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Shape Up and Ship Out

Article excerpt

At United Parcel Service, a new career development system helps managers shape their career plans--delivering a promising future for the shipping company and its employees.

United Parcel Service, with its brown trucks and its own airline (the ninth largest fleet in the United States), is a familiar player in the high-stakes game of rapid package-distribution services. UPS's 285,000 employees in 185 nations and territories worldwide operate a system that makes use of sophisticated electronic-tracking technology to ensure the timely pickup and delivery of everything from business documents to birthday presents.

Though its business is directly involved with the movement of objects, UPS also thinks seriously about people development. This management-owned company sees customer satisfaction, service quality, and the ongoing development of its people as crucial and interrelated elements of success.

In the mid-1980s, the company was facing powerful competitors and economic pressures, particularly those brought on by the deregulation of the trucking industry. That was when UPS made the all-important move from pen-and-paper to electronic package-tracking technologies. But the company recognized that its competitive advantage lay not only in technology, but also in a strong customer orientation.

By the end of the decade, the company had decided to take major steps to ensure that all UPS employees would have the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to perform well in increasingly complex jobs and to handle any upcoming changes.

The company's 1991 mission statement redirected the business strategy by placing the focus squarely on four areas, including its people and its customers. In so doing, UPS was forced to reckon with a crucial issue: the development of its managerial ranks, which includes roughly 49,000 people worldwide. UPS's leaders confronted the challenging task of designing a management development system that would keep supervisors' and managers' capabilities state-of-the-art, while effectively linking that system to management selection and training.

From the start, UPS decided that its new system, known as the UPS Career Development Process, should work as a partnership among supervisors, managers, and the company. The system's first goal would be to help supervisors and managers at all levels become better leaders, problem solvers, and communicators. Top management recognized that those people would need ongoing career-planning help, as well as training and development that would truly prepare them for the future while helping them to "grow in place" in their current jobs.

In response to that challenge, UPS created and is beginning to implement an ambitious development system. Perhaps its most striking feature involves the movement of information on individual supervisors' development needs and potential. Under the new systems, that information travels up the corporate echelons, shaping organizational staffing decisions and overall planning at the departmental, district, and regional levels.

Getting from here to there

How does the system actually work? The figure shows the sequence of steps in the UPS Career Development Process.

To illustrate the process, let's look at the case of Sharon Summers, a UPS center manager with a team of three full-time and four part-time supervisors. After undergoing on-site training in the new development process, Sharon launches this process in her center by looking ahead at the business challenges facing her work team and creating a development strategy for the group. To do that, Sharon fills out a Management Team Development Profile, a tool for linking individual development with business needs.

To complete the profile, she identifies the crucial skills, knowledge, and experience that her team members must have if they are to meet current and anticipated business needs. Next, she assesses the relevant qualifications and experience of the team and pinpoints any gaps--for instance, a lack of awareness of new software or an inexperience with personal computers. …