Saturday, March 28, 2015

At UPS: Management by hairy eyeball

Because Jill Schubert keeps a neat office, she didn't need to look long to find a unique artifact of her management style -- a transparent rubber ball with veined eyeball floating in it.

At UPS: Management by hairy eyeball

Because Jill Schubert keeps a neat office, she didn't need to look long to find a unique artifact of her management style -- a transparent rubber ball with veined eyeball floating in it.

"I take this to a meeting and I roll my hairy eyeball at them," said Schubert, who is president of UPS' Chesapeake District, the second-largest UPS regional district by employee count (15,205). That includes drivers and package handlers. Her core supervisory staff numbers about 30, with 10 in the upper ranks.

"I roll it across the table in the conference room and they know they just got a hairy eyeball thrown at them.," she said. "They said something and it's like – Are you kidding me?'

What's it all about? Her tone of voice told me that a hairy eyeball event was some ill-considered comment by one of her underlings. I asked the public relations person what it meant to him. He said that Schubert wants her staff to think and the eyeball serves as a reminder to think again, to make sure that all the aspects of a decision have been contemplated.

In a later email, sent through the public relations person, she offered much the same explanation: "It's an opportunity for me to make sure the person I roll it to has thought through every facet of what they just said or a decision. I use it as a tool to make my staff better thinkers."

Interesting. In my Leadership Agenda interviews, I've been asking a lot of these top executives about their management tips. Besides the hairy eyeball, Schubert has another one: She tries to ask top staffers questions that they do not expect, or can not immediately answer.

Why is that?

"It’s for them to know that I’m looking," she said. "My job is to catch the stuff that they hadn’t thought about." During the holiday season, when UPS is at its insane busiest, she said, things can fall through the cracks. "If I can ask the questions, [as in] don’t forget about [something], if they go look and ask about [it], then it won’t get dropped."

Then, she continued, "When I ask a question that my people think is insignificant and they are rolling their eyes through the phone --  they probably are, I used to roll my eyes when my boss would ask me a crazy question -- I tell them, `Look I went to school to find [questions] you don’t know the answer to.'"

I didn't understand, exactly. "I don't know," I said. "That sounds annoying. Is it really a plus or is it burdening people who already have too much to do?"

Schubert's response: "The challenge is when you ask and when you need to use it and not use it. I don’t do it to burden them. I do it to make them think."  

Tomorrow: Moving up and around for UPS. 

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog

Jobbing covers the workplace – employment, unemployment, management, unions, legal issues, labor economics, benefits, work-life balance, workforce development, trends and profiles.

Jane M. Von Bergen writes about workplace issues for the Inquirer.

Married to a photographer she met at her college newspaper, Von Bergen has been a reporter since fourth grade, covering education, government, retailing, courts, marketing and business. “I love the specific detail that tells the story,” she says.

Reach Jane M. at jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
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