Tag Archives: Holiday season

If UPS’ Accountants Can Deliver Holiday Packages, Human Capital May Be More Flexible Than We Expected

Now that the dust is clearing on the blow-out holiday sales season that retailers enjoyed last month, tales are emerging about the extraordinary steps that their supply chain managers took to meet customer demand.

What tales? Consider, for instance, the global delivery firm UPS. It received so many packages in the days leading up to Christmas that it was forced to ask hundreds of its accountants, marketers, and other office workers to join their colleagues in sorting and delivering packages.

Some were actually met at the doors of their office buildings and told to go home, change clothes, and report to operations facilities. Others were instructed to deliver packages with their own automobiles.

Pretty unusual, huh? Even more noteworthy is that the office workers completed these tasks responsibly. Apparently, their lack of training and personal unfamiliarity with delivery tasks failed to impede their performance.

That raises a few interesting questions. If accountants and marketers were able to succeed at these operating tasks, is human capital more flexible than we expected? If so, is the principle of work specialization overblown? And if true, are we spending too much time, effort, and resources on specialty training, and not enough on cross-training?

After all, cross-training was the fundamental Human Resource Management philosophy for centuries before Henry Ford and others developed modern Operations Management theory during the early 1900s. Business managers previously believed that it made more sense for craftsmen to learn all of the functions of producing a product or service, instead of specializing in a single function or two.

We now live in an era when many long-accepted assumptions about workers are falling by the wayside. For instance, riders now trust part-time Uber drivers as much as they ever trusted part-time taxi drivers. And travelers now trust part-time Airbnb hosts as much as full-time hoteliers.

Indeed, the UPS experience may simply represent another case of Human Capital being more flexible than we ever expected. And that very flexibility may be the harbinger of a human labor revolution.

Mystic’s Animal Behavior

Three nights ago, I attended the holiday season’s Festival of Lights at the Mystic Aquarium and its neighbor Olde Mistick Village in southeastern Connecticut. The Aquarium waived the admission fee for all entrants who donated food for charitable distribution, and the touristy shopping village lit up its buildings and walkways with a festive flair.

Without question, though, the stars of the evening were the beluga whales of the Aquarium. The astonishingly intelligent and amiable creatures recognized when tourists wished to snap photos and obliged by bringing their faces up to the tank’s glass walls to (quite literally) smile for the cameras. They danced with children, rolled upside down for applause, and even engaged in crowd control activities by temporarily swimming away when their fans became too loud and boisterous.

And how did the evening progress at the shopping Village next door? As can be expected, mobs of humans trampled the walkway lights, stormed the fudge counters, and flared into arguments as cashier lines lengthened throughout the stores. They drove their automobiles directly into fully gridlocked streets, and aggressively cruised the parking lots, desperate for open spots.

The Aquarium’s web site refers to the whales as “animals,” but if you had attended the Festival of Lights, you would’ve concluded that the reference was a misplaced one. For even if you had noticed any animal behavior in Mystic three nights ago, you wouldn’t had found it on the watery side of the aquarium tanks.