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.

Business Trend

This month’s trend is the increasing importance of soft-skills leadership. Fostering collaboration, developing talent, managing personal growth, communicating clearly, and thinking critically are must-have skills for success in today’s workplace.

Workplace Implications

As Baby Boomers join the ranks of the retired, people are being promoted to fill their roles in organizations. Often, companies promote staff with the best technical skills into those leadership roles and are learning that having great technical skills do not automatically qualify staff for leadership. In fact, staff with the highest level of technical acumen often lack the very skills most needed to lead: collaboration, negotiation, communication, problem-solving, listening, self-awareness, motivation, empathy, social skills, flexibility, optimism, conflict resolution, etc.—the soft skills.

Soft-skill expertise has enduring value throughout a person’s career, while technical skill requirements change due to innovations. Although soft skills are important at all job levels, their importance and complexity increase as a person advances in an organization. After all, for leaders to achieve business goals, they must lead through others and must develop a balance between their technical and soft skills.

Soft skills can be learned and internalized through repeated application and reflection. As a result, businesses are spending more on training that requires use of soft skills in a variety of real-world situations. Staff application of soft skills contributes to a brand’s uniqueness that sets it apart from competitors’ brands.

Classroom Implications

Teachers should help students understand the role of technical skills in getting jobs and the importance of soft skills in career advancement. Due to the increased value businesses are placing on soft skills, teachers should help students highlight their soft skills on their résumés. Students should relate their soft skills to the jobs’ requirements.

Students need opportunities to practice their soft-skills attainment. This can be accomplished through the use of group projects in which students must work together and be accountable for project completion. Projects should allow sufficient time for reflection—what went well and what should be changed.

Another opportunity for practicing soft skills is by having students give peer reviews. Teachers will need to explain how to conduct effective peer reviews so that students learn how to provide constructive feedback to classmates.

Business Trend

In our ongoing conversations with the business community, we asked them to identify business trends impacting the workplace. One frequently cited trend is: increase in the importance of risk management. Risk management is an everyday issue that impacts everyone and impacts the company brand.

Workplace Implications

Businesses are increasing the resources dedicated to risk management in response to the environment in which they now operate. Political and regulatory uncertainty, harsh weather conditions, volatile markets, unexpected price changes, disruptive technologies, regulatory noncompliance, and talent shortages are some of the major risks creating business losses. Ethical breaches, data breaches, and operational failures have all been in the news over the last few years. Additionally, businesses have paid significant fines for questionable practices, quality failures, and compliance violations.

As businesses focus more on risk management, they emphasize organizational culture and leadership character and not just the technical competence of their employees. Businesses have realized that rules and policies aren’t sufficient to address the variety of risks that they must manage. Policies cannot cover every situation, and new risks are continually emerging.

Businesses need a risk management process that is dynamic, while also being predictable. They want employees to determine the right actions to take in ambiguous situations. For this reason, businesses are also investing more time in assessing candidates for fit that extends beyond skills and abilities. It also includes assessment of personality, integrity, motivation, strategic thinking, critical thinking, and problem-solving. This emphasis on risk management is also leading to a greater demand for risk assessment skills and risk-related certifications and accreditation.

Classroom Implications

Risk management should receive more emphasis across the board, especially as it relates to self-governance, ethical practice, internal controls, and global trade. Students should discuss the top risks that businesses face, trends in those risks, the implications for businesses and the strategies businesses are using in response. Ethical decision-making and its relationship to risk management should be discussed. Additionally, students should understand their personal responsibility for managing business risks and explore how they could apply risk management principles at different stages of their career.
 
Students could research recent incidents that have exposed businesses to significant negative publicity, fines, and/or litigation. They could estimate the total cost to the business, including lost customers and revenue, increased spending on marketing, and spending to improve operations to prevent further incidents. Teachers could reinforce this concept through review of publicly-traded company’s responsibility statements. Teachers could discuss supplier code of conduct, compliance programs, and other practices businesses have implemented to manage their risk. 

Business Trend

In our ongoing conversations with the business community, we asked them to identify business trends impacting the workplace. One frequently cited trend is: Increase in shareholder and consumer lawsuits and employee-initiated audits. Businesses that have experienced an increase in lawsuits have also noticed a decline in investor and consumer confidence.

Workplace Implications

Businesses continue to increase their focus on customer satisfaction and quality. They expect employees to be responsible for customer satisfaction and quality within their own job function and are tying performance measures and metrics to quality goals. When mistakes occur, they expect employees to take ownership of their mistakes and to communicate their mistakes quickly to the right individuals in the organization. They expect employees to work with management and others toward an amicable solution.

Similarly, employees are expected to uncover and to help resolve any issues that come to their attention that could affect staff and internal and external customer satisfaction. This expectation exists regardless of whether the issues are related to their specific job responsibilities and duties. Employees are also expected to follow internal protocols on reporting incidents, use of social media, and the sharing of confidential information so that the business’s exposure to lawsuits or audits is limited.   

Classroom Implications

Students need to understand how to manage operations and brand cost-effectively while always maintaining a view of protecting the company (e.g., disclaimers) in an environment that has an increasing emphasis on consumer protection.  They need to understand that risk mitigation, quality, and safety are everyone’s responsibility.  They cannot look at their jobs as just doing XYZ; they need to understand how they impact the final product or service and how their behaviors affect the overall workplace environment.

Students could research recent product recalls and discuss the factors that led to the recall. They could analyze the effect of the recalls on the business (e.g., brand/reputation, consumer confidence, employee satisfaction, sales, lawsuits, and settlements). Teachers could also reinforce this concept through classroom activities that require students to predict the effect of a particular action on customer satisfaction and loyalty. They could engage students in a series of what-if discussions dealing with increasingly more complex situations but always focused on action taken or not taken by lower-level, front-line employees. Students should be encouraged to consider how long it takes and how much it costs to re-establish trust once broken.

Business Trend

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: an increase in required compliance resources.

The onslaught of new regulations from various governmental entities, self-regulatory organizations, and other entities charged with oversight is straining existing compliance infrastructure. Both the direct (e.g., penalties) and the indirect (e.g., reputation damage leading to lost customers) costs of non-compliance have also increased.


Workplace Implications

Businesses are spending more time updating and communicating policies, completing regulatory-related tasks and paperwork (e.g., EEOC, FLSA), and participating in continuing education to meet new requirements. The impact on cost is just part of the issue.

These regulations also carry a productivity and opportunity impact. Companies are challenged to find resources that are able to be creative within certain boundaries based on a thorough understanding of their industry or function-specific rules and jargon.  Companies are also emphasizing learning agility and flexibility as desirable competencies that better position the individuals and the company for success in the changing environment.


Classroom Implications

Instructors need to find out what resources Business Administration students can access to keep up to date on regulatory matters impacting students’ specific career focuses. They should have students monitor the resources to track regulatory changes. During a class discussion, students can explain why the changes occurred and their impact on their industry or function of interest.

Students should also be encouraged to read industry- or function-specific on a regular basis and reflect upon what they read. They should be asked to develop and commit to an ongoing learning plan for their industry or function of interest. Students should have opportunities to engage in continual learning habits as part of the classroom experience.

Business Trend

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: adapting to change.


Workplace Implications

Companies are at risk of going the way of the telegraph, eight-track tapes, or floppy disks. In other words, companies risk becoming a dinosaur if the business or its employees refuse to face the realities of a dynamic business environment.  

Every aspect of business is subject to rapid change. Doing things “the way we’ve always done them” will eventually shutter a business. Today, it’s about a business’s ability to quickly adapt its processes so that it can stay relevant to customers and ahead of the competition. Product lifecycles are shortened; technology’s rapid change is through the roof; and customers rely heavily on the opinions of their peers. The need for agility must permeate management’s and employee’s thinking and actions, thereby better positioning companies to respond quickly to new opportunities.

Here a couple of insightful articles about the need to adapt to change:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffboss/2014/08/28/4-ways-to-help-your-team-adapt-to-change/?utm_campaign=forbestwittersf&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140702182505-1397425-alarming-pace-of-business-puts-spotlight-on-speed-and-cost-of-change


Classroom Implications

Students need to be encouraged to think about, look for, and implement increasingly efficient processes at school and in their jobs. They need to understand what processes are, why they’re important, and how changes to a process in one part of a company can impact processes in other parts of the business. Teachers should challenge students to be innovative and flexible in their thinking. Students need to be encouraged to become lifelong learners since many of the knowledge and skills they acquire now will become outdated. Students need to read not only industry publications to keep up to date with changes that will affect them on the job, but they also need to expand their reading to encompass a broad spectrum of issues and innovations so that they can bring these insights to their jobs. Students need to understand the value of a broad professional network and strategies for leveraging that network to deliver fresh insights to them.

Business Trend

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: self-service orientation.


Workplace Implications

Customers expect businesses to anticipate their desires and needs and to proactively meet them through self-service options. This includes, but is not limited to, online, in-store, kiosks, etc. Online, customers are designing their own footwear (Nike), customizing their computers (Apple and Dell), creating their own pizzas (Pizza Hut), and creating their own vacation packages. In-store, they are placing their own food orders at the table (Chili’s and Applebee’s), creating their own sandwiches (GetGo), and handling their own hotel check-in at kiosks (Crowne Plaza). Throughout the business world, customers are serving themselves using interactive technology (http://www.kioskmarketplace.com/blogs/the-waiting-dead-can-self-service-kiosks-prevent-the-zombie-apocalypse-infographic/).

Lower-level jobs are disappearing or being refocused so that employees need to be problem-solvers rather than order takers. They need to become lifelong learners who are willing to adapt to changing technologies and processes rather than being locked into “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” This agility is currently challenging businesses as evidenced through decreased productivity despite technological gains. The future workforce has to be able to shift gears quickly, work on multiple projects, learn and adopt multiple technologies quickly, and challenge how they can be integrated into processes to improve customer service and satisfaction.


Classroom Implications

Teachers need to keep students updated on the impact of a self-service orientation, providing real-life examples across industries but especially within careers that previously seemed immune to displacement. Students need to be challenged to think critically about its impact on jobs and the new ways that they will need to add value to an organization. Student groupings should be changed frequently so that students are exposed to multiple personality types. Project requirements should be modified so that students expect change in classroom activities and have to operate in new ways to respond to the unexpected. Students should be challenged to provide multiple approaches to achieving the same outcome and identify the situations which would warrant use of one approach over another.

Business Trend

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: over-dependence on technology.


Workplace Implications

Digital natives entering the workplace have grown up with technology. They have not experienced life without smart phones, Google searches, and MapQuest. Unfortunately, many of them are not challenging or questioning what should be done, best ways to do it, or what information should or shouldn't be gathered. Many are not checking the accuracy of information prior to use and are not discerning when face-to-face communication is better than instant messaging, chat, etc. The over reliance on technology has led to new employees entering the workforce lacking presentation and social skills.


Classroom Implications

Although student understanding of business terminology is important, teachers should spend less time on rote memorization. They should, instead, have students apply terminology in the context of problem solving. Teachers need to use classroom activities that require students to apply critical thinking skills. These activities should be focused on real-life business problems that can be solved in multiple ways with and without technology.

Students should be encouraged to question their solutions and technology usage, asking themselves whether a better way can be found to solve the problem at hand. They should be taught that appropriate technology use depends on the audience and the situation at hand. Teachers can reinforce this mindset with their assessments through scenarios and case studies requiring students to develop or select the most appropriate responses. As a part of this process, teachers need to require students to substantiate their information and work with them to understand that just because something is on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true or accurate.

Classroom time can be spent on comparison of student responses so that they recognize multiple solutions. Students should be challenged to identify the best solution to problems from a group of potential solutions rather than expecting one correct answer. Students should support their selection of the best solution as compared to the other potential solutions.

Business Trend

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: redefinition of workplace and work hours.


Workplace Implications

In this age of technology, work has shifted to accommodate customers' expectations of 24/7 service. Many businesses have implemented non-traditional business hours to meet these expectations. In this way, problems can be resolved, orders can be placed, and information can be provided at any time, day or night, seven days a week. In effect, employees are always “on the clock,” representing their businesses at all times. Mobile and digital technologies facilitate meeting these demands by allowing employees to work from anywhere. Using virtual teams that are geographically dispersed has become more common. Employees may never meet in person. Collaboration, communication, and project management skills have all become more critical in this environment.

As the definition of the work hours and the workplace changes the separation of work and home diminishes. The expectation of 24/7 availability has negatively impacted work/life balance and has also created challenges with employment law compliance.


Classroom Implications

Students need to have a realistic view of remote work, the productivity and performance expectations of business that allow remote work, and self-management skills necessary for success as a remote worker. They need to understand the definition of work/life balance, strategies such as flexible work schedules available to achieve balance, the potential trade-offs, and their responsibilities in making arrangements work. Students also need to understand issues associated with teaming virtually and the skills necessary for success.

Business Trend

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: volatile and invasive political environment.


Workplace Implications

Although people joke about being “politically correct,” it has become a defensive strategy used in business. It’s employed to manage the risks posed by the increase in political polarization which makes consensus-reaching more difficult, and by the decline in respect for others’ opinions. In many cases, its use results in strained leader and staff relationships and in more guarded internal and external communications. Business leaders adhere to “political correctness” to avoid the potential for costly lawsuits and damaged reputations.

Polarization has also increased mistrust between business and government leaders. The environmental uncertainty created by delayed decision-making, increased political intervention in business, the fear of nationalization of businesses in various countries, the imposition of tariffs, and more severe fines and penalties for non-compliance are all concerns businesses are grappling with today.

Business leaders are trying to balance government’s and society’s demand for more transparency with a litigious environment that seeks to assign blame. The tensions are worsened by media hype and social media activism.


Classroom Implications

Teachers need to help students develop an understanding of the political process, the political shifts that have occurred over time, and how these shifts impact business both domestically and internationally. They should provide students with opportunities to passionately, but respectfully, discuss politically sensitive topics from differing viewpoints that have been well-researched. Teachers should have students examine issues from both a short-term and long-term perspective to increase students’ ability to think through the consequences of different political agendas. The role of social media in the political process should be integrated into the lessons.

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