Reverse-engineering UPS Story on Training

ups driver

Any company would prize 20 column inches plus a photo on the front of The Journal’s Marketplace section.

That’s exactly what UPS enjoyed in the article titled “UPS Thinks Outside the Box on Driver Training.”

The piece makes for a good mini case study on the type of storytelling that plays in the business media.

Note the absence of a news release.

This is a one-off feature.

While the writer packages a phantom news hook in the lead graph around what appears to be a recent problem – a large percent of driver candidates wash out of the traditional training – we learn later that the solution to the problem commenced in 2007.

This is not new, and that’s OK.

But the lead graph does illustrate the power of a “negative” in storytelling:

Vexed that some 30% of driver candidates flunk its traditional training, United Parcel Service Inc. is moving beyond the classroom to ready its rookies for the road.

Most companies wouldn’t release a statistic that reflects poorly on its performance, even if it’s in the rear-view mirror.

Yet, UPS recognizes the negative stat creates the door-opener to the story.

ups boxAs discussed in previous posts, without being open to sharing what’s been done in the past, the reporter has no context to understand the significance of what’s been achieved in the present. The larger the distance between “what was” and “what is,” the greater the drama.

In the case of UPS, the new training has reduced the washout number to 10 percent.

Further showing an understanding of storytelling, UPS delivers (couldn’t resist) access to The Journal reporter so she can see with her own eyes what goes down in a training session.

Again, most companies would take a pass on this technique; i.e., what happens if the reporter, God forbid, sees a mistake?

Well, the reporter did see a mistake:

Mr. Byrnes hopped back in and started up. “Stop! Stop! Ugh!” yelled Mr. Keys. He picked up the cone. “This is a kid who was playing football around your vehicle and went to get his ball.” Mr. Byrnes looked shaken and slapped his forehead. The lesson stuck: At the next stop, he checked for cones.

And you know what? It’s OK.

If anything, it brings a realness to the story.

Of course, The Journal needs to remind folks that it devotes features to topics, not companies; hence, the obligatory paragraph on other companies testing novel training, including UPS archrival FedEx, which offers this amusing comment:

FedEx Corp. says it, too, has moved toward more hands-on learning in the past five years, although it adds the change wasn’t prompted by a high failure rate among trainees.

Ouch.

It’s always a compelling read when a relative unexpectedly throws a dart.

Still, the article quickly reverts back to the topic at hand and leaves the reader with a positive feeling about UPS.ups box

I didn’t conduct exhaustive research, but best as I can tell the last time UPS played the training card was back in 2007 in Fortune when it first introduced Integrad:

On Sept. 17, UPS opened its first-ever full-service pilot training center, a $34 million, 11,500-square-foot, movie-set-style facility in Landover, Md., aimed directly at young would-be drivers and known as Integrad. The facility and curriculum have been shaped over three years by more than 170 people, including UPS executives, professors and design students at Virginia Tech, a team at MIT, forecasters at the Institute for the Future, and animators at an Indian company called Brainvisa.

So while the innovative UPS training does sit in the public domain, the new hard data – 1,629 trainees have completed the program with a 90 percent success rate – allows The Journal to revisit the topic.

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