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Discussion

Feedback from ExecNet business leaders across the country.

In our ongoing conversations with the business community, we asked them to identify business trends impacting the workplace. One of the most frequently identified trends: the need for collaborative skills. Here's what ExecNet members had to say:

I believe this topic is one of the more important skill sets needed to be successful in today’s corporate culture. The larger the organization the more important it becomes. A, because there are more people involved. B, because it is one clear way to differentiate yourself quickly among a sea of people. For many years, the corporate brain trusts decided siloing was better because it brought focus. Incentives were set up within each silo to promote better results. What they are finding now is it does kill collaboration across units and doesn’t support employee development and advancement. It also doesn’t support customer retention and growth, as units end up competing against or fail to collaborate with each other and lose touch with the actual needs of the customer. Employees are not as able to move around the company to grow in their careers, which eventually hurt the development opportunities for employees and undermines the bench strength of the organization. Employees are no longer well rounded. Their skills are silo specific.

The irony of siloing is it generally costs you customers and employees. Customers don’t want to deal with five experts from five units who don’t collaborate to service their business. Employees don’t want to operate with so many barriers to get things done. The customer wants a relationship with one or two people who represent the company and are aware of the how pieces come together to fill their needs. Once it undermines financial results, you see change and yes, we are beginning to see a move away from this. Partly because siloing creates many unintentional barriers between silos that can’t be easily resolved.

I share these thoughts because students who are able to navigate these waters early with solid collaboration skills will progress quicker and higher into any organization. I use the phrase with my team, “Let’s check our egos in at the door and accomplish something”. I use that phrase to set the tone that the sooner you set aside your personal agenda and “your way” the better you will be able to collaborate and contribute to an outcome that benefits the customer and the company. This in the end actually benefits you! That is easier said than done. I have seen results from many teams where the outcome was clearly driven by one person with one agenda. I have also seen the opposite where teams have produced results that clearly had the customer in mind. They changed the organization in a positive way. The quote by Jacob Braude, “Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others” highlights that concept. If you are only willing to consider doing it your way then you will never be effective at collaborating and supporting others. Even when their idea is better, you won’t be able to see beyond yourself to accept that. This applies both to your work and personal relationships. Therefore, to me collaboration is as much about maturing yourself as it is about working with others. The fact is you can’t be effective at the latter until you check your ego in at the door and grow yourself first.

-Rusty D. Poeppelmeier
Bond Manager, Ohio


We experience a necessity for collaborative leadership as resources are restricted and responsibilities are shared. In a collaborative culture; trust, patience and willingness are essential components ensuring success for the organization.

-Tallene Eichelberger
Hotel General Manager, Ohio



Another frequently identified trend: increase in the importance of risk management. Here’s what an ExecNet member had to say:

"Leadership is important because you can add all the risk committees, policies, and procedures you can imagine, but it still comes down to individuals making the right choice during a critical moment. No process or system is going to stop bad judgment. Students need to realize that no one may be looking over their shoulder or guiding them at that moment, but it could be that moment that defines or destroys a career they spent a lifetime building."

-Rusty Poeppelmeier
Bond Manager, OH



Another frequently identified trend: an increase in required compliance resources. Here’s what ExecNet members had to say:

“There has never been a time where the government has handed down so many restrictions and laws in this industry. The ongoing concerns of restaurateurs, both in small businesses as well as larger chains, are many. The need to be kept not only in the loop but also in compliance for the sake of the business, as well as the customers, is huge. The latest FDA ruling that restaurants must comply with Menu Labeling rules is but one example. Students need to be encouraged to be informed through reading news in the media. The repercussions for NOT KNOWING what is going on is huge for business owners, and teachers need to make students aware of these details even if they do not have to deal with the exact problems in their school restaurants.”

-Marty Nagele
OH Restaurant Association


It is good to learn about compliance and current regulatory requirements while in school. It is also good to learn about the penalties that can be imposed if they are not followed. I think it is equally important for students to understand that in certain jobs and industries compliance will dominate more of their daily activities than they might expect. Also, larger companies are bigger targets for regulatory bodies. They generally focus more on compliance and provide less gray area for employees to operate in to avoid any appearance of non-compliance.

-Rusty Poeppelmeier
Bond Manager, OH



Another frequently identified trend: social media. Here’s what ExecNet members had to say:

Teaching social media etiquette is very important for everyone that will be working in a professional business setting. And, it is even helpful for daily life.

Students, employees, business owners, etc., all need to be able to discern when, what, and how to tweet, post, email, feed, etc., for business and when to use other channels of communication (phone, f2f, Skype).

What we find lacking in the education system is teachings on Internet Marketing, marketing students get one chapter on this if that. It is critical for Marketing students today to receive instructional training around brand management, digital marketing, content marketing, Pay Per Click Marketing, Search Engine Marketing, Affiliate Marketing and then how to analysis the data for ROI using Google Analytics and other tools.

We are always on the lookout for any résumés for Marketing, if they have any training or experience with Internet marketing, and all tell us that it was brushed over in class, but not really taught. They tell us that marketing education is still all about print media, billboards, advertising, etc., from the 19th century.

In today’s world, knowing how to run a full-page ad in a newspaper is not going to get you hired in marketing. The skill set needs to be in content marketing, digital marketing, brand management, SEO, PPC, Affiliate Marketing, and Social Marketing.

If you could wave a magic wand and make one big improvement to the education curriculum for marketing students, I would ask that you make Internet Marketing mandatory for the degree. The world is forever changed by the Internet, the mobile device, and the desire for information. It is our job as marketers to use the technology to get our messages out to the consumer in the most cost efficient manner, with positive ROI. We are failing our youth by not training them for the new world in marketing.

--Cherri Newbury, MO


I could comment for days on this topic, but the most important aspect is that the tipping point has occurred. Social Media is business and other forms of marketing are secondary to that.

If you look at how Google ranks sites, the top ten factors are social media based. Company research is done using social media. Market research is completed via social media.

I am a part of a Silicon Valley start-up with a million dollars invested by Google Ventures, and most of the funding criteria is based in social media as business drivers.

Summary: It not an ancillary topic any more. It is the topic.

--Rob Walker, ID


Students also need to be aware of a few other issues with social media. With global companies there are now international laws as to what personal data can be sent internationally and it may need for consent to do so. There is also a big concern with copyrighted information being downloaded, printed and used in violation of law. A final concern is the lack of awareness of implications and penalties for sharing confidential information, financial data, merger or acquisition information as well as intellectual property.

--Arnie Chonko, OH


I find the social network issue very interesting and at times very challenging for several reasons. As for my own experience I am becoming more of a fan of LinkedIn and less of a fan of places like Facebook. A few minutes ago I went through my Facebook Newsfeed and saw nine posts that I would call garden variety advertisements and will simply remove them and go on down the page. Three other posts I would call whining about the government and the others were more, "Hi I am at Burger King." I do not have any interest in and will not go back to read any of them.

The danger of Facebook hit real close to home a week to 10 days ago when the Duck Dynasty squabble hit. In the end, I took 83 individuals off of my friends list because they were either attacking me because of my lack of interest in taking up their side of the issue or I did not want to see the constant threats and name calling that was going on. For me as a business owner, it has very limited value.

--Roy Coffman, NE

Roy shared the Action Brief with a 26-year-old friend who just started working as a project manager. Here’s what Roy’s friend had to say about social media:

I did find this interesting, and I knew this several years ago when I worked as a social media consultant. I have a few comments because I think businesses are over thinking or over worrying. Yes, a PR disaster can be expensive, but it can also be avoided by a few steps.

Legislating or demanding that employees not comment about their companies on social media won't work. It’s like telling people, “Don't tell anyone about what you are doing at work.” Instead, businesses need to set standards and protocols so that employees know what and what not to share. This is way more effective. It also allows other employees to engage people in social media about PR disasters and get the truth out there. Target kind of did this...

Great companies train their employees, and then trust them to do the right thing. This usually works really well.

--Travis Heppner, NE



In a recent email, ExecNet members were asked why more than half of all U.S. employees claim to hate their jobs, whether it matters, and what companies and managers should do about it, here’s what some of them had to say.

Employee dissatisfaction and disengagement are very much enemies to successful organizations and must be taken very seriously. Identifying the roots of these conditions and understanding preventative measures to protect against and corrective actions to repair where damage has already been done truly requires a proper study/article. However, reading the following “oldies but goodie” Harvard Business Review article is an excellent first step for any company/leader/educator serious about understanding why they should vigilantly protect employee engagement and satisfaction: http://hrb.org/2008/07/putting-the-service-profit-chain-to-work.

--Bill Crooks, KS


If there is not trust and flexibility, it ripples through the entire person’s perception.

--Ralph Smithers, Jr., OH


There needs to be a greater emphasis on cultural development and training managers. These are two simple and largely free initiatives. It merely takes focus and commitment, yet the results in terms of employee satisfaction and retention are astronomical. I firmly believe that all employees should have a weekly meeting with their manager (either in the form of a one-on-one - ideally - or a staff meeting). Feeling connected, getting feedback and feeling a part of something bigger goes a long way to creating happy employees.

--Kathie Kinde Clark, OH


Statistically, I'm sure the numbers corroborate what you are saying, that employee satisfaction and engagement have declined over the past 25 years. Some of this may be due to the fact that people now tend to have several jobs in their career, as opposed to one or two like an earlier generation. However, the best companies and companies who are genuinely known for being best employers (with substantiating strategic alignment survey data) still have high employee morale, very engaged employee colleagues, and employees who love to come to work and believe in the corporate mission. It does matter -- higher morale translates into exemplary external service, which in turn is good for business, a beautiful cycle.

--Tom Raffio, NH


I polled my staff which ranges in age from 25-55, and some of the responses were interesting.

  1. It’s a different generation – Generally, employees under the age of 40 did not have stay-at-home parents and were raised to ask questions and expect a response. In addition, they use social media and expect the instant satisfaction that comes with it. Older generations, on the other hand, did what management asked them to do without having their opinions solicited. If they sent an idea up the line, they did not expect a response.
  2. Technology is still in its infancy when it comes to human productivity – We have done a pretty good job of digitizing paper, but we have done a poor job of process management. Much of the work we do is the result of working around systems and technology that were built cheaply to get rid of paper with the idea being that the computer would make it more efficient. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that result. In some cases, people end up doing twice as much physical manipulation with the computer to achieve the same result. At the same time, management expects productivity to be rising; so, they have high expectations as to what work employees should be able to handle. Employees are now connected 24/7 to bridge the expectation gap and no longer get the breaks they need to refresh their minds. They don’t get the opportunity to reflect on the positives associated with their work. Medium or high performing employees have a hard time taking vacations because their customers and employers expect them to respond anytime, anyplace.
  3. Communication & collaboration still fall short – Despite all the efforts by corporations to build collaboration and develop new technology, companies still fall short in communicating what is going on, where the companies are going, and how employees can provide feedback and ideas on needed improvements. Generational differences play a role here, too. Younger generations have embraced technology and expect to use it, while those in older generations, on the whole, have not.
  4. The rise of short-term thinking & results – Since the late 70s, the velocity of change has been geared primarily to short-term thinking. Upper management moves around and provides leadership for only a few years. Each change at the top brings new priorities mostly geared to producing a quick result rather than bringing long-term stability and prosperity to a company and its employees who are generally caught in the crosshairs. Anytime a company changes course, it requires new levels of work that compete with normal priorities. After a period of time, employees find themselves doing work no longer related to their original role or targets. This can lead to business failure and/or employee retention failure. No one wants to be a part of something that changes directions constantly and has no chance of being number one.

    Businesses need to be able to strike a balance between short-term change and no change. Not changing can also result in failure. Being able to change is one of the things that make America great; however, in this case, there can be too much of a good thing.
  5. Lost customer focus – We have moved a long way from being customer centric. This is a real problem for those who deal with customers and for customers themselves. Who wants to deal with a call center in a foreign country? Who wants to ask the rep the same question twice because you can’t hear their response over the 100 other people in the call center who are talking in the background?


Companies need to re-evaluate how they are addressing these issues. They need to embrace the potential of newer technology versus looking only at the cost-benefit figure on paper. You can’t calculate a factor for lost opportunity unless you consider that the entire livelihood of the company is dependent on it. If employees see that a leader is determined to follow this path and communicate at each step, soliciting input at all levels, they will follow. Companies also need to set a standard for their organizations and customers that allows people to unplug and take a healthy break. What good is loyalty and hard work if the only reward is more work? It generally ends badly with burnout or a call to a recruiter.

--Rusty D. Poeppelmeier, OH


It is a huge concern that so many people "hate" their jobs. While I would argue that they really don't hate them, they have some issues that keep them from full satisfaction. In most cases it comes down to wages. Companies should be more aggressive with salary studies to ensure they are more competitive in markets. Empower management teams to approve wage increases at review or out of cycle.

Engagement visits are another thing company's can do to get to root causes. I personally will pick a store a quarter to work in. In most cases I am with each store associate and manager asking them what can we do better? How can we do a better job of streaming information to them? What can I help them with? Visits generally result in associates knowing that I care about them and their success.

I follow up on all issues that employees bring up. I also make sure that I talk with all associates when I visit stores, not just the managers.

--Dan Danks, OH



In response to the recent ExecNet email about the global economy, an ExecNet participant, Bill Crooks, had this to say:

I work for a company with North American headquarters based in Kansas, but global headquarters in Europe.  Before joining this organization, I hadn't had international business experience and have found the experience on the global stage to be quite interesting.

From cultural/operational standpoints, the difference between the American view versus the European view of time away from the office during vacations and/or the birth of a child is pretty dramatic.  For example, I can recall leaders who made it known that they felt that anyone who could spend more than a week away from the office was "non-essential.”  This was something that would sprout up periodically when someone would have to wait for an extended period of time to get information needed from a colleague in Europe on "holiday."  The frustration was exacerbated by the fact that our counterparts in Europe actually seem to fully disconnect during vacation to be fully with their family members.  I know from my own experience, and experiences of colleagues/friends/family, that there's an unwritten expectation that we Americans are always keeping a pulse on the business by way of the smartphone.

Culturally, I think we Americans are pretty familiar with the stereotypes of Americans held, in general, in Europe.  I've had colleagues from Europe confirm this in how they balked at the concept of "American Exceptionalism."  I observed that this created an interesting dynamic in how their observations of Americans as an ethnocentric people quickly became a hypocritical exposition of their own ethnocentric tendencies.  I can see where it could potentially create an "us versus them" narrative beneath the surface if left unchecked in a weak organization.

From the global supply chain standpoint, having a clear understanding of international laws/regulations is vital.  For example, just because the FDA approves of a product within the United States does not necessarily mean it passes muster abroad.  Even when it is approved in foreign countries, it may require special labeling and/or documentation.  To send product/goods overseas without proper checks and balances can result in expired product due to its being held up in customs, penalties/fines, and/or simply incurring unnecessary shipping costs to return the product.  These errors can easily cost an organization tens of thousands of dollars, as well as loss of future business with a customer jaded by the experience.
 




ExecNet business leaders from across the country were asked to respond to the following post:

According to a 2013 survey of 3,000 people conducted by Country Financial, only half of the people felt that a college education is a good investment--that's down from 81 percent just five years earlier. What accounts for this significant decline?

Here’s what some of them had to say.

 
I believe some of the decline may stem from the fact that many college students are pursuing educations in fields that are of less demand therefore the ROI is not positive. I also believe that some of the more in demand jobs including several first line retail management positions do not necessarily require a college education.

In addition, I have found many are pursuing specific trade/vocational schools and finding jobs more readily without debt based on demand.

--Karen Jones, OH


The easiest reason is the price of college. The average college degree costs over $100,000 today. Because there are no formal educational standards to hold public colleges or universities accountable, there is little guarantee for a return on that investment. A high grade point average does little to increase the chance of getting hired. The real value-add is when you engage in internships, externships and co-ops work agreements. These activities mean more than the degree itself to a future employer. Not to mention, many universities are not training college students for the skills employers need. I am going through this right now.. The schools are still basing software engineering programs on C++, when they should be focusing on Oracle, Java, XML, Web and Mobile Development. The future isn't yesterday. The future is right now.

--Rich Jester, DE


I believe it has dropped because many of those graduating recently have not found jobs primarily because they have selected majors that are no longer in demand. Those with engineering, IT, finance, science, nursing, physical therapy or medical related fields degrees continue to be in high demand and get value from their investment. Those with sociology, literature, liberal arts, history, or similar degrees are not in as much demand and therefore, have not had a ROI. Students need to be informed and challenged to pursue those jobs in demand.

--Arnie Chonko, OH


As someone nearing 30, I (and most my age) were brought up believing that if you went to college and got your degree, you were nearly guaranteed a better position in life. More job opportunities, better job opportunities, competing against a smaller pool of talent, etc. I believe that a majority of those my age have come to find, this simply is not the case. This is due partially to the general state of the economy and the fact that there were (and continue to be) less high paying, well benefitted positions available and a larger number candidates (oftentimes with more education and/or experience) competing for said positions. I also believe that the bachelor's degree in a general field of study (business, sociology, mass communications, etc.) does little to set one apart from a pool of candidates, when most all candidates have some sort of degree, that are pursuing the most desirable positions. It is almost as if the bachelor's degree has become the new high school diploma and is the minimum requirement, rather than the differentiator. A more advanced degree is often required for even more desirable positions. Due to all of these factors I can understand why it may not seem beneficial to spend your time and money on a college degree and rather work on improving your skill set or position within a company from the bottom up.

In my own experience, I didn't feel there was a enough of a push to encourage students to do internships during the summer and gain real world experience. I was also the first in my family to attend school, so I didn't realize at the time how important that may become in differentiating myself. I have shared this with my younger siblings and encouraged them to take part in as many resume building opportunities as possible.

I think educators can make a concerted effort to encourage their students to spend breaks doing internships and gaining real world experience. Also becoming involved in their local business community while attending school and building relationships. I think that as people don't see the value initially, they may work their way up from the bottom of companies until they are in a position where the company will pay for their continued education.

--Kyle Garrity, CO


In today’s world, a college education is very important. Jobs that 20 years ago would take people without a high school diploma now are being filled with college graduates. Part due to the economy and part due to technology. I fully expect this trend to continue at a higher rate going forward.

--Tim Gagle, KY


In North Dakota we have the oil boom to contend with and I believe if I’d have had the opportunity to six figures right out of high school, I probably would have skipped college and try to work my way up.

One of the things that my wife and I find frustrating is the amount of time and money it takes to acquire a Bachelor’s degree. What used to take four years, now takes 5 -6. Then you have the mountain of debt (for many students) once you do graduate. And many times the degree you earned does not dictate your career path. I have a BS is marketing and have never had a job in sales, advertising or any of the other traditional marketing fields.

We also think that colleges should have a bit more flexibility when it comes to accepting credits from other schools. Accredited courses completed within state should always transfer within state and almost always transfer to other out of state institutions.

Vocational/Technical types of colleges are doing a very good job of creating career opportunities for plumbers, mechanics, electricians, welders and other blue collar types of careers. I/we think that too many times students feel pressured into going to college and that could be a bad experience. Go when you’re ready and if you never do, but are happy with your career, then the right choice was made. We have seen so many students and friends of our nieces and nephews feel pressured into a four year school only to find out after a couple of years that they made the wrong decision.

I’m sure there are numerous other reasons and we could debate them for weeks. Job availability, fewer family businesses, stricter hiring guidelines, more qualified workers looking for work, willing to relocate and on and on.

--Rich Cieslak, ND


First, with the higher unemployment rate, having a degree doesn't guarantee you a job. Employers are looking for experience, and what the candidate can bring to the position. Employers don't want to invest the time into on the job training if they don't have to.   Hiring someone with experience is easier.

The recent college graduates that have been hired are in the "only positive" generation where they can't fail in school. Re-tests, extra credit, etc., give them the idea that "if I don't do it right the first time, I can redo it again and again. AND there aren’t any consequences" Managers and team leaders see the lack of dedication from the new generation, and don't believe that college or school in general is preparing students for the real world of hard work and non fun work that has to be done daily.

Colleges have also added programs that educate students in areas that don't have hiring potential. For example, film studies. Although it could be a fun thing to learn about, getting a well-paying position in that field isn't likely. The neighbor's son may not have gone to college, learned how to be a plumber and makes two to three times the income the film studies major. Student loans have to be paid back starting soon after graduation, and if a job hasn't been found, the college grad sees a HUGE bill to pay and no job. Again, the thinking that it isn't a good investment comes into play. 

It was disappointing to read that the belief that college education is a good investment has declined. There are so many great colleges, so many great professors and so many great students, that I hope the statistics take a turn. If we look at the traditional careers of doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, teachers, we'd probably find that they believe in the investment they made. I know the theatre, psych and art majors from my class have struggled. Their degrees did not get them jobs. A few did, but the majority did not. I see their struggle and wonder if the college should have done more to explain the potential jobs and income with their majors.

--Tom Reeves, NE