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Regardless of Job Title, Some Qualifications Remain the Same

October 9, 2007
Related Topics: Career Development, Candidate Sourcing, Employee Career Development, Featured Article, Staffing Management
In 1907, Ford’s Model T was brand new, air travel was in its infancy and the Internet was a piece of science fiction. All of these things have changed dramatically, making a huge impact on business generally—and UPS specifically.

But while technology continues to evolve, one thing in today’s business world has remained constant: values.

We still seek out the same kind of people UPS founder Jim Casey wanted on his team when starting his company 100 years ago. The people we hire—then as now—have five essential traits in common:

• Discipline

• Relentlessness

  • An innovative spirit

  • A team-oriented mind-set

  • Integrity

For us, this has proved to be a time-tested, winning formula for finding and keeping the very best and brightest employees. I believe it’s a list of characteristics that could greatly enhance the workforce at other companies too.

Let’s examine each of these traits:

Discipline: It would be an understatement to call UPS a disciplined company. How else could we deliver 15 million packages a day? Our drivers must master a time-and-motion process involving more than 600 methods performed during a driver’s day. This ranges from how drivers should hold their keys to how they enter and exit the vehicle.

Discipline in the way we execute is essential. We’re always on the clock, always on deadlines because of the promises we make to our customers. It couldn’t be done without disciplined people at every step along the way.

Relentlessness: A favorite coaching phrase of Jim Casey’s—one that’s survived for generations—is to always be "constructively dissatisfied." It’s a dual message: Never be satisfied with the status quo, and always find a better way.

This trait often separates those who fail from those who succeed.

Failing isn’t always bad. In fact, we tell our people failing is OK, as long as it’s small and quick. This empowers them to stretch—albeit carefully—and often spurs the third trait: a penchant to innovate.

An innovative spirit: Many think of innovation exclusively in terms of breakthrough designs like Apple’s iPod and iPhone. But some of the best business innovations involve seeing new ways to serve customers with resources that are already there.

We used to rely on human engineering rather than employing extensive technology. But the most successful legacy of the early Web—for us at least—is the ability to track packages from sender to receiver online. One week in December 2006, we handled 130 million package tracking requests online at a cost of 1 cent each. (Previously, this cost $2 per call using an 800 number.)

That’s a great example of innovation providing much better service at a much lower cost. Leveraging that capability, we now can intercept a delivery midstream. A shipper might want an order returned if they discover an error in it, or the recipient might want the package delivered somewhere other than home when an unplanned trip comes up.

A team-oriented mind-set: Within the UPS culture, you don’t see celebrity CEOs or superstars. There’s no executive dining room. Everyone calls everyone by their first name—from the package handler on the loading dock to the CEO. Everyone respects the role each employee plays in achieving common goals.

Senior executives’ careers most often span decades, with most of the senior executive team starting out on the ground floor—on the loading dock or as a driver. By the time they reach senior management, our leaders have benefited from experiencing many areas of the business and working on many teams.

Promotion from within and employee stock ownership across the organization are two legacies introduced by Jim Casey. He believed the most significant factor in the company’s success was that everyone had skin in the game—not only a financial stake, but also a sense of purpose.

That sense of purpose leads to the final quality on the ideal résumé and the most important value of all:

Integrity: Warren Buffett once said he looked for three things in a prospective employee: integrity, intelligence and energy. The most important, he said, is integrity. "If they didn’t have that, the other two qualities would kill you," he said.

Tragically, we’ve seen some high-profile companies prove him right.

We have always believed that trust was too important to ever compromise. Trust is the glue that holds our culture together—with our employees, our neighbors in the community and our customers. We make our ethical guidelines crystal clear to employees and keep our core values top of mind in ongoing training.

Necessary skill sets, job experience and educational background will vary by job description and candidate. These will change over time. But the five essential traits, while based on century-old business principles, are a primer for achieving longevity.

And in today’s world, they are more relevant than ever.

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