Cyber marketing

Your company’s e-mail marketing campaign might look successful — well
branded, pleasing to the eye and filled with useful content. But is it successful in
converting subscribers to customers?
While there are countless bells and whistles
you can add to your e-mail marketing campaign to make it look polished and high
tech, what matters most at the end of the
day is if the e-mail gets opened, read and
converted, according to Brad Kleinman, an
e-marketing consultant and instructor at
Corporate College.

“There are three basic steps an e-mail
campaign needs to follow if it is going to be
successful,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Kleinman
about the three steps and how to implement them to create a solid foundation for
a successful e-mail marketing campaign.

What are the benchmarks of a successful e-mail marketing campaign?

The true success of an e-mail marketing
campaign is measured by the conversion
rate from a prospect to a paying customer.
This does not happen if the e-mail is not
read or ends up in a spam folder. An e-mail
campaign will not get much ROI if readers
are not compelled to click through to the
company’s Web site for more information
or to make a purchase. While it is important for subscribers to open an e-mail, the
best measure is conversion, that is, if the
campaign is actually turning into cash.

What’s the first step of a good campaign?

The first step, once you have a list of optin subscribers to your campaign — which
could be a newsletter, an e-course, tutorial,
series of white papers, etc. — is to get the
recipients to open the e-mail. If a recipient
doesn’t trust the subject or ‘from’ line, the
e-mail will get deleted. To avoid this problem, make sure you put a name of an actual ‘trusted’ person in the ‘from’ line. To
avoid triggering spam filters, do not use
words like ‘free’ or exclamation points or
all capital letters in the subject line. Make
the subject line enticing or intriguing.
Creating a ‘tip-based’ subject line often gets
higher open rates.

Once a subscriber opens the e-mail, what is
next?

The second step is to design the e-mail so
that there is a combination of both pictures
and text — not just one or the other. The
biggest mistake e-mail marketers can make
is to write the e-mail all in 12-point font,
with no breaks or headlines. This makes an
e-mail very hard to read online. There are
schools of thought that say e-mail marketing campaigns should be short and to the
point, others say that e-mails should be
longer. But I have found that it depends on
the industry and type of e-mail that you are
sending out.

The content needs to be interesting, useful and not 100 percent self-promotion.
Many researchers say that the percentage
of content to advertising should be 60 percent to 40 percent. But, the e-mail marketing campaign is not all about good tips and
content. It must move the subscriber to
step three, which is action. This call to
action must be located not only at the bottom of the e-mail but, more importantly,
above the fold, or what is on the subscribers’ screen before scrolling down.

What is the action that makes an e-mail campaign successful?

The action hooks the subscriber into getting beyond passively reading content to
doing something. That could vary from
campaign to campaign. It could be a phone
call, visiting a Web site for more information, purchasing an e-book, or booking a
free or nominal-fee consultation.

The foundation of a successful e-mail
marketing strategy is the same as traditional marketing: making sure that there is a
salesperson available so that the customer
buys. Try not to build an e-mail marketing
campaign that is completely ‘e.’ In the
cyber world, we tend to leave that part out,
but the most successful e-mail marketing
campaigns rely on human interaction to
make the conversion from prospect to customer. At some point, businesses need to
take the conversation offline.

Is there anything else that is critical in creating e-mail marketing campaigns?

Yes, the names on a list are gold. You
always want to improve and add to this list.
There are many e-mail marketing programs available that can help marketers
segment and categorize the lists to help
create target marketing and experiment
with conversion rates. Even changing one
adjective in the subject line can make a
huge difference in open rates.

E-mail marketing has been an extremely
helpful tool because data can easily be captured. Through your e-mail marketing program, you will know how many people
opened the e-mail, clicked on a link and,
potentially, how much your sales went up
as a result. Any changes you make can easily be measured, as well. The beauty about
e-mail marketing is how little it costs and
the high ROI that is possible, if you do it
right and follow the basic steps.

BRAD KLEINMAN is an e-marketing consultant and instructor at Corporate College (www.corporatecollege.com) based in Cleveland,
which offers employers custom-designed training programs to enhance future work force development, job growth and job retention in
Northeast Ohio. Reach him at (216) 339-0353 or [email protected].

Administrative assistance

Administrative professionals must
learn key business skills — and not
just for the obvious reasons of professional growth and career development.
An administrative professional who is proficient in time management, accountability,
problem-solving and decision-making can
truly drive an organization and make it
more productive, according to Anne Hach,
executive director of training and development at Corporate College.

“In today’s business environment, an
administrative professional works with
much more autonomy than years ago,”
says Hach, adding that administrative
professionals are more involved in
negotiating, decision-making, project
management and composing original
documents.

“It is important that the administrative
professionals’ skill level and training be
commensurate with duties they are
being asked to perform.”

Smart Business spoke with Hach
about the changing roles of today’s
administrative professionals and why it
is critical that these professionals learn
key business and management skills.

What types of business skills are important
for administrative professionals?

There are four main foundational skills
that are important:

 

  • Effective verbal communication skills.
    This includes professional telephone
    skills, knowledge of how to participate
    in meetings and effective face-to-face
    verbal skills. A good administrative professional will also have an intuitive
    sense of the best method of communication for any given circumstance and be
    able to advise or independently use this
    knowledge.

     

     

  • Proactive listening. Communication is
    not a one-way street. I consider proactive listening to be closely linked with
    probing or investigative skills, which
    includes rephrasing a statement until
    you make sure you understand what the
    person is saying. Proactive listening also
    includes filtering communication out at
    times and prioritizing. Administrative
    professionals are often bombarded with requests coming from various channels:
    a customer who wants something done
    one way, peers who advise it done another and the boss with yet another opinion.
    The challenge for the professional is to
    prioritize the information and act
    accordingly — with the customer often
    becoming the top priority.

     

     

  • Written skills. Writing is perhaps the
    biggest challenge for not only administrative professionals, but also mid- to
    senior-level management. Administrative
    professionals are often composing most
    of the e-mails, letters and other documents for management. Therefore, it is
    imperative that they understand not only
    the commonly accepted uses of English
    grammar, but also the business jargon of
    their particular industry and how to write
    in an appropriate business ‘tone.’

     

     

  • Time management skills. Administrative professionals must manage their
    own day and prioritize their own work. If
    they do not know how to do this effectively, other people in the organization
    will feel the fallout of this lack of organization and time management skills.

     

Are there other attributes necessary for
administrative professionals to succeed?

Yes — confidence. Some administrative
professionals may be very skilled at time
management and communication but lack
the confidence in their own professionalism. Therefore, they do not speak up at
meetings or do not take the initiative.
Because the administrative professional is
often the first person the client or customer meets in an organization, it is
important that he or she exudes business
professionalism and understands business etiquette. The definition of this
depends on the tone and business culture
of a particular office or industry.

Why are the skills of an administrative professional important to the executives or managers of a company?

From the executive’s point of view, a
highly trained administrative professional, who is also well versed in business etiquette and has a highly professional
demeanor, is an asset to that executive
and the company. Frequently, the administrative professional is in the role of gate-keeper to the executive. If he or she can
effectively utilize written and verbal communication skills and gain confidence,
the role could evolve to be more of a conjoiner and problem-solver. That kind of
professional makes the executive many
times more effective and productive at
his or her own job.

Can these skills be learned?

Yes, however, for some people these
skills are second nature. But for those that
these are not, communication skills, time
management and even confidence can be
developed and practiced.

ANNE HACH is the executive director of training and development at Corporate College (www.corporatecollege.com) based in
Cleveland, 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) 987-2962 or [email protected].

Lifelong learning

Obtaining a master of business administration (MBA) can be a long, arduous process. “The MBA is not an easy postgraduate degree to earn — but it’s
worth every penny and every drop of
sweat,” says Dr. Rick Schroath, dean of the
Graduate School of Management at Kent
State University.

“The pace of change in business — and
society in general — is such that you cannot ignore continuing education, whether
you’re an electrician, a chemical engineer
or a business manager,” he says.

An MBA is a management degree that
has applications across a broad set of
expanding fields. Historically, it’s been
deemed a corporate phenomenon, but it’s
starting to make an impact in smaller professional businesses like architecture, law
and medicine, which also need specialized knowledge to manage the business
side of the organization.

“The challenge in earning an MBA is that
someone used to doing quantitative analytical work will have to face the creative
human interaction of marketing, HR management and leadership courses. Creative
or people-oriented candidates will have to
contend with the statistics, managerial economics, finance and analytical work.”

Smart Business spoke with Schroath
about the advantages of an MBA and the
time and commitment required.

Is having the MBA degree in hand a career
door opener?

The prototypical part-time MBA student
is on the verge of moving from a supervisory position to a management position.
An MBA provides the management skills
that are valued by upper management.

What are some of the courses needed to
attain an MBA?

You begin with courses that, in part, provide self-assessment, like a leadership
course. You then typically move into an
analytical set of nuts-and-bolts courses,
like managerial economics, statistics,
finance and accounting.

In the intermediate phase, you move
into international business, advanced finance and accounting, general management and human resources management.
Culminating courses include strategy
courses that are much more oriented
toward large organizational overviews.

What kind of commitment is required of part-time MBA students?

As little as 10 to 15 years ago, the classic
path to an MBA was to work for four or five
years, exit the labor force, go to school for
two years and look for another job. That’s
just not realistic anymore. More people are
choosing part-time MBA programs because
they do not want to leave current employment but still need the job enhancements.

The joy of part-time study is that it’s very
flexible. You can emulate a full-time MBA
by going four nights a week and taking four
courses. Typically, students elect to take
one or two courses per term, which can
take up to six years — the maximum time
you have to complete the degree. Three or
four years is typical of our students,
depending on whether they go summers,
skip a term, etc. At Kent State, there is a 3:1
ratio of part-time to full-time enrolled MBA
students.

What kind of financial commitment is
required by prospective students?

Financial commitment varies depending
on the program. Elite private schools are
very expensive. State schools are typically
much less. Online degrees are an option
now, too. But prospective students also
should be concerned with quality. The
Association to Advance Collegiate Schools
of Business International (AACSB International) is the accrediting body that
awards the highest level of accreditation to
business schools.

Are online courses opening up new horizons
for people seeking an MBA degree?

They certainly are. What I look for is
‘blended learning,’ partly in person, partly
online. Certainly, there are many components that students can learn perfectly
well online, especially if they’re computer-literate.

There are some courses, however, that
really need that ‘high-touch’ component,
like a human resources management
course in interviewing skills or a quantitative analytical course where students
need the coaching. Another function that
cannot be delivered online is student-to-adviser and student-to-student social networking.

Is there a time when a person no longer has
the capacity to earn an MBA?

Albert Schweitzer went to medical
school later in life. Not everybody can do
that, but if you’ve got the drive and motivation, you can do it anytime. Recently,
we’ve been seeing a peculiar new phenomenon: baby boomers who retire, then
go back to school for an MBA and start a
second career — many times, starting
their own businesses. So the term ‘lifelong
learning’ has, indeed, become reality.

RICK SCHROATH is dean of the Graduate School of Management at Kent State University. Reach him at (330) 672-2282 or
[email protected].

Lending a hand

Almost 80 percent of minority-owned
businesses in a four-county area are
not taking full advantage of available management-oriented resources. As a matter of fact, many don’t even know what
assistance is available.

The GAR Foundation, Akron Urban
League, Kent State University and Akron
SCORE are making every effort to reach the
approximately 3,000 businesses that are
owned by African-Americans or Hispanics in
Medina, Summit and Portage counties.

“The goals are to help create jobs, raise
incomes and grow the economy,” says Dr.
Patricia A. Book, vice president for regional development at Kent State University.
“Minority business owners are an important part of that strategy, and they merit
special attention.”

Smart Business talked to Book about how
local and regional minority businesses can
reap the benefits of various programs.

How is the Fund for Our Economic Future
helping minority businesses?

The Fund for Our Economic Future is
composed of 83 foundations. Those organizations have pooled their time and
resources to contribute to the region’s economic growth and development.

The Fund supports Advance Northeast
Ohio, a regional action plan, through grant-making, research and civic engagement. Not
long ago, it organized a broad stakeholders’
dialogue to engage Northeast Ohioans from
all walks of life. Four major economic initiatives emerged. One of them — growth
through racial and economic inclusion —
became part of the the regional action plan.

To that end, Kent State, the Akron Urban
League and SCORE — ‘counselors to
America’s small business’ — openly discussed what each was doing to support
small business development and success.
In the process, we discovered that we were
not effectively reaching a growing group of
business entrepreneurs in the African-American and Hispanic communities. The
three partners are only serving 633 of the
3,000 eligible businesses. So, we organized
a two-year program called the ‘Partnership
for the Minority Business Accelerator’
(PMBA) to serve companies in business at least one year with annual revenues of
approximately $50,000 to $2.5 million. The
program taps into all our resources and
engages participating companies in a two-year effort to align their needs and goals.
Program outcomes include increases in
profitability, number of employees and
market reach, and new products or services. The group approached the GAR
Foundation, a member of the Fund, for
funding support. The GAR Foundation has
become a major partner in launching the
new Partnership for the Minority Business
Accelerator.

What are some specific programs and plans?

Realizing that each prospective company
has varying needs and goals, PMBA focuses
on customizing plans. It offers services
whereby minority businesses can develop
business plans or obtain financing for sustainability and growth. The Akron Urban
League funds a minority business development center that is part of this project.

SCORE offices and several Small Business
Development Centers associated with Kent
State are involved. Another element is
expanding supplier diversity. The initiative hopes to increase awareness among participating companies about supplier diversity,
how to get on the list and how to prepare.
There is clearly a need for a more concentrated focus on a customized approach.

What do minority businesses need most?

They routinely require additional business
management information, and the best way
to provide that is through outside training,
coaching and mentoring. Some of the business topics in high demand are assistance
in securing business loans; human resource
issues, like creating and implementing
employee policies; recruiting and retaining
workers; staffing issues; and issues dealing
with marketing and product or service positioning. Additionally, if clients are interested in formal education, they can be directed to providers in their immediate geographical area for formal credits and associate or bachelor’s degrees.

Can Small Business Development Centers
sponsored by local institutions help?

Yes, they can. One excellent way is by
using internships to pair up African-American or Hispanic undergraduate or
graduate students with minority businesses. That can potentially engage students in
the real world of business development
and be a win-win-win for the students, the
businesses involved and, by extension, the
entire region’s economic viability.

How are the products and services that are
available being publicized?

Community outreach obviously includes
standard promotional materials, but it also
has to involve a speaker’s bureau, through
which representatives can carry the message
to locations and environments where they’re
likely to reach the community. The marketing
plan includes making contact with key
church leaders, professional organizations
that minority groups might belong to, and
financial institutions and community leaders
through an advisory board. <<

DR. PATRICIA A. BOOK is vice president for regional development at Kent State University. Reach her at (330) 672-8540 or
[email protected]. Official Web site of the Fund for Our Economic Future is www.futurefundneo.org.

Microsoft Office 2007

Each new release of Microsoft Office
Suite has traditionally offered many
new features. While MS Office 2007 is similarly packed with new bells and whistles,
it’s different in a way that completely changes
the way users navigate the software. MS
Office 2003 and earlier versions’ way of getting at features were through fixed menus
and hierarchical toolbars. In MS Office 2007,
these are gone and are replaced with what is
called “The Ribbon” — which users either
intuitively get right away or struggle with.

“Businesses making the transition need
to factor in a period of adjustment when
switching over to MS Office 2007,” says
Bill McClung, IT program director for
Corporate College.

Smart Business spoke with McClung
about the benefits to switching over to Office
2007 and the challenges that come with it.

If a business is happy with MS Office 2003 or
1997, why should businesses care about
transitioning to MS Office 2007?

The majority of businesses today have MS
Office 2003. They can try and keep their old
version as long as they can, but, eventually,
they will have to upgrade since MS Office
2007 will become the business standard.
Businesses are naturally reluctant to upgrade
because they don’t see the benefit — either in
productivity gains or because of the extra
cost. But, while this recent upgrade comes
with a learning curve, it is well worth it.

If employees can take advantage of the
extensive improvements in MS Office 2007,
businesses will see direct impacts on their
bottom lines. Microsoft has taken steps to
reduce the numerous headaches that continually plague users of previous versions. Plus,
MS Office 2007 is sharper and faster, and the
reduced file sizes can create efficiencies for
your office network.

What is different about MS Office 2007?

The most significant change that users will
notice immediately is the new ribbon interface utilized throughout the suite. This modifies the existing version of the file menu that
previous MS Office users have become
accustomed to. Microsoft intended to make
the appearance more intuitive to the end user, and it has a distinctly different feel than
previous versions of the product. Users who
have a comfort level in the more traditional
Microsoft interface might be challenged to
navigate it initially because it is so different.

What are the benefits to changing over?

Even though the ‘ribbon’ represents
change, the idea behind it is to make all of MS
Office more visual and more intuitive. Once
you learn how it works, you can get more
done faster because other processes are
done ‘behind the scenes.’ There is also a feature that prevents files from being corrupted
and unusable — a headache that has plagued
previous versions. Excel sheets are bigger
with more features. Files saved in MS Office
2007 are smaller, which means more room on
the computer. While these behind-the-scenes
changes may not be as sexy as the ribbon,
they provide tangible benefits to a business.

What challenges have you seen from businesses that have upgraded?

Because of the change in appearance, there
has been a challenge for employees to learn the new system. Training is very important to
maximize the ROI of a company’s investment. Without it, the transition will be counterproductive in the short term because users
will become frustrated when they can’t navigate as they do traditionally. In the long term,
the frustration may fade, but, without training, companies will not realize the full benefit
of the transition. Another challenge that has
cropped up is the incompatibility of documents produced with the new version with
computers that still have older versions of
MS Office. Microsoft has addressed this
problem with a converter, which can be
downloaded from the Microsoft site.

How would you suggest someone learn to
navigate the differences in this product?

There are a variety of MS Office 2007
training options available, including day
training sessions designed specifically to
address only the new features associated
with MS Office 2007. This is a cost-effective way for businesses to provide training
for their employees without a large investment of their time or retraining them
about areas they already know.

How would someone decide on whether or
not he or she should upgrade?

Frankly, if businesses don’t use MS Office
all that much — they write a letter once in
awhile or use a spreadsheet occasionally —
it’s probably OK to continue using the older
version. But, companies that use MS Office
as an integral part of everyday business need
to look into upgrading. There are ways to test
out the software before you put the expense
into it. That said, I think it’s important to realize why Microsoft has decided to change its
user interface. A lot of users only access a
small percentage of the MS Office software’s
features. The idea behind this new version is
to make the interface more visual to encourage people to leave their comfort zone and
experiment more with the esoteric features
that could help a business.

BILL MCCLUNG is the IT program director at Corporate College, www.corporatecollege.com, which offers employers custom-designed
training programs to enhance future workforce development, job growth and job retention in Northeast Ohio. Reach him at (216) 987-5806 or [email protected].

Keeping pace with technology

Companies don’t have to bear the
full burden for research and development. Universities across the state are ready, willing and able to help.

“We are eager to partner with companies in the areas of research and technology,” says Gregory Wilson, associate vice president for economic development and strategic partnerships at
Kent State University. “We do extensive outreach to make businesses
aware of these capabilities.”

Smart Business spoke with Wilson
about how companies can take advantage of the many resources offered by
local universities.

What kinds of technology resources are
available through a local university?

At any large, comprehensive research university, many resources are
available for technology companies,
such as research expertise, technology, specialized equipment and business support services. First and foremost, however, are the people — faculty consultants and skilled interns in
cutting-edge technology areas who
become available as permanent employees. These universities can also
conduct a number of sponsored
research projects on various topics,
from science and technology to business and economic research.

Most institutions have some kind of
technology transfer function, which
involves patenting and licensing
inventions to make new products.
Many campuses have business accelerators or incubators that stimulate
the creation and growth of new businesses. Many offer services, equipment and facilities at competitive
costs, providing resources to help
companies become sustainable, growing enterprises that contribute to their
regional economies.

Finally, arrangements to use specialized equipment can be made on a feefor-service basis, and many institutions around northeast Ohio have
Small Business Development Centers
(SBDCs) to assist companies.

What kinds of technical research can a university conduct for a private business?

The universities in northeast Ohio
are extremely diverse, and much of
their technological expertise is aligned with key industry clusters, such
as biosciences, fuel cells, advanced
materials, information technologies
and advanced manufacturing. That
means additional economic momentum in areas where northeast Ohio is
strong or emerging, which, in turn,
provides fuel for growth.

Additionally, the state of Ohio has its
Third Frontier program, which awards
funding to universities that partner
with companies for research and commercialization. For instance, the state
is allocating $21 million for Third
Frontier projects devoted to advanced
energy. Additionally, in recent years,
the state has invested $19 million into
stem cell research and $17 million into
fuel cell research.

Is technology just one research and development tool available at local colleges?

Definitely. When you say ‘technology,’ people often think of computers, systems or, perhaps, technologies to
license. But research is done much
more broadly. The scientific areas are
often thought of in this context.
Colleges of engineering are heavily
oriented to manufacturing, materials
and systems, so they undertake research in those areas. Some institutions have colleges of technology,
which are focused on advanced manufacturing and its many applications.

Other aspects that can be beneficial
to businesses and other organizations
are research in economics, psychology
and the social sciences, as well as
studies on the prevention of violence,
employee ownership for companies
that are becoming employee-owned,
and language translation for companies that are contemplating international expansion. Sometimes businesses need that kind of unique expertise.

Are specific fees involved, or are fees determined on a case-by-case basis?

Some of the services are free, particularly small business counseling at the
Small Business Development Centers,
many of which are supported by federal or state funds. Others are fee-for-service, like using equipment, faculty
consulting or customized corporate
training.

Whom should a business contact to ask
about technology-related services?

Because the technology transfer
office works broadly across technical
areas of the university, it is particularly good at connecting businesses with
technical resources, research and
licensing opportunities.

GREGORY WILSON is associate vice president for economic
development and strategic partnerships at Kent State University.
Reach him at (330) 672-0704 or [email protected].

Training emerging leaders

Have you identified the emerging
leaders in your organization? If you
assume that the next in line for a top position is the logical employee for
your succession plans, you may be
selecting the wrong person, according to
Anne Hach, the executive director of
training and development at Cleveland-based Corporate College.

“Business owners hurt themselves
twice when they simply move technically competent employees up to leadership roles without preparing them,”
Hach says. “Once by removing good
employees from jobs they performed
well, and again when the employees step
into the new role, which they can’t do
adequately because they have not been
properly trained.”

Smart Business spoke with Hach
about the importance of identifying and
training emerging leaders in order to create a seamless transition when succession occurs.

How can business owners successfully
identify emerging leaders?

Those companies that successfully
identify leaders understand what qualities they need in a leader. Some leadership competencies are universal, such as
communication skills, good self-control,
delegation skills and decision-making
abilities. However, depending on the
organization — and the industry — other
competencies will be needed. It all
depends on the culture and mission of a
business. For example, in the information-technology-centered organization, a
leader not only needs basic competencies but also strong creative thinking
and innovation skills.

If leaders are not readily apparent, what
can a business owner do to cultivate leaders in the company?

You need to design your business culture so that there are opportunities for emerging leaders to shine. For example,
there are companies that keep decision-making high up on the corporate ladder,
leaving little opportunity for those further down the ladder to hone their leadership abilities.

Leaders can also be found among managers who are excelling in their roles or
among employees who have been recognized for technical competence and
show pronounced leadership abilities —
as witnessed in meetings, projects or
other areas.

Once emerging leaders are identified, what
are the next steps?

You need to train these emerging leaders on an ongoing basis. This kind of
training can be done through formal or
informal programs. Employees can participate in training sessions or work with
in-house mentors or coaches. The training needs to strengthen the core leadership skills, plus any other leadership
skills you have identified that are important to the business.

What can happen if a business does not
identify and adequately train emerging
leaders?

This kind of succession planning — at
all levels of management — is critical for
sustained growth of a company. Without
it, what usually happens when a current
leader retires or leaves the company is
that the warm body most readily at hand
— usually the next in line for the job —
is promoted without much thought or
preparation.

This is a strain for the company since it
leaves a gaping hole in the employee’s
former position until a new employee
gets up to speed. Plus, the promotion of
the individual is often from a technical
position to a leadership position — without proper training, an employee can
flounder in this new role, potentially
damaging the morale and performance
of other employees. This very common
business scenario can be avoided with
proper planning and preparation.

Could you summarize the steps necessary
to groom emerging leaders?

 

  1. Hire for talent, not position.

     

     

  2. Provide opportunities for informal
    leadership at all levels of the company.

     

     

  3. Create and implement a succession
    plan for each position.

     

     

  4. Define competencies of successful
    leaders and provide training.

     

     

  5. Provide mentoring and coaching for
    emerging leaders.

     

ANNE HACH is the executive director of training and development at Corporate College (www.corporatecollege.com) based in
Cleveland, which offers employers custom-designed training
programs to enhance future work force development, job growth
and job retention in Northeast Ohio. Reach her at (440) 522-5072
or [email protected].

Building your work force

Continuing education programs are
important providers of the training
workers need, and businesses that offer continuing education to their employees find
the return on their investment is high.

“Learning never stops,” says Dr. Patricia A.
Book, vice president for regional development at Kent State University. “It is lifelong,
and it has benefits that go beyond increased
employee retention and productivity.”

Smart Business spoke to Book about the
benefits of continuing education and the programs available from area schools.

Who benefits from continuing education?

Nontraditional students were the exception, but now they’re the norm in American
higher education. Continuing education has
generally been thought of as serving nontraditional students, or adult learners, many of
whom are already in the workplace. In some
cases, these students already have a degree
and are looking to stay current with continuing professional education in fields such as
nursing, accounting and law. In many cases,
it’s because there’s been a change in policy or
requirements in their fields. Another candidate would be an adult who has some college
courses, but he or she didn’t have a chance to
finish because of work, military or family
requirements. These students seek additional coursework so they can attain an associate
or bachelor’s degree. Adults age 24 and older
now represent 43 percent of all undergraduates. Also, today, a majority of the graduate
and first-professional students are enrolled at
the master’s level and attending part time.

What are the benefits?

There’s long been a correlation between
improved job performance, increased earnings and increased educational levels. Higher
employee retention is also a byproduct of
continuing education. When employers can
provide career development, employees feel
more loyal, leading to higher retention rates.
But, beyond the corporate and personal benefits, continuing education has societal benefits. We see that students are more engaged
with their communities in a variety of ways,
such as higher voting levels and greater participation in volunteer activities.

What programs are available?

There are many different types of continuing education. First, there are programs for
professionals in fields with continuing education requirements, like attorneys, social
workers and teachers. Another popular
option is executives pursuing executive master’s of business administration degrees.
Another option is customized programming.
Colleges and universities work with employers to identify their work force needs within
the company. Programs are then customized
to meet the company’s needs and are incorporated into the work cycle. This could focus
on senior-level management, supervisors or
line workers. Because many adult learners
have full-time jobs, classes can be scheduled
for evenings and weekends to make them
more accessible. These classes are often
designed to help workers position themselves for advancement within their organizations. Finally, companies can help continuing education providers design courses that
are pertinent to their employees’ interests.

What are stumbling blocks to engaging a corporation in educating its employees?

Competitive pressures here are so great
that companies don’t feel they have the
immediate financial wherewithal or time to
devote to employee training. They’re in survival mode, just trying to keep their costs
down — and training and educational dollars
seem to be easy to cut. In Ohio, the state created the Enterprise Ohio Network to supply
targeted industry training dollars that education providers can use to support training.
Not a lot of money is available, but it opens
the door for companies that want to participate in continuing education.

What learning options are available beyond
standard in-class sessions?

Continuing education is much more accessible in a variety of formats than it ever was,
which is wonderful because the demand is
incredible. We just began a new venture
called Kent State On Demand, in partnership
with Time Warner Cable. It offers continuing
education credits for attorneys, social workers and counselors via cable television, from
the comfort of their homes, whenever it’s
convenient. Because massive amounts of
data can be stored in computers, it is sometimes difficult to turn all that data into information that management can use for decision-making. As a result, businesses are now
in the market for knowledge managers and
business intelligence experts, so online
degrees are becoming more common in this
specialty area. Finally, companies can seek
open-enrollment programs where they can
send managers to a series of classes on a particular topic of interest, like Lean Six Sigma.

What about educating minority businesses?

One of the issues that’s important to
Northeast Ohio is that our minority community is lagging behind in educational opportunities. Engaging these groups in higher education has become a high priority. For example, we’re interested in working with smaller
African-American- or Hispanic-owned companies to help them accelerate their growth.
Institutions of higher learning are making a
special effort to advance economic inclusion
in Northeast Ohio because we can’t leave
that segment of the population behind and
progress as a region.

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

The new skills

In the past, the human resource department was often viewed as the paper-pushing, policing and hiring/firing arm of a company. While these tasks still remain important
in order for businesses to run efficiently, the
character of many HR departments is changing with the times, says Kenyon Mau, training
consultant with Corporate College, based in
Cleveland, a training center for businesses in
Northeast Ohio.

“Human resource professionals, by necessity, are becoming more customer-centered,”
says Mau. “They are becoming employee
advocates, trainers, recruiters, coaches and
consultants to management.”

Smart Business spoke with Mau about
why this change occurred and how business
owners and CEOs can best utilize the HR
department to recruit and retain employees.

Why is the role of HR changing?

In the past, people stayed with companies
longer — sometimes for their entire careers.
So, the role of HR consisted of form-filing,
record-keeping and generally depersonalized
tasks to keep employees records and payments orderly. Many HR departments in
companies still operate this way. However,
the trend is to better utilize the HR personnel
to interact more with employees and their
concerns and problems.

This trend has happened for three reasons.
First, many companies have — out of economic necessity — ‘flattened’ themselves,
creating less layers of departments, so fewer
people are around to do this kind of employee-counseling work. Second, HR departments have become more efficient because
of technology. Lastly, the hiring environment
today is very competitive, so HR often needs
to step in to help recruit and retain talent.

What kind of skill sets do HR managers need
in order to effectively step into this new role?

Human resources personnel need to be
some of the more versatile employees of a
company. They not only have to be completely computer-savvy with systems and
databases to track employee information,
but they also must have many soft skills to
interact with employees. The HR manager also must be willing to take a leadership role
in implementing changes in a corporate culture. These people skills and leadership skills
are paramount for a HR manager to be able
to recruit and retain employees.

How can HR managers have an influence on
lessening the impact of the talent shortage in
their companies?

The first person in a company a prospective
employee meets is most likely the HR manager; the attitude of the HR manager toward
the candidate can make or break the candidate’s decision to work for a company.

In the past, HR and hiring managers had a
‘what can you do for us’ attitude with job candidates. In this new talent-shortage environment, businesses that are successful in
recruiting are asking prospective employees:
‘What can we do for you?’

This paradigm shift is important for several
reasons. First, the generation that is coming
into the work force now has a very different
take on work than the previous post-WWII
generation; members of this generation don’t
expect to stay at a job for the duration of their
careers. Many of them know that there are
plenty of opportunities at the moment and,
therefore, tend not to be as loyal as their
predecessors, and many expect companies
to offer life-balance benefits, such as flex-time, telecommuting, etc.

The conversation that needs to happen
between the HR manager and the prospective employee is very different than the conversation in the past. It is more of a two-way
conversation and a partnership.

What is one question an HR manager could
ask a potential candidate that would reflect
that shift in attitude?

One question an HR manager who is
screening potential candidates could ask,
along with the other important interview
questions, is, ‘What will get you up in the
morning, other than a paycheck?’ Listen very
closely to the answer. The answer is very
important because it reveals motivation. That
answer could range from feeling engaged,
being creative, making a difference, having
good co-workers, getting good training, etc.

This information could then be passed on
to the hiring manager, who could then implement some kind of a goal and incentive plan
if the candidate is hired.

How could the HR manager help to not only
recruit but also retain employees?

The No. 1 reason people leave jobs is not
financial, but because of conflicts with managers. The HR person can be instrumental in
helping resolve conflicts by acting as mediator and counselor. The employee often will
not go to the manager with concerns but will
go to the HR department for guidance.

The troubling fact is that if an employee is
not happy, he or she will leave — and will do
it in a heartbeat because there are ample
opportunities elsewhere. But, an employee
will think twice about leaving if the business
cares about the employee’s concerns and is
willing to take some kind of action to help
create a better work environment. That is
where the HR department can step in to fill
that gap and help influence retention.

KENYON MAU is a training consultant with Corporate College,
www.corporatecollege.com, based in Cleveland, which offers
employers affordable, cutting-edge and custom-designed training
programs to enhance future work force development, job growth
and job retention in Northeast Ohio. Reach Mau at (216) 987-2925 or [email protected].

For the asking

Your local university campus — a little-known business resource — offers
counseling, consulting and training services, often at no cost to clients.

“The economic impact of the hundreds of
jobs created and retained annually and the
cost savings to area businesses are important
to the future of the region and our local economy,” says Betsy Boze, dean of the Kent State
University Stark Campus. “Local universities
like ours serve hundreds of businesses a year
in customized executive training and
research, including LEAN/Six Sigma training
and certification, strategic planning and market research.”

Additionally, universities like Kent State
Stark sometimes cooperate with SCORE, a
nonprofit association that locally boasts
more than 30 experienced, retired business
owners and executives who provide entrepreneurs and small business owners with
confidential, free business advice.

Smart Business talked to Boze about the
services available to businesses at local university campuses.

What kind of meeting and conference facilities are available?

Many universities, including the Kent State
Stark Campus, offer state-of-the-art technology, free parking and quality in-house food
service. These facilities and conference centers can be used for board meetings, training
sessions, corporate retreats, high-end social
events, fundraisers and weddings. Our
Professional Education and Conference
Center is one of only two accredited
International Association of Conference
Centers in Northeast Ohio.

What small business development services
are available through local campuses?

Small Business Development Centers like
ours offer counseling, consulting, training
and referrals. The Kent State Stark SBDC is a
cooperative effort of the state of Ohio, the
federal government and Kent State
University Stark Campus. Certified business
analysts provide management assistance to
pre-venture individuals and current small
business owners at little or no cost. Some small businesses can work with business and
management faculty, using students to assist
with their research and planning needs
through supervised classroom projects. In
some instances, students volunteer in areas
related to what they are studying to reinforce
learning and help them appreciate the community and the industry. Our 5,300 students
volunteered more than 25,000 hours last year.

What training programs work in conjunction
with certain private businesses?

Many exciting partnerships can be created,
especially with manufacturing, health care
and service organizations. Customized professional training and organization development are popular programs. These include
management development for mid-level
managers, retreats with organization leaders
to develop their mission and vision statements, and strategic plan and team-building
with cross-functional work groups.

How do student internships work?

Internships are a great way for an employer to provide a bridge during expansion or
bring in a fresh perspective. Sometimes
internships are so successful that they turn
into permanent positions, but there is no expectation or commitment on the part of
the employer. Students may participate in
paid or unpaid internships that carry course
credit. Some degrees require an internship
for graduation. Some students work with an
employer to expand on the typical work
experience and participate in management
or decision-making activities.

How do degree-completion programs work,
and what kind of cooperation is expected
from employers?

With the rapid rate of change in information
and technology, employers recognize the
value of a liberal arts education. Some courses that may not seem directly related actually benefit the employee and the work force
by improving critical thinking as well as communication, technology and reasoning skills.
While high school or an associate degree may
have been enough to get ahead just a few
years ago, today’s high-paying jobs and the
jobs of the future require a bachelor’s degree.

Degree-completion programs build on
existing course work or associate degrees
leading to bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Our
hope is that employers support their employees’ education with flexible scheduling
and/or tuition assistance. In some cases, students can design a customized major.

We are launching our Business Flex program, where a student can earn a bachelor’s
degree in business administration (BBA) by
attending classes only two nights a week.

BETSY BOZE is dean of Kent State University Stark in Canton.
Reach her at (330) 535-3377 or [email protected]. For free management consulting, call SCORE at (330) 244-3280 or e-mail
[email protected]. Chris Paveloi is responsible for student internships and can be reached at (330) 244-5043 or
[email protected]. The Office of Corporate and Community
Services, (330) 244-3508 or [email protected],
offers training and research. The Small Business Development
Center, (330) 244-3295 or [email protected], has small
business development, counseling and training services. To
inquire about special events or meetings, contact the Professional
Education and Conference Center at (330) 244-3300 or
[email protected].