Top-Down Mess

Who's Running the Show Anyway?

Canada Post is a top-down organization. Business customers who deal with commercial sales or service representatives know that nearly every decision is made higher up the chain. Rarely do business customers deal directly with someone who can give a simple yes or no answer to even basic requests for changes to service, delivery, rates and contracts. Decisions, when they come down from upper managers, can take weeks or months. Front-line representatives will admit, when pressed, that they get just as frustrated as their customers do.

Canada Post likes to present a business-friendly, entrepreneurial image in its marketing to small businesses. Its ads on the CBC's Dragon's Den make a big show of how Canada Post is helping businesses grow. Its glossy brochures sent to its small business customers tell stories of marketing success using the latest advances in brain research and urge customers to create admail with impact. One story touted by Canada Post was the use of a neoprene-like fabric on the cover of a recent issue of INCITE magazine as part of a Welsh government tourism campaign to attract scuba divers to Wales. But how real is all of this for small business owners who just want their shipments accurately delivered, on time, and at a cost that doesn't hurt? Are the top leaders really in touch with what it is like for small businesses to deal with Canada Post?

If Canada Post is cutting back core services and pricing its services so Canadian businesses cannot compete then why is the company introducing flashy new services such as Flex Delivery, a service that allows consignees to change how parcels get delivered en route, or Delivered Tonight, a same-day delivery service offered in some urban markets? If, as any business shipper knows, a significant percentage of parcels are misrouted and arrive late, then how does Canada Post expect to be able to deliver on its promises to redirect parcels accurately or to deliver parcels the same day?

Deepak Chopra

Deepak Chopra, Canada Post's president and CEO since 2011, was asked to resign following the 2015 federal election, but refused to do so. An appointee of the former Conservative government, he has led the organization with the mindset of the accountant that he is, trying to counter declining letter mail business by cutting services. He is running the business by numbers instead of trying to improve operations, cut delivery failures, and improve service. Famously he began phasing out door-to-door delivery in 2013, forcing many thousands of residents to pick up mail at community mail boxes, leading to a loud public outcry. Recently, Canada Post eliminated the Small Packet Surface parcel service to the United States, forcing Canadian exporters to use the more expensive Small Packet Air service. These and other cutbacks of essential services are driving Canadian businesses away from the postal system.

With Chopra's leadership in doubt as the Liberal government sought to reverse his policies, if not remove him, Canada Post is a ship floundering with a broken rudder. For a top-down organization that depends on a firm hand directing the organization, Canada Post's leadership deficit is hurting the business and the businesses that depend on it. For now Canada Post is staying afloat only because the rise of e-commerce has brought a swell of parcel business (up 9.7% in 2015) that has little to do with Canada Post's efforts to grow the business. For small businesses that depend on Canada Post every day, the opportunities lost by Chopra's leadership are increasingly noticeable.

So far, with the support of Canada Post's board of directors, Chopra has kept his job. In what appeared to be a stalemate, the chair of the board Sian Matthews asked the government to withdraw its request for Chopra to step down. In an apparent ratcheting up of tensions, Public Services minister Judy Foote announced in May 2016 the launching of a review of Canada Post's operations. A four-member panel was tasked to look into the future of Canada Post and whether services already cut should be restored. In this climate of uncertain leadership, it is hard to imagine how Chopra can implement his policies without the support of the government.

What a mess!