Mastering business

Going after a master’s degree in business administration has always helped employees get ahead, but it has become even more important in today’s economy.

“An MBA gives you a good, well-rounded understanding of how a business is composed and how it gets things done,” says Fletcher Birmingham, who leads faculty facilitating graduate business courses at University of Phoenix’s Cleveland Campus.

That understanding makes employees more valuable to their current employer — and makes them sought after by others.

“MBA students are trying to develop better skills or a better understanding of what makes a business successful because they know that it will help them improve their current job performance or better their prospects for another job that may open up,” says Birmingham.

Smart Business spoke with Birmingham about how an MBA helps employers as well as employees.

How can employees benefit from an MBA?

There are a few things that are really helpful. Specifically, in today’s job market and today’s economy, the reality is that you can’t promise job security. There is no such thing based on our current economic conditions. But what you can do is develop job skills that are transferable — flexibility to go to where the work is. If you look at the people, students and employees in the MBA program, it’s the place to learn those skills so that you do have transferable skills, you can be portable and you can go to where the work is needed.

What does having an MBA represent to potential employers?

The good part about the MBA and what makes it so valuable is students can come in and learn a number of real-world experiences. One is to learn the different departments of a company and how they operate, get results and determine what’s important.

So, through their training classes in the MBA program, the students are going to get exposure to all the primary departments of a company — accounting and finance, a course or two that gives them exposure to sales and marketing, an understanding of operations, human resources and law.

Students in the MBA program now have a better understanding of how businesses are organized, probably have a better understanding of what’s important in their role in the company and also, in a bigger picture, how they and their peers have to interact, and how goals are interconnected for the benefit of the organization. So the employer really benefits from this program, because instead of getting departmentalization in which you optimize your performance even if it is marginalizing or rationalizing the performance for another department, employees have a better understanding of the whole system; the whole business works together to get results.

How can an MBA help employees in their current roles?

I like to encourage students to think, ‘At your company, who has this role?’ For instance, if I am teaching a course on maximizing shareholder wealth, that course is focused on finance, working capital and cash flow. So who has the responsibility for taking care of your company’s assets? I like to ask them that question for every class, and then I like to encourage them to keep an open mind to learn about it because they might decide later on in their career that it is a role they may want to take. If it’s a topic you don’t necessarily like or if it doesn’t seem to match your interest, then at least you’ll better understand your peers.

How can employees make the most of their MBA experiences?

When we are talking about assignments and topics in our classes, the faculty likes to look to the students. We ask, ‘What is going on in your workplace today?’ We’re not looking to go into the specifics and break into something confidential. But what is an example that you’re struggling with in your work department that we can bring in here? That way, we have some real-life examples on the table for students to look at and learn from, then take right back so that they have improvements they can connect to right away at work.

They’ve already talked about it in a work context. If they talk about it outside of the work context, they have people who are not involved in this specific issue who have different backgrounds, resources, work at different companies, maybe different industry sectors, who can offer some fresh ideas. The classroom is a good place where we can bring better ideas and better solutions.

How have MBA programs changed recently?

Today’s MBA programs involve more teamwork. Case studies have been the traditional learning model, used to develop a methodology for problem solving. What’s new in recent years is that more and more of that involves a simulation. So instead of reading a 100-page case, you’re doing something that has some simulation aspects to it and you have a team assignment so people are working on this together.

The benefit of the simulation versus the case study is the simulation is very dynamic. As the students reach a decision, they enter that decision in the simulation and the next problems that come up are connected to their selection of choices. It makes it more realistic.

The next level

Jason Briggs was tired of being trapped in his job. After seven years as a senior manager at Agilysys Inc., Briggs was bumping his head on his professional ceiling. He knew he needed to further his education to get the promotion he wanted.

“I just couldn’t get over the hump,” says Briggs.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from University of Phoenix’s Cleveland Campus, Briggs went looking for better opportunities. He had only been at his new job a few months when Agilysys asked him to return as the company’s director of facilities and real estate — at a 57 percent net salary increase.

Smart Business spoke with Briggs about furthering your education and how it can give you advantages in the workplace.

How did your professional experience help you in your continuing education endeavors?

I had an associate’s degree and nearly 15 years experience in my position, so I knew a lot of the material they were throwing at us in advance. But what’s nice is that the classes really put a finishing edge on my education in areas like statistics and human resource law — things not in my core skill set. It helped me become a more well-rounded, universal strategic player.

The faculty was outstanding, because most of the faculty members are actually practitioners. They all have master’s degrees and, in the academia world, it’s pretty much a prerequisite to have a master’s or Ph.D. So, when you’re going for your bachelor’s degree, you can trust that you’ll learn what you need to know to survive in business.

The other major bonus is the fact that, like everyone in the classes, the professors are working for a living. It’s not like a brick-and-mortar institution where most of the educators are professional professors. These people are practitioners and most of them teach the curriculum part-time, while working in the work force full-time. That adds to their credibility.

That, along with the learning teams and the flexible schedules, is what I found to be most beneficial.

What are these learning teams?

A lot of people, including myself, had no idea what these were. When they found out, many people were disenfranchised by the idea. Why would I want to join a learning team and have 30 to 40 percent of my final grade based on my participation and have some people with no academic skills pull my team down? That’s the No. 1 complaint and frequently asked question.

But after you get over that initial reluctance and experience being part of the team, you begin to understand how it can benefit you as a student. The learning teams present a great opportunity for those who have never been in a collaborative environment to participate in groups to understand where they fit into the pecking order. If three people got into a work group right now, they would understand pretty quickly who the leaders are, who the creative thinkers are, who is good at speaking and who the dominating personalities are. Then, you can learn where you fit in and how your skills can enhance the areas where others’ drop off.

How is the team set up?

There was usually a group of four to six people. You stay with your team for at least the entire class and, while some teams remain together during their entire curriculum, University of Phoenix advisors actually encourage changing team assignments from class to class. The theme of the learning team is to always have new people, so you can experience all the different personalities — just like you would in the workplace.

How did the university’s learning teams enrich your experience?

As a department head, I managed a lot of people and I dealt with a lot of peers. So what was good for me was if I didn’t like the way I was in the group, I could look at myself from a 100,000-foot level and have a chance to tweak my behavior. For instance, when I’m at the learning group, I’m a leader, but I may be too dominant of a leader. If that’s the case, I should back off and ask more questions or do different things. I can take this new outlook to the workplace.

Other people have never led. They may not be natural leaders, but this gives them a snapshot and platform to experiment and say, ‘I need to step it up because I am not aggressive enough. I don’t deal with conflict well.’

Let’s say I was great at three things, and somebody else is great at a fourth thing, but he or she was sick that day. Well then I have to step up to the plate and do something I really wasn’t that great at. Some people love writing papers, and you can give that work to those people. But all of a sudden, that person isn’t there anymore. Now you have to make sure you don’t blow the assignment, because if you do, you let the whole team down. If I don’t do what I’m supposed to do, even if I’m covering for someone, everybody gets the same grade I get. That’s 40 percent of what you’re doing.

Jason Briggs is the director of facilities and real estate at Agilysys Inc. University of Phoenix, the largest private university in North America, serves a diverse student population, offering associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs from campuses and learning centers across the U.S., as well as online throughout the world. University of Phoenix’s Cleveland Campus serves students online and at locations in Independence, Beachwood and Westlake/Crocker Park. To learn more, contact University of Phoenix at (216) 447-8807 or (800) MY SUCCESS or www.phoenix.edu.

The healing touch

Change has been constant in the health care industry, and particularly in the nursing field, since the days of Florence Nightingale.

Denise Kresevic, a member of the faculty at University of Phoenix’s Cleveland Campus and a nurse researcher and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, has spent 30 years in nursing. Kresevic uses the famous nurse as an example of why nurses have to keep looking for ways to improve their profession.

“Florence Nightingale cut the mortality rate in half during the Crimean War simply by getting surgeons to wash their hands,” Kresevic says. “She was one of those nurses who collected data from the very beginning. Her observations were so astute. She found that something so basic as hand-washing could save people’s lives.”

Smart Business spoke with Kresevic about how continuing education is preparing today’s nurses to adapt to their changing roles and make the next great discovery.

What are the main issues facing nursing and health care industries in Northeast Ohio?

The scope of the nursing practice has increased so quickly. Physicians used to do the kinds of things that nurses now do regularly. In the 1950s, it was the physician that took blood pressure. Now we have nurses not only taking blood pressure, but we also have advanced nurses ordering blood pressure medication.

Even the role of nurse’s aides has changed dramatically. They used to just help a patient eat or bathe, but now they are actually doing things like taking blood pressure. So that function has gone all the way from the physician to the nurse’s aide.

So, one of our challenges is to determine how to adequately prepare nurses to provide this complex care. What educational programs do we need? What should a basic, entry-level education be, and what should be reserved for more advanced courses?

Another major challenge has been to target educational programs that develop competent nurses who are well rounded.

How can nursing and health care professionals address those challenges?

Continuing education is essential. But nurses shouldn’t just focus on clinical education. Yes, you want to keep up to date on the latest drugs and ways to manage pain, but you also have to keep up on the regulatory standards. There are more and more regulatory standards hospitals and nurses must meet in order to demonstrate competency. We really are in an era where we are calling everything ‘evidence-based.’ When it comes to nursing and health care procedures, we’re not doing it because it’s tradition — we’re doing it because there is strong evidence or research to support what we do.

This is particularly important when the population we look at is very diverse. Families have changed. No longer is the majority of health care done in the hospital during the four days patients come in for surgery. Patients need to be able to go home and care for themselves and stay healthy. In this facet, technology has been explosive. People can go online and find information, but they really need coaching and teaching about health.

Nurses’ relationships with patients has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. Patients are much more active partners in their care, and their care needs are far more complex. Certainly overlaying all of that is that the settings have changed and the reimbursement for care has changed. Plus, the regulatory standards are much more stringent.

How have continuing education programs in the nursing field adapted to changing times?

Many people are working, and nursing is their second career. Those students have a broad knowledge base. They’ve seen the world; they aren’t naive. Continuing education programs have to adapt so they fit into people’s schedules. Balancing life while working on your professional education is a stressful task. So, many of the classes have been adapted so people can fit them into their work schedules.

Traditionally, people would do a two-semester program, where they attended classes during the day and worked on individual assignments on their own time. Now, there’s evening and weekend classes and people work in teams on projects they can actually implement. It isn’t an esoteric paper that they’re never going to do anything with. It’s work-related. They are in a situation where they see a problem and they come up with a solution as a group. Then, they can take that back to their work setting and implement it. Continuing education students have too much to learn in too short a time, so their courses have to be work-related, valuable and applicable.

How do you make education more practical?

Continuing education students want to be active learners. They don’t want to come to a class where you’re going to lecture to them. They want to share their life experiences, which is a great way for the whole class to learn. So they learn partly from the instructor but a lot from each other. That’s a valuable learning experience for everyone.

Part of their education is lectures and writing papers, but a big part of nursing education is hands-on. That is where they work with an experienced nurse and get to see what the real world is like.

The partnerships with other people to provide care increase the complexity. Educational programs have to work on not just the clinical skills, but also the communication and collaboration. You are always working with a team. And the nurse is the quarterback — the one who coordinates all the team members and specialists.

Denise Kresevic is a faculty member at University of Phoenix’s Cleveland Campus and a nurse researcher and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center. University of Phoenix, the largest private university in North America, serves a diverse student population, offering associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs from campuses and learning centers across the U.S. as well as online throughout the world. University of Phoenix’s Cleveland Campus serves students online and at locations in Independence, Beachwood and Westlake/Crocker Park. To learn more, contact University of Phoenix at (216) 447-8807 or (800) MY SUCCESS, or www.phoenix.edu.

Ongoing education

Today’s entrepreneurs face different challenges than those 20 years ago. Laura Kuhl, a former business owner and entrepreneur who currently works as a senior manager with Dixon-Hughes PLLC, knows those challenges firsthand. As a faculty member at University of Phoenix’s Cleveland Campus, Kuhl helps tomorrow’s entrepreneurs prepare for those challenges.

“I’m a lifelong learner,” says Kuhl. “That is one of the hallmarks of being an entrepreneur. They never, ever feel quite finished.”

Whether you are an entrepreneur or an “intrepreneur” — Kuhl’s term for someone who possesses the skills and attitude of an entrepreneur but works inside someone else’s business — you need to be prepared if you want to survive in the business world.

Smart Business spoke with Kuhl about how the traditional ideas of business are changing and how you can make sure you can adapt to the changes.

What does it take to succeed as an entrepreneur today?

There are things you need to be able to do if you’re an intrepreneur or an entrepreneur. It’s all the same things you have to do to be able to create your own job security. You have to recognize who your customers are. You have to be able to solve problems; you have to be able and willing to accept accountability. The buck stops here. That’s something that entrepreneurs have always had. They are the bottom line for accountability.

Entrepreneurs or intrepreneurs who succeed in the work force take that attitude every day. They are willing to work to generate new business or new business ideas. They innovate and adapt their services — meaning if I’m an employee, I need to be able to adapt to what my customer wants, what my boss wants or what the people I’m serving want. There are some people who can’t do that, but you can learn it. All of these things are things you can learn. So find an academic institution that knows how to equip people with those things that are entrepreneurial in nature.

If you can’t solve problems, if you can’t use technology and/or if you can’t adapt to your customers, you’re going to have a difficult time as an entrepreneur. Those are just skill sets that are unique.

How do you prepare aspiring entrepreneurs for the challenges of running a business?

I stress a nine-step model of problem solving, where you dissect things automatically and routinely. You understand what the steps are to benchmark alternatives and how to assess those alternatives against what your companies objectives are and, ultimately, how to come up with a very good decision, very quickly. Employers value that. By the time you’re done with the program, this approach is so ingrained in how you approach opportunities and problems; it’s like driving home from work.

As a faculty member, what can you teach entrepreneurs about making decisions?

When faced with volumes and volumes of data, people can get mired in it. It’s like not being able to see the forest through the trees.

The benchmarking skills you can learn allow you to come up with data triages very quickly. The data doesn’t matter; it’s the knowledge that matters. Over time, you learn to mark trends and you learn to benchmark. You learn to say, ‘At what point do you have enough information to make the call?’ That’s what education does. It teaches you to be able to discern those critical points where you have enough information to make the call.

Can people besides entrepreneurs benefit from furthering their business education?

I personally can’t imagine a single person on whom this education would be wasted. I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Oh, you don’t need an advanced degree for this or that.’ But when things get really competitive, an advanced education can be a differentiator. As an employer, if I have to choose between two attractive candidates, the one who is going to step up and get the position is the one who has better credentials. All other things being equal, that ends up being the factor that triggers your decision.

How can an advanced education increase employability?

You add a lot of credibility to your resume if you are teaching or studying with a university that is progressive. Those are the exact same skills that employers now need.

What I think is important is entrepreneurism is relevant to everybody. It doesn’t matter if they happen to have a job right now where one company gives them a paycheck. Entrepreneurism is attitude; it’s work behavior. It’s how you approach your work much more than it is who’s paying your paycheck. You can get your paycheck direct from the end customer or from somebody in the middle, but it doesn’t change the nature of entrepreneurism. The only way to really be successful is to either be an entrepreneur or an intrepreneur and to learn the skills that go along with that.

LAURA KUHL is a faculty member at University of Phoenix’s Cleveland Campus. University of Phoenix, the largest private university in North America, serves a diverse student population, offering associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs from campuses and learning centers across the U.S. as well as online throughout the world. University of Phoenix Cleveland Campus serves students online and at locations in Independence, Beachwood and Westlake/Crocker Park. To learn more, contact University of Phoenix at (216) 447-8807 or (800) MY SUCCESS or www.phoenix.edu.

Degree of difficulty

There has never been a better time to go to school. More and more jobs require a college education, and the competition for quality jobs has intensified as businesses downsize and the labor pool expands.

Louis J. Licata has seen the shift from both sides as both the founder and president of the Licata & Toerek law firm and as an adjunct faculty member at University of Phoenix’s Cleveland Campus, which includes locations in Beachwood, Independence and Westlake.

Even when money is tight, higher education is a sound investment — whether it’s a degree earned by you, your employees or your potential employees.

“You have to bring your game up a level to stay competitive in today’s marketplace,” Licata says. “The only way to do that is through the educational process. If you don’t, you run the risk of being replaced by someone who’s better qualified for your job.”

Smart Business spoke with Licata about how hiring employees with advanced education can upgrade your business.

What factors are placing a premium on increased education?

This isn’t a recent phenomenon. The economic conditions have escalated it, but within the last five or 10 years, businesses and corporations of all sizes and levels have been looking for people to broaden their skill bases and do more with less. Now that the market has become flooded with more people who are looking for employment, anybody who has dreams of moving up the ladder has to enhance their marketability. One of those ways is to go back to school. If you don’t have a degree, get your degree. If you have a degree, go for your MBA or your master’s. As employers start to look for people to fill those jobs, one of the easy differentiators is education.

What are the practical advantages of getting a college degree?

Businesses have gotten into cross training, so they have more depth in their current staff to be able to handle more responsibilities in different areas. The advanced degree or additional education gives people an opportunity to be eligible for cross training. That way, they aren’t in a silo. They aren’t just limited to a particular skill. They are also more attractive to a business because they can help the business in a number of different ways. They’ve also revealed through their education — especially if they decide to go back to school to get an advanced degree — a certain level of commitment to their growth and development. Those are the kinds of people that businesses are looking for.

How can business owners use the competitive job market to their advantage?

You always hear about opportunities in a bad economy. One of the opportunities for businesses is to upgrade their talent pools. This is a golden opportunity for business owners to go out and get a quality, talented individual that might have not otherwise been available before.

If you put an ad in the paper for a marketing coordinator, the easy differentiator is who has a marketing degree at the MBA level versus a marketing degree at the undergraduate level. The unfortunate byproduct of that is there might be others with undergraduate degrees that might be truly better for the job, but you would never know that because you’re focusing on the MBA candidates.

It’s the same for promotions. Say you’ve worked somewhere for 15 years. You know as much about the organization, the structure, the people, the dynamics and the politics as anyone. You’d probably be the best person for that management position. But you’re not even going to get considered without the MBA.

Will a company make an exception? Maybe. But why put a company in a position to have to make an exception? Make it easy for the employer to move you up the ladder or to bring you in by going out and getting an associate’s, bachelor’s or advanced degree. That shows that you have more to offer than the person next to you.

How can hiring employees with college educations benefit a company?

It’s literally an opportunity to trade up. Say you’ve got an employee who’s been mediocre for the last two or three years. That isn’t working anymore. The economy is down; you’ve got to do more with less. That means your people have to step it up. You can’t afford to lose business because you have a mediocre employee. So you need to look for a replacement. With the economy, there are more people in the market, with more experience and education — it’s an upgrade.

It’s insidious, you don’t see it very often, but companies will lay off 20 people, and within months, hire 10 to do the same jobs. If you compare the people they’ve laid off with the people they’ve hired, you’ll see that they’ve clearly upgraded their talent pool. They’ve hired people with more experience or education to do the same job.

LOUIS J. LICATA is the founder and president of the Licata & Toerek law firm and an adjunct faculty member at University of Phoenix’s Cleveland Campus, which includes locations in Beachwood, Independence and Westlake. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, the Professional Fellowship Program at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management and Cleveland State University. University of Phoenix, the largest private university in North America, serves a diverse student population, offering associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs from campuses and learning centers across the U.S. as well as online throughout the world. University of Phoenix Cleveland Campus serves students online and at locations in Independence, Beachwood and Westlake/Crocker Park. To learn more, contact University of Phoenix at (216) 447-8807 or (800) MY SUCCESS or www.phoenix.edu.

Talking points

Amachine run amok injures one of your
employees. Dozens of newspaper and
television reporters immediately descend on your company headquarters, looking for blood. What can you say or do that
will minimize the impact of that unfortunate
accident, while portraying your company as
the compassionate company it is? Do words
matter at a time like this? You bet they do —
and they should begin with a competent
communications department.

“Crisis communications are important to
most businesses,” says Greg Blase, director
of academic programming at Kent State
University. “If something happens — a plant
accident, an employee injured — there’s a
need for communication, right away.”

Most companies work hard to ensure that
their integrity, credibility and reputation are
protected. When a crisis strikes, they can
issue statements, provide updates through
the Internet, hold media briefings or even
issue statements through webcasts. All
require professional communicators who
possess a strategic mindset along with
accomplished writing and presentation skills.

Besides being adequately prepared to handle a crisis, strong communicators are more
important now than ever in business, especially since current and future technologies
demand strong communication skills.

Smart Business talked with Blase about
the benefits of good communications.

Why are communications so vital to a company’s success?

With the high-paced technical life we lead,
there will always be a strong need for communications. It is both a learned and an
acquired skill. A large company needs to
communicate with a variety of different contingencies — customers, stockholders,
donors, employees, local government and
sometimes even state government. It communicates to those audiences through news
releases, public relations, advertising,
employee newsletters or videos, special
events and more. Typically, the person who
must communicate business ideals, strategies and goals will be more of a business professional. A savvy CEO will realize that his or
her expertise is in running the company,
building the business and seeking out new markets. But he or she must also realize that
woven into that entire strategy is the need for
good communications. A smart company
will use its communications department to
take information and craft each message to
the particular market for which it’s intended.
For instance, everybody talks about technology today, but even if you possess this wonderful new technology, you’ve still got to let
people know about it. Because we see so
many people in high positions who don’t
know how to communicate well, I would
counsel upper managers to rely on their communications department. Find the right people for it, staff it intelligently, and use those
people as a management resource so that
when anything occurs that requires communication, trained and educated professionals
can respond appropriately.

What about communications that don’t
involve a crisis?

The CEO of a company doesn’t need to be
a master linguist, but he or she needs to convey the right message clearly so it’s not taken
the wrong way and so that the audience
understands not only the words but the
intent. That’s where strong communication
comes in. Companies that want to create an identity for themselves have to wave the flag
when they develop a new product, get a new
client or hire a new person. All of that information has to be assembled and disseminated through the right channels — employees,
customers, the media — by a strong communications department.

Should corporate leaders take a communications course at a local college or university?

It really depends on the strengths and
weaknesses of the individual leader.
Executives weak at interpersonal communication and/or public speaking could most
likely benefit from these types of courses.
But the key is knowing your weaknesses. I
suspect many leaders and managers don’t
know they are weak in these areas or won’t
admit it to themselves or anyone else. A lot of
bright people are not good communicators.

Why the current emphasis on applied communications at regional college campuses?

Ohio is dealing with brain drain. Because
universities are tax-supported, it behooves
the state to try to keep its students in Ohio
after they graduate. The thinking is that
regional campus students are more place-bound, somewhat nontraditional and a little
bit older. They attend a regional campus
because they want to stay where they are.
That, in part, is why many universities are
expanding their curriculum to regional campuses. The governor has stated that he wants
everybody in Ohio to be able to get a degree
within 30 miles of his or her house. That’s a
difficult promise. Having a four-year degree
such as applied communications at a regional campus allows someone to study communications in more depth, closer to home. An
applied communications graduate has basic
skills in communication. The program offers
courses in organizational communication,
high-impact speaking, interpersonal communication, gender communication, writing and
design, so it’s an all-encompassing package. It
is not as in-depth as the advertising, journalism or public relations degree programs, but
sometimes, companies need people with a
broader education.

GREG BLASE is director of academic programming at Kent State University. Reach him at (330) 672-8290 or [email protected].

An event to remember

Corporate events range from afternoon
parties to daylong meetings to three-day conferences. Ideally, employees or clients look forward to the event, participate in interesting activities, eat great food,
get to network, learn something new and, in
the end, walk away with a positive impression about the company.

But, unfortunately, not all events turn out
that way, according to Michele Clark, an
event-planning expert and the program
manager for training and development at
Corporate College. A poorly planned event
can be a public relations disaster, she says,
resulting in a long, drawn-out day — or
days — that attendees find disappointing,
boring or awkward.

“A successful corporate event has three
important elements: diligent planning, consideration for guests and, most importantly, a commitment to fun,” says Clark.

Smart Business spoke with Clark for tips
on how to make your next corporate event
a successful one.

What are the biggest mistakes businesses
make when planning a corporate event?

The biggest problem is when a business
owner or CEO hands off the event-planning opportunity to an administrative professional thinking that he or she can handle
it in his or her ‘spare time.’ Often, administrative professionals are thrown in without
any training, have to shoot from the hip
and hope all turns out well. Business owners tend to think that event planning is like
planning a party, but, in fact, it is a full-time
job that requires great attention to detail
and time-consuming organization. It is a lot
to ask of someone.

Another major mistake is not allowing
enough time to plan. Many CEOs don’t
have a concept of what it takes to plan an
event — even a company holiday party or
picnic. Not having enough time to prepare
could result in lack of attendance, absence
of key VIPs, and places or entertainment
that are already booked.

A third mistake is when the event planner
does not do enough research when booking an event or consider the target audience that will be attending the event. For
example, don’t host an event for your ‘green’ company at a hotel where a nuclear
conference is going on at the same time;
and make sure that you check for food
allergies and offer alternative meals so that
you don’t contribute to an allergic reaction.
Without research and attention to detail,
your event could be a PR disaster.

How can a business avoid these mistakes?

Hire an event planner or train someone in
your company to do the job, such as your
administrative assistant. Make sure the
event planner has the resources and enough
input from you and other employees to do
the job right. Make sure there is no conflict
of interest in the chosen venue. Have all
printed materials on a disk. If for some reason your materials don’t arrive on the event
day, you can take them to get printed.
Finally, have a plan B in case a key speaker
cancels or other unforeseen events happen.

What are the elements that make a memorable, successful company event?

 

  • Emotional involvement. The audience
    needs to be invested in and committed to the event. You want them to feel excited
    about going, wonderful when they are
    there and happy when they leave. Provide
    incentives for employees to attend, for
    example, give away an iPod to the first 10
    attendees or tickets to a show. Just
    because it’s a company event doesn’t mean
    you can’t use your marketing know-how to
    get people to attend.

     

    However, remember your event is not just
    a big party — get your attendees involved in
    the learning process in creative ways,
    rather than just have them sit through a
    three-hour PowerPoint presentation.

     

  • Consistent message. Know the purpose for the event and articulate that purpose in your invitations and marketing
    materials. Without a purpose and a consistent message, the event will feel directionless and will flop.

     

     

  • Time used wisely. Have an agenda and
    stick with it. Don’t allow long, drawn-out
    speeches. Make sure you have a facilitator
    to move things along and not let anyone —
    even a VIP — dominate the conversation.

     

     

  • Movement. If it is a long conference,
    make sure that you schedule some physical activity, even something as simple as
    touring the facility. Movement reduces tension and makes people more alert.

     

     

  • Attention to detail. If the person planning the event is organized, you will have a
    better company event. Little details go a
    long way in keeping attendees happy.

     

What can a company gain (or lose) from
company events?

A good event creates loyalty, provides
education and develops a team-building
environment for employees and/or clients.
However, a poorly executed event can do a
lot of damage. You can lose credibility with
employees and clients. You can lose time
and money. It takes effort — and a well-trained person — to pull off a successful
event. But once you host a successful
party, meeting or conference, people will
talk positively about it and will be eager to
attend your next one.

MICHELE CLARK runs The Shlensky Institute for Event and Meeting Planning and is the program manager for training and development for Corporate College, which offers employers custom-designed training programs to enhance future work force development, job
growth and job retention in Northeast Ohio. Reach her at (216) 987-2909 or [email protected].

Where to meet?

Once a tentative schedule has been
determined, corporate meeting planners must choose where the meeting or event will be held. That responsibility is
often trickier than it sounds.

“The most important tip is to do your homework on possible facilities and make on-site
visits,” says Joe Folk, general manager of the
Professional Education and Conference Center at Kent State University’s Stark Campus.

Smart Business talked with Folk about the
surprising impact that a venue can have on
the success of a company event.

How, indeed, does the choice of venue affect
a company event?

So many times, meeting planners think that
if they find a room with tables, it’ll be a successful meeting. But the right choice of venue
is paramount. From a management standpoint, it’s much easier to add nice food and
beverages to a conference center than to try
to convert a restaurant/ballroom into a conference center. Also, conference centers will
supply event planners, which take care of all
the details — making the corporate meeting
planner’s job so much easier. Your choice of
venue should also be adapted to the number
of people attending your meeting or function.
Not all venues can offer the right seating
arrangements for larger events. For instance,
Kent State Stark specializes in small- to medium-sized events because the facility was
designed for such events. Other factors that
can help determine the right site include the
availability of audiovisual support, computers, customized floor plans, ergonomic seating and standardized break stations.

What should be included in the agenda for a
company event?

For corporate meeting planners, it’s a pretty cut-and-dried formula. One of the first
things that they need to understand is what
time the facility opens in the morning. They
also need to ascertain when the break station
is available — here, usually a half-hour before
the meeting is scheduled to begin with continuous service throughout the day. It’s
important, too, for them to space out the
morning break, lunch, the afternoon break
and the end of the meeting. Attendees will be in a distraction-free environment for up to
eight hours, but many of them might still
want to stay in contact with their offices via
phone or e-mail.

What other tips can you offer in-house corporate event planners?

During your on-site visit, ask for an audio-visual demonstration, because technology
can enhance the presentations. Each facility
is different; what one facility calls ‘high-tech’
is standard for another. Next, ask for a list of
past clients to use as references, then make a
couple of phone calls to see if the site lived up
to its billing. You should make certain that
your event planner is scheduled to be at the
facility during your event. You want him or
her to be available, in order to assist with any
last-minute or ongoing details. You can also
ask if the on-site chef and the culinary staff
can cater to special dietary needs. And don’t
be afraid to sit down and have lunch there, to
sample the food and see how the servers
treat you. Ask about other events scheduled
concurrently with yours. For instance, we
cater to trade shows and exhibits for businesses like The Timken Company and job fairs for organizations like the Canton
Chamber of Commerce. You don’t want a
huge trade show and your meetings to be
scheduled at the same time because you
don’t want 500 job seekers going through the
building while you’re trying to conduct your
meeting. Other questions to ask during your
visit include: Is the staff friendly, is the facility clean and comfortable, and is the staff willing to work with you on the schedule?

Is certification important?

Corporate meeting planners should look
for the IACC (International Association of
Conference Centers) seal and affiliation. The
IACC gives you a third-party auditing system,
ensuring top-notch technology, facilities and
service.

What social functions can complement educational functions?

On-site social functions include a pre-seminar breakfast and a post-seminar reception
or dinner. Those give participants the opportunity to meet in a more comfortable environment for networking. The conference
center’s staff generally will not take responsibility for off-site activities, but they can
introduce you to personnel from the local
visitor’s bureau.

What kind of post-event feedback is needed
from attendees?

First, the meeting planner should ask attendees whether the event was a good use of
their time. For trade shows and exhibits, it’s a
good sign of a successful event if the
exhibitors/vendors are willing to come back
next year. Then, you should offer an appraisal of the facility to your contact person. Let
him or her know if it was easy to park and get
into the building, whether the food was up to
expectations, whether your audiovisual
needs were met. How pleasing was the
room? Were the room temperature and lighting comfortable? It’s our job to deliver what
we promise — to not only meet expectations
but to exceed them.

JOE FOLK is general manager of the Professional Education and Conference Center at Kent State University’s Stark Campus. Reach him
at (330) 244-3506 or [email protected].

A winning equation

Most CEOs and business owners
continually strive to improve the
quality of a business’s product or service in a variety of ways — from new
equipment or technology to changes in
management to employee incentives.
But, quality does not come from superficial adjustments, says Louie Hendon,
director of quality programs at Corporate
College.

“There are two elements that must be
in place if a business is to achieve quality
in products or services: good leadership
and good teamwork,” Hendon says. “And
one goes hand in hand with the other.”

Smart Business spoke with Hendon
about how business owners can achieve
quality in their products or services by
making some fundamental changes in
their leadership style, making teamwork
possible.

You say teamwork and leadership are prerequisites to quality. How does that work?

Teamwork is always a top-down
approach. The leader needs to be part of
the team and not just sitting alone issuing directives from an ivory tower. The
CEO of Pillsbury, for example, always
walks the shop floor and talks to the
employees. He is truly a part of the team.
It is important for every supervisor, even
midlevel managers, to do this and not
insulate themselves from what is happening in the team. This is not micro-managing but simply staying involved
and encouraging people to think about
teamwork and quality as part of their
jobs. Having the leader be part of the
team is a critical part to developing a
team atmosphere.

At the same time, this kind of leader
must also be willing to let go and allow
leadership to emerge from a team.
Leaders must be able to train their subordinates to take charge and own a project. Leaders need to ask themselves: If I
left for a month, would the objectives
still be met? The team members must be
able to operate independently from the
leader. A CEO who becomes a micromanager and does not encourage leadership abilities of individuals below him or
her thwarts good teamwork.

Why is this kind of leadership important to
creating a good team?

Because you want everyone talking the
same language and working toward the
same company goals — there should be
no disconnect between upper management and staff. For example, if you wandered around your office right now and
randomly picked an employee and asked
him or her, ‘What is one goal for the company this fiscal year?’ would that
employee know the answer? It is important that everyone does know the goals,
and it is the responsibility of the leaders
to make sure that everyone understands
those goals and is on the same page.

Is this approach to quality possible for
every company?

Most traditional companies operate
under the idea of a strict hierarchy, with
many levels of authority that are increasingly removed from the workers.
Employees only hear the ‘quality talk’
from their CEO once a year, if ever.
However, newer, smaller companies
inherently use this leadership model
because everyone — even the CEO —
has to share the load.

It isn’t impossible for larger, more
established companies to become connected with their employees and ‘walk
the talk’ of teamwork. But the leadership
does need to make an effort and, in most
cases, it is a huge paradigm shift. This
kind of leadership shift is a change businesses must undergo in order to survive
in today’s global economy. Business
owners are beginning to understand that
quality initiatives are intricately tied to
leadership attitude and many team-building exercises and leadership workshops have been created to fulfill this
emerging paradigm shift.

Could you sum up the link between leadership/teamwork and quality?

This basic premise is the same no matter what type of company or industry
you are in — service or manufacturing.
Basically, it all boils down to good leadership, which is more than just telling
people what to do. True leadership
encourages teamwork by allowing
employees to emerge as leaders and
make decisions. When there is team-work, employees understand that they
are important in the bigger scheme of
the company and feel ownership. When
there is a feeling of ownership, high
quality of products and services emerge
from that feeling.

LOUIE HENDON is the director of quality programs at Corporate College, which offers employers custom-designed training programs
to enhance future work force development, job growth and job retention in Northeast Ohio. Contact Corporate College at (216) 987-2917.

The elusive sheepskin

Colleges and universities anticipate a
17 percent growth in enrollment over
the next 10 years, much of it in the “adult learner” category (adults 25 to 64).
Many of these students will receive financing
from the companies for which they work.

“Forty percent of people in the work force
participate in some form of continuing education,” says Dr. Patricia A. Book, vice president for regional development at Kent State
University. “Employees with high school
diplomas earn an average of $29,000 per year,
while those with bachelor’s degrees earn
$54,000. The work force understands the
value of investing in education and training.”

So, too, does business and industry, Book
adds. “Employers are spending more on
work force training and education,” she says.
“Nationally, 60 million adult students receive
some kind of support from their employers.”

Smart Business spoke with Book about
why employers should support degree-completion programs for valued employees.

How do degree-completion programs help
our regional economy?

Higher education is necessary for economic growth here in Northeast Ohio. Per capita
personal income — which approximates
regional standard of living — is directly tied
to degree attainment, particularly completion
of bachelor’s degrees. The more education,
the more likely people are to get the jobs that
the new knowledge economy is creating.

In today’s work environment, the skills and
competencies developed through continuing
higher education — technical and problem-solving skills as well as creativity and the ability to innovate — are needed to keep ahead
of global competitors. Even people with
degrees need to keep learning throughout
their careers. The bigger picture is that
Northeast Ohio won’t be able to compete as
a region if we don’t have the human capital
and talent to fill the types of jobs that are
being created. And, as a region and state, we
are lagging behind.

Why should employers offer degree-completion programs as an employee benefit?

There is a direct correlation between
investing in continuing education and retention of employees. When you invest in
employees, they invest in you. Because
employees develop current knowledge, critical thinking and creative abilities through
continuing education, they can better help
your company address challenges and develop strategies for success. Many companies
see their investment in education and training as enhancing their ability to attract talent.

Has there been a change in degree-completion programs over time?

The most common content areas are management and supervision — for those who
only have a technical background or degree
— and business practices. But institutions
across the region are developing new
degrees that respond to the needs of the
work force in areas as diverse as radiologic
technology, bioscience, manufacturing technology and a host of health-related occupations like occupational therapy, physical therapy and nursing. Educational providers are
adjusting their curricula to provide new programs, and modifying existing degrees,
developing new tracks within those degrees
and creating companion degrees that focus
on the kind of talent that businesses need.

Is technical knowledge stressed?

The promising graduates coming out of universities — particularly at the baccalaureate
and graduate levels — are people who can
lead and transfer knowledge. Scientists are
increasingly commercializing research and
technology to create new businesses in
advanced materials and the biosciences. Yes,
an important component is technical knowledge, but equally important are creativity and
innovation — the kinds of things we need as
a country to remain competitive in the global
economy. So scientists, engineers and other
high-tech employees need that broader background provided by the foundational bachelor’s degree. But we as a nation also need to
produce scientists and leaders who have
master’s degrees or doctorates in research-based fields like engineering, science, medicine, biology and chemistry.

How do online courses fit in to degree-completion programs?

Because of the flexibility and new methodologies for delivering education, forecasts
predict more and more students opting for
full-time online enrollment. Institutions
understand that adult learners have major
commitments to work and family, so they
cannot easily commit to the daytime class
schedule of a traditional student. Online
classes and shorter courses make it easier
for adult students to arrange their studies
around their work and personal lives. But
online courses that engage both the instructor and student have to be well designed and
rigorous to ensure quality.

Should upper management also consider
degree-completion programs?

Absolutely. Management development is a
huge need and probably the most dominant
area in continuing higher education. Most
universities and some colleges offer an executive MBA program tailored to senior executives. It can keep top talent on the cutting
edge of business management and strategy
— including an international component.

DR. PATRICIA A. BOOK is vice president for regional development at Kent State University. Reach her at (330) 672-8540 or
[email protected].