Regina Hartley discusses the idea behind her TED@UPS talk in a Q&A with Teri McClure.
On Tuesday Nov. 24, 2015, Regina Hartley’s TED@UPS talk was featured as the Talk of the Day on TED.com. In honor of this, Teri McClure, Chief Legal Officer and Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Employee Communications and Labor Relations, sat down with Regina a few days beforehand to dig a little deeper into what it really means to be a scrapper. *The transcript was edited for length and clarity. The podcast is an abridged version of the conversation.
McClure: Regina, congratulations on your TED@UPS talk being selected as the “talk of the day” by TED on TED.com. That’s an exciting opportunity. Tell me about where you came up with this idea, and what your thoughts were in preparing for this talk.
Hartley: A long time ago I noticed that there was a strong connection in people that I met who I considered successful leaders, and a lot of them had a background similar to mine. They were scrappers. They fought their way through difficult circumstances yet were able to navigate the business world. This idea has been brewing inside me for quite a long time.
McClure: That’s interesting. What’s your story? What makes you a scrapper in this context?
Hartley: I grew up poor and I was a beneficiary of scholarships through education. I didn’t have a lot but always knew that if I worked hard, I could overcome the challenges. I had a disabled father, and with that came a lot of disadvantages that I wanted to navigate around.
McClure: You mentioned that you had worked with a number of folks who you deemed to have this sort of background, and were scrappers. What do you think it is about UPS that attracts scrappers like you?
Hartley: I think it’s in our DNA. If you think about the history of UPS, our founder Jim Casey was the consummate scrapper. Jim Casey’s father died when he was young. He was the oldest of four kids and he had to go to work at 11 years old. So the culture at UPS is really a testimony to that spirit of entrepreneurship and accepting everybody – regardless of where they came from and what value they bring to the table.
McClure: What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from your scrapper background?
Hartley: It’s making sure you’re willing to accept new assignments and challenges. You have to embrace opportunity when it’s in front of you, but you also have to prepare yourself for opportunity. You can’t just expect things to be handed to you because you checked a box. You have to dig in, you have to learn new things, you have to be willing to understand the business that you support, and put your best foot forward.
McClure: Based on your talk and my thoughts about it afterwards, it seems that being a scrapper is about overcoming hardship, failure and adversity. What kind of lessons can we all learn from these things?
Hartley: Many times, people who fail are worried that they’re not going to be accepted, and that’s the end of their career. However, people can learn great lessons from a person who’s gone through failure. That’s the connection for adversity because once you’ve experienced adversity, you’re always looking for a way to navigate around it. Those people tend to come at problems with a mindset of “I want to find the solution” – not, “I can’t do this.”
McClure: Why do you think other companies don’t value that scrapper experience? Why do you think they put the emphasis on the traditional indices of success – education, that sort of thing?
Hartley: They think that success can be groomed and can come from a book or academic knowledge, rather than life experience. Many circumstances that people face every day are applicable to the business world, and if you can uncover those experiences and translate them into how they manage situations and lead people through difficulty, I think companies would unleash a lot of power and potential.
McClure: That’s a great perspective because I know many of the challenges and opportunities we face at UPS you can’t learn from a book. You have to apply experience and wisdom to address situations, and that’s sort on a daily basis as well as from a broader strategic basis. What do you think more companies should do? How can companies sort of generate the sort of scrapper mentality?
Hartley: I think it’s important that companies allow people to bring their whole self to work. They have to enable people to be who they are and not feel ashamed of their background. That includes a mix of thought, a mix of experiences, what countries they’re from and what religions they’re from. Through that difference, you create this beautiful tapestry that then enables people and companies to flourish with new ideas.
McClure: That’s a great point. What you’re saying is that it’s not that we should only look for the scrappers or only look for the academics, but it’s about embracing the value that both perspectives or a variety of perspectives bring to the table.
McClure: One of the comments you made in your talk was about the worst circumstances leading to growth and transformation – what scientists call post-traumatic growth. To me, that was an interesting concept. It appears like some people can grow from these traumatic incidents, but some people aren’t able to move beyond them. What does that mean for companies when they look at their employees and their employees’ comfort zones? How should we evaluate that sort of ability?
Hartley: First, you need the ingredients for success. The way that people can transcend difficult circumstances is by having advocates – somebody who takes a vested interest in them. For employees to flourish, especially employees who may have experienced disadvantage, they must feel that they’re being nurtured and somebody’s looking after them. Whether it’s formal or informal, people need a person to turn to for help in understanding the rules.
McClure: That’s interesting. Is that something that you had as you were going through your challenges – or is that something you determined later would have been helpful to you?
Hartley: I was very lucky. I had a lot of people [helping me] along the way that—some of them I conscripted into that role and some of them volunteered. It was a constant refinement of my leadership style, what I learned, and [requires] people to give you honest feedback. But you have to be open to accept it and then do something with it.
McClure: Do you think that UPS does a good job in nurturing our employees?
Hartley: Absolutely. I think that we, inherently – through our development processes and succession planning processes – take a holistic approach. We’re not looking at someone solely based on today’s job. We’re always looking at what they can contribute based on agility and ability rather than a checklist of experiences that they’ve previously held.
McClure: It’s important that we continue to do that because we don’t want to fall into a situation where we’re only looking at what’s on a sheet of paper or academic credentials or a resume. We need to look beyond that to the breadth of a person’s perspective and experiences to make sure we’re getting the best, brightest and talented to the table. Do you think we can help people appreciate the value of scrappers – and are there things that we can do to encourage that even more?
Hartley: I think we have a number of things already in place. I think about the Business Resource Groups, the BRGs. There were times when people might have felt alone because they didn’t come from the same country as everybody else. Now, in the business unit I work in, we have seven Business Resource Groups, and they enable people to bring their whole self to work and talk about their culture and their difficulties in a nurturing and supportive environment.
McClure: That’s a great thought – and a great example of what we’re doing and should continue to do. One of the key points you made is giving people the comfort level of sharing their experiences and, as you’ve pointed out, bringing their whole self to work. That’s something that we can all encourage each other to do on an ongoing basis.
McClure: Regina, when your TED talk goes live on TED.com and is seen by industry leaders and thought leaders around the world, what’s the one thing you want them to take from your talk if nothing else? How can they learn from your experience specifically and our shared experience here at UPS?
Hartley: I want to challenge them to think differently about their hiring practices, their promotion practices and their succession planning practices by valuing all of the pieces of an individual, whether they’re from a great university or a state college. We can’t limit, contain and filter the talent that’s out there.
McClure: That’s a great perspective, and I think you’ll accomplish that from your thoughts and shared TED talk. Regina, congratulations again. We are proud of you and happy that others will see an example of the great talent we have here at UPS. Congratulations.
Hartley: Thank you, Teri.
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