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].

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].

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].

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].

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].

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].

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].