Paul R. Harvey

Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

Growing your human capital

Today’s sluggish economic conditions may be just the start of a lengthy recession. And while experts point fingers and prognosticate, employers large and small still have a business to run.

To keep their doors open, employers are downsizing through layoffs, enacting hiring freezes and implementing early retirement packages. It’s a scary time to be an employee.

“The question is, who is tough enough, capable enough and committed enough to help employers get through these challenging times?” says Anthony Rohach, Esq., MBA, J.D., associate professor, Delaware Valley College. “An MBA can certainly provide a strong signal that you can.”

Smart Business spoke with Rohach about why now, more than ever, employees with advanced skills will be in high demand.

How does an MBA add value?

An MBA improves the most important source of wealth for most people, ‘human capital.’ Most people aren’t born with a well-diversified portfolio of securities and real estate holdings. Most people have to build their own wealth by contributing what they have in most abundance — human capital — or to put it another way, ‘what can I do that adds value?’ It doesn’t matter if the value added is for yourself, in the case of an entrepreneurial operation, or by adding value to an existing entity as an employee. Added value can take the form of improved decision-making capability and greater appreciation of the balance between business research and application. After all, an MBA isn’t going to be hired to take tests, he or she will be hired to understand the underlying nature of business problems and bring together both theory and practice to arrive at an effective solution set.

In what specific ways does an MBA enhance human capital?

The improvement to human capital that an MBA adds takes many forms. However, the main goal of enhanced human capital is to improve productivity. Through an MBA, this is accomplished by providing increased direct business knowledge and the ability to seek new knowledge by improving research skills. MBA training also improves analytical and problem-solving skills as well as improving leadership development and superior critical thinking and reasoning skills. Written and verbal communication skills are emphasized because communication attributes — whether internal or external to the organization — are the cornerstone of an organization that understands marketplace needs and can execute internally to provide those needs. It also provides an important global perspective on business operations and strategy and hones strategic thinking skills. Futher enhancement to human capital occurs when the productivity of an MBA has a synergistic effect on other employees, which also enhances total labor productivity.

Why is an MBA so critical during volatile economic times?

While pursuing an MBA, networking opportunities become available through classmates and teachers. This may aid in seeking employment. And, even though the economy is going through a rough patch, not every employer is going out of business. Despite the certainty of current layoffs and the probability of future layoffs, employers still have to run their businesses. The significance of fit provided by an MBA is important in turbulent economic times when employers tend to lay off employees who are marginal, but either keep or seek new employees with qualifications that tend to be successful at their particular organization.

How does an MBA enhance personal success and well-being?

An MBA aids in helping individuals to find the right job for their respective skill sets as well as the right opportunity to utilize those skills. The training can facilitate finding and developing skill sets they may not even know they possess. It’s only when people are in a position where they have to accomplish tasks that they never would have initiated on their own do they truly discover what they are capable of doing. For instance, most people are terribly afraid of public speaking and will avoid it at all costs. However, most MBA programs emphasize clear and effective communication techniques, including public speaking. It has been my experience that most people have some self-imposed limitations that come with well-established comfort zones developed over time. An MBA program places you in a position where you must come out of those comfort zones to create a new personal and professional environment and a new definition of success.

What does an MBA really represent to potential employers?

An MBA operates as a signal to potential employers that as a possible employee, you possess both advanced skills sets and a desire to be successful. This is indicated by the willingness to spend the time, effort and money to gain such advanced training. This signal also tells employers that you are capable of understanding a wide range of business issues on an advanced level. After all, if you can’t understand the problem, how can you provide an effective solution set?

An MBA signals that you are an advanced problem solver capable of dealing with constantly changing facts to arrive at effective solutions. This capability allows employers to be confident that you can do the job.

ANTHONY ROHACH, Esq., MBA, J.D., is a tenured associate professor in Business Administration on the undergraduate and graduate level, Delaware Valley College, in Doylestown, Pa. Reach him at (215) 489-2929 or Anthony.Rohach@delval.edu.

Saturday, 25 April 2009 20:00

Bench building

General managers in pro sports often pad their rosters midseason with all-star caliber talent simply because it’s available. They may not work out the details about how well the new players will fit in with the team, but they do make sure that those players don’t end up playing for their division rivals.

Today’s record unemployment levels have swelled the ranks of highly talented job candidates, meaning corporate hiring managers are finding themselves in a situation similar to the sports GMs — either hire and integrate “overqualified” prospects into lower-level positions or pass these blue-chippers on to your competitors.

“Excluding these candidates simply over fear that they won’t stay can mean the difference between acquiring the talent to help you move the organization to the next level or getting left behind by your competition who did choose to capitalize on that talent,” says Anthony Van De Wall, PHR, human resources manager for Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. “You should be thinking in terms of whether or not they possess the competencies and skill sets required to do the job.”

Smart Business spoke with Van De Wall to bust the myths around the term “overqualified” and to learn how companies with an eye on cultural fit are successfully loading their rosters with overqualified candidates.

Are the beliefs people have around hiring candidates with too much experience based on fact or folklore?

Even folklore may have kernels of fact in it. When it comes to hiring seemingly overqualified candidates, companies have had varying degrees of experiences — some of them good, some of them not so good. Managers have loosely used the term ‘overqualified’ to rule out a candidate who, in their opinion, may not be a good fit. Because of the candidate’s level of experience, past title or previous positions they may have held, the manager may believe the candidate will not find the new position to be challenging enough, so they won’t stay.

In some rare cases, a hiring manager may even shy away from this talent because of his or her own insecurity or fear that the new talent may outshine them. But whatever the reason, the pitfall really comes when employers allow those negative conceptions to shape their entire view of this viable segment of job candidates.

How are overqualified candidates different from qualified candidates?

I shy away from using the word ‘overqualified.’ My opinion is that this term is actually a misnomer. When you create a job description, you list the required minimum qualifications and competencies for a job. You never list the maximum qualifications and competencies. So when you think about it, an applicant is either qualified or they’re not. Candidates whose skill sets and experience exceed those required to do the job may have either personal or professional reasons for pursuing a position that others may consider a step down.

In those cases, whether you feel the candidate is qualified or overqualified, the real question moves to whether they can be a good cultural fit for your organization. Behavioral event interviews (BEIs) can be extremely helpful in pulling out that information. Effectively conducted, the BEI can even help you identify the perceived qualified candidate who is not a good cultural fit.

Can hiring an overqualified candidate serve as a low-risk trial run for future promotions?

On-boarding a highly competent candidate can help you identify potential future leaders in your organization. You get a chance to see their leadership skills and innovative thinking in practical application, and it can be an ideal setting for the employer to stretch the new employee, creating an opportunity to observe examples of innovative thinking, and both the technical and the cultural fit for the job.

Even if you later determine that the current position may not be the best technical fit, if there’s a real cultural fit and real competencies and skill sets you can use, you might identify strengths and talents better suited for strategic use in another part of the organization.

With so much top talent available today, shouldn’t companies find ways to leverage this resource?

Yes, without question. Employers who voluntarily choose to exclude this segment of job candidates may be doing themselves a great disservice in the long run. They could be missing out on the great depth and breadth of talent these candidates possess, and, subsequently, the organization misses out on the innovative and creative thinking they possess.

What do corporations gain by hiring grade-A talent?

Companies that focus on attracting and retaining grade-A talent gain the wealth of expertise and bench strength that these individuals bring with them. There is a lot of talk and a lot of concern about bench strength as we consider the baby boomer population exiting the work force and taking a lot of that with them. The company that attracts and retains this kind of talent gains the energy, excitement, ambition and the loyalty of experienced new talent, people who can actually help reinvigorate existing staff and encourage growth and even change in an organization.

The bottom line is that companies who effectively leverage that talent pool gain a competitive edge when it comes to moving from good to great.

Anthony Van De Wall, PHR, is the human resources manager for Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. Reach him at (813) 740-4680 or vandewalla@workforcetampa.com

Monday, 26 January 2009 19:00

Departing data

Every company experiences staff turnover. To ease these transitions, many companies follow a scripted off-boarding process, including a formal or informal exit interview.

A recent survey of HR professionals showed that nearly 75 percent of all companies utilize some form of exit interview. Properly executed, exit interviews provide a venue for managers and executives to gain accurate insights from departing employees.

“You want to hear supportive, positive comments about your organization, but I think the more successful employers are the ones open to receiving criticism, and knowing how to effectively respond to it,” said Chris Roederer, senior vice president, human resources, Tampa General Hospital, and director, Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance.

Smart Business recently spoke with Roederer about what you can learn from departing employees, and how to develop a formal and informal process to garner the most honest and constructive input.

What kind of information can departing employees provide to the company?

Departing employees can provide both positive and critical information — and both types are valuable. If feedback on organizational programs or processes is positive, it may reinforce that you are doing something that shouldn’t be changed, or can be built upon to continue enhancing it. If the feedback provides negative or critical information, then it’s especially valuable for the employer to address. The key to processing the information is to look at the trends and not isolated incidents. Some employees may have a personal issue and decide to use the exit interview to express dissatisfaction that may or may not warrant further review. If you begin to see a common trend developing that negatively impacts the organization, then it needs to be addressed.

How can business owners get past the negative stigma attached to exiting employees and take advantage of the situation?

In most cases, employees don’t leave for negative reasons so employers shouldn’t take an employee’s departure as personal. Employees leave for many reasons including advancement opportunities, greater compensation or relocation. I think the employer first has to be open to receive the information, and not always think that the first thing the employee is going to do is express negative feelings or dissatisfaction. However, if it is negative, that’s when the employers need to objectively receive that information and take advantage of that data to improve their organization. Remember, if something is wrong, the worst thing for an employer is to have no knowledge of a problem or situation, and exit interviews provide a vehicle to know.

Who within the company should be handling the exit interviews?

Based on my experience, exit interviews should be conducted externally, for multiple purposes. Employees are typically more open with their comments because they have a greater sense of confidentiality and objectivity, and you’ll get a greater percentage of responses from departing employees.

Also, many organizations don’t have the resources, depending on their size and financial situation, to meet with every departing employee. In addition to the external exit process, organizations should also allow for opportunities for feedback internally prior to an employee’s departure. Always offer an open door feedback policy for internal one-on-one discussions and maintain that personal contact with the employee.

How formal or informal should the process be?

The exit process should be a mixture of formal and informal or, at a minimum, formal. If you’re doing it just one way, you’re missing an opportunity. The formal part of the exit process allows for the employees to express their opinions while allowing for you to gather documented data to determine if trends exits. Ideally, the exit interview should be conducted prior to the departure of the employee. If the employee provides feedback on a negative situation that warrants attention by the employer, the employment may be a situation worth salvaging. Once an employee leaves, it makes it harder to salvage the situation. In addition to the formal exit process, you should also ensure that the door is open for an informal meeting with management or with a human resources representative. This gives the employee another opportunity to express his or her thoughts, both positive and negative.

How can business owners best get honest feedback and, in turn, use it to better business?

It’s like doing anything relative to employee communication and soliciting feedback. You’ve got to communicate the results to the existing staff to demonstrate your willingness to listen, take action and respond. Too many employers do surveys and then don’t respond. If employees sense it’s a waste of time, future surveys become less and less valuable, or reliable, because employees will disengage.

CHRIS ROEDERER is senior vice president, human resources, Tampa General Hospital, and director, Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. Reach him at (813) 844-7716 or croederer@tgh.org.

Monday, 26 January 2009 19:00

Tech tightening

Many chief information officers arecurrently guiding cost-cutting measures and asking IT departments todo more with less. But carefully planned ITinvestments can create innovative ways tosave money and advance organizations,even in difficult times.

So what should stay, and what should go?

“It’s analogous to each of us as homeowners,” says William Brichta, vice president forTechnology and CIO of Delaware ValleyCollege. “We’ll put off some of the renovations that might make the place look nice,but certainly we’ll attend to anything cruciallike the roof or water heater, as that pain cannot wait.”

Smart Business recently spoke withBrichta to learn more about how CIOs areselecting, prioritizing and advancing the bestinvestments during IT belt-tightening.

What kinds of IT initiatives are beingreduced, and what kinds are surviving giventhe declining economy?

What we’re finding in academia at themoment is that most institutions are investing in essential technology upgrades only.Economic uncertainty for the next semesteror more is driving an extremely cautiousapproach. Ironically, this is occurring at atime when students are arriving with evengreater expectations of the same technologythey enjoy at home — bandwidth, iPods,wireless access, etc. — to be easily transferred to the campus, so there is a balancingact. A technology upgrade that ensuresgreater campus safety or improves the student life experience in a dramatic way willmove forward; those that are nice to havebut not necessarily essential will not. Also,any server upgrades that enable greatersecurity for the network are likely to stillgain funding.

What is the criterion for deciding what staysand goes?

First, it is important to understand that alltechnology has an expected and generallyknown life cycle. As a technology component matures, you certainly do not want tocontinue to invest in anything that will bereplaced shortly. Beyond that proactive planning, you weigh what tangible customer benefits are realized with a specific technologydecision. In our case, students form the basisof why we exist on a college campus, and thewhole academic experience that technologymust support is critical. So, even in leantimes, we may expand wireless accessacross campus, or a PC lab may be upgradedbecause we know there is a high ROI inherent in the daily use for students. Servers, software and expansion of existing services maynot all go forward if some of these upgradescan reasonably be postponed in the shortterm. What cannot happen is that a server, forexample, be relied upon beyond a normalreplacement timeline.

Can maintaining investments in IT actuallylead to long-term cost savings?

Yes. One of the most underrated areas is therelationship with key IT vendors and a thorough knowledge of what contract commitments and end points exist. All executed contracts with vendors should be charted androutinely renegotiated prior to end dates.Vendors will work collaboratively with agood customer to uncover savings and maintain a relationship rather than lose the service. Often they may be willing to reduce costto ensure a continuation of existing revenue,and there can be a large dollar figure involvedwhen all IT assets and service commitmentsare counted up. There is more clout there forthe CIO than most realize. Additionally, periodic upgrades on existing equipment willgenerally reduce service calls and component failure. It pays to take care of the smallsteps prior to realizing you now have a majorproblem.

How can the CIO still align IT initiatives withthe business priorities, with the goal ofreducing expenses?

We don’t implement the latest technologysimply because it would be nice to have, butrather because it solves an existing businessproblem or adds such overwhelming valuethat it satisfies a key objective. This might besummed up as ‘First, do no harm.’ Youshould ask, ‘Do we really need this at thistime, even if we can afford it with the existing budget?’ Second, work collaborativelyand educate the chief financial officer andthe president on why it is important for aspecific IT initiative to move forward or tobe reduced. They generally will recognizewhen a new technology can have real impact, but they may need a basic nonacronymexplanation that delivers the salient points— a simple ‘here’s what it does, here’s whatwe will gain’ discussion. Last, ensure thateveryone who works in the IT organizationunderstands he or she is in the business ofmaximizing results using technology, andalso involve the employees’ ideas. It shouldnot be surprising that often those closest tothe work have the best solutions.

What can IT employees do to help ensuretheir company remains viable?

Whether in education or industry, all of usprovide service for customers. How you treatcustomers when they ask a technology-related question reflects on the entire organization. We are all here to serve, and when youstart each interaction with that approach, itusually results in a great outcome.

WILLIAM BRICHTA is vice president for Technology and CIO of Delaware Valley College. He can be reached at (215) 489-2486 orWilliam.Brichta@delval.edu.

Friday, 26 December 2008 19:00

Let’s talk

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

 

Sunday, 26 October 2008 20:00

Growing your human capital

Today’s sluggish economic conditionsmay be just the start of a lengthy recession. And while experts point fingers and prognosticate, employers large and smallstill have a business to run.

To keep their doors open, employers aredownsizing through layoffs, enacting hiringfreezes and implementing early retirementpackages. It’s a scary time to be an employee.

“The question is, who is tough enough,capable enough and committed enough tohelp employers get through these challenging times?” says Anthony Rohach, Esq., MBA,J.D., associate professor, Delaware ValleyCollege. “An MBA can certainly provide astrong signal that you can.”

Smart Business spoke with Rohach aboutwhy now, more than ever, employees withadvanced skills will be in high demand.

How does an MBA add value?

An MBA improves the most importantsource of wealth for most people, ‘humancapital.’ Most people aren’t born with a well-diversified portfolio of securities and realestate holdings. Most people have to buildtheir own wealth by contributing what theyhave in most abundance — human capital —or to put it another way, ‘what can I do thatadds value?’ It doesn’t matter if the valueadded is for yourself, in the case of an entrepreneurial operation, or by adding value to anexisting entity as an employee. Added valuecan take the form of improved decision-making capability and greater appreciation of thebalance between business research andapplication. After all, an MBA isn’t going to behired to take tests, he or she will be hired tounderstand the underlying nature of businessproblems and bring together both theory andpractice to arrive at an effective solution set.

In what specific ways does an MBA enhancehuman capital?

The improvement to human capital that anMBA adds takes many forms. However, themain goal of enhanced human capital is toimprove productivity. Through an MBA, thisis accomplished by providing increaseddirect business knowledge and the ability toseek new knowledge by improving researchskills. MBA training also improves analytical and problem-solving skills as well as improving leadership development and superiorcritical thinking and reasoning skills. Writtenand verbal communication skills are emphasized because communication attributes —whether internal or external to the organization — are the cornerstone of an organizationthat understands marketplace needs and canexecute internally to provide those needs. Italso provides an important global perspective on business operations and strategy andhones strategic thinking skills. Futherenhancement to human capital occurs whenthe productivity of an MBA has a synergisticeffect on other employees, which alsoenhances total labor productivity.

Why is an MBA so critical during volatile economic times?

While pursuing an MBA, networking opportunities become available through classmates and teachers. This may aid in seekingemployment. And, even though the economyis going through a rough patch, not everyemployer is going out of business. Despitethe certainty of current layoffs and the probability of future layoffs, employers still haveto run their businesses. The significance of fitprovided by an MBA is important in turbulent economic times when employers tend to layoff employees who are marginal, but eitherkeep or seek new employees with qualifications that tend to be successful at their particular organization.

How does an MBA enhance personal successand well-being?

An MBA aids in helping individuals to findthe right job for their respective skill sets aswell as the right opportunity to utilize thoseskills. The training can facilitate finding anddeveloping skill sets they may not even knowthey possess. It’s only when people are in aposition where they have to accomplishtasks that they never would have initiated ontheir own do they truly discover what theyare capable of doing. For instance, most people are terribly afraid of public speaking andwill avoid it at all costs. However, most MBAprograms emphasize clear and effective communication techniques, including publicspeaking. It has been my experience thatmost people have some self-imposed limitations that come with well-established comfort zones developed over time. An MBA program places you in a position where youmust come out of those comfort zones to create a new personal and professional environment and a new definition of success.

What does an MBA really represent to potential employers?

An MBA operates as a signal to potentialemployers that as a possible employee, youpossess both advanced skills sets and adesire to be successful. This is indicated bythe willingness to spend the time, effort andmoney to gain such advanced training. Thissignal also tells employers that you are capable of understanding a wide range of business issues on an advanced level. After all, ifyou can’t understand the problem, how canyou provide an effective solution set?

An MBA signals that you are an advancedproblem solver capable of dealing with constantly changing facts to arrive at effectivesolutions. This capability allows employersto be confident that you can do the job.

ANTHONY ROHACH, Esq., MBA, J.D., is a tenured associate professor in Business Administration on the undergraduate and graduatelevel, Delaware Valley College, in Doylestown, Pa. Reach him at (215) 489-2929 or Anthony.Rohach@delval.edu.

Sunday, 26 October 2008 20:00

Business plan pizzazz

As Wall Street and the banking markets continue to stumble, entrepreneurs in need of start-up capital are challenged even more to draft successful business plans.

For those looking to launch a new venture, it’s important to understand the real purpose of a business plan and fully consider the critical components that will make the plan credible to the banks and venture capitalists.

“The primary purpose of most business plans is to help you gain an audience with prospective investors for your venture,” says Dr. Charles Hofer, Regents Professor of Entrepreneurship, Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University. “Your goal is not to write your plan so well that everyone can understand it, it is to write it so well that no one can misunderstand any aspect of it, and that is very difficult to do.”

Smart Business learned more from Hofer about developing a business plan that will entice lenders and venture capitalists to take a closer look.

When does a company need to draft a business plan?

The optimal format for your plan will depend on precisely whom your proposed investors are. For instance, if you expect to fund your business with loans, most bankers will not require or expect a ‘full’ business plan. What they will want is an executive summary plus a set of fully developed financial projections for your venture. They need to verify that your proposed venture has the capacity of paying back this loan with interest and with very little risk of default. By contrast, most VCs will expect and/or require a full business plan at some point during the fund-raising process.

What are the key elements of winning business plans?

The style, organization and content of all effective business plans are determined or at least influenced by the goal of using the plan to assist in the fund-raising process. The stylistic considerations are the basic look and feel, use of pictures and colors, and professional pizzazz. The old saying that, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is absolutely true for business plans. A picture on the front cover and small pictures inserted in the body of the plan can help explain and/or confirm some important points related to the venture’s success. Color is also an important tool for increasing the overall impact of the plan, if not used in excess.

The first thing that needs to be said about a plan’s organization is that it is simultaneously the most important and least important aspect of writing a plan. Poor organization will destroy much if not most of the value of the plan, however, once the plan is well organized, additional efforts will add little to its value.

What is professional pizzazz, and how can it differentiate your plan?

Most of your attention needs to go into the plan’s content since this is the most critical part of all plans. But then you can put some ‘icing on the cake’ by strengthening its style and adding a dash of pizzazz. This refers to a number of small touches professionally done that add to the plan’s overall impact and credibility. The possibilities are limited only by one’s imagination and creativity, but they do not compensate in any way for weaknesses in the plan’s fundamentals.

What content is crucial in securing an interview?

The five major content considerations are the plan’s accuracy, its documentation, its use of precise, specific information, its internal consistency and its believability. First, accuracy is crucial because almost all professional investors want you to communicate your knowledge of and capabilities relative to the industry you are proposing to enter. Next, since the key to writing effective plans is to tell compelling stories, you should document all really important information through the use of extremely credible sources and avoid using generalities. Internal consistency is crucial since investors use it as a measure of the degree to which you think about and check your work before you act.

Before completing your plan, you should also assess its believability. To be compelling, your plan must be believable to your potential investors. Businesses come in all shapes and sizes, and what works in one business will not always work in another.

How could investor limitations hinder your pitch?

Remember, the general investment guidelines investors have developed over a lifetime of experience may not apply to the specific industry in which you plan to launch your venture. And they may not recognize the changes that have taken place in an industry since their last experience with it. Potential investors will not tell you of these potential limitations on their part — because they can’t. The important point here is that it is your job as an entrepreneur, not theirs as potential investors, to recognize when this may be the case, and to take the necessary steps to provide whatever information may be needed for them to assess your plan appropriately.

DR. CHARLES HOFER is Regents Professor of Entrepreneurship, Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University. He can be reached at (678) 797-2502 or chofer@kennesaw.edu. Hofer is considered the Bobby Bowden of Business Plan Competitions. Over the past 17 years, his teams have had the best record in the world in such competitions.

Dr. Charles Hofer
Regents Professor of Entrepreneurship
Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University

Thursday, 25 September 2008 20:00

Dealing with downsizing

Downsizing. Rightsizing. Restructuring. Whatever you may call it, organizational layoffs are difficult on everyone.

Planned and executed properly, downsizing can positively impact the future of an organization. But, leaders must take steps to ease the burden of the process for both the downsized staff and those who remain, or risk severing critical working relationships and morale. When management fails to build an environment where remaining workers can stay engaged and productive, in the end, downsizing can produce a number of undesired results.

“When a company has to make layoffs, it can’t overlook remaining employees,” says Alfredia Mulkey, professional recruiter, Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. “Job security and extra work are just a few of the concerns that surround a staff that’s been forced to shrink.”

Smart Business learned more from Mulkey about the best strategies to get through the difficult time during and after the downsizing process.

What missteps can leaders avoid making when executing on a downsizing plan?

Leaders play a crucial role in maintaining the stabilization of an organization during a downsizing of the work force. An organization is most unstable during a downsize transition. Effective leaders will focus on the new vision and direction while acknowledging and validating employee emotions. A key to leadership during this time is knowing when to focus on the hardships and when to focus on building and moving into the future.

How should a company best communicate layoffs to the staff?

Clear, consistent and compassionate communication is the key. Give employees an open and honest assessment through verbal and written communication about why the downsizing was necessary. Your candor and attention to detail at all moments will convey to your staff that the decision was not arbitrary or illegal. Outline the steps being taken to ensure the solvency of the corporation and financial stability. Informing the employees remaining in an honest and empathetic manner will give them more confidence in the longevity of their jobs and will create the buy-in needed at this crucial time. Explain the business plan and keep open lines of communication with your current employees on a weekly or even daily basis regarding the status of the company.

How can a company curb resentment among those remaining?

Downsize with dignity by outlining and communicating a consistent strategy for the layoffs. When layoffs are used repeatedly without strategy, downsizing can destroy an organization’s effectiveness. Do not let emotions play a role in the decision-making process as this will cause resentment among those remaining. Include in your strategy a plan for assisting the displaced workers. Despite the financial woes your organization may have, invest in helping the downsized employee move on. This is ethical and reasonable, but most importantly, the remaining staff will be watching for demonstrations of empathy.

Even cash-strapped organizations can still extend assistance. Provide transition assistance by partnering with your local work force development organization that can offer services related to retraining, job leads and other information about current trends in the marketplace. Compile an information package pertinent to their layoff that includes information on the expiration of benefits, COBRA coverage and unemployment compensation information. Severance packages, even short-term, can also be extended as a demonstration of appreciation for the worker’s service to the organization.

What should be communicated to managers?

Downsizing is a very personal and emotional experience for people affected by the events, including managers. They are, in many cases, the bearers of bad news and have to manage the after effects of the news on their unit. They have to redistribute work, instill morale and assure productivity. They must also demonstrate a high level of compassion or risk severing long-term working relationships with team members. Managers must balance an adequate dose of compassion, combined with optimism and direction, as essential ingredients to surviving the process.

How should managers best deal with productivity, delegation and morale issues?

It’s the managers’ challenge to re-engage the remaining work force after downsizing. Often the first casualty in a downsizing is employee morale. Motivation at this time is essential, especially when the remaining employees will often have the burden of a shift in workload or responsibilities. During the rebuilding phase, it is critical for managers to develop a fair system to redistribute work. Involve employees during this time. Identify new leaders within the team or corporation who can be mentored, which can be evidence for potential in the future.

ALFREDIA MULKEY is a professional recruiter with the Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. Reach her at (813) 930-7570 or mulkeya@workforcetampa.com.

Thursday, 25 September 2008 20:00

Viva la difference

The quest for workplace diversity today is evidenced by the proliferation of the chief diversity officer position now utilized by many leading corporations. Meanwhile, less dynamic organizations continue to plod ahead, clinging to the mantra, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” But companies who fail to commit to developing diversity strategies are leaving a lot on the table.

“Diversity in the workplace should be welcomed rather than feared,” says Dr. Kathryn Epps, assistant professor of Accounting, Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University. “Leading companies are finding innovative ways to increase the diversity of their work forces, and many of these companies are reaping the rewards of increased productivity, decreased turnover, expanded customer bases and heightened innovation.”

Smart Business recently spoke to Epps about how embracing a strategic plan for diversity can help retain top talent and promote worker engagement and why it’s crucial to address diversity on a continual basis.

Why is a diverse workplace so important?

As companies increase the level of business conducted internationally and as the population of the United States becomes more diverse, it is critically important for the work-place to reflect the diversity of a company’s customer base and potential new markets. Additionally, an understanding of and respect for the diverse cultural backgrounds of coworkers and customers is important to create the synergistic environment that fosters innovation in today’s competitive work environment. Employees want to work for companies that respect individuals for work contributions, regardless of cultural background.

The hidden costs of employee turnover, lost customers and failure to capitalize on the strengths of heterogeneous work groups can exceed the costs of strategic diversity initiatives. Also, good will is established with customers and the surrounding community when the work force is inclusive of members of diverse segments of society.

What are the consequences of not having a diverse workplace?

Promoting inclusiveness in the workplace is an intentional act that usually requires the utilization of company resources and the support of top management. Failure to create a diverse work force can harm productivity, inhibit innovation and send negative signals to those outside of the organization. In terms of productivity, talented employees are more likely to remain with an employer that fosters a welcoming environment to individuals from diverse backgrounds.

What common problems do companies face with diversity?

Common problems include failure to address diversity issues or problems that arise, to devote significant resources to diversity and to establish an appropriate stance towards diversity from top management. As the workplace environment becomes more diverse, the skill set of your managers must broaden to include establishing professional relationships with your employees and customers from differing backgrounds. This skill set is not included in the standard business curriculum, and many managers tend to ignore problems when they arise.

How can diversity issues be diffused and/or resolved?

Like many other areas that can impact the ability of a company to succeed, diversity issues should be addressed before they arise, when they arise and on a continuous basis. The prevention of diversity issues can include training regarding cultural insensitivity and communication with colleagues and customers from diverse backgrounds. Training on the subject of diversity should be regarded with the same level of importance as training in technical or operational areas. Appropriate handling of issues related to discrimination can mitigate costly legal problems, prevent a negative company image and protect and promote company productivity.

Employees should know whom to contact when they believe they have been the victim of discrimination, bias or harassment. Equally important, employees should feel that their work environment won’t become even more hostile when issues are identified.

How can a diverse workplace lead to better business?

First, businesses that foster diversity and create a welcoming environment for employees from diverse backgrounds are likely to attract top talent. When potential new hires believe they will be allowed to be productive without regard to their age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, ability status or sexual identity, then the pool of talent that is interested in employment is broadened. The population of the United States is predicted to become more diverse, and talented workers are found in many different groups. Attracting and retaining these workers to your business is a challenge that can be met with appropriate strategic planning in the area of diversity.

Second, we live in an era of global commerce. The tools of establishing international work relationships are often sharpened in the diverse work groups of the home office. These skills include respecting individual differences and backgrounds, developing solutions to perceived barriers and finding common grounds for successful outcomes.

DR. KATHRYN EPPS is assistant professor of Accounting, Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University. Reach her at (770) 423-6085 or kepps@kennesaw.edu.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008 20:00

Identifying top performers

A recent work force survey suggests that more than half of all U.S. workers entertain thoughts of leaving their current employer. Meanwhile, companies are bracing for the loss of more than half of their senior managers in the next five to 10 years as baby boomers shift into retirement.

“In most of the successful and employee-focused organizations, a lot of attention is being paid to developing and mining talent across all lines of business,” said Brian Lamb, VPO and CFO at Fifth Third Bank and director at Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. “In this environment, you have to think more and more about a business model that includes succession planning, employee engagement and employee development.”

Smart Business asked Lamb how implementing a talent management initiative can improve top-quartile retention and lead to more sustainable performance and improved customer service.

What are the key benefits to cultivating high-potential talent?

You will find a significant improvement around your top-quartile performers. There is an element of turnover that is good sometimes but a lot of turnover can be detrimental. Obviously, cultivating young talent will allow you to retain the top talent in your business. Cultivating this talent pool spurs two major benefits. First, you improve your ability to perform and generate sales, thus sustaining the performance of your company. Second, you start to see a higher level of performance over time because you not only have people who are there and tenured, you have the best people there and tenured. So the development of talent starts to compound in terms of the benefit.

From a customer service standpoint, there is a direct correlation. Your customers like to see that you are retaining your talent. And they like to be able to work with the same individuals and see that your employees truly enjoy where they work.

What attributes are hallmarks of high-potential talent?

Skilled in a particular area; highly motivated; a self-starter; shows initiative — all of these traits are key behavioral characteristics used to describe high-potential, talented individuals. While they’re not really specialists, they truly understand the business and industry they are in, and have become highly educated and knowledgeable about their particular product, service or business line. This allows them to perform at an elevated level.

Top talent also makes the people around them perform at a higher level. You might not hear a lot of people talk about this, but when you have a talented individual — not good, not great, but talented — they tend to make the rest of the team and the rest of the company inherently better. And there’s really no science to it. They simply have an innate ability to make individuals around them perform at a higher level.

Do some organizations lack the environment for high-potential talent to thrive?

Absolutely. While talent management hasn’t been top of mind across every organization over the last five to 10 years, it now is taking on a significantly larger focus. Making the shift to cultivate talent sounds good, but it truly is a culture change for some organizations. It’s forcing them to not only make operation changes and recruiting changes, it also is forcing them to change their culture in terms of how their employees are managed, trained and developed. It’s a culture change that starts at the top and runs all the way down through the management and through the employees who work there. So, the difficulty really lies in the culture shift, not necessarily the process of executing the change.

How are companies approaching this culture shift?

There is a global approach that is indicative of what a lot of companies are taking on. Employee engagement, employee development and succession planning, or talent management, are part of the tool kit that most companies have embraced. These are the three prongs to the fork that are being used to drive retention, improve customer service levels, improve employee and individual performance and provide better shareholder value. All of this has to tie into the mission and vision of your company and it must be mutually beneficial for both the employee and the employer. If someone in the partnership is not getting his or her fair share of the benefit, you’ll lose buy-in from one of the sides. The employer may stop dedicating resources to it, and the employees may feel like the employer is not committed to their development and to their success. Create a comprehensive plan around talent management so it is tangible and measurable, and both sides are held accountable.

BRIAN LAMB is VPO and CFO, Fifth Third Bank, and director, Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. Reach him at (813) 306-2491 or Brian.Lamb@53.com.