Magazine article Talent Development

Just like Me: UPS's Unique Intern Program Transforms the Perspectives of Leaders. (Trend Watch)

Magazine article Talent Development

Just like Me: UPS's Unique Intern Program Transforms the Perspectives of Leaders. (Trend Watch)

Article excerpt

An 80-year-old woman lives alone with her dog in urban Chicago. She has trouble hearing and making herself understood. She quit going out years ago; her parish priest is her only visitor. She has no family or friends who check on her or assist with her needs. Her apartment is in extreme disrepair and is fouled with dog excrement. Rats and roaches roam freely.

In McAllen, Texas, 40 percent of the population lives in poverty. Many residents earn less than US$25 per week. Nearly 100,000 immigrants live in colonias, unincorporated communities that lack the most basic utilities. Many colonias have no paved roads or running water. Light is often gained by running lines to a car battery outside. The local organization that helps people purchase land and build modest homes has a waiting list of 4000.

Programs that require executives to temporarily undertake humble roles in their companies are enjoying a new cachet, thanks to the British-import television series, Back to the Floor. Airing on PBS, the program sends top executives to the front lines of their businesses to do everyday jobs with everyday employees, and films their experiences. For example, Carnival Cruise Lines president Bob Dickinson spent a week making beds and waiting tables on board the MS Imagination.

Another example: The United Parcel Service Community Internship Program, founded in 1968 by then-president James Casey, is hardly trendy. But CIP has evolved into an exemplary training effort that holds valuable lessons not only for its participants, but also for companies everywhere that seek more dedicated, satisfied leaders who understand the problems in the world around them--and actively try to do something about those problems.

When Michael Lockard walked into the 80-year-old woman's Chicago apartment, he was stunned by the filth and low standard of living. Lockard admits that he lived his life in Louisville, Kentucky, in a "comfort zone." A self-described workaholic, Lockard tended his duties as finance and accounting controller for flight operations while his stay-at-home wife managed the domestic scene. He admits that cleaning, laundry, cooking, and so forth were "not things I typically do."

As a CIP intern in Chicago, working through the parish of St. Margaret of Scotland, Lockard rolled up his sleeves. He and five other interns cleaned the woman's apartment from top to bottom. They made minor repairs, changed light bulbs, hung doors. But what made the greatest impression on Lockard wasn't the living conditions or the unaccustomed duties, but the spirit of the woman he had helped.

"She had a great laugh," he says. 'Although she had nothing, she didn't see her situation as tragic. She was thankful, and hugged all of us at the end. Her attitude was inspirational. It puts happiness from material things into perspective."

Perspective. Inspiration. Spirit. Those are three of the intangibles that Don Wofford, corporate learning and development coordinator at UPS and coordinator of the Community Internship Program, hopes participants will gain during their four-week stints in underprivileged communities across the United States.

Each year, UPS selects 50 up-and-coming managers to participate in CIP. At a cost of about US$10,000 per intern, the company has spent more than $14 million on the program since its inception in 1968. More than 1100 managers and supervisors have participated. But there's little talk of return-on-investment: "It's emotional, not just financial," Wofford explains. "Our managers return from their internships filled with a different spirit."

UPS has a host of corporate training programs and leadership schools, spending more than $300 million per year on learning opportunities companywide. But CIP "hits a whole different core aside from management and leadership training. It's about understanding yourself and your role in the world," says Al Demick, learning and development manager. …

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