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1993 Vision Optimas Award Profile United Parcel Service of America

October 1, 1993
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Related Topics: Service, Career Development, Vision, Employee Career Development, Featured Article
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Perhaps no single company has realized the benefits of community involvement at the corporate level more than Atlanta-based United Parcel Service of America, Inc., or has made a bigger collective impact. Rather than reaping the benefits of good deeds simply as side effects of its charitable efforts, UPS has invested itself in worthy causes for another business reason: management development.

In 1968, UPS established the Urban Internship Program, now known as the Community Internship Program. The program originated as a series of classroom lectures for mid- to senior-level managers and has grown into a hands-on learning experience. Selected managers spend an entire month on location at one of four sites, learning about the plight of the area's disadvantaged citizens, and in so doing, gain better management skills such as problem solving and human interaction.

Each year, UPS sends approximately 40 managers from the company's 2,500-person management pipeline into four different internship locations run by nonprofit agencies in New York, Tennessee, Texas and Illinois. Since the program's inception, more than 850 managers have participated as interns.

As a company that conducts business in every U.S. community, UPS's goal was to create a management team that's sensitive to the needs of individuals from every community in which it does business. The company's senior management team concluded 25 years ago that managers who were more in-tune with the increasingly complex needs of a diverse work force and customer base would be better able to guide the organization into operating more strategically than in the past.

In recognition of its tremendous foresight in implementing a community-service program that's a mix of humanitarian and business goals, UPS has been awarded the 1993 Personnel Journal Optimas Award® in the Vision category.

The world becomes a classroom for management development.
Taking its best managers out of their jobs for a month and sending them off into the world to learn about the lives of the less fortunate was a big undertaking for UPS back in 1968. It still is. It costs the company $10,000 per manager. Over the course of 25 years, that adds up to more than $10 million.

The company's senior team, in cooperation with the board of directors, had good business reasons for sending managers off to perform such tasks as serving meals to the homeless, helping rid urban ghettos of drug paraphernalia and visiting the elderly.

"We thought there would be a twofold benefit for us," explains Jack Kelley, senior vice president of human resources for UPS. "Our vision was to help our managers better understand people's sensitivities, individual needs and how to motivate.

"The other benefit of the program was that we could help some of the communities that we had been involved with all these years," says Kelley. The organization now has 2,250 operating centers in the U.S. and worldwide. "We're a very successful company, and it's not all because we're geniuses sitting behind desks," Kelley says. "We work with people in the community and in businesses to make that happen. We believe we ought to share the wealth of our success."

Another factor that aided management's original support for the program was the then-recent passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law's impact on recruitment, hiring and retention practices was being felt throughout the U.S. business community.

UPS hired Walter Hooke as a consultant in 1965 to help the company set up a strategy to become a more diverse workplace. Hooke had been involved with the Urban League in San Francisco and became the architect of the internship program. He became a human resources manager at UPS, and retired as vice president and national personnel manager in 1978.

The Community Internship program aided UPS in its affirmative-action efforts, partly by helping managers understand the importance of employing a diverse work force and also by helping them be more agreeable to it. "It was just one way we could move UPS to the forefront of doing some of the things that everybody should have been doing at the time," says Kelley.

In the late '60s, UPS had a predominantly white male management team and needed to look toward changing that lineup. Senior management specifically chose individuals for the internship program who weren't as open-minded about changes to the status quo as others. Many of them had negative attitudes toward minority workers. They were the people who needed to broaden their horizons and get firsthand experience with different minority groups, such as African-American or Hispanic citizens.

As the program progressed, however, its focus changed. As diversity within the work force became more commonplace, managers who were eager to rise within the corporation began to see the impact that the internship experience had on their fellow managers and on their careers. They began to see the program not as a remedial exercise in tolerance, but rather as an important way to gain valuable management-development skills.

Highly structured internships yield better results.
Although there have been more than 19 different internship sites over the years, UPS currently sends interns to the four following locations:

  • University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Chattanooga, Tennessee. From the streets of Chattanooga to an Appala-chian mining town, interns learn about the many faces of poverty in the U.S. through this university-sponsored program
  • South Texas Community Internship in McAllen, Texas. Interns learn of the hardships faced by people who have settled in this community, just north of the Mexican border
  • St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in Chicago. Gang activity, drug trafficking, violence and poverty are only a few of the problems that interns learn about at this site
  • Henry Street Settlement House in New York, New York. In the midst of crowded tenements and crime-ridden streets, the settlement is a solace and a foundation of hope for residents of the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

With the exception of the program at the University of Tennessee, all of the programs are run by nonprofit agencies. The University of Tennessee program, headed by Dr. Ed Cahill, gets interns involved in local agencies that provide services for the city's diverse population-from low-income families to the disabled.

UPS's corporate human resources department is responsible for maintaining the internship program. "We have the responsibility to steer the ship, and that's really what we do. We organize it," says Kelley. Dan Preble, training manager for UPS at the corporate level, has also been the manager of the Community Internship Program since 1987. For the past two years, he's been assisted by Jack Allen, who's the training manager for UPS's Pacific Region, based in Laguna Hills, California.

The assistant's assignment eventually will rotate to different people within HR. The job involves monitoring those employees who are selected for the program to make sure that there's a diverse mix of interns for each session. The assistant also coordinates with the people who run each of the agencies where the interns work. In ad-dition, the assistant visits the interns a few times while they're on-site. "It's really a plum assignment," says Allen. "You couldn't pay to get the experience that I've been able to get for the last two years working with the internship program."

Employees from different regions are teamed together into groups of approximately eight. They're usually sent to participate in an area far away from their homes. The reason is to give them more experience in diversity and to expand their horizons. "We wouldn't send people close to where they live and work," says Preble.

After they're selected, the training department sends the interns a packet of information that includes a video about the program and printed materials. Each candidate sends a biographical sketch to the program coordinator at his or her internship site, so that the coordinator can match his or her skills and abilities with the specific needs of the internship site.

Before they go, interns meet with individuals from corporate HR and the coordinators from their internship sites and spend about six hours in orientation activities. The orientation lays out in detail why they were chosen and what's expected of them. They also get an overview of the program from a philosophical and historical perspective and learn what they can expect to gain from it. "Believe me," says Allen, "we're a bottom-line company. Yet this is probably the only thing we do in UPS where we're not looking for a bottom-line result."

While the interns are on paid assignment for a month, they participate in a specific project that supports a nonprofit group. They report to their designated site. Each day of the month is planned in advance. Typical activities during the month include working in a shelter for the homeless, a food-distribution kitchen, a drug-rehabilitation center or an inner-city school.

They also learn about the local community and its struggles by visiting such places as AIDS hospices, prisons, and community centers for the elderly. Interns work in pairs or in groups and reside on-site or near-site, with just one trip home after two weeks.

Managers are encouraged to call home, but not the office. It isn't uncommon for UPS managers to be on special assignments or to take road trips. The organization constantly challenges managers to prepare others to step in when they must leave the office. "How else do you develop people unless you give them the chance to step in when you're not there?" asks Preble.

In many cases, interns also teach some of their management skills to community-based agency personnel or help solve specific problems. For example, intern Anne Simmons, who's the medical-services manager for UPS's Pacific Region, helped develop admitting procedures for people infected with tuberculosis for one of the agencies that the Henry Street Settlement project works with in New York City.

Other interns may impart their know-ledge about computer programming, budgeting processes or management techniques. This is advice that most nonprofit agencies wouldn't otherwise be able to afford.

Program logistics have changed over the years. Instead of just touring life in the inner city or other areas, interns now get involved in actual projects. "It's more experiential," says Preble, who also served as an intern at a site in Texas in 1980. The other program change is identifying which abilities and skills interns bring with them to the experience. By identifying those skills ahead of time, the service organizations can capitalize on the interns' wealth of knowledge while they're there.

Managers become better-skilled with people and problem-solving issues.
After managers complete the program and return to work, they make a presentation about what they've learned. They have two separate business meetings-one for the staff and one for their peers. "They share exactly what happened, what they learned from it, what they gained, how they expect to use it and what it did for them personally and professionally," Preble explains.

Interns also are required to send a report about their experiences to corporate HR in Atlanta. HR department personnel compile the individual reports into one yearly Community Internship Report, which is distributed throughout the company.

Human resources asks interns not to let the experience die. "We challenge them to get more involved with their local communities through charitable efforts," says Preble. Six months after interns have been back on the job, HR touches base with each of them to find out what they're doing with what they've learned, both personally and professionally.

"Sometimes you have to get away from the front line to clear your head, to see humanity in a different way," says Preble. For example, many interns who go to the Henry Street Settlement project in New York make a trip to the Gay Men's Health Crisis Clinic. The objective, according to Preble, is for interns to "get a better feel for the humanity of the gay community" and to learn how to deal with issues surrounding AIDS.

Preble says that it helps interns broad-en their perspectives about the disease by meeting people who are HIV-positive or are afflicted with AIDS. He adds: "I don't know, but there have to be people within UPS who are dealing with problems of mental duress, drugs, alcohol or AIDS. We're a microcosm of society, so it's incumbent upon these managers to become more familiar with what's going on at large."

Often, there aren't direct correlations between an intern's experience and his or her specific job. However, those people who are involved with the program say that the experience gives managers a broader perspective on life and work, which usually translates into better management skills.

Two changes that Allen has noticed about interns when they return from internships are that they aren't so quick to judge other people and that they take more time to talk with people who are different from themselves. Allen spent time as an intern in 1974 and says that he noticed that his own attitudes about people changed. He says that he's more liberal in his thinking and actions and is more empathetic with the hardships that others face.

"In being sensitive to different people's needs and interests, there's no better way than to experience it firsthand," says Preble. "We know that when [interns] go back home and they manage a diverse work force, they're going to be taking these things into consideration when they make decisions about people-whether it be car-eers, discipline, employment or opportunity-those things are going to enter into the person's total decision-making process."

Bill Cox, division manager for UPS's south Florida region, says that his internship in McAllen, Texas, was a life-changing experience. "It's one of the better things I have done in my life in the sense that I got to participate away from impediments like work, social life and personal commitments," says Cox.

The McAllen internship gives interns a firsthand look at the lives of people who live in the Rio Grande Valley, many of whom have crossed the border from Mexico only a year or two earlier. They see families of eight living in two-room shacks and paying $800-a-month rent for them. The unemployment rate in the area is high, and language barriers inhibit many children from completing school. Cox saw migrant workers who were out of work for six to seven months at a time because the local crops had failed.

"Even though we are quite affluent in this country and have a marvelous political and economic system that helps people make more of themselves than anywhere else in the world, people still are having tough times here also," says Cox. "You really don't understand the seriousness or the magnitude of it and the difficulty of breaking the cycle until you actually get involved with the people."

How has the experience helped Cox back on the job? He says that he's a lot less prone to making quick decisions, particularly when it comes to dealing with matters of the less-than-quantitative. "When it comes to relationships and personal issues, those are the things that intuitively I've become better at grasping," Cox explains.

For example, Cox says that he's recently realized the particular difficulties that single working mothers face. Holding down full-time jobs while also being full-time mothers sometimes creates attendance problems for some of them. "I'm very sensitive to that nowadays, whereas in the past I may not have been," says Cox. "Now I think about where we can make reasonable accommodations and how to help the individual work through her problems with her job so that we can both satisfy our needs."

Although human resources doesn't specifically track employees' post-internship volunteer involvement, Preble says that their reports indicate that a sizable number of people become in-volved in community-based organizations after they return home. "There's a substantial increase in the amount of personal and professional contributions they give to local agencies back home," says Preble. Cox, for example, says that he has increased his commitment to community service 400% since he completed his internship three years ago.

Some interns continue to stay in contact with their former internship agencies. Some go back during their vacations to visit and help. Others conduct food or clothing drives in their local communities and then send the needed materials back to the agency where they interned.

"It's been a wonderful experience for our people, and we intend to continue it," says Kelley. As an internship participant and 21-year UPS employ-ee, Cox agrees that the experience is invaluable. "Through the program, I came to really respect my company. What it's doing truly is a significant step toward bridging the gap between organizations and communities," he says. "In so doing, it not only does something for the community, but it also makes each individual who participates in the program infinitely more wealthy in life knowledge. That's a gift you just can't match with money."

Personnel Journal, October 1993, Vol. 72, No. 10, pp. 90-98.

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