On The Front Lines

Relationships on the Side of the Highway

Learning to develop relationships is at the heart of continued career growth.

Dave DeFilippo is chief learning officer for Suffolk.

My first job after teaching high school was with UPS. My first role was as a truck driver, or a package car driver in UPS jargon. After completing a company orientation and driver training in the heat of July in New England, I was off to learn my delivery route.

I quickly learned delivering and then picking up several hundred packages each day was hard work. I lost 10 pounds that first month.

A few months later on my birthday, I learned an early lesson about the importance of short- and long-term relationships. I had finished my delivery route and was heading back down the highway toward the UPS facility to finish up for the day when my truck’s engine blew up, spewing oil, smoke and ultimately flames out of the front. I pulled over to the side of the highway to try to figure out what to do. This was the era before cell phones became the norm.

A few of my fellow drivers stopped to make sure I was all right and told me they’d send word back to the office so I could be picked up. It was when I was sitting on the highway guardrail waiting that I noticed a well-dressed woman appear from around the back of my truck and walk toward me.

She asked if I was OK. Being annoyed with my current plight, I replied with a sarcastic comment. She then told me that she was the UPS business development manager for the area. It was at that moment when the pit in my stomach grew and I thought to myself, “You idiot!”

In the short term, my reputation for blowing up the UPS truck made for some good jabs from my fellow drivers and definitely a good amount of jeering from my manager. Despite that incident, I was promoted a few months later to a new role in the sales force.

I reported to my new location to meet my new manager. She just happened to be the same business development manager from the side of the highway. As she briefed me on my new role she said with a grin, “Well, I hope you take better care of your car than you did your delivery vehicle.” It was then I started to appreciate how small a world it is and how much first impressions and relationships really matter.

Back then, I took that lesson to heart and worked to build strong internal relationships and take on additional job assignments and projects. With the rise of social media since then as a means to connect and expand one’s networks, cultivating and caring for these relationships has taken on more relevance. I would even go so far to describe this skill as a required career management competency for anyone at any stage of their career.

As a case in point, nearly five years ago a man reached out to me on LinkedIn to ask to network as he was new to the Boston area. He was a learning and talent practitioner and wanted to meet other kindred spirits. We met, had lunch and found we shared common professional philosophies.

Three years later when I was looking to find someone who had a specific skillset and shared a similar passion for our field, guess who I contacted and subsequently hired? Relationships matter and making the gradual deposits to nurture and sustain them pays off with interest as it did for our team.

As a learning and talent practitioner I have had the opportunity to get to know others in the field regionally, nationally and globally and those relationships have been instrumental to benchmark, find resources and compare notes on issues.

As for my friend from the side of the highway, after a few months of learning the ropes of my new job and a good amount of feedback and coaching, we came to a reconciliation over our initial meeting. Our respective first impressions were both off base but that chance meeting had planted the seeds for a successful working relationship.

I learned a considerable amount from her and to this day we share a good story to laugh about even now.

Dave DeFilippo is chief learning officer for Suffolk. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.

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