much of it was
for effect, but it aimed at dividingsupervisors from any
oppositionto the USPS and neutralizingtheir associations in
Was hington.

Externalcommunications. Externalcommunications are


here meant to includethose activities directed at influenc-
ing the USPS's supportersand enemies, especially Con-
gress and customer groups. Largemailers,just as em-
ployees, had industrygroups with lobbyists in Washington
representingtheir interests before Congress. The USPS at-
tempted to keep these ties brokenby winning their cus-
tomers to their side. Unableto grant favorablerates to mail-
ers, the USPS established a nationalsales force and cus-
tomer service representatives to help large mailersimprove
the efficiency of their mailingoperationand to thereby save
money with in-house mailingsystems. But the eventual
need to increase rates and reduce subsidies made the pub-
lishers one of the most active opponents of a self-sufficient
Postal Service (Meyers, 1975: 132-145).
Althoughindividualmailers had littleorganizedinfluence,
disgruntledmailers have always represented a large portion
of the complaints congressmen receive and are a large
420/ASQ
Creative-Destructive Process

source of annoyance to congressional staff. By keeping


congressmen undisturbedby complaintsabout the mail,
USPS management hoped to smooth over relationswith
Congress. A consumer advocate was appointedto act as a
funnel for complaints (PostalLife, November-December
1971: 6). The USPS also established the Office of Advertis-
ing and began its first paidadvertisingcampaignto put
forth its new businesslike image and to win acceptance for
its new position in the marketplace.When criticismof the
USPS grew, top level Washington executives were dis-
patched aroundthe countryon "mediatours" to hold brief-
ings with the press and appearon radioand TVtalkshows.
Training and indoctrination. Faced with a managerialstaff
that was selected for its seniorityand which embraced the
formerservice-at-all-costsideology, the trainingand indoc-
trinationof supervisors became a top priorityto USPS man-
agement. Indoctrinationis perhaps an extreme concept but
it is appropriateto the extent that the trainingoften focused
on unlearningold habits of relatingto work, employees, and
customers, and relearningnew businesslike orientations.
The Postal Service Management Institute(PSMI)in
Bethesda, Maryland,was the center for these efforts.
Blount,and especially his successor in 1972, ElmerT. Klas-
sen, encouraged the growth of PSMl's staff which became
a 75-member facultyof professional trainers,organizational
development specialists, and numerous others with techni-
cal and academic expertise. About 20,000 supervisors a year
were sent through PSMI'sextensive courses which in-
cluded data management, customer services, and cost-
benefit analysis (PSMICatalog,1971). Duringtheir often
intensive training,managers were housed on campus in
dormitoriesfor a week or more. In addition,the PSMIstaff
went into majorpost offices and conducted lengthy on-site
management trainingcalled the TEAMprogram(Team Ef-
fectiveness Approachto Management); managers were
forced to playdecision-makinggames together to break
down years of authoritarianism.Correspondencecourses, a
technical trainingschool at the Universityof Oklahoma,and
regionaltrainingcenters supplemented the effort. Blount
also took the entire top staff in Washington to the Harvard
Business School for a week-long management course.
Destroyingthe "service-at-all-costs"ideology and replacing
it with a businesslike, efficient service, ideology was most
criticalto accomplish among the employees, particularly the
supervisoryworkers. If supervisors did not make their deci-
sions on the basis of costs, the new organizationcould not
survive. Hence, the heavy relianceon resocializationac-
tivities for supervisors. The organization'sideology-changing
activities were most successful, as one would expect,
among the juniorsupervisors who had least commitment to
the formersystem and the most to gain by expanded pro-
motionalopportunitiesfor those that could demonstrate
new efficiencies.
The superficialimage-changingactivities can only be seen
as strategies to forestallthe enemies of the reorganization.
By appearing new and forward looking,top management
hoped to convince the publicthat substantive changes
421/ASQ
were taking place within that would soon be evident in
improvedservice and new products. Destructionand re-
placement of the ideology and its trappingsenabled Blount
and Klassen to modernizewith more immediate impact.

LEADERSHIP
Althoughthe younger career supervisors were reasonably
willingto change with the new organization,there were
relativelyfew of them, especially in the regionaloffices and
in Washington. Althoughthe top positions in Washington
were occupied by politicalappointees, almost all of whom
were from industry,the newly importantfield management
and technical positions near the top were filled primarilyby
people with enough seniorityto have worked up from the
bottom. In May, 1971, the Postmaster General,in a sweep-
ing move to purgethese older postal officials, gave regional
and headquartersemployees a one-time bonus of six
months' pay if they would leave immediately."A dramatic,
and some say heartless move, to point up the reorganiza-
tion and cut away senior officials," a total of 2,099 "took
the bait"(Business Week, May 13, 1972). About4,000 em-
ployees were left in the five regions and Washington. Klas-
sen reorganizedthe remainderand then used 14 profes-
sional recruitersto seek people from industry.The USPS
was able, in one stroke, to destroy much of the former
leadership,replace some of it with people alreadyembrac-
ing the new ideology, and serve notice to those who had
not been purgedthat the USPS did not operate on the
same basis as the POD.
In orderto assure a steady supply of leaders loyalto the
USPS the organizationhad to dismantle the former man-
agement recruitmentsystem. It did this in fourways. First,
it weakened the seniority system by makingclerks and car-
riersalmost immediatelyeligible for supervisorypositions
(Postal Bulletin,August 8, 1970: 2) and encouraged more
ambitiouspersons to stay in the postal system. Second, it
allowed supervisors to compete for promotionsoutside their
own post office for the first time, thus promotingloyaltyto
the largerorganizationat the expense of loyaltyto the
workers or management of any one office (PostalLeader,
January1971: 1). Third,it subverted the former"up the
ladder"promotionsystem by establishing management
trainee programsthat recruitedcollege graduates, especially
those with an MBA,for middle-managementpositions
(PostalLife, November-December1971: 2). The trainees
were relativelyfew in number,two or three hundred,but
they had substantialimpactbecause they were young, and
after relativelylittletime were allowed to manage the previ-
ously sacrosanct operations activities. Finally,the former
postmaster and ruralcarrierpositions were removed from
politicsand filledby disinterested parties. Postmasters were
selected by the recommendationof Postmaster Advisory
Selection Boardswhich were interview committees com-
posed of postal managers and local business leaders. Fur-
thermore, postmasters were no longer requiredto reside in
the town in which they worked (PostalBulletin,April8,
1971: 1).
422/ASQ
Creative-Destructive Process

Power Bases and Alliances


The internalstruggles for change, difficultas they might
have been, were more effectively controlledthan struggles
with externalagents. The legislationdefined new relation-
ships between the USPS and Congress and the USPS and
the employees, but left open to question exactly what those
relationswould be. In addition,the new position of com-
petitors, customers, and other government agencies to
Congress and the USPS were not defined. Allof these
groups had stakes in the formeralliances and were
threatened by the new situation.The Post Office had to
support helpfulalliances and destroy or cripplerelationships
between externalagents that had a stake in the failureof
the USPS.
An interesting example of how the USPS attempted to
breakthe long-standing relationshipbetween unionized
employees and Congress was the gag ruleorderedby
Blount.When, predictably,the unions complainedto Con-
gress over drasticjob cutbacks instituted by Blountduring
the reorganization,Blount issued an orderthat all communi-
cation between the post office and Congress would go
through his office (PostalBulletin,January21, 1971). Both
Congress and the unions, and many postmasters as well,
balkedand charged Blountwith denying them basic free-
doms.
In an effort to increase its abilityto exercise controlover its
operationsthe post office attempted to cut itself from its
sister agencies. A numberof federal agencies performwork
for other agencies and, indeed, depend on business from
them to survive. Because of its size, the post office was
one of the largest consumers of federal services. To assert
its independence, the USPS did such things as issue bonds
on the open market,despite the fact that it could have
received money interest free from the TreasuryDepartment
(Myers, 1975: 82), and installa new personnel system not
compatibleor comparableto the one administeredfor other
agencies by the CivilService Commission (PostalBulletin,
February4, 1971: 1).
Economic factors generallydetermined how successful the
USPS was in developing new ties. Itwas somewhat suc-
cessful with employees at the expense of generous wage
increases and relativelyunsuccessful with customers be-
cause of the risingrates needed to pay the new salaries.

CONCLUSIONS
The reorganizationof the U.S. Postal Service unleashed in-
credibleforces both in and out of the organization;the
forces were aimed at protectingor consolidatingthe power
of interest groups. In the sense that all organizationsare
distributionsof power and that these subunits of power
compete or cooperate depending on their interests at the
time, they are politicalsystems (Harveyand Mills, 1970:
185). As polities, organizationshave supporters,enemies,
and neutralobservers. Politicalpartiesengage in competi-
tion for control of the resources and their allocationin the
politicalstate. In a similarfashion, unions, management,
423/ASQ
and departments compete for the allocationof organiza-
tional resources. As nations battle to impose their will and
protect their own economic interests in the world economy,
so too do competing businesses, opposing agencies, and
consumer groups struggle to protect their own economic
interests. Certainly,the analogy of the organizationas a
politicalstate does not extend to all spheres, but it is a
useful model for understandingthe process of organiza-
tional change.
Students of organizationswill recognize that politicalsys-
tems are in a continuous fight for survival,but that this
survivalprocess is muted in "mature"states which have
established alliances and substantialmeans for maintaining
independence. It is in new states in their earlydays, follow-
ing politicalcoups, that control is most vulnerableto upset,
and that successful revolutionariesseek to stabilizetheir
positions by formingcoalitions and destroying the previous
regime. Downs recognizes that an organizationexpresses
the same needs as a new politicalregime as it attempts to
reach an "initialsurvivalthreshold." Before then "it has not
yet generated enough externalsupportto resist severe at-
tack" (1967: 9). Hence, it is only in the birthof a new
organizationor in a reorganizationof revolutionarypropor-
tions that routinesurvivalprocesses are revealed fully.
These processes are clearlyseen in the case of reorganiza-
tion of the Post Office, in which the beneficiaries of the
formerstatus quo had nothing to riskby declaringa chal-
lenge and everything to gain by successful opposition.
The newly restructuredorganization,faced with attack in its
unstable youth, retaliatedby destructive actions against
what it perceived to be the most debilitatingaspects of the
formerorganization:the formalstructure,the ideology, the
leadership,and opposing alliances and power bases. De-
structiontook place at the same time the new organization
was engaged in the constructive activities of creating new
work methods, buildingnew facilities, developing technolog-
ical improvements, and creating alliances. Destructionis an
inherent partof successful change; without destroying
competing forms the organizationallows its competition to
flourishunimpeded.
To extend the analogy of organizationsto politicalsystems,
politicalleaders who seize power through revolutionary
means recognize that they must destroy enough of the op-
position's leadership,ideology, and organizationto give the
new regime an opportunityto develop supporters.As Mao
said, "Before a brandnew social system can be builton the
site of the old, the site must be swept clean," (1967: 18).
Destructionis never total, but must be enough to weaken
the opposition without incurringthe wrath of potentialsup-
porters.This process is not analyticallyneat; there are many
restrictionson the actions an organizationcan take and
rarelywill it be able to act, even in extreme circumstances,
in the most effective way possible. Certainlyits enemies
can thwart its efforts and force it to change tactics. Norwill
all organizationsseek to destroy the same structures.
Targetswill be those that pose the greatest threat to the
organizationand can be partof the formalstructure,
424/ASQ
Creative-Destructive Process

decision-makingmodel, loyaltysystem, technology or lead-


ership, or a combinationof such factors.
The methods an organizationwill employ will be based on
the resources availableto it. Forexample, the most effec-
tive way to remove formeropposing leaders is by annihila-
tion but this is not usuallyacceptable or necessary in or-
ganizationalstruggles. Removal from the organizationis the
usual recourse if sufficient power exists. If, as is the case in
many government organizations,this is not possible, re-
moval from positions of importanceis the next choice. Each
of these "less destructive" alternatives poses some threat
to the organization,as with a former leader still in the or-
ga nizationcommanding loyaltyamong sympathetic sub-
groups.
To destroy or replace a competing ideology, the organization
can move in several directions: remove and replace em-
ployees embracingthe competing ideology; resocializeits
employees, but this requiressubstantialtime and expense;
or changing employee behaviorwithout changing their
commitments. Fromthe organization'spoint of view, total
removalof opposition would be best but since this is not
realistic,most organizationssettle for changing employee
behavior.This method reduces, but does not eliminate, the
threat to the organization.
As students of organizationhave recognized, change is a
continual process of adaptationto new demands and chang-
ing environments. What must be recognized, however, is
that change is not just the reactionof organizationsto such
unitaryand abstractphenomena as leadershipstyle and
management philosophy, but rathera dynamic push and
pullbetween contradictoryforces that reside within and
without the organizationand constantly struggle for domina-
tion. Change is a complex and multidimensionalprocess
that destroys as it creates. These processes are least evi-
dent in organizationsthat have developed an equilibrium
between opposing interests and most apparentwhen the
balance is upset in times of revolutionarybirthor reorgani-
zation when survivalis paramount.
Nicole Woolsey Biggart is a doctoral student in the De-
partment of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley.

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