This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
Roch Carrier's classic story The Hockey Sweater, where the child waits in anticipation of receiving a hockey jersey ordered from the Eaton's catalogue, paints the picture of Canadian winters and looking forward to receiving that "something special."
Today, that excitement for a special gift or order has not changed, but there is no doubt that the delivery experience certainly has.
UPS is entering its 107th holiday season. This is an important time of the year filled with special moments and experiences, including the deliveries. For us, it is our busiest time of the year that presents its own set of challenges.
We serve every address in Canada and with over 900,000 kilometres of roads subject to extreme weather conditions, combined with increased consumer expectations – stirred by ballooning e-commerce – we plan well in advance for this time of year.
To give a sense of the task, in 2013 we saw a surge in volume during what we call "peak week" – the third week of December – where about 2,388 UPS cargo flights took off around the world, roughly 465 more flights than a typical November day.
On our busiest day, up to 300 packages are delivered per second worldwide. To put that in perspective, a hummingbird's wings flap an average 50 times a second.
At that pace, we recognize that deep front-line knowledge is critical to our success and part of the reason why UPS promotes from within.
In 2007, I became UPS Canada's first Canadian president, but my journey began in 1981 as a UPS driver navigating the streets of Toronto. Just like today, the holidays were a special time to be a UPS driver as people waited for their delivery – and my arrival. Getting a package to the customer is what excited me most. I could feel the joy at every stop that always ended with a thoughtful thank you and best wishes for a happy holiday.
Today that same thoughtfulness is evident; however consumers' expectations are very different. We continue to evaluate and understand the market and we consistently survey consumers on their desires and demands.
Based on recent research, online shoppers show us the contrast from the days of having to wait for deliveries. Unlike Carrier's story set in 1946, today's reality is that 36 per cent of Canadian shoppers want a specific time for home delivery. While 25 per cent want to be able to reroute packages to a location convenient for pickup, and another 88 per cent have abandoned an online shopping cart due to lengthy delivery time or no delivery date provided.
With changing expectations alongside weather uncertainties, we must know how to marry new processes and technologies to the lessons of the past, while keeping our employees motivated in this pressure-filled time of year. Here's what we've learned.
Plan in advance and over communicate.
Having worked the front line, I know how critically important it is that our employees feel they have the right foundation in place to help meet customer expectations.
Of course, breaking through the holiday clutter to communicate internally can be challenging.
This is why holiday planning is a year-long initiative.
I also speak regularly with UPS leadership at all levels to ensure they are well aware of our plans, priorities, challenges and opportunities.
From the customer side, for example, e-commerce and online shopping is on the rise but this phenomenon was not unexpected. We saw U.S. e-commerce boom and we stayed ahead to ensure we were ready to tackle it when it happened in Canada.
Recognize that our business is shaped by internal and external feedback.
We incorporate feedback from all employees and customers into our planning.
Also, by understanding what our largest customers' plans are, we can set priorities and projections to effectively deliver.
This combined feedback led to our expansion in Atlantic Canada and British Columbia, as well as launching new services like UPS My Choice, where customers can set a specific delivery time and get text or e-mail alerts about the delivery status of their package.
Get everyone to work toward common goals.
UPS employees at all levels (including me) wear different hats to hit our primary goal of ensuring that every single package is out of our system by Dec. 24. It is the goal of each of our 10,000 UPS Canada employees.
UPS staffers believe packages are more than "stuff in a box." It is really about delivering expectations and emotions, which is why we wear the UPS brown with pride.
But as the mom in The Hockey Sweater said, "It's not what you put on your back that matters, it's what you put in your head."
I could not agree more as effective leadership is based on understanding how we all play an important part.
Mike Tierney is president of UPS Canada (@UPS_Canada).