Is your company prepared? Featured

6:33am EDT April 29, 2004
The signs are all there. Your information system is affectionately referred to as "Old Unfaithful" and your managers have dubbed the human resources department "The Business Prevention Unit."

While this may seem to demonstrate a collective sense of humor, make no mistake -- the morale of your employees is declining right along with your productivity. Three years of scrimping and cutting back, however necessary, are taking their toll.

It is time for changes -- big ones. Are your people fully prepared to effectively plan and implement those changes?

Even the best-laid business plans can fall victim to economic reality. And anticipating the most logical of trends has never been an exact science. As a business leader, you rely on your employees to execute the company vision, regardless of the inevitable curve balls thrown their way.

Employees with the experience and willingness to adapt to changes well certainly are highly valued already. This is especially true in today's climate, where so many companies are doing much more with far less.

But how can a business increase the capacity of its work force to handle the increasing demands on those human resources? The answer is lifelong learning. Specifically, an advanced education can broaden an employee's perspective tremendously, which can translate directly to your bottom line.

Your management team's ability to develop flexible plans that prepare your company for growth in an uncertain future is a critical component of success. Applied academic programs that expose employees to the diverse backgrounds of others facing similar challenges are incredibly valuable. They are not simply a means to cover basic business principles or provide professional credentials.

The most valuable contribution provided by such programs is an often much-needed infusion of creativity. Ideas generated in a dynamic classroom environment can help companies manage change more effectively than if they relied solely on their employees' own experiences. Furthermore, critical thinking skills honed in the classroom can help managers avoid the costly pitfalls of a trial and error approach to problem solving.

Managers today need to understand not only the economic and market conditions that affect company cash flow, but also must be adept at managing people through change on a day-to-day basis. To do that, all employees must feel empowered to look at operations, systems, products and services critically. They must be able to express their ideas with the knowledge that those ideas will be appreciated appropriately.

With that in mind, managers who support their employees' educational endeavors and establish open lines of communication provide them with a mechanism to share pertinent information that can help improve organizational productivity.

Often, these ideas are the seeds for bigger plans that can ultimately help a company negotiate or even leverage changes that might otherwise have threatened its very survival or stunted its growth. If employees understand that they are an important part of the change process, the resulting sense of relative control can boost morale in a situation that could have destroyed it.

Of course, most changes will have some negative impact initially, but the depth and duration can be lessened by an empowered, prepared and educated work force. That's the kind of leverage companies need in times like these.

Fortunately, students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Central Ohio are studying change management every week. They are reading theories and dissecting case studies about managers and businesses faced with a variety of situations. They are discussing how an academic theory can or cannot be applied to various problems to help them structure their approach.

They are learning how to assess and take advantage of circumstances in an ethical manner. Not only are they learning how to resolve issues, they are learning how to maximize opportunities and minimize risk.

And with the rise in the number of working adults pursuing business degrees, many are taking the theoretical and applying it on the job the very next day. As we move into the future of business in Ohio, it is clear that higher education will play an increasingly important role in developing the necessary skills for employees to maximize their contributions to their companies' success.