Minutes of a Meeting of the Christmas Gift Delivery Steering Committee
Date: 26th December 2009
Location: Santa’s Workshop, North Pole
Attendance: Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, Lesley the Chief Elf, Rudolf the Reindeer.
1. Christmas 2009 Post Implementation Review
Santa opened the meeting by expressing general satisfaction that the key targets had been hit. Gift production during the year had been adequate, though admittedly it was helped by the surplus inventory of presents carried over from 2008. All the good boys and girls had received their presents by the deadline, with the final gift delivered to little Benny Benson in the Aleutian Islands at 11.59pm local time (GMT-10). However, financial resources were still stretched and the deposit in Icelandic banks had still not been recovered due to some scepticism about verifying Santa as the account holder. Identity fraud was on a par with last year, with literally thousands of imposters pretending to be Santa. This also contributed to increasing cynicism from the boys and girls about Santa’s branding and his overall mission. Although targets were met, this was helped by two favourable but troubling factors: (1) believers in Santa Claus continued to decline, and the rate of decline appears to be accelerating despite overall population growth; and (2) the naughty list is the longest it has been since records began. Because of this, total gift distribution was down 0.3% on 2008. Even with the elves going to a three-shift rotation to keep the workshops running 24 hours a day throughout December, toy stocks only reached the required level within a few minutes of the delivery run commencing. Had the ratio of good children to bad children been the same as 2008, production would have needed to overrun by two days, leading to the potentially unacceptable situation that some children would only receive their gifts on Boxing Day.
Lesley the Chief Elf highlighted that elf productivity remained high despite poor working conditions and an uncompetitive rewards package. Elf dissatisfaction was made worse by inadequate leisure opportunities at the North Pole and because old-fashioned training and work practices were not keeping pace with the newest production techniques. For example, there was inadequate use of computer-aided design for new toys. A talented young elf will typically feel that they have to move on and seek new opportunities; staying at the North Pole too long will make it virtually impossible for them to move on to a more rewarding career elsewhere. As a result, many talented young elves were choosing to leave. The elf brain drain has got significantly worse. 800 elves migrated during 2008. The elvish engagement survey showed that 1 in 10 are seriously thinking of looking for work elsewhere. Lesley believed staff needed better basic salary and not an increase in performance-related bonuses as has been Santa’s preference in recent years.
Mrs. Claus suggested outsourcing of some final assembly of toys to Chinese factories. This would be a cost-effective way to reduce the dependency on Santa’s workshop. Using component suppliers from China had already worked well and had kept costs down in 2008.
Lesley observed that 2008 had seen increased numbers of complaints about the quality of toys and he believed this was due to the lower grade production standards for the Chinese component manufacturers compared to the very high grade of work demanded in Santa’s workshop. Management should also be wary of incidents in China like the widely-publicized story about using leaded paint to decorate toys.
Santa said that procedures for the selection and quality audit of suppliers had been stepped up this year. He expected fewer complaints in 2009 than 2008.
Rudolf suggested that the practice of leaving coal for naughty children should be discontinued. A strategy of strictly focusing on good boys and girls and ignoring the naughty children would cut costs and make more sense. Delivering the coal to naughty children added to costs because coal prices are rising, the coal greatly increased the weight carried on the sleigh, and giving coal was badly out of step with the need to conserve fossil fuels and tackle global warming. Santa agreed and said he would review alternatives. He felt that naughty children should get some acknowledgment to avoid the false perception that he had failed to notice them. One idea is to send them a note in January, outlining the reasons why the children had been included on the naughty list and had not received a Christmas present from Santa.
Lesley questioned if there should be an appeals process for children who found themselves on the naughty list. Perhaps naughty children could be contacted in advance, in September, to give them time to appeal. Santa said that he was open to ideas but this would be problematic, as it would mean deciding which children had been naughty or good based on significantly less than a full year’s data.
Mrs. Claus said that she believed that despite increases in the number of naughty children reported, the real level of naughtiness was the highest it had been in memory. Standards had slipped and children who would have been on the naughty list in the 1950’s or even the 1970’s are now making it on to the same list with the good boys and girls. Expectations for presents were unreasonable and unprecedented. Greedy children that made excessive requests in their letter to Santa should be immediately disqualified from inclusion in the list of who has been good. This would help to reverse the decline in behaviour and reduce the strain on production. Much of the strain is caused by making presents for boys and girls who are essentially bad and undeserving.
Lesley felt that Santa had failed to move with the times and was pouring too much effort into making and distributing old-fashioned toys. Thanks to the internet, it would be much easier to give boys and girls a gift of a video game, or of music, a movie, or a computer program. A potentially unlimited number could be delivered electronically, and the marginal unit cost of production would be zero. This would justify investment in upskilling the elves by offering courses in topics like software engineering and the editing of sound and video.
Rudolf agreed that more gifts could be delivered digitally, and that this would help him and the other reindeer. However, he felt the essential character of Santa was to be traditional and this should not be diluted by diversifying too far.
Santa finds it increasingly challenging to make a personal visit to every home in order to deliver his gifts. Only a trivial number of modern houses have a chimney, meaning precious minutes are wasted picking door locks to enter each property, and Santa set off more than one house alarm during this Christmas night as a result. He asked Mrs. Claus to get quotes to use a parcel delivery service for perhaps a third of all gifts. The idea would be to rotate personal deliveries so every good child would still have a hand-delivered gift two years out of every three. Rudolf asked if this was opening the door to competitors that did not require children to be good or believe in Santa. Outsourcing both production and delivery would leave Santa’s gift service open to the accusation that it is no different to the service offered by Amazon. Santa said his gifts always arrived on time, and more importantly that the big difference between Santa’s gift service and Amazon is that Santa gives without expecting payment in return. Lesley questioned if this wasn’t the real underlying cause of all their problems. Santa’s business model was essentially flawed. Santa responded by asserting that altruism was essential to his mission and that he would rather close the operation down if the alternative was to start seeking payment from those who receive his gifts.
Mrs. Claus proposed a staggered Christmas to ease the burden of having a single annual deadline and making all deliveries on the same night. Rudolf said that although they had started making deliveries at precisely one minute past midnight on 24th December, and had taken advantage of timezones with a progressive delivery schedule from East to West, this still left them less than 36 hours to deliver everything. Per Mrs. Claus, it would be easier if deliveries were done on a quarterly basis. Each child would be allocated to a rota with the delivery dates being 25th December, 25th March, 25th June and 25th September. Santa felt this moving away from deliveries on the 25th December was too radical, and Lesley agreed with Santa.
Lesley felt that a franchising approach might be an alternative solution to the problem of a bottleneck delivery schedule for Santa. Instead of fighting santa imposters, perhaps they could introduce an accreditation scheme and let the proxy santas make the deliveries for their region. They would still distribute toys manufactured by the real Santa according to Santa’s list. They could receive a bulk shipment of the presents and a distribution list in advance of Christmas Eve. Some advantages would be getting more stock out of the warehouse early and simplifying overall logistics for the big day. Rudolf said there was a risk of fraud and that toys might not be in delivered to the right children. Santa was uncomfortable with the idea of trusting strangers and felt it was a deceit to use fake Santas, but he was willing to allow Lesley to do some research into the idea. He suggested Lesley begin by asking the Easter Bunny what his policy was on delegating responsibility for delivery. Lesley should also ask EB about his vetting procedures.
The meeting agreed that after working hard all year, they all deserved a break and they would adjourn to the pub unless there was any other business.
Mrs. Claus asked if the idea of giving people lots of material gifts was actually the wrong message for a religious festival. She was having second thoughts about the wisdom of putting all the money and effort into the annual Christmas programme as it currently stands. Santa responded that the festival was older than Christianity and, if anything, the pursuit of meaningless stuff as a temporary and throwaway source of pleasure is perfectly in keeping with modern attitudes to life.
The meeting was then adjourned to the pub with a view to cheering everybody up after another long and arduous December. Discussion of plans for the works’ New Year party would take place down the pub. It was commented that it was poor timing to have two big party occasions within a week of each other. Santa observed that if either date needed to change, it should be New Year that changes, because the start of the year could occur at any arbitrary date but Jesus’ birthday could not change. It would be better to have New Year on June 30th, to spread out the big party events. Rudolf said that celebrating New Year’s Eve at the end of June would be great because pubs and clubs would be a lot less busy than on December 31st.