Eight high-level managers from UPS fan out for the day to a range
of social-service sites in New York City. They read stories to
homeless children, visit senior citizens, conduct mock interviews
with teens. For four weeks, the clock-bound atmosphere of package
delivery is replaced by the rhythms of a community's needs - and
glimpses of how they might do things differently back at their own
jobs in Iowa, Germany, and elsewhere.
While many firms encourage volunteering and even pay their
employees to support philanthropic efforts, UPS and others such as
Xerox and Cisco have gone a step further, structuring longer-term
projects to hone leadership skills. It's a kind of win-win outreach
gaining ground in the corporate world.
"One of the most developmental experiences people can have is
working with types of people they haven't dealt with before," says
Patricia Ohlott, senior research associate at the Center for
Creative Leadership in Greensboro, N.C. "They have to learn how to
communicate in different ways ... [and] develop new ways of solving
problems. That's pretty powerful."
More companies have used job assignments systematically as a
leadership-development tool in the past 10 to 20 years, Ms. Ohlott
says. But assignments in the nonprofit context add an interesting
twist: "They're so focused on their goal of helping people - it's a
different perspective from the one that people in corporations can
fall into, where you're driven by the bottom line."
Each year, UPS chooses 40 to 50 managers for its Community
Internship Program - matching them with urban or rural sites,
whichever will most take them out of their comfort zone. And it has
amassed hundreds of examples of "results" since it started its
program in 1968.
One manager often came down hard on an employee for running a few
minutes late. But after spending his internship helping people who
were wheelchair bound, he found out that the employee's wife was in
a similar situation - and he finally understood what a challenge
that could be. Another was inspired to knock on doors in a blighted
neighborhood he had never really spent time in to ask residents how
well his drivers were serving them. And a manager from Kentucky
gained some insight during his internship in San Francisco's
Chinatown, where, for the first time in his life, he found himself
the only white man in a room.
"We're not retreating to the mountains and having someone lecture
to us about sensitivity," says Malcolm Berkley, a spokesman for UPS
who also served in San Francisco last year.
Each summer, two successive groups of UPS interns live at the
Henry Street Settlement on Manhattan's Lower East Side. In its 101
years, the nonprofit has played a part in virtually every social-
improvement and civil rights achievement in New York. It operates
everything from domestic abuse shelters to arts programs.
On this day, UPS managers Ed Burnett and Ginger Golobish are
acting out job interviews at Henry Street's Workforce-Development
Center. They've already been coaching this group of young adults on
work-appropriate dress (some needed to learn how to tie a tie),
posture, and common interview questions.
Student Michael Pinder approaches Ms. Golobish with an
outstretched hand, as if meeting her for the first time. When she
asks, "Why should I hire you," he responds with a well-rehearsed
list: "I have experience. I'm a people person.... I'm a hard
worker.... I always try to be the best at what I'm doing." When the
interview ends, the class breaks into applause. Then there's a
critique. Everyone agrees Mr. Pinder has come a long way, but Reynel
Santiago, a graduate of the program and now the trainer, offers a
comment on posture: "It seemed like he was in a lounge talking with
a lady!" Sit up straight and don't cock your head to the side, he