Let’s talk Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008

Every business action begins with communication. With up to 11 different and distinct methods of staying in touch with team members and customers in today’s work environment, the question becomes: Has this array of communication tools improved or hindered the quest for accurate and timely information?

“Executives and industry are consistently looking for audience-centered communication that delivers a clear and succinct message,” says Dr. Elke Leeds, assistant professor of IS, Kennesaw State University, Coles College of Business, School of Accountancy. “But ‘no-wait’ communication speeds up response times to the point where little thought and organization goes into the message.”

Smart Business spoke with Leeds to learn more about how businesses and learning institutions are working to better align students’ communication skill sets with business requirements.

What factors are placing more emphasis on improving communication skills?

Communication accounts for the majority of time spent in the working environment. Students have become proficient communicators in the academic community, but they need help making the transition to the business community. In reality, a new graduate will never get 30 minutes to deliver an uninterrupted presentation or rotate with a team of five people, each delivering five slides in a PowerPoint deck. If they get three sentences out before they are interrupted, they’re lucky. The learning institutions need to think about preparing students for the reality of work-place communication, making clear the idea that one spelling or grammatical error will damage trust irreparably, and executives do not want to take a tour of a spreadsheet or want to know how an algorithm computes its outcomes. Fundamentally, it comes down to meeting the needs of the audience.

How has technology affected the quality of business communication?

New and emerging technologies are impacting the way we communicate and collaborate. Smartphone/BlackBerry e-mail, text messaging and professional networking sites like LinkedIn have increased the frequency of communication but dropped the quality. Technology usage in communication expands the business communication skill set, but it doesn’t affect the underlying basic need for quality. Communication has been stressed as a critical business skill for the last twenty years. The concern is that it is getting worse, not better. Part of the problem is that institutions are largely relying on textbooks that are based on antiquated models of communication delivery. Our goal is to use technology to spotlight the changes and foster an environment for practice and improvement.

How are learning institutions teaching new communication skills to future managers?

Institutions are revisiting what they teach by going to the industry and asking what business leaders see as important communication skills and also encouraging future graduates to take every presentation opportunity offered to them. From an educational perspective, schools are bringing digital video into the classroom to work on oral communication delivery and communication apprehension. Students that deliver project results through video have more opportunity for review and practice and are more gradually introduced to public speaking and apprehension-causing situations. We are working with our students to get to ‘yes.’ I’m not talking about a hard sell — sometimes the ‘yes’ is persuading your audience that you are credible and can be trusted to take the project to the next step. Clarity is also a big focus.

MBA programs are embedding communication instruction throughout the curriculum. The programs are designed to create exposure to multiple business communication contexts and to leverage the technology available to create impact, looking carefully at matching the capabilities of the technology to the demands of the task.

How will these improved communicators impact the businesses they join?

They will become the ‘go-to’ hires. Organizational trust and reliance will occur much quicker. These individuals will represent the business well to internal and external constituents. The bar is being raised — those that can look someone in the eye, shake a firm hand, write an error-free and organized brief, speak from a knowledge center, and deliver what was asked for will accelerate their own and their organization’s success.

How can business leaders best work with learning institutions to align communication expectations?

Make expectations clear. Colleges of business have been fostering interaction between students and executives for a long time. Recent studies suggest business students’ interpersonal communication skills and ability to apply course concepts to real-world scenarios are results of student-executive interaction. Business leaders can offer insight to the classroom through participating in an executive panel on communication, granting an interview and providing a list of their communication needs, or by attending a university-sponsored event. The linkage between academic and industry needs to be made stronger. It starts with a phone call.

ELKE M. LEEDS, Ph.D., is assistant professor of IS, Kennesaw State University, Coles College of Business, School of Accountancy. Reach her at (770) 423-6584 or eleeds@kennesaw.edu.

Elke M. Leeds, Ph.D.
Assistant professor of IS, Coles College of Business
Kennesaw State University