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Going Door to Door: Talent at UPS

The international shipping company delivers via internally groomed talent.

June 6, 2010
Related Topics: Technology
KEYWORDS technology
The international shipping company delivers via internally groomed talent.

Delivering to more than 220 countries, UPS covers a lot of ground, and it takes a lot of employees to do it — more than 415,000 in total, 44,000 of those managerial. The vast majority of this management staff — 75 percent — began their careers at UPS either driving or loading UPS’s trademark brown trucks.

According to Amy Whitley, vice president of human resources at UPS, promoting from within defines UPS’s approach to talent management; any given employee of the international shipping company has likely learned it from the ground up. Whitley discussed with Talent Management how this approach helps keep everyone at UPS on the same street.

TM: Describe UPS’s approach to talent management.

Whitley: Jim Casey started the company way back in 1907, and from the beginning his philosophy was promotion from within, growing our talent from the inside. More than 75 percent of our full-time managers, including most of our VPs, were once non-management employees, so they began their careers as a loader-unloader or as a package driver. That’s how I started my career. So it’s been our approach to make sure that our employees understand the business, how we make money [and] how we develop and align customer service. It helps everyone to focus on what the core business is, so as they do progress in their careers they can always reflect back on that and how it ties to their current management job responsibilities.

Occasionally we do hire people midcareer, and we also try to give those people exposure to the business; during peak season — the holiday rush — we’ll put them out on assignment so they get that exposure to the business.

TM: What processes or programs has UPS established to improve the performance of its entire workforce?

Whitley: A couple of years ago, we embarked on a large project [of] establishing job models. That was something we [did] to make sure that we had that basic foundation, which really defined each role of every management person within the organization. They became foundational, [giving] us visibility to clear expectations of job performance and job duties, skill gaps, including competencies, and standard information for recruiting, [such as] job summaries. We use this information to make our job setting and performance management process more robust [so we can] focus our career development process on competency development. It’s helped to change our approach to training and development and given us that foundation, so as we enhance other programs within the organization, we’ve got job models to focus on first. Before that, people really didn’t have this [knowledge of] their current jobs or other jobs that they might be interested in learning more about.

TM: How is performance management linked to the strategic objectives of UPS?

Whitley: Like most large multinational companies, it is a multifaceted approach, so it ranges from business expansion and emerging economies to closely managing aspects of our transportation logistics side of the business. We use this framework mapping technique to link UPS’s strategic goals to the actions that are necessary to achieve these results. An example of this: In our domestic U.S. business, we use advanced technology and educate our drivers to help reduce the number of miles driven. It allows [them] to spend more of their time delivering and picking up packages and not wasting time driving excess miles, and [UPS] impacts the environment less.

TM: What challenges impact talent management for UPS?

Whitley: The biggest one is just our sheer size. It makes the business of designing and implementing programs a real challenge. To be effective, we have to accommodate the needs of these multiple business units, [such as] all the different legal and regulatory challenges that we [face], not only in the U.S. but certainly abroad, and we have to support it by a robust communication channel and change management. And language capabilities: We have to make sure that we can be understood by our local folks as well.

TM: How does UPS work to change or create leadership and management behaviors that lead to optimal workforce performance?

Whitley: One of the things that we did in fourth quarter of 2009 is realign our leadership competencies so that they more adequately reflected the skill set that we’ll need for current and future business leaders. Two new competencies that we added had to do with business acumen and people development, and the other enhancement that we made had to do with giving people the ability to rate their employees based on their leadership level. In the past, we were rating a supervisor on the same competency — let’s say decision making — as we would a vice president. And clearly there’s a different level of skill that you need around decision making than you might need as a supervisor, so we enhanced that to where it’s level-based competency evaluation.

TM: How does UPS use learning and development to manage talent?

Whitley: We have been a learning organization for the past 102 years. But in 2008, we started looking at the scope of training programs that we offer and the audience that we offer them to, and we realized that we weren’t being as effective as we would like to be. We decided to change our whole model and move away from instructor-led training, which had been the cornerstone, to just-in-time, on-demand e-learning.

We have a strong philosophy of and believe in the importance of learning — we have extensive tuition reimbursement programs — because we promote from within. We know that we’re not bringing in the talent from the outside that has had different learning experiences. Their experiences for learning have been largely internal, so our focus has to be strong around learning. Our philosophy continues strongly in our value proposition, so when we think about “Why do people come to UPS? Why do people stay with UPS?” we think [it’s] based in learning and getting educated.

TM: What processes or programs have you established to attract, recruit and retain top talent?

Whitley: One of the key value propositions at UPS is the value of our brand and our reputation. When you’re out representing the brand, if you work for UPS, there’s instant name recognition. And there’s something to be said for that. Say you worked for UPS and then left and went and worked for [a less well-known] company; as you network with other people and introduce yourself at meetings, you have to explain what that company does, what your product offering is or your service. That’s not the case with UPS.

TM: How do you measure workforce performance?

Whitley: We use a balanced scorecard tool, which is used for our business and functional results. Then we take it to the next level using quality performance review (QPR), our individual evaluation tool, and that is aligned with our balanced scorecard because it maintains a four-perspective approach around people, customers, financial and internal business results. And then today, technology certainly plays a big role in our ability to monitor and measure thousands of aspects of our business. So we’re graphing a lot of service trends. In the past, we used to do it with pencil and paper, and now we’re doing it with computers.

TM: How do you use assessments to manage UPS’s talent?

Whitley: We use a variety of assessments for all levels of our management team. So for our entry-level, generalist management, we have an assessment process that measures problem solving and interpersonal and general management skills. That would be used for someone who’s internal and not in management yet who wants to go into management, as well as someone we might hire from a college or university. For our salespeople, we use a sales battery assessment, and then for our director-level and above, we use the Hogan Assessment.

What compensation and incentive practices do you employ to help manage talent in your organization?

[We take] a total rewards approach to compensation and benefits, so the goal there is to strengthen our employee value proposition, which then leads to strong engagement and customer and employee satisfaction. This includes competitive salaries and annual incentives for our front-line management team, which is based in UPS stock, largely.

TM: How do you handle succession planning at UPS?

Whitley: Our senior management committee spends time each month in their monthly meetings reviewing succession planning. Each month, one or two of the committee members leads a discussion on succession planning for their function or area of responsibility, and they provide a detailed status of names and action plans for each of the candidates for director level and above.

TM: What’s next for UPS in terms of talent management and workforce performance development?

Whitley: [We plan on] strengthening the relationship between performance and pay; improving the line of sight between results and rewards; improving the quality of goal setting and feedback in individual performance management review sessions; leveraging competency gap data to prioritize development and the deployment of our learning resources; focusing development efforts on improving business acumen; deploying a shared services staffing model for talent management and training; and making career development more transparent through career opportunities and job posting.

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