In today’s fast-paced world of business, it is critical to make choices and execute on decisions quickly to remain competitive. However, at some point, innovation has to be a part of the plan or the result is a very well built, highly engineered . . . typewriter. Whether it is new products or other difficult business problems, a structured approach to problem solving is superior to a reliance on the incremental decisions approach often used to identify day-to-day operational improvements. If you are in a situation where simple solutions are not going to suffice, it is time to consider more creative approaches to problem solving.

Smart Business spoke with Karen Schuele, Ph.D., professor of accountancy and dean of the Boler School of Business, and David Jarus, Ph.D., adjunct professor, both at John Carroll University, about true creative problems solving and its role in business.

What is creative problem solving?

Creative problem solving is a well-established, structured process used when unique or innovative solutions are necessary. There are many versions of the process, but all include the following steps: 

  • Identify the goal, wish or challenge.

  • Gather data.

  • Clarify the problem.

  • Generate ideas.

  • Select and strengthen solutions.

  • Plan for action.

The process dates back to Alex Osborn, who coined the term ‘brainstorming’ as a method of generating ideas. Creative problem solving, however, is more expansive than a group sitting around a table ‘coming up with ideas.’ It is structured to drive real solutions for planning and execution. Each phase includes a divergent step, stretching participants to identify what may be possible, followed by a convergent step, narrowing down possibilities.

Why is creative problem solving useful?

Understanding the goal and gathering the known facts are important first steps to ensure that the idea generation stage is grounded in and aligned with the actual business objectives of the company. The next step, clarifying the problem, is often overlooked. The many ways the problem could be viewed or addressed is in itself a creative exercise. It is only after these stages that idea generation — however wild or creative — can occur around solutions that are anchored to the core problem and can achieve the actual business goals.

How do the divergent and convergent steps work?

A critical aspect of good creative problem solving is keeping the divergent and convergent phases of the process distinct. The divergent phase requires the participants to suspend judgment and allow for wild and unusual ideas and concepts. The fastest way to shut down creativity is to kill an idea during the divergent phase.

The convergent phase, or critical thinking phase, is where you narrow down your choices to those on which you will take action. Critical thinking is a highly valued skill in business leaders, but one that must be held in check until the convergent phase of creative problem solving. Thinking critically too early can get in the way of good creative solutions.

What are key things leaders can do to encourage creative problem solving?

A good facilitator is always recommended, but a business leader can take steps to help his or her team be more creative in their solutions. First and foremost, don’t converge on a solution too quickly in front of your teams. Once the boss has weighed in on what he or she believes is the best solution — or the most important facts, or the most clarified problem to work on — few participants will stick their necks out and offer additional ideas, especially the really creative solutions that are not part of the mainstream of your business today. Second, if the problem is really difficult and there is great value to gain from a solution, allow the team the time to work through the process. If it is an easy fix, you wouldn’t need a creative solution and incremental approaches would work fine.

Karen Schuele, Ph.D., is professor of accountancy and dean of the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach her at (216) 397-4391 or kschuele@jcu.edu.

David Jarus, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach him at djarus@jcu.edu.

Insights Executive Education is brought to you by John Carroll University

Published in Cleveland

If your organization is using social networking sites to search for potential job candidates, it is not alone. Social networking sites have become an increasingly popular recruitment and screening tool because of the ease and efficiency they allow for finding new talent. However, in the absence of an existing evidence-based model for using social networking sites, organizations must find a way to balance the risks and rewards as research catches up to practice.

Recent surveys tell us that LinkedIn is the most frequently used social networking site for recruiting and screening potential candidates. Perhaps this is because LinkedIn was developed for professional networking purposes and offers the most structure and consistency in what and how potential candidate information is presented. The challenge, however, is that depending on the job, both relevant and non-relevant information can be found on LinkedIn.

Smart Business spoke with Rosanna F. Miguel, Ph.D., SPHR, an assistant professor of Human Resource Management in the Department of Management, Marketing and Logistics in the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University, about the effective use of social media for hiring.

How are organizations using social networking sites to reap the most rewards?

Many organizations are using social networking sites to search for passive candidates who possess a specific skill set, which may be difficult to find. For example, an organization may be interested in finding bilingual candidates with leadership skills, or candidates with a background in health care and management. Other uses include looking for active job seekers, posting job information, or participating in discussions to spur interest in the organization and increase employer brand. Most often, organizations seek out individuals to fill salaried mid- to upper-level management or director positions.

What guidelines should organizations follow to minimize legal risks?

The structure and consistency offered by LinkedIn is a substantial advantage over sites such as Facebook and Twitter that do not allow for a highly disciplined approach to the use of available information. Structure and consistency lead to higher validity and help ensure organizations are meeting the professional and legal guidelines that have been in place since the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

While the use of social networking sites for screening purposes is relatively new, the potential pitfalls associated with this approach are not. The guidelines that apply to the use of the standard resume and application blank, for example, apply to the use of social networking sites. In fact, LinkedIn has been described as a new version of the traditional application blank. Problems arise when organizations use LinkedIn or other social networking sites haphazardly, without a formal policy or concern for professional and legal guidelines. Most importantly, organizations must ensure the use of job relevant information about potential candidates by focusing their search on the requirements of the job based on a recent job analysis. Information that may discriminate against protected groups or that is not job relevant must be avoided (e.g., photographs, age, personal information, etc.).

How can the use of social networking sites positively and negatively affect an organization’s pool of potential candidates?

Organizations are looking to social networking sites to expand the population of high potential candidates, particularly when organizations demand a specific skill set that may be in high demand by employers. Some of the most talented individuals can be found on social networking sites, and their identities are just a few clicks away. However, research tells us that social networking sites do not adequately represent the true population of potential candidates. That is, fewer Hispanics and African-Americans use social networking sites. This means that relying exclusively on social networking sites to search for potential candidates is not effective for increasing employee diversity and ensuring that minorities have a fair chance of being selected. This puts organizations at risk for discrimination lawsuits. Organizations can avoid this potential pitfall by including other methods to source candidates, such as job boards, job fairs and magazines. More specifically, methods that have a higher chance of targeting minority groups can be selected to widen the demographic representation of potential candidates.

Why should organizations create social networking policies to screen job candidates?

Surveys suggest that more than half of all organizations using social networking sites to screen job candidates do not have a formal policy for doing so and do not intend to create one in the near future. If one of the goals is to ensure social networking sites are used according to professional and legal guidelines in a consistent and fair manner that leads to the identification of job relevant information, a policy to describe those guidelines to the users of social networking sites is a must. An EEOC or OFCCP audit should not come as a surprise to organizations; organizations must be prepared to support their recruitment and selection procedures in advance of a potential discrimination lawsuit, regardless of whether that procedure involves social networking sites or not.

Rosanna F. Miguel, Ph.D., SPHR, is an assistant professor of Human Resource Management in the Department of Management, Marketing, and Logistics in the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach her at rmiguel@jcu.edu.

Insights Executive Education is brought to you by John Carroll University

Published in Cleveland

Developing and retaining talent is one of the most pressing challenges for middle-market companies. Estimates suggest that comprehensive training programs are the second most costly human resource initiative, costing U.S. companies $150 billion in 2012. A key problem for midsize firms with limited resources is how to advance employees quickly and efficiently when development programs appear to require a sizable time and money investment.

“In today’s complex, dynamic and fast-paced work environment, where most learning is occurring informally, traditional formal training and development initiatives alone are insufficient for developing employees,” says Alison M. Dachner, assistant professor of management in the Department of Management, Marketing and Logistics in the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University.

Employees are expected to be resourceful and creative when finding information and problem solving on their own. To successfully maximize human capital development, organizations must leverage informal, self-guided development behaviors with formal training and development initiatives.

“The informality of these practices rebukes the need for an expensive learning and development infrastructure, and instead places more attention on managers’ ability to create a supportive work environment,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with Dachner to learn more about self-guided development (SGD) and its affect on talent management.

What is SGD and why is it important?

SGD refers to proactive employee behaviors that are developmental in nature, such as the decision to voluntarily engage in self-identified development experiences. More specifically, SGD represents an actionable set of knowledge-, skill- or relationship-building activities that improve human capital, but are unstructured, voluntary and not operationally or administratively provided by the organization.

SGD can be carried out during work time or non-work time. Some examples include asking for feedback, reflecting on one’s strengths and weaknesses, taking on challenging tasks, watching a webinar and networking with influential people in the organization.

What SGD behaviors do employees engage in the most?

Employees tend to find information, learn and develop skills relevant to work the most from relationships and reflection. Employees most frequently depend on their colleagues and supervisors when they need answers to work-related questions. More specifically, the three behaviors that are used to the greatest extent when employees need to find information, learn and develop skills are:

  • Collaborating with coworkers.

  • Interacting with a supervisor.

  • Talking with others. 

Employees also frequently develop themselves internally through introspection by reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses, and considering ways to improve their work. This learning is retrospective and is likely focused on analyzing critical incidents or salient workplace events judged by the employee to require development.

How can organizations facilitate employee engagement in SGD?

Organizations can influence employee involvement in these proactive development behaviors by hiring the right people and promoting the right conditions for SGD.

First, hire and cultivate employees who are proactive, motivated, curious, social and dedicated. Employees should be primed to seize the initiative, eager to volunteer for fresh projects and try on new roles, and willing to accept responsibility for their own advancement. They should be naturally curious and should be comfortable around other people.

Second, acknowledge SGD behaviors as part of the job. Organizations can design work roles that are supportive of SGD by providing employees the opportunity to try different methods for conducting work and to learn from experimentation. Further, employees should be encouraged not just to seek help and advice but also to provide it.

Third, maximize interaction. The adoption of self-managing teams, open workspaces and cross-functional training can create fertile ground for interaction in many organizations. Companies should give teams autonomy to solicit resources and expertise from around the organization. Companies should also build into the workday more opportunities for employees to network with one another. Even giving people a few minutes to converse before rushing back to their desks after the weekly all-hands meeting can help.

Fourth, make time for reflection. To facilitate the use of more introspective SGD, organizations can encourage employees to reflect on their accomplishments, career direction, strengths and weaknesses, and performance. Companies may even consider using goal-setting initiatives as a way to encourage personal reflection as a method of proactive development. 

Alison M. Dachner is an assistant professor of management in the Department of Management, Marketing and Logistics in the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach her at adachner@jcu.edu.

Insights Executive Education is brought to you by John Carroll University

Published in Cleveland

The financial crisis of 2008 led to the “meltdown” that brought on “the Great Recession.” Faced with immediate economic failure, large businesses were bailed out by the government, with the justification that they were Too Big To Fail (TBTF) — Because these businesses were so large and integrated into the rest of the economy, their demise was predicted to have a catastrophic effect.

This policy approach is a potential threat to free market capitalism, and therefore one that businesses must make sure they do not count on in the future.

Smart Business spoke with Walter Simmons, Ph.D., professor of economics and chair of the Department of Economics and Finance at the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University about the dangers of TBTF.

Why is TBTF a bad practice for society?

Government should not be in the business of selecting which businesses succeed; the market does a much more efficient job and avoids an outcome in which profits are privatized and loses are shared by taxpayers.

The inherent instability of the free market is the very catalyst of its survival and sustainability. Business cycles are an innate feature of the market and provide the dynamism and motivation for individuals and firms to innovate and invent. Those pursuing their own self-interest behave in a socially responsible manner in competitive markets, and thus outcomes are determined by competition and not by government selection. The free market encourages resources to be used in the most efficient manner, creating a situation in which no one may be made better off without anyone being made worse off. 

Why is TBTF a bad policy for big businesses?

The expectation that a firm should not be allowed to fail because it is very large and embedded in society creates a moral hazard and weakens market discipline. If companies and their affiliates believe that the government will bail them out from losses, they have less incentive to monitor risk because they are protected from the negative consequences. Thus, businesses that benefit from TBTF policies may be tempted to exploit their advantage and engage in high-risk behavior because they are able to leverage the risk against the governmental protection. 

Why has free market capitalism succeeded while socialism has failed?

Big, inefficient governments; bureaucracies that maintained a bloated system built on pseudo-patriotism and subsidized welfare; and the limitations and subversion of rights led to the disintegration of socialism. Of course, the free market is not perfect and is subject to situations of market failure, but it is generally believed to be the best economic game we have in town. Even communist countries such as China realized and have adopted it on their path to economic growth and prosperity.

Why is TBTF a threat to free market capitalism?

Economic stability is not an enduring characteristic of the free market. And the life of a company in a capitalist economy is one of struggle. Any competitive advantage is relatively short lived. Companies must adapt or die. Barnes and Noble and Netflix have succeeded while Borders and Blockbuster have failed.

The difficulty with a ‘bailouts’ approach is that one can only learn whether a firm’s failure would tend to be disruptive if it is allowed to fail. Once a firm has been rescued, there is no way of knowing how disruptive its failure would have been.

What does the future hold?

The government had no explicit policy to rescue TBTF entities and it only became an issue for policy makers after the financial crisis. Systemic risk mitigation polices, such as the Dodd-Frank Act, limited the size and scope of activities of financial institutions that were already in place. They recognized the desire to avoid potential or moral hazard issues. This implies that ultimately it is the responsibility of companies to manage the inherent risk within the free enterprise system. Companies should have a strategy to benchmark their ability to take risk. In general, for the free market to allocate resources efficiently, companies must be financially rewarded for making good use of resources and, although they may not like it, punished when they do not.

Walter Simmons, Ph.D., is a professor of economics and chair of the Department of Economics and Finance at the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach him at (216) 397-4659 or wsimmons@jcu.edu.

Insights Executive Education is brought to you by John Carroll University

Published in Cleveland

One of the toughest challenges facing managers is how to plan for profitable growth in an uncertain future. 

Look back ten years at your customers and their needs, your employees, market structures, delivery systems, regulatory policies, social systems, the economy and technology, and it’s clear how much things have changed. It’s a safe bet that at least that much change can be expected in the next ten years, but what kind of change will occur?

Compounding the uncertainty is the necessity to keep managing current activities for efficiency and growth while planning for a future that may call for different activities altogether.

Smart Business spoke with Dr. Jaume Franquesa, visiting assistant professor of strategic management, and Dr. James Martin, associate dean and professor of marketing, both at the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University, about ways businesses can position themselves to take advantage of tomorrow’s opportunities.

How do you get started?

Success in the long run is all about marshaling the right capabilities and resources and using them to create sustainable competitive advantage for the future.  Start by identifying and assessing your current capabilities. Generally, there are two categories of capabilities that allow you to do both the day-to-day activities and plan for an uncertain future. 

The first category is operational capabilities, which are the things you currently do that give you a competitive advantage in your current markets. That is, the skills, competencies and resources that you use to try to satisfy your current customers’ needs better than competitors or at a lesser comparative cost, leading to higher profit. 

The second category is dynamic capabilities, which are the capabilities that will help you to plan for the future. There are generally three types of dynamic capabilities.

The first is the ability to do environmental scanning and sensing. Being able to identify and track trends, and understand how they might be important to your business is a critical competency to develop.

The second dynamic capability is being able to turn the trends that you identified as important to your business into opportunities that can be pursued further. Innovative thinking is the cornerstone of this capability.

The third dynamic capability is being able to quickly re-configure your internal resource base in a way that creates a sustained competitive advantage for pursuing the opportunity. Understanding which resources are valuable, along with adaptive resilience and flexibility in your organization are key ingredients for this capability.

The stronger you are at each of the dynamic capabilities, the better your strategy and its implementation.

How can a manager foster adaptation and flexibility with regard to long term strategic direction?

As you think longer term, the uncertainties about investments in strategic direction can cause significant anxiety. This is really tough, but it is at the heart of building an organization for the future.

One useful approach to navigate this uncertainty is to apply ‘real options’ logic to investments for the future. Instead of making early choices under uncertainty and committing significant resources to a particular strategic direction, consider engaging in multiple directions that will keep several windows of opportunity open. In this way, you can delay commitment to any of them until more information is available and some of the uncertainty is resolved.

To do this, you must design the program of investment in each strategic initiative as a series of sequential experiments, with a continue/discontinue evaluation point at the end of each experiment. That is to say, at the end of the period you have the option of continuing to invest as planned, narrowing the scope of the project, or abandoning the project.

The goal is to create and manage a portfolio of alternative strategic options. You do this by investing in multiple stage-gated projects designed to seed the development of new capabilities or to explore potential new markets. The keys to the management of this portfolio of strategic options are:

  • Project selection.
  • Design of investment stages in a way that maximizes learning while minimizing the cost of each strategic option.
  • Portfolio diversification. 

The dynamic capabilities that you develop give you the foundation for creating this portfolio of
strategic options.

Dr. James Martin is an associate dean, professor of marketing at the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach him at jhmartin@jcu.edu.

Dr. Jaume Franquesa is a visiting assistant professor of strategic management at the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach him at jfranquesa@jcu.edu.

Insights Executive Education is brought to you by John Carroll University

Published in Cleveland

Are you “results-oriented?” Do you have a “proven track record?” Would you consider yourself a “problem solver?” According to LinkedIn, these are some of the most overused buzzwords on profiles across the popular professional social network.

A problem in today’s saturated marketplace is finding your unique place as a professional. Whether you are a self-employed entrepreneur or an executive at a large corporation, you are in charge of your own career. A successful brand relies on its unique positioning in the marketplace. Likewise, a successful businessperson must understand the importance of crafting a personal brand. Your unique identity sets you apart from the competition and contributes to the overall success of your company, says Jenna Drenten, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing, Department of Management, Marketing and Logistics, Boler School of Business, John Carroll University.

“We choose one product over another because it offers something special. The same is true for today’s professionals,” says Drenten. “In today’s competitive marketplace, business professionals must perfect the art of what I call personal branding — developing a unique personal brand and actively promoting that brand to others.  Personal branding is not only beneficial for your own career, it also benefits your company’s brand image.” 

Smart Business spoke with Drenten about the importance of branding yourself and key strategies for managing a successful personal brand.

What does it mean to brand yourself?

Branding yourself means to develop a unique professional identity and coherent message that sets you apart from others either in your company or in your industry. If you are a CEO or an entrepreneur, you may say, ‘I have enough on my plate by building and managing my company’s brand, much less my own.’ But branding yourself is just as important, if not more so. Think of business leaders like Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey. Their personal brand images are synonymous with their companies.  Regardless of your career status, you must commit to being the brand manager of your own personal brand.

What is your unique selling proposition?

In branding yourself, the goal is to differentiation from others but consistently within your message. What specific characteristics and field-related expertise do you have that others may not? Try to develop a personal positioning statement. It should be a concise, one- to two-sentence statement that reflects your unique value as a business professional. Consider creating a short tagline for yourself that captures who you are and what sets you apart.

What is your personal brand management strategy?

Once you have pinpointed your unique brand, you need to communicate it to others.  Your goal is to actively promote and manage your personal brand. Branding yourself involves creating a unified message across all outlets. Consistency is crucial, especially in today’s digital age. If someone were to search your name on the Web today, what would they find? Take control of your online brand image by creating a personal website outlining your achievements or by starting a blog that allows you to share your distinct industry-related ideas. Your personal brand management strategy should be proactive and should reflect your natural capabilities. For instance, if you excel at face-to-face communication, attend networking events and schedule coffee meetings. 

How does branding yourself benefit your company?

In marketing, a phenomenon called the ‘halo effect’ suggests consumers make more favorable judgments of a particular product because of positive biases toward associated brands or people. For instance, consumers are biased toward brands endorsed by their favorite celebrities. The same is true for personal branding. If you develop a unique personal brand, your company gets included in the positive halo of your success. The connections that you make and the network that you develop can be transferred to your company.

How does branding yourself benefit your career?

You are the product and your employer is the customer. Branding yourself allows you to market your skills to meet the customer’s needs. Regardless of the stage at which you are in your career, it is important to stay marketable by creating a unique brand for yourself, separate from your identity within your company. This gives you more opportunities for mobility both within and outside of your organization. As your personal brand awareness increases, you may be invited to speak at industry events, contribute to industry related stories, and so on not because of your status within a company, but because of your branded expertise within the wider industry.

Jenna Drenten, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Marketing in the Department of Management, Marketing, and Logistics in the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach her at jdrenten@jcu.edu.

Published in Cleveland