MBA Research

Action Briefs

We learn a lot from the business community and want to share that with you in our Action Briefs that highlight business trends and their impact on the workplace and curriculum.

What’s keeping employers up at night? Employee retention.  A more transient society plays into this but so does a struggle by employers to offer the pay and benefits necessary to keep employees with them long term. One study indicates that 69 percent of employees say searching for new jobs is a regular part of their routine. This month's Action Brief explores the changing landscape of employee loyalty and what businesses can do to decrease turnover of valued workers.

The unemployment rate, currently at just over 4 percent, is partially driving what is known right now as an “employees market.” The natural rate of unemployment is between 4.5 and 5 percent. Rates below that threshold make it increasingly difficult for businesses to retain enough workers to maintain ideal operational capacity. In addition, there is a mismatch between the skill sets employers need and those possessed by the unemployed population

Further complicating things for employers is the tendency of millennials and members of Generation Z to change jobs more frequently than their baby boomer counterparts. In 2016, a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study showed that 18-35 year-olds in the workforce had an average tenure of 1.6 years on the job. The “gig” economy and the of lure entrepreneurial adventures are detracting even further from workforce stability. In addition, some urban areas experiencing high-business growth are also facing housing shortages and/or unaffordable housing prices for middle and lower class workers, making it difficult for potential employees to help fill jobs in those locales.

Even if businesses aren’t feeling the pinch in the recruiting and hiring stages, it's still important for them to evaluate their employee loyalty levels and retention plans. Why? Turnover can be expensive—some studies put the cost at 6-9 months of the employee’s salary—other studies estimate a higher cost. Turnover can also lower productivity levels, reduce employee morale, and jeopardize trade secrets.

Why aren’t workers more loyal? Studies show that workers who are changing jobs are doing so for a number of reasons including:

  • Lack of career advancement pathways
  • Underutilization of skill sets
  • Need for greater flexibility and better work-life balance
  • Unsatisfactory pay and benefits packages
  • Lack of engagement in the company and work efforts (A recent Gallup poll shows that 87% of employees are disengaged at work.)


Besides competitive compensation and traditional benefits, what will help employees want to stay? Businesses are working to find the right answer to this question. They are finding that employees want more generous benefits, such as:

  • Mentoring, training, professional development, and coaching
  • Student loan repayment assistance (PwC offers each of its employees $1,200 for this purpose.)
  • More lifestyle perks including childcare benefits, access to mental health services, and expanded leave options

Some employers are getting creative with benefits to help promote work/life balance. Salesforce provides employees with six days of paid volunteer time per year and $1,000 a year to donate to a charity of their choosing. Airbnb provides employees with an annual stipend of $2,000 to travel and stay in any Airbnb location worldwide. Netflix provides new parents with one paid year off and the option to return to work part-time. While these benefits would be challenging for some companies to provide, they can still appeal to potential and current employees with wellness programs, free snacks, flexible work hours, and relaxed working environments.

Employers are also discovering that workplace culture and employee engagement play a huge role in retention. Studies show that engaged employees are more productive, more customer-focused and can help companies be more profitable. How can employers promote engagement? Some of the top drivers in this area are:

  • Demonstrating ethical leadership skills and commitment to the success of the organization 
  • Being transparent to promote trusting relationships and rapport with employees
  • Making sure employees feel valued and that they understand they are the most important resources in the organization
  • Encouraging employees to problem solve and innovate
  • Offering employees professional growth and career development opportunities
  • Aligning organizational goals across all employees and rewarding them with profit sharing or gain sharing


Human resources professionals also recommend looking at the entire employment lifecycle when strategizing about how to retain top talent:

  • During the recruitment and selection stages, ensure that employee and employer are well matched. This lays the groundwork for a long relationship. This is an important time to make sure that employee and employer expectations and ideas about the job and company and candidate values are well understood.
  • The onboarding process helps set some of the early expectations for how employees will be treated and valued throughout their tenure. Having a strong training and orientation program, sends a message to new employees that they are important to the success of the organization.
  • Millennials and employees in general are asking for, and receiving, more regular feedback in the form of formal performance evaluations. Among other thingsthis feedback can allow both the employer and employee a chance to evaluate prospects for advancement. They use this opportunity to seek feedback from employees about the organization as well. It’s better to get this input during the employee lifecycle rather than during the exit stage.
  • Challenging and motivating employees throughout the employment lifecycle are key to making sure they stay engaged.
  • Employee recognition is a key component for ensuring an organizational climate that is positive, productive, and innovative.
  • When the exit stage is reached, employers need to take full advantage of what employees have to say about their work experiences in the organization and what types of things would have improved the experience.

Classroom Implications

Students can start to understand the concept of loyalty and engagement based on jobs, volunteer work, school clubs, or sports teams. Ask them to think about the factors that influence their participation (or lack of participation) in their current daily worlds. Have them think about whether engagement is an employer responsibility only, or if the employee plays a role as well.

Encourage students to identify their values as well as factors about work that are important to them and to share what benefits, besides pay, are important to them. Discuss ways that these issues and values can be talked about during the interview with employers.

Have students research companies to find out how they are addressing loyalty and retention issues.

Have students read this article about the natural rate of unemployment and discuss how unemployment rates can affect employee loyalty.       

ACTION BRIEF UPDATE:

One of our Action Brief Advisors, Rusty Poeppelmeier, a Bond Manager with Liberty Mutual Surety in Cincinnati, Ohio responded to our January Action Brief with the following comments:

Each generation has differences that create challenges and opportunities. People leave jobs for a lot of reasons and students should learn more about those trends. The interesting part is that most studies vary in what are considered the top three reasons that employees leave jobs. This is partly because they change over time and each generation is different. But the reasons generally revolve around topics related to empowerment, engagement, and recognition. Students should read and understand the different answers and understand they can and will change over time.

Students should spend time learning the history of employee rights and what drove the need for change. The landmark acts such as the social security act of 1935, Fair labor standards act of 1938, Civil rights act of 1964, OSHA act of 1970, the ADA of 1991 and others are good to study for context. What events led to the formation of unions would be another. Students might be surprised to learn that there were times in recent history when employee safety was not the highest priority. What might seem trivial or automatically expected by one generation was not to another. Employees fought to get those benefits and some retired never seeing them. Students should study how each generation was shaped and why it led to these differences. All too often I hear people talk about how this group or that group had it easier or harder. The reality is each group grew up in different times with a different set of variables. The newer generations will deal with issues the previous generations never faced. Some have never seen a world war while others saw two. One generation never had a computer while another rarely used a piece of paper or signed by “blue” pen. Others were somewhere in the middle.

Students should learn about the history and differences so they can broaden their perspective and understanding. This is important because some day they will be the leaders and will have to address retention issues with the generations that follow. Students who have a broader mindset and openness to change will be more successful in retaining and empowering employees. They will look for ways to engage, empower, and recognize employees, which will lead to better retention over time. It will give them a competitive edge in acquiring and attracting talent in the labor force. 

The world of work continues to evolve rapidly, making the need for innovation a top priority. Every business wants to remain relevant in the face of Increasing competition, globalization, changing consumer expectations, and evolving technologies which are all drivers of innovation. Many companies are innovating on some level while others are struggling to innovate at all. This month's Action Brief explores innovation and how businesses are managing it within their current structures or changing to make their working environments more conducive to innovation at all levels.

Workplace Implications

Why aren’t all companies innovating? Some companies are risk averse, while others feel they have a corner on the market and don’t need to change. Still others see change coming and don’t do anything about it. Blockbuster openly admits they knew they needed to innovate and didn’t. And, then along came Netflix.

Determining what constitutes an innovation is a first step in beginning to foster a successful program. Some companies start by looking in the rearview mirror to identify ideas that produced margin and revenue gains in the past. They then use those learnings as a framework for developing a working definition. For something to be counted as innovative at Whirlpool, for example, the product or service must be unique, create a competitive advantage, potentially yield further innovations, and provide greater value for the customer than anything else on the market. What an innovation is varies by company.

Different forms of innovation can add to the challenges around definition. These are generally agreed upon as:

  • Product—think Fitbit, kindle, iPhone—or improvements to current products
  • Process—think supply chain or business operations improvements
  • Business model innovation—perhaps the most challenging, risky and disruptive--alas AirBnB and Uber

How do companies make innovation a priority? Initiatives need to start from the top down and should involve everyone in the company including customers and partners. The company culture should reflect an agenda that includes innovation as a priority. Many companies that are serious about innovation are using a phase-gate (or stage-gate) project management technique to manage new initiatives. The method is metric based with standardized scores applied at “gates” between each phase to determine if the project is ready to move to the next level. Other ways companies are fostering innovation include:

  • Developing and prioritizing structured innovation programs
  • Listening to stakeholders inside and out of the organization
  • Staying open to new ideas
  • Sponsoring innovation “boot camps” for employees
  • Collaborating—with employees, partners, and outside groups
  • Creating collaboration spaces for brainstorming and growing new ideas
  • Giving employees permission to innovate—and permission to fail
  • Flattening management structures to decrease long approval processes and empower employees to thrive in a more independent environment


For some employees, the innovative culture is a mindset shift and adjustment can take time. Leaders can encourage employees to embrace new ways of thinking by communicating regularly about innovation programs, sharing examples, and helping employees become familiar with the ideation process.

Adobe’s Kickbox program—an open-sourced innovation model—is designed so that any Adobe employee can participate, not just those who exhibit innovative traits in their everyday work. In this way, employees begin to learn how to innovate if they are not already naturally “wired” for it.

Some employees with an innovative mindset may find themselves working for companies that are not encouraging of or fostering innovation. Employees can pitch new ideas as a way of helping companies begin to think innovatively. Some suggested tips for employees who want to promote new ideas or concepts are to:

  • Ensure that their ideas are in line with their companies’ vision and objectives
  • Be flexible and open to feedback which can sometimes feel harsh or misguided but is a necessary and helpful component of innovation
  • Use imagery to help open the eyes of skeptics
  • Make sure their enthusiasm is backed up by facts and be ready to discuss risk mitigation related to the new idea


How can companies find the right employees to help grow a culture of innovation? Ask prospective employees the following questions to help determine whether or not they would be a match for your company:

  • How do they deal with change?
  • How have they helped innovate or improve processes in previous positions? Have them describe their creative processes and barriers they’ve encountered, explaining how their contributions may or may not have helped change the company bottom line.
  • How do they cope with failure? Have them to share an example from a professional standpoint.


Change, in general, is often driven by dissatisfaction or even conflict around ideas, products, and processes. Innovators can sometimes be labeled as not “playing well” with others. But keep in mind that it’s this very trait, a penchant for pushing the envelope, that sometimes drives the innovation and change needed to make or keep an organization successful.

To learn more about innovative processes within companies, we recommend “The Innovator’s Method” by Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer. Read a preview here.

Classroom Implications

At MBA Research’s 2017 Conclave in Vancouver, Washington, several business speakers asserted that innovation can and should be taught in schools. While some students are natural innovators, those who are not can learn to think and act innovatively. Here are some ideas to get the ideas flowing with students:

  • Vera Sell, an innovator and Software Solutions Manager for Tektronix in Beaverton Oregon, spoke to one of our groups at Conclave and led us in an ideation exercise. She asked the attendees to come up with as many uses for a pair of socks as they could within five-minutes. We broke up into small groups, and each group wrote its ideas on sticky notes. In the end, all the ideas were shared aloud with prizes for the group who had the most ideas and to the group with the most unique idea. Sounds crazy—but the groups quickly worked together to generate creative ideas—and had a lot of fun at the same time.
  • Ms. Sell also introduced us to the Snake Oil game which has players doing sales pitches on oddly matched items—and requires them to think quickly about how the items could be useful in everyday life.
  • Ask students whether they feel they are suited to be innovators and what attributes this entails.
  • Talk with students about the differences between entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. Ask which description better matches their interests and why.
  • Have students choose an organization to research how that organization is or isn’t innovating.

The Golden Age of Artificial Intelligence: Are We There?

In our June Action Brief. we explored how technology is altering business operations. An aspect of that was Artificial Intelligence (AI). Now, let’s take a closer look at artificial intelligence to examine its potential for further revolutionizing business operations.

Business Implications

A wide availability of graphics processing units (GPUs), almost infinite storage, and the Big Data movement have all helped AI development flourish over the past three years. A recent survey indicates that 39% of workers are using some aspect of AI at work, 87% say their job will change by 2020 because of AI, and 76% indicate that “some” or “half” of their job could be completed by AI or other technology right now. It is predicted that AI bots will power 85% of customer service interactions by 2020. AI startups received more than $5 billion in venture-capital funding in 2016, according to one report. Revenues from cognitive systems and AI are projected to reach $47 billion by 2020. The advent of quantum computing will further fuel AI embeddedness in the workplace.

Consider what is happening across the business spectrum:

  • Human resource professionals are using AI to gather and analyze online information about potential hires. AI also helps interviewers devise interview questions based on specific jobs or profiles.
  • Retailers are providing personalized shopping experiences for customers based on analysis of past customer purchases, location, weather, and other insights gained through AI. Suggestions are pushed towards the customer while they are shopping rather than at check-out.
  • Marketers are utilizing capabilities of some AI platforms to be able to predict the best times to engage particular buyers based on past behaviors and actions. AI is able to find patterns among individual and groups of customers and retailers can make use of this information in real time.
  • Some AI is beginning to measure human emotion which can help companies strengthen customer loyalty to their brand.
  • Brick and mortar stores are using facial recognition technology to help deter shoplifters. Some stores scan customer’s faces before doors will unlock for entry at night. Some systems send a text message to staff when a known shoplifter enters the premises.
  • Analytics are being used to better predict business activity and smooth out results. The hope is to help make financial outcomes more consistent over time.
  • Managers and others and are using AI to complete lower-level management tasks, maximize workflows, and automate various business processes which frees up their time to focus on more productive tasks, which can boost the top and bottom lines for businesses.
  • Metadata and analytics are being used to predict logistical issues before they happen including kinks in supply chains and traffic accidents.
  • Human swarming (or blended intelligence) platforms allow groups of users to login from any location and think together to solve problems and make predictions, decisions, and generate ideas.

Coincidentally, human swarming is one of the methods recognized for potentially stemming AI singularity (dominance). The concern is that some AI machines learn and advance on their own, and could possibly set in motion actions with negative and unforeseen consequences to humankind. There has even been talk of a “big red button” to be used as a kill switch if AI runs amok. The swarming method is thought to be one way of keeping humans in the loop with AI so it can be used to help with human decision-making, not replace it. Read this article to find out more: Teaching A.I. Systems to Behave Themselves.

Unsavory uses of AI, however, are a current reality. Natural-speech technology is advancing. Some companies are using chatbots to fool consumers into accepting goods and services unknowingly over the phone. This is commonly known as the “can you hear me?” scam. When consumers answer “yes” to a chatbot asking that question, they are noted as having subscribed to whatever service the company is selling. The chatbots are so lifelike that they can even laugh, say “uh-huh” appropriately, and adjust their vocal pitch contextually.

AI can also be used to help cyber-hackers root out vulnerabilities in technology with greater ease. More data collected via AI means the potential for more serious data breaches. We are seeing governments wage digital wars for which there is no kill switch. Fraud, extortion, and other cyber-crimes will become more sophisticated in the future. New resources and possibly a new industry will be required to counteract these risks.

Technology costs still provide many barriers to AI use in business. But as it becomes more accessible, how can businesses balance the rewards, while still being mindful of the concerns around it?

  • Carefully Evaluate AI applications that can immediately affect revenue and cost
  • Look for ways to implement AI to help produce more goods with the same number of people.
  • Evaluate how AI can be used to improve computer-to-computer functions before using to replace human functions.
  • Understanding the risks that accompany the use of AI is paramount. Make sure cyber-security measures are evaluated and strengthened as AI is adopted by your business.

Classroom Implications

Students will be familiar with AI that uses facial recognition through their use of social media. Ask them to identify other areas where AI is at play in their lives.

Get students thinking about what AI really means by posing some of the questions found in this article: https://medium.com/eliza-effect/science-fiction-movie-trailers-and-youtube-videos-i-use-to-help-kids-understand-artificial-38a6c08d4652

Educators may find this article helpful in thinking about AI as part of your students’ futures: https://www.edsurge.com/news/2017-03-16-what-does-it-mean-to-prepare-students-for-a-future-with-artificial-intelligence. The article notes that 65% of students will hold jobs that don’t yet exist. Ask students how they think their career choices might be affected by AI.

Students can also begin thinking about AI implementation strategies by studying how businesses have already implemented it. Ask them to speak with a mentor or business person in their community to hear about their experiences with AI.

AI is now performing the teaching-assistant role at some colleges. Ask students what they think about this. What are the advantages and disadvantages? Students will probably be interested in how educators feel about this development as well.

Technology is reshaping organizations across the spectrum. June’s Action Brief explores high-tech business operations and how companies are striving to make sure their workforce is prepared to manage the convergence of people, operations, and technology.

The use of technology in business operations can increase productivity and reduce deviations in standard processes.  In the last decade software costs have dropped, capabilities have increased, and the speed of delivery has improved. But, businesses are also finding that implementing new technology can be expensive, time-consuming, can bring about new security risks, and may leave their employees ill-prepared to function in the new environment.

Innovations in technology are changing operations in some of the following ways:

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) is advancing rapidly and becoming a mainstay in consumer and business applications. GEICO, Staples, and Macy’s are using IBM’s Watson in customer service operations. Einstein assisted 70,000 H&R Block tax professionals in filing over 11 million tax returns this past spring. Einstein, Salesforce’s version of AI is being used to provide “out of the box” sales insights that once required coding and customization to obtain.
  • Robots are replacing some workers. They are increasingly used in manufacturing and warehouse operations and are becoming increasingly sophisticated and being programmed to absorb data, recognize objects, and respond to environmental changes with more accuracy.
  • Robots at Amazon fulfill “one-click” orders in less than 15 minutes which is about one-fourth of the time it takes a human to complete the same task. Kiva robots have reduced Amazon’s operating expenses by about 20 percent. Lowe’s is now rolling out customer-helping robots (called Lowebots) in 11 stores in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Transportation management systems (TMS) are maximizing efficiencies in supply chains. They are becoming more affordable for small and mid-sized companies with the advent of cloud computing. Being able to track shipments on a 24/7/365, real-time basis is close to becoming a common reality. Most companies utilizing TMSs are realizing five-to-ten percent freight cost reductions. Last October, Anheuser-Busch and a company owned by Uber teamed up to deliver 2,000 cases of beer via a self-driving truck.
  • Inventory processes are being revolutionized by the advent of real-time tracking systems that are updated every time a product makes a move. The technology is especially helpful for retailers with hybrid or multichannel models.
  • Risk management areas are relying heavily on bots to predict potential problems with quality and compliance.
  • Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems use the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to monitor and control entire operations, improving efficiencies and decreasing operational downtimes.
  • Bitcoins, blockchains, virtual/digital assistants, bots to track customer algorithms, and improved anti-fraud software are all creating major shifts in the retail world. A Kroger store in Ohio is using technology they developed (QueVision) to reduce waits in check-out lines. They have combined the use of QueVision with infra-red sensors at store entrances to reduce average wait times from four minutes to about 30 seconds. 


How can businesses prepare for changing roles and requirements as new technology is adapted?

  • Manage the changes from both short and long-term perspectives.
  • Make changes in automation gradually—without sacrificing core capability. Understand and plan for the overarching impact of the changes to manage them effectively. At the same time, keep in mind that change is happening rapidly across the board, and innovation through technology can sometimes define winners and losers almost overnight. Being nimble and ready to adapt to new technologies are keys to success.
  • Remember the soft side of automation. New leaders and managers will need to be experienced “business/technology hybrids.” These individuals will need to be able to shift seamlessly between managing people and managing experiences and technology. If they are not, gains to be made through automation could be lost. Partnerships between people and machines are growing more rapidly than machine-only operations.
  • Evaluate what skills need to be retained and or enhanced to prepare your workforce for the changes in automation. Many low-skilled and entry level retail workers are losing their jobs due to the increased use of technology. Unlike the manufacturing industry, retail has not been successful with helping workers make the shift to higher tech jobs. Walmart is one exception—they have an academy that helps employees advance their technological skills. They train about 250,000 employees per year and have the goal of joining forces with other large retailers to develop training standards that can be applied industrywide.


Classroom Implications

Successful business leaders need to be experts at managing both machines and people interchangeably. The following ideas can help students consider how business and technology are intertwined:

  • Ask them to view this video about Kroger’s line-reducing technology, and ask them how technology is shifting the world around them—in ways that may not even be noticeable to them:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuZuPKbTWqY
  • Ask them to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the closer relationship between business and technology. Some people are pushing to “keep jobs human.” Ask students to talk about the “right” balance between humans and machines.
  • Suggest that students complete a case study of a major retailer (i.e., Walmart, Kroger, Amazon, Target, etc.). Have them evaluate how those retailers have changed their approach to the marketplace based on technology. This article highlights some of the challenges in retail.
  • For those of you addressing project management in your curriculum, make sure students understand the difference between waterfall and Agile development/management models.
  • Schools are changing the way they teach business to include more of a technology focus. Information technology education is also shifting to include business foundations. Ask students to think about their education pathway. Are they preparing for a future that allows for the close relationship between business and technology?

Over a three-day period, last November, the MBA Research team met with groups of Nebraska executive-level business professionals and asked them to identify trends changing or shaping the way they do business. A common theme in each group was rapidly changing and evolving customer experiences. May’s Action Brief explores Customer Experience Management and the tools and strategies that some businesses are finding helpful as they seek to understand customers’ critical touchpoints and collective experiences.

Companies have recognized the need to understand what makes customers tick and how they can build brand loyalty. This has become more important to businesses since customers comparison shop on the Internet. Companies need to determine how to set themselves apart from the competition.

The customer survey is often used as a first step in analyzing customer feedback at different touchpoints with a company. This method of evaluation can be helpful in determining if a customer’s immediate need was met satisfactorily.

Big Data has also become a player in the evaluation of the customer experience. Leveraging Big Data helps organizations understand customer behavior, usage patterns, and preferences. Many companies utilize it as part of their effort to create personalized offers for customers. The nimblest companies use real-time data to evaluate potentially emerging issues which may require an immediate course adjustment.

The case for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems has also grown. CRMs track customer interactions and touchpoints over time and can help companies connect the dots in analyzing customer experiences on both small and large scales. Often, companies confuse the use of CRM systems with a customer experience management program; however, CRMs are just one tool that, when put to good use, can help companies manage and even direct customer experiences.

Customer journey mapping is by far one of the most important tools used to analyze and improve customer experiences today. Participants in our Marketing Executives Panel in Nebraska indicated that an understanding of customer experience mapping processes is crucial to success in business today. Once a full or key customer journey is mapped and understood, the door is open for a company to make changes that can improve customer experiences, and therefore, customer loyalty.

Businesses are using customer journey maps to:

  • Gain a 360-degree view of their customers experiences across touchpoints
  • Understand the reasoning behind customer behavior
  • Understand milestones or crucial moments in customer journeys
  • Align their organizations around customer-centric models
  • Optimize their customer service strategies


Touchpoint surveys, Big Data, and the use of CRMs have limited benefits for companies who have not yet taken the plunge to view customer journeys from a holistic perspective. Take the example of a leading pay TV provider who was getting good scores from customers through feedback regarding individual touchpoints. However, other feedback gathered through focus groups revealed that many customers were dissatisfied with the company overall. It wasn’t any one encounter that customers were unhappy with, but their overall experiences were often less than positive. The provider eventually mapped key customer journeys and was able to pinpoint and address some of the underlying issues, such as length of time for their onboarding process, that were plaguing customers.

The act of completing a customer journey map can in fact be a process that offers restructuring opportunities for companies. It can also be a great time for companies to explore their culture and company values to make sure they are customer-centric. The mapping process itself requires open communication among leaders and employees who may be in functional silos. They must talk and work together to form an accurate representation of customer journeys. Open communication, empowering employees dealing directly with customers, and following customer-centric values starting from the top down are all must-haves when it comes to building customer loyalty.

The recent United Airlines incident is a great example of technology being utilized to determine who would be “invited” to leave a flight. Instead, the situation called for human intervention to analyze the problem at hand and think through potential consequences of forced ejection. United, known for its excessively large “rule” books, has since rolled out 10 policy changes to address customer experiences, one of which is a promise to “empower employees to address customer service issues in the moment.”

Organizations that are able to successfully navigate the mapping process, and implement changes based on what they learn from it are seeing enhanced customer satisfaction and loyalty, reduced customer turnover, and increased employee engagement.

Classroom Implications

Customer Experience Management requires both art and science for success. Ask students to think about the customer experience components written about in this paper and identify which is art vs. science. Invite them to discuss why a company’s culture is central to customer experience management.

Suggest that students learn more about customer journey mapping by accessing the following websites:

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/customer-journey-mapping/

http://blog.uxeria.com/en/10-most-interesting-examples-of-customer-journey-maps/

Have students identify their positive and negative customer experiences and share how those experiences affected their loyalty to a business or a brand.

Discuss with students what it means to be customer-centric. In what ways can being customer-centric help or hurt businesses?

Ask students if it’s ever okay to “fire” a customer. Have them discuss situations where this may or may not be warranted.

Invite students to consider the recent United Air incident where a passenger was forcefully deplaned. Ask them to determine what they would have done differently if they were in the shoes of the airline and the passenger.

The world’s population is growing exponentially, now standing at 7.5 billion with the U.S. clocking in at 324.85 million. While this means the growth of almost everything in business, it also means that our environment and natural resources are being taxed in some unforeseen ways that can have a negative impact on businesses and the economy. This month’s Action Brief explores the environmental impact of geographic expansion and growth.

The strain on natural resources of the bursting population and rapid business growth is evident through food and clean water shortages in many parts of the world. Overflowing landfills and a lack of places to dispose of chemical waste are problematic. Land is over-farmed, and waste from fertilizers pollute the water. Increased urbanization is replacing much needed farmland. Individuals are commuting further distances and buying, consuming, and throwing away more than ever.

China and India are the most populous countries in the world and are becoming increasingly industrialized which creates more carbon emissions. While China has the highest CO2 emissions in the world, the United States, with fewer people and slower growth rates, still outweighs China and India in terms of per capita emissions (i.e., individuals in the U.S. are leaving larger carbon footprints). In December 2016, smog levels became so hazardous in China that everyday life came to a halt in Beijing. This “airpocalypse” stopped air and car traffic and closed schools. Face masks have become a part of everyday attire for Beijing residents.

Population, infrastructure, and industry growth also affect nature’s built-in storm protections for U.S. coastal areas. As an example, oysters help form natural barriers for waves. Over-harvesting of oysters for food, lime, or road-bedding materials left some coastal areas vulnerable to major damage from storm surges during Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. To address this problem, many restaurants are now recycling oyster shells that are placed back in the water to help regenerate oyster beds. Some coastal areas are building multimillion dollar flood blockades to take the place of the now destroyed, naturally occurring oyster barriers.

E-waste generated by consumers and businesses is a growing problem. This year alone, up to 50 million tons of electronic waste are expected to be dumped—that’s up 20 percent from 2015. There are some recycling options, but the hope is that more electronic manufacturers will get on board with the provision of recycling programs. 

What role can be played in mitigating environmental stress? Many governments, businesses, and individuals are working to roll back some of the damage that has been done or to keep matters from worsening. 

  • China has become an outspoken voice on environmental issues and is now the world’s leading supplier—and user—of solar panels. China’s endeavors have served to decrease the price of solar panels by close to 90 percent in the last decade (which drove many American solar manufacturers out of business).
  • In southern France, 35 nations are collaborating on the development of a carbon-free source of energy that is gearing to be the first fusion device to produce net energy.
  • Many businesses are working to reduce their production waste and/or power their manufacturing efforts with solar or other forms of natural energy. Major corporations out in front with these efforts are Google, Nike, and Target. Much of their efforts are fueled by consumer demand.
  • Growing populations mean more tourists, which can stress environments in heavily visited areas. Consumers are seeking “green” travel, or ecotourism, opportunities. As a result, this segment of the travel industry is growing rapidly. 
  • Thirty-one states have passed legislation approving Benefits Corporations or B-Corps. These companies are able to make social and environmental agendas part of their legal business mission.

 

Implications for the Classroom

It’s easy for students to focus on what is directly in front of them rather than looking at the broader world view. To help highlight the rapid population growth, have students link to the U.S. and World Population Clocks as a way of viewing real-time population growth https://www.census.gov/popclock/

Ask students to evaluate how population growth has affected or changed the environment in their own communities. Have them ask older family members or friends for their perspectives. Ask students to evaluate how these changes have affected business and industry in their area either positively or negatively.\

Challenge students to consider what recommendations they would make to businesses to help promote sustainability within their communities, the United States, or on a global level.

How will new immigration rules affect the health of businesses? Will proposed changes strengthen or weaken our economy? How will the workforce be affected? This month’s Action Brief explores what is on the minds of business leaders as they anticipate and prepare for potential changes related to immigration reform.

The current administration has proposed or enacted the following measures which have heightened the immigration debate:

  • Temporarily banning immigrants from certain countries and all refugees coming into the U.S.   while a new vetting process is discussed and developed
  • Building a wall along the U.S.— Mexico border
  • Withholding federal funds for sanctuary cities
  • Increasing deportation of undocumented immigrants and documented immigrants with criminal records

 

Many business executives are not framing their views on immigration along political lines as much as they are on the potential effects of immigration changes to their businesses and the overall economy. Nationally, immigrants make up 13 percent of the population and 17 percent of the workforce. Several industries stand to be heavily affected by immigration reform depending on which of the proposed actions take place including science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); construction; restaurants; hotels; and agriculture (including dairy producers).

The business community is especially concerned about the effect of proposed rule changes and potential adjustments to the skilled-employment visas (e.g., H-1B, L-1, etc.). Fans of these programs say they help employers fill jobs that Americans lack the skills to do. Critics are concerned that the programs enable companies to undercut jobs and wages for American workers.  

The fate of many immigrant entrepreneurs also hangs in the balance. It is estimated that 10 percent of Americans are employed by private, immigrant-owned firms. Immigrants to the U.S. are almost twice as likely to start businesses than native-born Americans. In addition, over half of privately held American companies worth $1 billion or more have at least one immigrant co-founder, according to a study by the National Foundation for American Policy.

While the U.S. is struggling to define new immigration policies, other countries are rolling out welcome mats for entrepreneurs. Canada, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ireland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, and the United Kingdom have all created visas specifically targeting entrepreneurs. Many U.S. companies, new and established, are now rethinking their global perspective based on anticipated restrictions for entering the United States. Businesses are considering whether to locate their business in the U. S. or other countries based on talent availability. At the same time, business must also factor in global tariff agreements which are being renegotiated. These agreements will impact over all costs and affect  the businesses’ ability to import and export supplies they need and products they wish to sell. 

Alessandro Babini, a French citizen and entrepreneur, with a company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, fears deportation due to an expired visa. The fate of his company, which makes fitness gadgets, is unclear. He has a small staff, and he volunteers in his community to help other start-ups. He is one of many foreign-born entrepreneurs who is asking if doing business in the U.S. is worth it.

Economic considerations are key in this debate. While immigrants can burden public resources such as welfare, food stamp programs and use of medical providers, many also pay taxes and contribute to the health of the economy as consumers. Many illegal immigrants pay into the social security system without ever recouping their investments. Wage depression is real and documented, while its effects are heavily debated.

Businesses are preparing for potential changes in some of the following ways:

  • Asking non-citizen workers to refrain from leaving the country based on concerns that they may be denied re-entry
  • Analyzing and vetting their internal applicant reviewing and hiring processes
  • Verifying that all employee documentation is up to date (e.g. I-9 forms)
  • Preparing for extensive visa related audits, inspections, and investigations from immigration labor agencies, which can be time consuming and costly
  • Anticipating workplace raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents and learning about their rights in the event of a raid

 

Implications for the Classroom

Learning opportunities for students abound as almost every community across the U.S. has immigrants. Students can start by identifying immigrants in their area and asking themselves what role those individuals play economically within their communities.

If there are immigrants, or foreign-born students in your classroom, invite them to share personal family experiences related to their status and business implications if they are comfortable doing so.

Have students read the story of Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco, a successful restaurant manager who was arrested and is being detained at an Immigration and Customs and Enforcement facility.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/27/us/immigration-trump-illinois-juan-pacheco.html

Ask students whether or not they feel Mr. Hernandez should be deported based on his history. This example will help students realize the complexities that our current administration, lawmakers, and business leaders are facing as they take the next steps in immigration reform.

Update: Mr. Hernandez was released from immigration detention on March 1, 2017. The following link provides further information:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/01/us/juan-carlos-hernandez-pacheco-hearing-release/

Several recent studies revealed that trust in institutions, including businesses, governments, Non-Governmental Organizations, and the media, is declining. Specifically, those with a high level of authority and expertise are viewed as less trustworthy than ever. While businesses are still viewed as relatively reliable as compared to the government and the media, CEO credibility is at an all-time low. Many people do not even trust the high-level executives of their own companies. Instead, they trust information found on search engines. They believe companies’ social media posts more than traditional advertisements. Among other factors, unstable economic and political conditions have deteriorated trust in organizations.

It is understandable that the general public might feel frustrated with those institutions they believe betrayed their wellbeing. But, societal shifts have altered the ways that people view themselves and others. The gap between the general population and “informed publics” continues to grow. According to studies, those who are college-educated and regularly keep up with world events have starkly different worldviews than those who are not. The general public is now much more likely to trust people who are “just like them” as opposed to those who are different from them. They seek sources of information that confirm their beliefs, be they biased or not. When they hear something that conflicts with their own opinions, they are much more likely to ignore it rather than researching to find the truth. Opposing viewpoints are usually disregarded, no matter how educated or informed the person behind the idea might be. In fact, “experts” are widely disparaged and thought of as outsiders who do not understand how to relate to “real” people.

While it is difficult to explain all the reasons for these changes, institutions (including businesses) have at times put themselves in a position to be mistrusted. Whenever executives break laws or engage in unethical behavior, they damage their relationship with society at large. Volkswagen and Wells Fargo are two recent examples of large corporations that tarnished their reputations with dishonesty, illegality, and disregard for the public interest. Publicized scandals, however, are not the only way that companies can lose trustworthiness. Businesses that are perceived as paying excessively high salaries to top executives while lower-level workers struggle may lead to distrust. Similar negative reactions might occur if a company moves profits to other countries to avoid taxes, even if the practices are legal and often required of executives who are charged with maximizing shareholder returns. Another recent example is alleged price gouging, specifically when a few medically necessary products are sold at unaffordable prices.  

Trust is an essential component of any relationship, whether between employer and employee, customer and business, or citizen and government. Therefore, government, media, business, nonprofit, and other organizational leaders need to determine why people do not trust them and how they can regain that trust.

Aside from avoiding illegal and unethical activity, leaders can work to build trust by trying to relate to citizens, customers, and audiences on a personal level. Using an everyday, casual, blunt style of conversation is more appealing to most than elevated, expert-level language. For example, those that have engaged with people in an informal style on social media have received positive attention. Building a relatable connection to leaders and their organizations as a whole can encourage people to trust the brand.

Another way that organizations can build trust is through empowering the community. Organizations that do good for society are seen as more trustworthy. Their aim should be to benefit the public, employees, and shareholders rather than causing harm. Many people seek out brands that are socially responsible or associated with positive causes. Environmental initiatives, sponsorships of charitable organizations, and ethical sourcing are examples of ways to build this goodwill. Organizations can also develop trust with the public by offering high-quality products, meeting customers’ needs, and listening to feedback. They should promote ethical practices such as offering competitive wages to all employees, paying taxes, paying returns to cover investment risks to shareholders, and working to put the customer first.

Organizations can also focus on treating their own employees well to demonstrate respect and trustworthiness. Transparency, loyalty, opportunities for growth, long-term thinking, and respect can help an organization encourage trust within its own ranks. If the leaders at the top of an organization demonstrate integrity, honesty, and respect, these ethical traits will be upheld across the board. Transparency is particularly important for an organization to show that it isn’t engaging in unethical practices behind closed doors. Opening up communications to make sure employees at all levels are informed is a great way to build trust throughout the organization. Leaders who demonstrate competence to their employees also earn trust because employees can count on the organization to be successful and secure.

Leaders should also be accountable when things go wrong or when they are at fault. If those at the top do not take responsibility when they make mistakes, no one in the organization will see the need to do so. Employees may become frustrated with leaders who refuse to fairly accept blame. Accountability makes leaders dependable. It leads to a culture in which everyone takes ownership for success.  

Classroom Implications

Trustworthy leaders are those that are ethical in everything that they do. Ethics, however, do not always come easily and naturally. Like any other skillset, ethics must be taught and practiced. Ethical education is critically important for students. If students are taught the importance of ethics from a young age, they will carry it with them. They will comprehend the relationship between ethical behavior and success. Students should become familiar with ethical principles and understand how to act when ethical dilemmas arise. If they can learn how to be trustworthy now, they will be prepared to be ethical leaders in the future.

Some discussion questions to help prompt an in-class conversation about the importance of ethical leadership:

  • Why do you think people prefer to trust “everyday” people rather than experts or people in power?
  • Why are some people tempted to act unethically or illegally, despite the many negative consequences?
  • Think of people or institutions that you trust. What makes them trustworthy?
  • Are there any specific companies or institutions that you do not trust? Why or why not? What could they do to gain your trust back?
  • What have you done that may have been unethical? Did anyone lose trust in you? If so, what can you do to regain their trust?
  • How can you encourage others to act ethically?

In November 2016, a 28-year-old man walked into a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. and opened fire. This man, named Edgar M. Welch, drove from North Carolina to rescue children that he was sure were being held there against their will. He had read about Comet Ping Pong Pizza online. The restaurant was the target of a widespread Internet theory. Many articles and social network posts claimed it was the center of a child sex trafficking ring led by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Media sources such as The New York Times and The Washington Post debunked this theory, but it made little difference. The pizza shop and its neighboring businesses were hounded with threatening mail, phone calls, emails from people who were convinced of their guilt. It was only after Welch had already attacked the restaurant that he realized that his information was wrong. By then, the damage was done.

Problems with accuracy and integrity of information online are not new. On the Internet, anyone can be an author and publisher without much accountability. Today’s readers expect content to be updated to the minute. That “need for speed” reduces the time spent fact-checking and vetting sources. Internet articles are shared instantaneously and can spread across the world in minutes. They rely upon the number of people who open a page and click on advertisements to generate hefty profits.

These factors, combined with growing distrust of traditional news outlets, have changed the landscape of journalism. People no longer rely on the media to fact-check and provide them with the truth; instead, it is largely up to the readers, and most do not care to do so. It is easy to pass off fake information as the truth, as long as the readers want to believe it. In the past few years, hundreds of fake news websites have sprung up, making tens of thousands of dollars daily on advertising revenue. These stories are shared frequently because they tell people what they want to hear and use sensationalized headlines to generate interest. In the 2016 presidential election, false stories outperformed articles from reputable sources on social media. Many people believe that they influenced the outcome.   

Fake news stories are not just detrimental to journalism and politics. They also have real consequences for businesses – and not just the occasional restaurant targeted by conspiracy theorists. Reputation is key, and unfortunately, false information can damage a business’s character without cause. It is difficult to monitor online reviews or testimonials and ensure that nothing inaccurate is posted. Furthermore, if a company is accused of something unsavory in the press, it can be difficult to overcome that negative publicity, even if it is not accurate. For example, clothing retailer L.L. Bean became the target of proposed boycotts after it was revealed that the founder’s granddaughter and heir had contributed to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Though the company itself gave no money or support to any political campaigns, L.L. Bean was immediately at risk of losing business due to the online portrayal. A business can even damage its own reputation with one mistaken or incorrect post. Once something is put on the Internet, its mark has been made.

Inaccurate information can also hurt businesses internally as they seek and use information to inform their decision-making processes. Economic trends and world events are important to nearly any industry, but if a business is not getting accurate information, the decisions made based on that data might not lead to successful outcomes. False information can also affect the economy as a whole, not just individual businesses. One social media post can set off a chain reaction in the markets before it is revealed to be false.

While the spread of inaccurate information seems daunting, businesses can take several steps to combat it and protect their reputations. Checking the validity of sources is crucial. When looking at a news story or piece of online information, one of the first steps is to check the web address. Many fake sources try to imitate reputable news outlets by using parts of their names or copying their web design. However, closely inspecting the web address can reveal that the source is not actually reliable. Businesses can also check the owner of the domain name using Internet directories to see whether or not it is legitimate. It is a good idea to compare an article to a wide variety of sources to separate the facts from the bias.

Technology has made it much more difficult to identify accurate information. However, it has also led to the development of tools to help solve the problem. Reverse image searching, plagiarism detectors, and browser plug-ins can check sources and determine whether or not a page is reliable.

As a final note, businesses should always be skeptical of using social media as a source of news and information. Social media platforms spread stories at a rapid rate and have been criticized for not vetting sources. Posts on social media should not be taken at face value; rather, it is important to check the source and look for the same information in other, more reputable places.

Businesses also need to take the appropriate precautions to make sure that they do not spread false information or become the victim of it. Before posting anything on social media or making any decisions based on research, companies should think twice and do the required work to vet sources. If possible, organizations should have a system in place to help ensure that all posts are appropriate and accurate. Business should also avoid any association with inaccurate sources to preserve their integrity. They should be continuously aware of what people are saying about them by checking reviews online. If necessary, businesses can seek legal action against those who defame them. However, this process is often costly, time-consuming, and ineffective. By the time a lawsuit happens, the damage to the organization’s reputation is already done. It is better to deal with situations as they occur, responding quickly to any negative press in a respectful and effective way.

Classroom Implications

The Internet is an integral part of the lives of today’s students. They are used to perusing Twitter and Facebook rather than a newspaper or television news. Therefore, they are generally less skeptical of social media and random websites. While they have been exposed to a wide variety of sources, this exposure has not made them more discerning readers. In fact, students’ media literacy is shockingly low. In a study conducted by Stanford University, students were evaluated based on their ability to distinguish between ads and articles. The study also examined their ability to determine the trustworthiness of a source. At every level from middle school through college, students were not adequately able to reason about information found on the Internet. They were often fooled and failed to recognize bias. As the prevalence of false information grows, it is concerning that the next generation is not prepared to properly vet online information.

Teachers need to implement strong media literacy skills in the classroom as early as possible. They can point out ways to check sources and strategies for determining what is truth and what is biased. Caution students to be skeptical of writers’ hidden agendas—e.g., political agendas, medical agendas. Programs such as The News Literacy Project provide resources for teachers to educate students about the importance of being smart, discerning readers. Strong media literacy skills will help them to maintain skepticism when evaluating news in the future. Furthermore, students should know about the effects of spreading false information. They will then be more careful to avoid posting without checking sources first.  

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