How the New CEO Freed the Flow at UPS

Shortly after Carol Tomé took over as CEO of UPS in early 2020, she made a troubling discovery.

After serving on the UPS board for 17 years, she assumed she already knew everything she needed to know about the shipping giant. But just like your neighbor can look fit and healthy right up until the day you hear the ambulance race down your street, Tome couldn’t believe that only (51%) of the company’s 543,000 employees would tell a friend that Big Brown is a good place to work.

“That meant 49% of our people would not recommend us…my hair was, like, on fire!” Tomé told Fortune.

Although the former Home Depot CFO freely admits “I really do like to make money,” she also knows thatpeople produce the numbers. If those people feel mehabout their employer, those numbers will remain elusive.

Tomé and her leadership team set a goal to move the “likely to recommend” metric from 51% to 80%. That metric became Tomé’s Decision Pulse – #1 objective, the guiding light, the heartbeat of her team’s mission to solve their people problems.

So, what did they do first? Did they add ping pong tables and craft beer taps to Big Brown breakrooms? Did they add an extra week of paid vacation? Did they add bonuses?

Nope. Instead of adding incentives, they cleared clots.

They decided to kill outdated employee policies that appeared to have been penned by the combined efforts of Ward Cleaver and Archie Bunker. Policies like the prohibition of tattoos and restrictive style mandates that prevented African-American men from wearing their hair naturally were, in 2020, doing little more than preventing huge swaths of their workforce from bringing their whole, authentic selves to work.

A year after removing those roadblocks, UPS’s employee recommendation metric climbed from 51% to 61%without adding a single expense to the bottom line. Clearing those clots simply freed the flow to the Pulse.

Tomé wasn’t done clearing clots.

During a strategy session with her extended leadership team, all their corporate initiatives were listed on the conference room walls. Each leader was then given green dots to stick on the initiatives that should be kept and red dots for the projects that should be shelved.

When the dust cleared, clusters of green sprouted up everywhere. Meanwhile, all the red stickers were still tucked safely into their shrink-wrapped packaging. Like anyone who has ever done this exercise, Tomé wasn’t surprised. We are all hoarders at heart.

Tomé told her team that nobody was leaving “until the red dots went up.” After that meeting, something magical happened. The most important projects received more money, more people, and more attention. Costs shrunk. Revenue grew.

For Tomé, the math is simple.

“As you start crossing things off the list…you become more productive.”

Judging by UPS’s rise in employee satisfaction and the doubling of their stock price and their skyrocketing return on invested capital during Tomé’s two-year tenure, she could have also said: As you clear the clots, you become happier, healthier and wealthier.

So, whether you’re chasing down a wildly important goal or trying to wrestle a wily problem to the ground, instead of thinking what more can I do, try asking what clots can I clear?