“More is written about leadership than ever, but we have fewer real leaders.” I have heard this, or something similar, many times and I have often said it myself. We have seen failure after failure of high profile business, political, and other types of leaders in the news—both local and national. It gets downright depressing at times.
One thing that I have noticed is that many leadership failures come from what I refer to as “celebrity leaders.” Celebrity leaders have achieved fame as “leaders” through media infatuation, self-promotion, or because their company is unusually financially successful. Often when you dig a bit into these “great leaders” you find failed marriages, estranged children, toxic work environments, a “win at any cost” mentality that discounts the worth and dignity of people, and a litany of other things that I personally would not count as successes.
However, I have come to realize that I was looking in the wrong places for examples of good leadership. The best examples of leadership have been all around me—past and present. I remember my football coach who took a bunch of poor to mediocre athletes at a small school and turned them into a formidable team. I remember U.S. Army officers who quietly went about their business of leading well, though they did not fit the Hollywood version of military leaders. I know a couple in the Midwest who serve as community leaders working behind the scenes to help some of the poorest of the poor in a neighboring city. I remember an extraordinary woman at Texas Instruments (incidentally, she was from Mississippi) who tried not only to develop her team members but also to help them advance in the company—it was a delight being on her team.
Currently, I am working with a company whose leaders range in age from late 20s to mid-40s. They are quietly building a good business by taking care of their employees as if they were family members. They have had employees turn down offers for more money at other companies to stay because of the culture—because of the leadership.
I have worked at a company where the culture was so positive that executives took major pay cuts just to come and work in that environment. In towns and communities across this land, there are wonderful leaders making a real difference. You don’t see them on TV or on websites because these people are not concerned with fame or notoriety and they certainly don’t fit the Hollywood mold of leadership (thankfully!). You don’t see them being quoted on social media or posts about their “Top10 Secrets of Leadership” because they are unconcerned about social media and too busy getting something done to worry about the artificial worlds of Twitter, Facebook, or the like.
Discouraged about what you see in the media/social media about leadership? Then just stop for a bit and look around you and see the wonderful examples of everyday people performing acts of extraordinary leadership. You will be encouraged.
Taylor Robinson of Arc Stories, which celebrates storytelling through live performances and other platforms, says, “In the South, stories are almost like currency.”
In business, stories ARE currency. Even as our communication tools become more sophisticated through technology, audiences still connect through stories. Take a look at the popularity of Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook “story” features, which allow users to share detailed, engaging content. Launched in August 2016, Instagram Stories now has more than 300 million daily active users.
Identifying your company’s story and telling it effectively is gold. But it’s not always easy.
Storytelling allows a business to connect emotionally with audiences. Natural pet food company Blue Buffalo, launched in 1995 by a family whose beloved Airedale, Blue, suffered from health issues, shares Blue’s story and encourages customers to “Love them like family, feed them like family.” At our house, that means sneaking bites to our little rescue mutt under the dinner table. For Blue’s family, it led to an $8 billion buyout by General Mills earlier this year. Gold.
Not all companies have the benefit of a heartwarming, adorable pet as their story. But every company has a story. To find it, company leaders should consider: “What inspires us?” “What drives our employees?” “Who are our audiences and why?” “What is our past and what does the future look like?” The answers to these questions can help formulate your company’s compelling story.
Next, leadership needs to communicate the company’s story. Watch the video on this webpage for an inspiring example: The Most Important Pair of Socks in the World.
Additionally, customers should be able to easily answer, “What does this company’s story have to do with me?” Coca-Cola has effectively connected with customers for more than 130 years, even literally by name in a recent campaign which increased Coke’s market share by 4 percent.
While your company may not be able to provide personalized products, you can easily leverage digital media as storytelling platforms to help you build meaningful relationships with customers.
On Entergy Corporation’s blog, we share stories through digital and social media that demonstrate our mission to add value for our key stakeholders. Blogging is an effective way to invite customers to share their own experiences while keeping web content fresh and positioning yourself as an expert in your field. Same for podcasts.
What’s your story? It is the heart of what drives your objectives that can be easily shared, understood and embraced by your audiences.
Ann Day Becker
Corporate Communications Manager
People who like their job often point to their supervisor, coworkers, pay, and/or promotion opportunities as sources of satisfaction. But do you know what contributes most to job satisfaction? The work itself—what you actually do, day in and day out.
I marvel at our student athletes. They spend hours and hours running, lifting weights, practicing their sport. That is hard, physical work. And yet, they are not paid one dime! They do that voluntarily.
What do you do on your own time for free? My spouse volunteers every week at Mynelle Gardens, where she works with other Master Gardeners, planting, watering, and nurturing plants to sell at their annual fundraising event. These gardeners are there every week beginning in late fall, whether the temperatures are freezing or hot and humid, with mosquitoes flying and spiders lurking. They do that voluntarily.
One reason people enjoy hobbies and volunteer work is because it is VOLUNTEER work. They choose to do it. No one is making them. As it turns out, the more choice we have at work, the more satisfied we are. Greater autonomy increases job satisfaction for most people.
It also helps that our volunteer activities often require a different set of skills than those we use at work. Skill variety enhances job satisfaction.Pride in the organization and its purpose is critical to job satisfaction. It’s no surprise that athletes play with their organization’s name splashed across the uniform for all to see.
There are also other, less obvious characteristics of work and play that increase satisfaction. Seeing something through from beginning to end, such as watching the seeds that you planted grow and flower, is very rewarding. Those flowers give you helpful feedback about your role. You did it! Similarly, when the receiver catches the touchdown pass, the crowd roars and teammates come running with high fives and hugs. The score changes and the players have immediate feedback about how well they did.
Satisfaction increases when you know that your efforts have a positive impact on the lives of others. The Master Gardeners know that the shrubs and flowers they sell for modest prices will be planted in lawns across the metro area. Anyone who plants a shrub or tree has a hand in making the world a little brighter for all of us, right? That’s cool!
Back to work: Are you proud of your organization and the work that it does? How much autonomy do you have at work? Do you use a variety of skills? Do you see projects from beginning to end and receive meaningful feedback on the results? Does your work have a significant impact on others, including colleagues, customers, and/or the community?
Although managers do not always have a lot of control when it comes to designing jobs, creative managers will look for ways to infuse jobs with these characteristics, in small or big ways, in order to enhance job satisfaction for employees.
Diane Baker, PhD
Professor of Management
Else School of Management
Failing to negotiate your salary can severely impact your future earnings, particularly if you stay in the same organization. As raises are often handed out as a percentage of your current salary, any increase in that salary you can arrange from the get-go will compound over time. (Of course, you can also negotiate raises at performance reviews, not just at hiring.) Even as you change organizations, hiring managers often want to know your current salary (though this is now banned in at least one state), which can serve as an anchor for the offer they make you. Consequently, I advise my students always to negotiate and seek out the wiggle room in offers. If salary is set, what about vacations, flexible hours, benefits, or certain work assignments? There’s often room somewhere to sweeten the deal.
However, research unfortunately shows that negotiating may be more difficult for women, and not merely because they hold themselves back from making the ask. When women negotiate, they are often seen as less likable, and since gendered expectations mandate that women be warm, this can be a real issue for their outcomes and future work relationships. A recent article on a website affiliated with The Chronicle for Higher Education provides some good advice, which does NOT include telling women not to negotiate. Research has supported that women may need to be aware of framing. For example, simple self-advocacy can result in bad outcomes, but couching a request in how it will benefit the organization, their work group, or some other group (as well as themselves) can be a successful tactic, as can legitimizing the request in some way.
Perhaps this problem also needs to be addressed on the other side: companies and hiring managers. Hiring managers need to be aware that these negotiation issues exist and consider their own policies. Is everyone expected to negotiate? Do you work from an integrative or collaborative position when bargaining with employees and candidates (that is, looking for a win-win), or from a more distributive lens, hoping to get employees as “cheaply” as possible? How does this impact who gets hired, their outcomes, and how they feel about your organization going forward? Are your policies fair and unbiased, or are you setting up a situation where employees from certain groups receive better outcomes? Are you part of the problem?
Assistant Professor of Management
Else School of Management
Since the 1950’s labor representation in the private sector has declined by more than two-thirds. There are good reasons for this decline. Federal laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (to name a few) have provided workers with basic safeguards relative to wages and working conditions. Employers have become increasingly enlightened in their employment practices and employees are more empowered to think and act for themselves. Even so, unions still believe they offer a valuable service to employees: a voice that puts them on more equal footing with their employers.
In 2017, the employees at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, rejected the United Auto Workers union after years of union organizing. Why did this happen? There are plenty of theories, but most insiders think the company’s anti-union campaign was effective and most employees did not want to “rock the boat” and risk losing the best wages and benefits they have seen in their careers.
Unions use member dues to pay for the services they provide, such as collective bargaining and contract enforcement, charging members an average of two hours pay each month. Recently, the Supreme Court decided that public employees could not be forced to pay union dues, so-called “fair share fees” that pay for services that directly benefit the employees in a bargaining unit. About one third of public employees are represented by unions (less than 7% of private sector employees are unionized). Perhaps now more than ever, unions will have to prove that their services are worth the dues. Employees must analyze their own situations and decide if investing in a union is a good bargain for them and their families.
As a former Human Resources Manager, I tend to agree with the old adage “Every company that has a union deserves one.” Successful 21st century companies provide competitive pay, benefits and working conditions for all employees. What will determine if employees are interested in labor union representation is likely to be the way they are treated by their supervisors. Effective leaders work personally and directly with each employee to resolve any issues that may arise in an atmosphere of trust, teamwork and mutual respect.
It will be interesting to see how labor unions continue to evolve to remain relevant in today’s rapidly changing economy and political environment.
Laura Lillard, now retired, was a Human Resources Manager at Weyerhaeuser, Entergy, and Levi Strauss.
The ubiquity of the term “customer experience” is palpable as more and more executives turn attention and resources towards analyzing this concept in the context of their own organizations. Increasingly, organizations are asking questions about what a customer or client wants, and more importantly, how the what is actually delivered to the customer or client.
Generally speaking, the customer experience can be broken down into a series of phases: product or service awareness creation, product or service interest and consideration, the development of product or service trust, customer conversion, and exchange of value. And while conventional thinking requires individualized assessment of each one of these phases of the customer experience, a more modern approach to analyzing this experience is to view it holistically, not as a set of independent steps, but as a journey.
Analyzing this journey is becoming increasingly more important to every organization as providing positive customer experiences leads to greater consumer loyalty, increased organizational revenue, and overall greater organizational efficiency.
In a study done by Bain & Company titled Closing the Delivery Gap, 80% of companies interviewed believed they are providing a superior customer experience. On the other hand, only 8% of customers that were interviewed believed those companies were actually providing a superior customer experience, an enormous gap between perception and reality.
Closing this gap is difficult and requires organizations not only to be extremely introspective, but also approach shaping the customer experience from the actual point of view of the customer. This is a dynamic process that requires observation, data analysis, shaping, re-shaping, and performance.
I believe Jeff Bezos put it best when he said: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”
My friend BG Allen recently recommended that I read Leadership and Self-Deception, a book authored by the Arbinger Institute. We had been talking about the difficulty of teamwork and the challenges of supervising others, and BG mentioned something about the dysfunction that occurs when we begin seeing and treating people as problems or obstacles. His comment caught my attention and made me think about how simple it is to fall into the habit of thinking about managing some members of our team.
Leadership and Self-Deception makes the case that many of the problems we encounter at work as well as at home stem from our failure to recognize the humanity of others. The authors posit that by treating others as objects we indulge in a systemic self-deception that inflates our positive traits and allows us to justify the lesser importance and value of others. The book takes the form of a parable following the main character, Tom, who is struggling with his relationships at home and establishing himself in his new job. Through a series of stories told by his coworkers, Tom learns about self-deception and the ways in which it damages the important relationships in our lives.
There are several take-aways in Leadership and Self-Deception that I’ll be thinking about for a while. But the one that struck me most immediately was the degree to which we often objectify the people around us. For example, once we’ve been part of a team for a while, it becomes really easy to start to label our other team members—the smart one, the comic relief, the bossy one, etc.—you know what I mean. And while all of those labels are not necessarily bad, they have in common that they reduce the other person to a trait or a limited set of traits, rather than recognizing the humanity of the individual. If you think about it, there is often one team member who wears the label of the “slacker” or “doofus,” who we’ve decided can’t be relied on to contribute in a meaningful way. Leadership and Self-Deception demonstrates that by applying those labels to others we create a self-satisfying story in which we are the extra-good guys surrounded by bad guys who impede our progress. And with most stories that we tell, the heroes (us) become more and more heroic while the villains (others) become more and more flawed and fallible.
It requires a bit of humility to acknowledge the ease with which we all can fall into this trap in our work lives. That’s not to say that every team member is fully and effectively engaged; sometimes they are not. But whether we or our colleagues are doing our jobs well or need to improve, Leadership and Self-Deception argues that we are all best served when we set aside the self-deception in which we are superstars surrounded by the inept masses and acknowledge the fullness of those with whom we work and the depth of common struggles and experiences.
Kim Burke, PhD
Dean of the Else School of Management
Professor of Accounting
Investing well is important as we consider and plan for the future. Most often when we think of investing, we are thinking of our financial investments. We are planning for our children’s college plans, their marriages, hedging against unexpected expenses, and for financial security for our latter years. However, our investment plans often do not consider the non-financial aspects of our lives and when we fail to invest in these areas, the financial investing becomes a moot point.
We are relational beings who are designed for and need strong relationships. The impact of good relationships on our mental, emotional, and even physical health has been well documented. As has often been stated, at the end of our time here on earth, it is not the number of hours we spent at the office or our impressive portfolio that we think about—it is the people in our lives. So, the question is, how is our “investment strategy” when it comes to the key relationships in our lives? Are you investing time and attention into your relationship with your spouse, your children, and your key friendships? Is it a high-quality investment?
What is your investment strategy when it comes to your spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical health? The importance of a strong financial investment strategy diminishes quite rapidly when we have invested poorly in these other areas of our lives. Do you have an investment strategy for growing spiritually and emotionally? Are you spending time daily in quiet reflection as well as reading in a way that grows you in these areas? Are you becoming a self-managed person where you manage your emotions versus them controlling you?
How are you investing in your intellectual growth? Are you reading well and often? Do you have a plan for how often you will read and what you will read? Are you reading widely and well beyond your profession? Are you consistently challenging your own thinking and correcting it when you find that your preconceived notions are incorrect or when you realize that your thinking patterns are unhealthy?
Finally, to my favorite part (not really)! How are you investing in your physical health? Do you eat in a way that strengthens you? A friend of mine often remarks that he eats to live versus lives to eat. So, are you eating to live and live well? What about that dreaded word—exercise? Do you exercise on a regular basis? I am not talking about becoming a gym rat, but is reasonable exercise a part of your daily routine?
Investing well in our overall life, not just the financial aspect, is vitally important. It is important to those we love, those we serve, those we lead, and to ourselves. Invest well so that you leave a legacy of hope and changed lives.
Harry Truman famously quipped about economists, "Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, 'on one hand . . . on the other. . . .'" The jokes about the lack of agreement amongst economists abound and not without some merit. Economics may be the only field in which two people share a Nobel Prize for saying opposing things. Specifically, Gunnar Myrdal and Friedrich von Hayek shared one while coming to different conclusions.
On the issue of free trade, however, economists are largely united. President Trump’s imposition of tariffs on imported goods from washing machines and solar panels to steel and aluminum caused unlikely bedfellows Jeffrey Sachs and the Wall Street Journal's editorial team to condemn the actions. There is little discord between typical economic jousters Greg Mankiw and Paul Krugman on the issue of trade barriers. So why the widespread agreement?
The advantages of free trade stem from the thoughts of Adam Smith, often considered the founder of modern economics, in the late 1700s. His famous treatise The Wealth of Nations sparked an economic revolution in the same year as the American revolution, 1776. His primary argument was that nations trade with each other for the same reasons that people trade within a nation. No one forces individuals to buy from each other but the resulting specialization and lower prices mean we are both better off in doing so. The same logic applies to free trade between nations. In short, free trade allows for increased incomes and a greater access to goods and services at lower prices.
The expansion of international trade, while benefitting some, does hurt others in the short-run, especially in sectors which compete with imported goods and thus must find new jobs. A safety net and retraining may be appropriate. But it does not negate the primary conclusion that free trade raises average standards of living.
These import-competing domestic sectors typically benefit from tariffs and other protectionist policies. However, other businesses who use these higher-priced inputs in their production processes lose as do consumers who pay higher prices for finished goods. A tariff on steel, for example, allows the domestic steel producers to charge higher prices and reap higher incomes but any industry that employs steel as an input (construction, for example) is worse off. Work by Mark Muro and Jacob Whiton of the Brookings Institution and later published in the New York Times brings this close to home. They estimate that “for every job in Tupelo, MS, producing steel and aluminum, there are 200 jobs in industries that consume them that could be put at risk as tariffs push up prices of these metals.”
On May 3, 2018, the National Tax Payers Union submitted an open letter to President Trump and Congress rejecting protectionist activities including threats to withdraw from trade agreements and the imposition of new tariffs. Over 1,100 economists including 15 Nobel Laureates signed the letter. That’s about as close to a one-armed economist as Harry Truman could have asked for.
Susan Washburn Taylor, PhD
Professor of Economics
Else School of Management
When I was interviewed for acceptance to the Millsaps Executive Master of Business Administration program a few years ago, I recall being asked, “Why?” With a Vice President title and nearly 25 years of business experience, why make such a significant commitment? Did I want the boss’s job? Nope. My boss, however, had recently completed his MBA at Millsaps. He affirmed the program’s rigor and his own professional growth. I was curious. I spoke to many other successful business leaders and all agreed that their decision to complete their MBA was rewarded. One even acknowledged he now only hires MBA credentialed candidates. I enrolled! My MBA pursuit began for one reason—social proof. After observing the actions of others, I believed I would gain as well.
During the 16-month EMBA curriculum, despite learning that 80% of all first-year businesses fail, my entrepreneurial spirit was aroused. I partnered with an all-star team to create an online, on-demand, test prep review for the ACT exam, called Jumpstart ACT. Our review leverages the teaching knowledge, tips and strategies of a 55-year educator, Dot McClendon, and was designed to help students obtain maximum improvement with minimal prep time. Our students’ amazing score improvement results led us to expand the number of products we offer. Our company, Jumpstart Test Prep, now provides concise reviews for other exams including the GED, HiSet, TASC, Praxis Core and ACT Workkeys. It is essential to share our success stories. A single student post or video testimonial providing social proof will create curiosity in others, and ultimately will produce a new customer, or even thousands of them.
You don’t need an MBA to see the obvious. Startups that wind up successful share several critical success factors: finding the right niche, minimizing overhead, securing proper funding, etc. But perhaps the most critical success factor is offering social proof. The common marketing problem of any new business is how best to make potential customers aware of your product or service. Many startups land in the boneyard by using a shotgun style advertising approach with borrowed capital.
Want to minimize customer acquisition cost while ramping up sales? Here are three simple tips to consider:
The result? Others wanting the same result will naturally follow the same path.
Sha Walker, MBA
CoFounder & CEO
Jumpstart Test Prep
In business school, students are often given a scenario in which a company is facing a public relations dilemma. The assignment is to analyze the perspectives of the stakeholders, including shareholders, customers, and the community, and then to recommend a position on the issue that will most likely produce an optimal outcome. To get an A+ on this paper, students must see through what looks like opposing views on the surface to find the deeper shared interest of key stakeholder groups. This exercise is an important management lesson in corporate responsibility.
A distinctive approach of the Else School is to create a hands-on learning environment. The ElseWorks entrepreneurial program allows students to provide real input to real businesses with whom they consult. An example of this is the consultation of ElseWorks on the project Midtown Depot: Art Park and Beer Garden. The goals for the Depot are to enhance an unused parcel of land near Lucky Town Brewery, to celebrate and showcase the Midtown community, to provide a unique entertainment experience for residents of the entire Jackson area, and to give a portion of business proceeds to support positive action in the neighborhood, all while building a sustainable business. The business analysts (who are typically Else School graduate students) researched similar concepts elsewhere, surveyed residents of the neighborhood for receptivity, performed a market analysis and built financial pro formas. Through their work on this project, the ElseWorks analysts garnered a deep understanding of the community whom the business serves, what value the business may provide, and the impact the business is likely to have on all the stakeholder groups. This conscientious, roll-up-your-sleeves process was a learning experience that I am confident the students will not soon forget and that can be applied many times over in many different scenarios.
Herbert Spencer once wrote “the great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” I agree with Herb. However, it works both ways: action is also a great way to educate. Good job, folks at ElseWorks. You are most impressive.
Russell Morrison, CRPS, CFP
The Fenelon Group
Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc.
Professional Presence. Executive Presence. Personal Brand. The words conjure up many conflicting images for people. Polished vs. Slick. Contrived vs. Genuine. Substantive vs. Hollow.
Early in my career the mere thought of focusing on presence seemed wrong, self-centered even, because I thought it was about appearance and had little to do with being capable, knowledgeable, and getting results. Fortunately, I had mentors who helped me understand it’s not about being an “empty suit,” but about making sure the suit fits.
Elizabeth, a Non-Profit Executive Director, told me, “When I talk about how excited I am to be working with you, the reaction I have gotten from some colleagues and friends has surprised me. Several have said they hope I don’t lose my flair. They worry that by working on my Professional Presence, I’ll lose my authenticity. I explain to them that the goal is exactly the opposite!”
Presence is grounded in having substance and transmits to others that you are the real deal. Who does not want to be seen as the real deal?
Just how do you convey your merit effectively in a way that does not feel like you are trying to be someone else?
Presence Starts with Perception. People, all of us, have a remarkable ability to cultivate a self-image that is positive and clear, and we believe we are acting, talking and walking in alignment with that image. It is a mistake to misjudge the gap between how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you, a mistake that can be very costly. Other people make a difference in your success. Your boss chooses who leads a team or a project. Your peers either want to collaborate with you or not. A future employer chooses to hire you. Your clients want to hire you or not.
Ascertain what is the best blend of what differentiates you and what makes you relatable. You are helping people clearly see who you are and what you bring to the table.
Establish Your Hallmarks. Decide what knowledge, skills, and experience you want to be known for professionally.
Look for the Gaps. To close gaps, you first need to find the gaps. Ask for specific, robust feedback from others about how they perceive you. Tell them you are interested in how you come across as a professional.
Work to close the Gaps. Assess the changes you need to make to close the gaps and develop an approach to do so. Pull in outside support to help you and continue to actively seek robust feedback from a mentor, coach, or reliable confident.
Give yourself time. Check in with yourself and others about what is and is not working and keep refining until the gaps are no more.
Taking ownership of your career and your presence is part of today’s world. Assuming that everyone sees your merit, or views you as the whip-smart, savvy, collaborator you see in the mirror is not enough. Investing in yourself, including your presence, is as smart as investing in other assets, like your retirement savings.
Dierdre Danahar, MSW, MPH, LICSW, PCC
InMotion Consulting & Coaching
One of the strengths of BRAVO! Italian Restaurant is its team. Our team is strong with a deep sense of corporate culture and a significant “buy-in” to the importance of our brand and our image. We would not have enjoyed 24 years of success without the commitment of all those who work there.
But what about a team that is willing to do something completely foreign, somewhat dangerous, and totally outside their comfort zone? What about a team of waiters, busboys, cooks, dishwashers, hosts, bartenders, chefs, and managers who would be willing to spend thirty days working construction rather than doing what they were hired to do? What about a team, like the team Dan and I are blessed to lead, that when told we needed to close the restaurant for one month in order to allow some structural foundation work to be performed by our landlord answered the challenge by saying “how can we help?”
To close for a month was going to place tremendous stress on our business, but to close for a month and not provide something new and exciting for our customers upon reopening would be suicide. To this end, we HAD to come up with a plan for renewal, and we did.
We met with our staff and we explained what had to happen, and that we would be closed for 30 days. This meant no work, and no paychecks. But we suggested that if we could all chip in and help, we might keep everyone employed and that way we would all remain a family come reopening. So, as owners, we were motivated to find a creative way to keep ALL on payroll, but we didn’t have the bandwidth to just hand out checks. AND THAT’S WHERE THEIR TEAM SPIRIT CAME IN.
I had the idea that we, as a team, could renovate the dining areas and exterior while the contractors tore apart and rebuilt the kitchen. I proposed that we all commit to work together—whatever the task—and see what happens. And what happened was MAGIC.
Every single employee except one, who was in grad school, committed to the plan. Every cook, every waiter, everyone. We started by stripping the restaurant front and back of everything. We sanded, painted, and stained. We learned how to lay flooring. We learned how to paint new ceiling tiles and install them. We upholstered barstools. We hung artwork.
We did it all. And we did it in 30 days, each and every day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m for 4 straight weeks. I scheduled each employee to their usual standard work schedule in varying shifts: morning, mid, and night. But I was always on-site opening the doors and closing them, serving throughout the day as constant coordinator, teacher, and helper. The team building was extraordinary, and I will forever be changed by the experience.
And BRAVO! was forever changed as well. Our project came in on time, on budget, and with all team members (yes, our grad student joined back in for his regular work schedule when we opened!).
I share this story for one reason: I saw firsthand what can be done when employees believe in the mission of their workplace. Our people didn’t do this for the paycheck . . . they did it because they wanted to be a part of something BIGGER than themselves. They wanted to belong. They wanted to contribute. They wanted to say, “Hey! I BUILT THAT!”
And they do, each day as we serve guests. And they all talk about how proud they are and how they would do it again.
Truly, working together works.
Twenty-four years ago (April 7, 1994, to be exact), my business partner Dan Blumenthal and I opened BRAVO! Italian Restaurant in Highland Village. We were 30 years old, and had spent the better part of the previous two years developing a business plan (250 pages), seeking out investors (I prospected 750 people, fed 250 in my house in small “tasting parties,” and ultimately secured 44 investors at $10,000 each), acting as general contractors for the demolition and renovation of the old Sundancer Restaurant to our vision for BRAVO!, hiring a staff, testing the food, creating our internal command and control systems, and oh yes, opening the doors to serve the first of what would eventually be millions of meals. We did this work incrementally, each day building on the success (or failure) of the prior day’s results. We were young, headstrong, energetic and tenacious. We had a clear idea of what we wanted to create; a different kind of restaurant experience, something special for our hometown.
As a chef, Dan is particularly wired to be a hard-nosed taskmaster. He is highly focused and very intense. He drives his day like he drives his cars—full pedal to the metal. I am pretty over-the-top myself, but in a different way; animated, hyperactive, engaging, and always wanting to please. We are “ying and yang”, one introspective, the other extroverted. The play off one another is significant. We complement each other very well; one’s strength is the other’s weakness. Both of us have stated that without the other the business would not exist, and that is true . . . fully. Working together works.
However, there is another element to this dynamic . . . and that is our team. We are only two people and no matter how hard we work, how many hours we put in, or how many positions we work within the restaurant, we could never cook every dish, serve every customer, or count every bank deposit or pay every bill. It takes a team, and for us at BRAVO!, that team is strong with a deep sense of corporate culture and a significant “buy-in” to the importance of our brand and our image.
But what happens to a team like ours when it is forced to close for a month? You see, we had known for years that there was a serious foundation problem in our space. Our dining room is suspended like a sky bridge with drive-under area beneath. Our entrance and bar are anchored to the Highland Village property to the north, and our kitchen and back dock “float” as a separate building to the south connected by the “levitated” dining room. Anyone who knows anything about Northeast Jackson soil knows we are challenged by Yazoo clay, which wreaks havoc on foundations. Ours was no different, with the kitchen moving inch by inch south, while the rest of the building stayed put. So, the need for a complete securing and leveling of the premise was clear, and the time was chosen by our us and our landlords for the fall of 2017.
Our team was strong enough to meet the challenge. Next week, I’ll share how we did it.
Being in the recruiting business, not a week goes by that I don’t get a call from an accomplished professional who may be compelled or, in less optimal circumstances, forced into a job or career change. Many professionals may go a decade or longer without actually having to look for a job. When the time comes, panic often ensues.
Here are a few tips on how to handle a mid-life employment crisis.
Remember that finding a new job or career is like any other business goal. You’re just more personally invested in the outcome. By assessing and directing your network, this often unplanned journey can be an opportunity to craft new relationships while substantially bettering your career and your life.
Kinetic Staffing, LLC
I have been in the construction industry since 1973. I eventually started my own company and we have operated successfully for the past 39 years. We have completed major projects throughout the south.
In my experience, the major keys to success in a small business are common sense and hard work. Knowledge and education are important, but do not necessarily equate to success. I learned a long time ago that my job was to make my boss look good and relieve him or her of as much work as possible—that’s common sense. I learned to keep my eyes and ears wide open and emulate the folks who were higher than me in the food chain. Again, common sense.
When I started my business I worked hard because I was afraid of failure. Fear of failure was and is a great motivator. I quickly learned that the priority in life was not the “success” of the business. Family or your personal life is the most important thing and my coworkers (I never refer to them as employees) know that this is the way I feel. If your child, your grandchild or whoever, has a play, a ball game or some other important function, you need to attend. That event will not happen again. Work will be there. None of us wants to create an unfair burden on another worker, but most things can wait, can be worked around, or can be done at midnight. If everybody helps everybody, it works fine. This approach may not work with a company of a gazillion employees, but it works for us.
Internal communication is important. Everyone can learn from everyone else and if someone has a problem, a good idea, or some current information, everyone should share.
As an owner, I’ve learned that all workers are important and deserve respect. Although some workers report to others, everyone deserves the same consideration and should be viewed with equal value. A consultant once told me, after an extensive survey of my coworkers, that I was a “a benevolent dictator.” I wasn’t sure how to take this, but after his explanation, it was clear. Even though I received input and kept an open door for all coworkers, the ultimate decision was mine. I could live with that.
It is important to work hard. If your immediate boss gives you an assignment, you simply say, “I’ll handle it” and don’t be late. If you need some assistance, just ask. Most people, in my experience, are more than willing to help a coworker and they feel a sense of pride for being asked. I realize that I must work as hard as my coworkers, though sometimes I fall short. I make mistakes and I am I never reluctant to ask for help.
I never take myself too seriously. Although the construction industry can be challenging, we try to make it as fun as possible. This year, I’m letting office personnel throw ping pong balls at a net placed over my head. Winners get a dollar. The only problem is when someone uses a golf ball and misses! Ouch!
Benchmark Construction Corporation
We have a real issue in Mississippi that is not being adequately addressed by sound and thoughtful policy. Based on census data from December 2017, Mississippi can now proudly boast three consecutive years of net out-migration, meaning we are losing more people than we are gaining each year. The only two states with longer periods of uninterrupted net out-migration are West Virginia and Illinois.
Further compounding this problem is the fact that fewer than half of the graduates of our eight public universities are working in Mississippi five years after graduation. The workers most likely to leave Mississippi are those holding engineering, math, and physical science degrees from our universities, not coincidently the highest potential wage earners.
Between 2010 and 2016, Mississippi’s millennial population fell by 3.9%, the highest percentage decrease of any state in the United States during that period of time. At the same time, between 2000 and 2013, Birmingham, Alabama witnessed a 39.9% increase in people aged 25 years or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Chattanooga experienced a 42.1% increase. Memphis witnessed a 37.8% increase and New Orleans saw a 21.0% increase.
We, as a state, are literally subsidizing the education of the workforce of our neighbors while watching our youngest and most creative Mississippians leave in bulk.
So, what is the answer for Mississippi’s “brain drain” problem? Well, first the State must recognize that talent-based economic development strategies are useful and effective. The states and cities that are succeeding in retaining an educated millennial workforce have made talent retention a fundamental priority. Until Mississippi follows suit, our net-migration problem will only get worse.
Second, our policymakers need to recognize and understand why younger educated Mississippians are leaving the state. The easiest way to accomplish this is to simply ask them. I predict the answer will not be based on some limited financial incentive offered in another state but will be more affirmatively based on overall economic opportunity and cultural and quality of life advantages.
The target of the Mississippi brain drain reversal overwhelmingly want to live in states, cities, and communities that offer not only greater economic opportunity, but also density, accessible public transportation, parks, museums, bike trails, festivals, and other cultural amenities.
And while we need to continue cultivating quality of life amenities by celebrating our rich literary, artistic, and culinary heritage, we need to focus more resources on the development of an inclusionary entrepreneurial ecosystem, one that leverages the institutions of higher education in this state as pipelines for commercial activity.
We need to create positive environments where Mississippians can develop products and services to address the multitude of issues plaguing our citizens, namely the efficient delivery of quality education and medical services to those most in need. On a macro level, these are worldly problems where Mississippi should be a laboratory for research and development.
These initiatives, as well as others, will create economic opportunity that can lead to the repatriation of Mississippians and trigger brain gain; but we will not experience any sort of positive paradigm shift until we take an honest assessment of what and how we are trying to incentivize behavior and action. Until then, the grass will remain greener on the other side.
Increasingly, business organizations are seeking effective, immersive, and local professional development opportunities for employees. These demands create opportunity for business schools to meet the need and serve the community, and a quick internet search reveals that many schools have responded to these demands with programs offering any range of foci, from innovation to leadership to social enterprise. But what are the hallmarks of a good executive education program and how can an employer or potential participant evaluate such programs?
For those seeking quality executive education, I recommend starting with an experienced provider with a proven track record. For example, one of the most successful and long-lived programs at the Else School of Management at Millsaps College is the Business Advantage Program for Professionals (BAP). The BAP is a one-semester certificate program which provides business competencies to professionals not formally trained in business. Entering its tenth year with roughly 200 alumni from diverse professional backgrounds, the BAP exemplifies some of the important characteristics that make executive education offerings meaningful and valuable to the consumer. So here are a few tips for considering a potential executive education program.
Make Sure It Is Mission Driven—Fundamental to the success of the BAP has been its consistency with the mission of the Else School and the College, both of which focus on serving the business community and enhancing growth in the metro area. At issue here is the institutional commitment to quality education. Any school or organization can create and promote a program. But the most valuable and sustainable programs are those that are driven by the ethos of the institution, rather than the desire to generate revenue.
Consider the Cohort—The diversity of the educational cohort is key. BAP participants have reported that more diverse perspectives allow the value of the cohort to rival that of the content. Diversity can be broadly defined, so we recruit participants from industries including healthcare and pharmaceuticals, government, education, creative economy, non-profit, manufacturing and more; from positions ranging from executive directors, surgeons, entrepreneurs to teachers. We also ensure we have racial and gender diversity.
Think about Content and Delivery—Once you find the content you seek, consider how well the level of the content (introductory, intermediate, advanced) aligns with the delivery method and your learning style. The curriculum of the BAP gives working professionals an introduction to essential business topics such as accounting, economics, finance, marketing, supply chain, management, and strategy. The delivery is face-to-face in an interactive, application-oriented approach to encourage participants to share their issues and learn from one another.
Look for Feedback Opportunities—Organizations that are committed to learning value feedback. So, look for programs that provide more than a perfunctory opportunity to listen to their participants. In the BAP, participants rate professors and class content as well as program relevance and how the BAP responds to participants’ needs throughout the program and periodically after they have completed the program.
Want to make sure that your professional development dollars are well spent? Spend some time evaluating your executive education options before you invest.
Blakely Fox Fender
Professor of Economics and BAP Director
Else School of Management
We are obsessed with rankings! We rank sports teams and sports players. We rank the best places to live and the best places to eat. We rank cities and states based on quality of life, health, and climate. We rank books and movies and songs. We do all this ranking as if cities and states and movies can objectively be judged from best to worst, as if the criteria are crystal clear and there is no ambiguity.
Rankings are critical during March Madness, when men and women play in the NCAA basketball tournaments. I have never seen a more exciting set of games than the 2018 women’s basketball semi-finals and championship. It was truly heartbreaking to see Mississippi State lose in the final seconds. Now that the championship trophy has been awarded, can we clearly rank the top four women’s teams in the nation?
Nope. If those same teams played again this weekend, we would likely have a different set of results. The teams were so evenly matched! Other variables, such as referees, venue, sleep and sheer luck also impact outcomes. Why was the Mississippi State loss so heartbreaking to their fans? They didn’t fail; they lost. There’s a difference. There was so much more to celebrate. It was tough to celebrate, though. In such a competitive environment, as the Billy Beane character said in the movie Moneyball, “If you lose the last game of the season, no one [cares]!” (His language was a little more colorful.) Only members of the last team standing are winners; everyone else is a loser.
An emphasis on ranking tends to separate people into winners and losers. This is unfortunate in a lot of situations, including sports. It is also unfortunate in the workplace, where cooperation among workers is usually critical to a company’s success.
Many managers rank their employees, largely in an attempt to reward outstanding performance and identify problem areas. Assessing performance makes sense, but why do managers feel the need to compare workers to each other? Instead, why not measure an employee’s performance based on an appropriate set of individual work goals and objectives? The myth is that managers can actually discern who the best performers are. The truth is, however, that performance criteria are rarely objective and are therefore susceptible to faulty perception and bias. In addition, contextual factors beyond the employees’ control, including the inputs of colleagues, often affect outcomes. The danger is that ranking leads to an unfair and erroneous distinction among workers: winners and losers. As in a sports tournament, an appraisal system can lead to many more losers than winners. It is demoralizing and frustrating for those who are making important contributions to be labeled as losers, though that may not be the intention of management. While it is true that organizations may have individuals who are instrumental in achieving organizational goals, everyone on the team plays an important role in the success of an organization and should be celebrated.
Diane Baker, PhD
Professor of Management
Else School of Management
Since the passage of the Tax Reform Act in 2017 you might be wondering, “what is the estate tax limit?” Under the new law, the federal estate and gift tax exemption amounts increased to $11,200,000 for individuals, and $22,400,000 for married couples. This is up from $5,490,000 and $10,980,000, respectively. That’s a pretty dramatic increase! It is enough for most people to think they no longer need estate planning—especially since state probate laws provide for basic asset transfers as a matter of law.
However, even with such high exemption limits and state transfer provisions, most people will still benefit from some form of estate planning.
The number one reason people plan their estate is control. Whether you have one million dollars or one hundred million dollars, everyone holds strong opinions about who will benefit from their wealth when they die. State probate laws will typically leave assets equally to spouses and children in the absence of a Will. If you prefer to divide assets differently, you need to draft one. This is especially true for blended families and couples not legally married. Modern households do not always resemble what bygone legislators envisioned.
Another aspect of estate planning control lies in who makes decisions regarding your assets and health, when you are no longer able to manage them. Powers of Attorney for finances and healthcare answer such questions, should you become incapacitated in any way. They prove necessary for everyone, regardless of wealth. A knowledgeable planner can help you consider directives needed for you to continue to live comfortably—in more ways than one.
Whether you are posthumously leaving thousands or millions of dollars to someone, passing assets to your heirs directly is not advisable. After all, it is not easy to predict when such occasions arise. If an heir is experiencing bankruptcy, divorce, or substance abuse problems, sudden large sums of unrestricted cash may prove detrimental. Trusts are a more sensible vehicle for inheritance. Their age and spendthrift restrictions will delay distribution of assets until specified requirements are met.
The third case for estate planning is change. Legal rights and tax laws are a perpetually moving target. In 2018, the estate tax exemption limit doubled. For people with estates between eleven million and twenty-two million with basic Wills written before this change leaving the aforementioned exemption amount to children in trust, the surviving spouse is now left with nothing because all assets will go into the kids’ trust. Another example involves same sex marriages. Currently they are legally recognized. But every year lawmakers threaten a change. Well-crafted Wills make it so that your wishes are carried out regardless of changes in law.
Instructor of Accounting
Else School of Management
Millennials’ behavior in the workplace has been a hot topic for close to a decade. Millennials, defined by Pew Research Center as those born between 1981 and 1996, are about to become the largest population in the U.S. labor force. Now that Generation Z, those born after 1996, are starting to enter the work force, what new dynamic will we face?
Many challenges have come with this mix of generations in the workplace, resulting from different experiences and expectations regarding technology, workplace culture, scheduling flexibility and more.
Recently, a question was posed to me about the ability of Millennials to communicate effectively. There was an underlying stereotype or misconception in this question, assuming Millennials lack the ability to communicate effectively without the aid of digital technology such as email, instant messaging, text, etc. All generations currently in the workforce can agree that email and messaging can be an effective means of communication, although they are not without pitfalls. For instance, a cryptic email or text can easily be misinterpreted.
A significant number of Millennials prefer communication through messaging apps. I communicate with friends and family on a daily basis, but if you look at my call log, you are likely only to find my Mom and in-laws on the list. However, if you look at my text log, email, or other messaging apps, you will find a significantly larger list of people with whom I communicate throughout the day. Should I rely instead on phone calls or face-to-face interactions in the workplace? Baby Boomers and Generation-Xers, compared with Millennials, may more likely answer “yes” to this question.
Digital technology will continue to evolve and the future will bring new means of communication. How will different generations define what are acceptable means of communication in the work environment? I agree that oral communication is more effective in some situations. However, I believe that work colleagues should develop a mutual understanding regarding when each method of communication is appropriate.
Is it reasonable to expect Millennials to accept interruptions throughout the day to respond to phone calls and face-to-face communication? As leaders, if we prefer oral modes of communication, it is our responsibility to communicate that to others. However, it is also our responsibility to recognize that digital modes of communication may be more effective in some instances. For example, urgent, complex or sensitive messages may require a more personal form of communication, but a quick text or email is more efficient for routine issues. When there is a communication failure, we should use it as a teaching moment to clarify each person’s expectations and needs.
Is it reasonable for some workers to reject technologies that are available, such as Skype for Business or email? If a leader does not embrace new communication technologies, what message is that sending to others? How do you develop a healthy balance that does not negatively impact workflow?
Communication failures can lead to business failures. What will you do to mitigate these communication breakdowns in your work environment?
Kim Hardy, CPA/CFF
Matthews, Cutrer and Lindsay, P.A.
Hiring employees is a daunting task. Employers spend significant resources selecting employees who can perform and who are also honest, hard-working, and will represent the company in a positive light. While searching for qualified employees, companies must also be cognizant of threats from lawsuits for negligent hiring, training, or supervision if their employee agents cause harm to the public. From negligence to assaults, how do companies protect themselves in the selection process? Moreover, how will new technologies change employee selection and the potential liability for an employee’s wrongful actions?
Companies have long sought ways to better predict employee behavior. Medical screenings, moral and social screenings, and psychological tests have been used for years. For example, in the early 1910s, Henry Ford even created a “Sociological Department” tasked with ensuring that only men of integrity would be hired. This department investigated employees’ homes to determine if the employees “gambled, drank excessively, had a dirty home, ate an unwholesome diet, sent money to foreign relatives, or engaged in other unacceptable behavior. . . .” Today, companies regularly run 50-state criminal background checks before extending employment offers. But today’s technology may do more than peer into your homes to determine a potential employee’s proclivities—soon companies may peer into their bodies and brains as well.
Consider companies such as 23andMe, a take-home/mail-in DNA testing service. The FDA recently granted 23andMe approval for home tests to identify genetic markers for breast cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s risks. Access to cheap genetic and biological information is readily available to be exploited. While the Genetic Information Nondisclosure Act (GINA) was passed to prevent employers from basing decisions on genetic information, Congress can only act so quickly. Current and near future technologies will far surpass the information gained from a simple genetic test and aren’t covered by Congressional prohibitions.
Today, technology can predict and monitor behavior in ways no one could have imagined even ten years ago. For example, fMRI scans have shown to be effective in predicting human behavior better than individuals can predict about themselves. Scans have shown to be reliable predictors of criminal recidivism, problem drinking during stress, and other potential behaviors. With an average cost of one million dollars for a negligent hiring settlement, the cost of a predictive fMRI may seem worth the investment.
All of this technology comes at a cost—and not just a financial one. Employer liability is measured by what the company knew or should have known about their employees. These standards shift as technologies are made available as better predictors. From monitored daycare to spying on our Uber drivers, the desire for safer interactions with employees will continue to push companies to employ more invasive technologies to provide those safer experiences. With the push of technology and the pull of potential liability for a failure to “know” your employees, monitoring and selecting employees is likely to become more and more invasive. Given these dueling escalations, If Henry Ford’s employee home searches seemed invasive, the thought of a pre-employment fMRI might really scramble your brain.
Professor of Business Law
Else School of Management
No, really, you can stop selling and stay in business—in fact, grow your organization. At least you can do that if Peter Drucker is to be believed. Drucker is, or was, a highly respected management guru who died in 2005. Wikipedia calls Drucker a "business thinker." I think of him more as a social critic. He was a prolific writer and it would be helpful if everyone who works in an organization, which is pretty much everyone who works, were to read all of Drucker. Since that's probably not going to happen, let's see if I can distill what he said about how you can stop selling and grow your organization.
In his magnum opus, and in this case, very long book, Drucker laid out how one might just be able to stop selling and do better. In fact, he might well argue that one MUST stop selling and start marketing. How's that work?
First, Drucker said a business has only one reason for being, "to create a customer" (emphasis in the original). Doing business entails only two functions, he further said, marketing and innovation. Therefore, every member of a business organization must be engaged in either marketing the business or innovating, or both. Since my intention here is to talk only about how you can stop selling and live to tell about it, I'll confine my discussion to who is responsible for carrying out the marketing function.
You can probably guess who Drucker said is responsible for marketing. You got it: everyone in the organization is responsible for marketing. If you aren't marketing all the time every day, you aren't doing what you're supposed to be doing. If you're asking, "What do we want to sell?" rather than asking, "What does the customer want to buy?" you are not asking the right question. You must, Drucker said, always in every way be seeking how your firm can better satisfy customers' needs and fulfill their values. If you get all this right, you're really marketing and you can stop selling. To use Drucker's words, "...the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous."
As Japanese firms began to rise to dominance in consumer electronics and to some degree in automobiles as well, one observer (I wish I remember who) said, "The Japanese seek to make marketable products whereas U.S. manufacturers seek to market makeable products." That may not be an exact quote, but it's close. This seems to be the essence of what Drucker said.
So start marketing and you can stop selling. Oh, don't forget to innovate. So, On your marketing, Get set, GO!
Patrick Taylor, PhD
Associate Professor of Economics
Else School of Management
I have been immeasurably blessed to work with hundreds of entrepreneurs over the span of my 15-year career as an attorney. Many of my clients have successfully launched, built strong brands, and exited. On the other hand, I have seen entrepreneurs with potentially market valid products or services fail to gain any real traction.
What characteristics or factors create the dividing line between entrepreneurs who can execute and those who fall short? Is the distinguishing factor intellectual ability as demonstrated by academic success? Probably not. There are countless stories of entrepreneurial success where founders of transformative companies either dropped out of high school or college. Bill Gates is a solid Exhibit A.
Are successful entrepreneurs born into social networks that provide an advantage over others? A vast social network is helpful, but this cannot be the answer either. There are numerous stories of highly successful entrepreneurs who came from abject poverty before finding success. Jay-Z was selling crack in a Brooklyn housing project long before he became one of the most successful music moguls.
If entrepreneurial success is not necessarily dictated exclusively by academic achievement or social status, what characteristics do high achieving entrepreneurs possess that others may not? I believe there are four key characteristics: vision, passion, adaptability, and resilience.
Innovation cannot happen without vision, the ability not only to recognize opportunity and connect dots, but also the wherewithal to question why a solution does not exist to a problem. Truly successful entrepreneurs have the ability to frame the future before it happens and to cast a vision of an improved condition before others recognize the issue.
Entrepreneurs are unfathomably passionate and mission focused. They lead from the heart and possess an unshakeable sense of purpose. Entrepreneurship offers a journey with no clear path. Without passion, most people are not able to weather the storm of rejection and short-term failures.
Entrepreneurs must be adaptable. We live in a highly dynamic world where conditions, economic and otherwise, change very rapidly and generally beyond our control. Entrepreneurs must be flexible, nimble, and self-aware enough to quickly adapt to changing externalities.
The one certainty with entrepreneurship is failure. Many failures, at least on the surface, appear fatal and cause many people to simply walk away from the idea. Resilient entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are able to sidestep failure, pivot, and move in a different direction. The most successful entrepreneurs have lengthy resumes chalked full of failure; but, due to resilience, these people only had to be right once.
There are certainly other character traits and influences that play a role in entrepreneurial success; these are simply four of the most common characteristics I have witnessed in impactful entrepreneurs. Regardless of whether you are an entrepreneur in the pure sense or an intrapreneur solving problems within a large organization, remember these eternally true words of Steve Jobs: "The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do."
I am a certified Project Management Professional (PMP). Much of my career was directly related to that field. I delivered many software implementation projects as a consultant for a large technology company and created and ran a Project Management Office for the IT division of an international retailer.
I don’t do that kind of work any longer, but I’m not about to let my certification, granted through the Project Management Institute, lapse. And no, it isn’t just because it was a lot of hard work to study and pass the exam (although it did remind me of my time at the Else School—I hadn’t studied that hard since graduation in 1994). I am keeping that certification because project management serves me well no matter what direction my career takes.
As a healthcare marketing executive, I find many uses for my project management skills and background. Let me share with you one way I used those skills when I first started my new job with a healthcare provider in Jackson. The provider’s public relations department reports to me. We annually publish a magazine that highlights many of the success stories we have each year treating patients and restoring ability to those who have suffered devastating and life changing illnesses and injuries. Right outside my office is a row of cabinets adorned with a plethora of awards that this magazine and this department have won over the years for their excellent work telling our stories. It is a really good magazine. I tweaked the look a bit but I certainly wasn’t going to mess with the formula of success.
But what I did do was institute a simple process, using a spreadsheet, to track the creation of this magazine—I put together a project plan. As a result, we know the stories we are including, where in the process we are for completing that story, and what we have left to do to finish our magazine and send it out for 32,000 copies to be printed and distributed.
Our PR director questioned why I was doing this. “We’ve never NOT finished it on time before!” she said. I told her that I didn’t doubt that we had, but now we have a way of knowing where we are in the course of the project and more importantly, we can easily report our exact progress up the organization chart and show when we would be ready to debut our magazine. Being able to do that helped me sleep better—and gave my boss one less thing to worry about.
I’m not advocating that everyone get their PMP, but you should understand a little about the project management process. It will serve you well no matter where you work or what you do for a living. It might even help you get organized around the house!
Douglas R. Boone, PMP
Vice President, Business Development and Community Relations
Methodist Rehabilitation Center
Coffee breaks, gyms, team building, and skills training—these are some of the traditional ways employers attempt to increase productivity in their employees. But what if we could create a harder working, quicker thinking, super-employee through more direct means?
Research in neuroscience has exploded, having significant implications for employment law and employee management. The ability to alter mental states and behaviors through neurointerventions has captured the attention of researchers. While many neurointervention technologies are speculative or still in the earlier stages, some are readily available. For example, magnetic stimulation of certain parts of the brain has been shown to improve associative memory, the drug modafinil has been shown to improve alertness during sleep deprivation, and propranolol has been used to virtually abolish implicit racial bias in subjects. While these neurointerventions are prescribed in patients with existing diagnoses such as narcolepsy, the use of these interventions in "normally functioning" humans has the potential of creating an enhanced individual—a "supernormal" person.
So can we make better employees by drugging them? For example, instead of selecting employees who can stay awake and alert during long shifts, why not create them with modafinil? If these neurointerverntions were readily available, might employers require them as part of their job functions?
Questions such as these are likely to raise the hackles of many civil libertarians and employment lawyers, conjuring Orwellian visions of large corporations exploiting workers. However, one may be surprised to find that job seekers are making the choice to use neurointerventions in order to compete. Employees may take Adderall or Provigil to be more alert and focused and may choose to hide their use in order to maintain a silent advantage. Today's college students have been raised in a world where Adderall is commonplace and may not think twice about taking it or other agents either voluntarily or as a condition of their employment. It is no secret that orchestra musicians routinely take propranolol beta-blockers to control stage fright and calm nerves before a performance. In highly competitive work environments like Silicon Valley, employees are regularly using neurointerventions to compete against other companies and probably against their supernormal co-workers.
The question is not whether these interventions will be used, but how will employers respond when employees use these substances with no apparent side effects? Philosopher Nicole Vincent of Macquarie University in Australia warns of the "new normal" phenomenon. As more employees begin to use enhancing substances, other employees may feel pressured to use their own neurointerventions to remain competitive. This pressure and corresponding "creep" in performance standards may be the next ethical dilemma for managers to address. Do employers take advantage of the supernormal employee with their enhanced productivity or do employers address the fact that there may be a limit to unenhanced human endurance and encourage a more balanced work atmosphere?
The Supernormal employee is here; how will you respond?
Professor of Business Law
Else School of Management
For citations to the relevant studies and articles, please contact the author.
First of all, let me confine my comments to business success. However, most of my comments also apply to your personal life and goals.
Success can be defined as achieving a desired vision or planned goal. It may also include reaching a certain social or financial status. Another aspect of success is being recognized by your peers for your level of achievement or expertise.
Successful people surround themselves with people who are smarter, more experienced, and/or better connected. Regardless of your personal skills, no one can succeed in isolation or insulation. You must relate well to all of the people who are a part of your life. Personal growth comes when you are exposed to different people and circumstances. Instead of surrounding yourself with people who think, act, or even look like you, broaden your horizon. Reach out to a diverse group of people who will help broaden your thinking and perspective. Networking is invaluable and part of your broadening experience.
Too many people think they can achieve success by relying solely on their skill set. Nothing could be further from the truth. You must carefully analyze and evaluate yourself, accepting your own weaknesses and gaps. Once you do this, you can begin to enhance your own skills and recognize the skills in others who are in a position to help you.
There are many ways to build up your skill base:
Achieving success requires that you work harder, but more importantly, smarter. Surround yourself with smart people, give them the resources they need, let them make mistakes, recognize their expertise and contributions, and get out of their way. It is amazing how good they will make you look.
Former Dean, Else School of Management
Managers are receiving a bad rap in my opinion.
I enjoy learning and sharing about leadership, so I keep up fairly well with the current literature. Additionally, I have been an adjunct professor at the graduate level for about 14 years often teaching on management / leadership using various texts.
I have seen a bit of a disturbing trend in the literature and online that sends, or implies, the message "Leaders = Good, Managers = Bad." People are encouraged "don't be a manager, be a leader!" as if managers are not leaders. That is the wrong message!
The contrast some writers make is actually about being a good boss versus a bad boss. For others, the distinction is that leaders operate at a strategic level while managers work at an operational or tactical level. The implication here is that the strategic is more important than the tactical. However, we all know that unless it is well executed at the tactical level, a strategy is meaningless. Leadership skills are required to transform strategies into action.
Managers are leaders and supervisors are leaders! Without managers and supervisors, we would never get anything done! They are leading the teams that are actually doing the work.
What we really have are:
Strategic Leaders or Managers (Executives)—setting organizational level vision, direction, and strategy.
Operational Leaders or Managers (Directors and Senior Managers)—coordinating the work of multiple tactical level teams in order to execute the strategy set by the strategic leaders.
Tactical Leaders or Managers (Managers and Supervisors)—leading the teams of people actually doing the work of the organization.
So, please do not use the term "manager" as if it is somehow less than the term "leader." Being a manager is an honorable role and it is a leadership role.
When you search Wikipedia for "cooking the books," the website brings up "creative accounting." It's interesting to me that the term "creative accounting" has such a negative connotation. It has long been a way of referencing accounting practices that may literally uphold the laws and regs, but miss the intent, or spirit, of the law. I want to challenge this way of thinking about creative accounting. Why? Because I know that creativity in the accounting profession is a requirement. We're not compromising ethical standards, not at all. But the concept of creativity means understanding that business as usual is not the business of the future. Or as we say in my firm, "Status quo is not an option!"
With a large compliance burden, it seems accountants are always operating in historian mode. But I can no longer add real lasting value if I am only reporting on what happened in my client's business last year. We must collaborate with our clients to be creative in order to be relevant for the future. We need quiet time to think, plan, dream, create . . . This can be a huge struggle in the accounting business.
Accountants are commonly characterized as "left brainers," that is, more comfortable with numbers and quantitative analysis than with intuition and free thinking. While there is some truth that "left brain" tendencies can lead a person to choose an accounting career, each of us has to learn to use both sides of our brain to our maximum advantage. It requires effort for many to cross over. Even as I write this, I am forced to get away and allow myself time to think in the abstract, away from the tasks of the day. It doesn't come naturally for many of us but it is incredibly freeing when we allow ourselves to purposefully explore both quantitative and intuitive sides of the brain. We can create things we never imaged if we engage both sides effectively.
In my firm, when we talk about "creativity" it usually comes in the form of "Forward Thinking" or a "Windshield View." Forward thinking means we are continuously working to be "preactive," a term from Daniel Burrus' book, Flash Foresight; we strive to anticipate needs and respond accordingly. Having a windshield view means we are focused on where we are going, planning for the future and doing what hasn't been done before. We take risks. And we're doing our best to eliminate the phrase, "This is how we've always done it," from our conversations.
As we strive for flexibility in our work life while balancing a full plate, what is most often the first thing to go? THINK time! I would challenge us all to schedule this time into our days. Push yourself outside your box. Embrace both the logic and creative parts of your brain. Create something bigger than yourself and bring others along on your journey.
Creativity in accounting is not only possible, it's an absolute requirement!
Marsha H. Dieckman, CPA
Partner in Charge, Wealth Strategies, Firmwide Director of Tax Operations
Using the story of your business is an excellent way to help solve the problem of low employee engagement and declining customer loyalty. Presented properly and creatively, it will increase sales, motivate employees, and improve your company's image.
So what is story anyway? There are many definitions and so-called ingredients. Aristotle said that a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In his book Poetics, he also said that the beginning is not necessarily the first event in a story. There should be an emotionally engaging event to begin the story. Today's fiction writers are told that a good story should be about a likable character facing an increasingly difficult series of setbacks who overcomes adversity and is changed in the end. Using those as backdrop thoughts, let's examine the possible elements of your business story.
Your story should include a story about a character. Most likely it will be the founder of the company. Although you probably want only positive information out in public about your company, people love stories about people who have overcome adversity. Don't be afraid to tell about some negative things that happened, whether they be mistaken decisions, family feuds or even bankruptcy.
Your character will be in the company of some well-known characters who have overcome adversity. For example, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and investor/panelist on Shark Tank, once worked as a short-order cook and a server in an upscale restaurant. He was deemed incompetent at both jobs because he could not decide if the food was done unless he tasted it first and at the high-class restaurant he could never open wine bottles without getting cork in the wine. His net worth today is said to be over $3 billion. Harland David Sanders, aka "Colonel Sanders," at age 65 had his restaurant go bankrupt when the state rerouted a major highway. He then used his first social security check, which was all the money he had, to start up Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Walt Disney's first animation studio went bankrupt and he was once fired from a newspaper job because he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas." That list goes on and on.
Your company story should also include the history of the company. Restaurants, in particular, that have been around for a long time have great stories. Even banks often have compelling stories about their founding and growth.
Another element of a business story is the future. The story should not end with only the present. A good story is one that moves people to action. Invite your readers to become part of the future by patronizing your business.
Phil Hardwick, MBA
Director of Business Analysts
Else School of Management
"Don’t take it personal, its just business!" Well, that’s not always true from a customer’s perspective. Research shows that loyal customers take things personally.
My research for the past 10 years has focused on understanding how to engender loyalty with online consumers. Loyalty in ecommerce can be a tricky business because switching costs are not very high when you are shopping online. So, how can organizations and brands facilitate long-term customer relationships and encourage customer loyalty online?
Rule number 1: Exceeding expectations = highly satisfied customers.
To exceed customer expectations, organizations need to know what their customers expect at each stage of the business-to-consumer (B2C) relationship, whether the relationship is a short fling or a long-term, loyal commitment. As I have studied these B2C relationships, I have found that humans approach our B2C relationships in much the same way we do our interpersonal relationships. We have specific needs that, if met, will result in a mutually beneficial association. Companies that understand their customer needs, and meet those needs, enjoy a sometimes-fierce competitive advantage. So, what are those needs?
Psychology research about interpersonal relationships between humans find that long-term committed relationships can exhibit 5 different stages: Attraction, Build-up, Continuance, Deterioration, and Ending. Using a similar framework, I have found that many of the key concepts and findings from that research also apply to online customer relationships.
In the attraction stage, consumers are drawn to a new website if it is visually appealing, highly functioning, and has personalized content that communicates commitment to their needs (needs differ for different target markets).
In the build-up stage, consumers show increased interest and assess the interactions they have with the organization. Successful relationship build-up corresponds with self-disclosure of personal information. Consumers look for an organization they can trust, one that offers a rewarding experience with few costs associated with switching from a competitor.
The maintenance stage is characterized by an established B2C relationship and is marked by loyalty, high satisfaction, trust, and a lot of time spent on the website. At this stage, switching costs to a competitor are high.
The B2C relationship may enter a deterioration stage when the consumer considers switching to another brand, organization, product, or website. At this stage, consumers develop an interest in more attractive alternative sites, perhaps motivated by perceptions of unfairness, miscommunication, and/or general dissatisfaction that leads to a general perception of inequity of the B2C relationship.
A restoration stage is possible if the company can identify and resolve the conflict or perceived unfairness. In this stage, the consumer once again exhibits loyalty resulting from effective communication and healthy conflict resolution.
Organizations that focus on meeting their customer needs at each stage of a B2C relationship can attract and retain loyal customers.
Kelly Gene Cook, Sr. Chair of Business Administration
Associate Professor of Information Systems
Else School of Management
Recognizing that change is one of the inevitabilities of organizational survival, several years ago, business writer Alan Deutschman popularized the phrase “Change or die.” But, while change may occur at an exceedingly fast rate in today’s society, the need for change and adaptability is not new to business or even contemporary times. Resistance to necessary change is also an old phenomenon. As we begin the new year, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at what some of our more classic writers have had to say over the centuries on the importance of change and our resistance to it:
“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” —Niccolo Machiavelli
“It is a bad plan that admits of no modification.” —Publilius Syrus, First Century BC
“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” —C.S. Lewis
“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” —Charles Darwin
“The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” —Kakuzo Okakaura
“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” —Henri Bergson
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow.” —Lao Tzu
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” —Niccolo Machiavelli
“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” —John Kenneth Galbraith
We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.
Kim Burke, PhD
Dean of the Else School of Management
Professor of Accounting
This blog is dedicated to Dr. Shirley Olson (Management) and Dr. Pat Taylor (Economics) who touch so many lives with their wisdom, wit and compassion.
Readers of this blog understand the notion of business competition very well. Perhaps you own or are employed by a company with many competitors, all of whom are essentially “price takers” with little or no ability to influence the overall market price level. Within such sectors, a common approach to business strategy involves differentiating one’s product or service and adjusting the asking price accordingly, carefully balancing a premium (discount) price strategy against customers’ preferences and ability to choose a competitor’s lower (higher) priced product or service.
Readers familiar with commodity businesses – e.g., agricultural products, minerals – recognize the challenge of differentiating the product so as to warrant a premium price because, by definition, commodities are essentially identical (i.e., generally uniform in quality across producers). As true “price takers,” managers of commodity businesses tend to focus on costs, output volumes and efficiency as measures to be profitable and generate adequate returns for owners. This approach can yield positive outcomes in many circumstances but is not without exceptions. One such exception is the global oil business.
The global oil industry is generally viewed as a highly competitive industry that produces one commodity (crude oil) which is then transformed into other commodities (refined products such as gasoline, diesel, heating oil, jet fuel, etc.). The global oil industry is comprised of numerous companies acting independently to maximize shareholder wealth. There are hundreds of such independent companies in the United States and Canada, with more competitors based in other countries. An intriguing aspect of global oil is that the industry also includes a small group of producers who collude on output volumes. Consequently, managers of the firms acting independently are confronted with an especially difficult set of challenges regarding business strategy and long-term investment decisions. This is because those strategic decisions need to account for not only the basic fundamentals of future supply and demand, but also for potential behavioral changes made by the cartel. Insofar as the cartel’s behavior (in choosing to collectively increase or decrease output) influences market price, a forward price view built solely on expected market supply and demand fundamentals can turn out to be inaccurate by a large margin. This can leave companies with either unprofitable investments in low price environments or sub-optimal profitability in high price environments (because larger capital spending would have been warranted).
What does all this mean for how senior managers of oil companies develop and implement business strategy? It means that many management teams devote a lot of attention to the long-term view on commodity prices, preparing business plans that are resilient to industry cycles. They must be able to thrive through down turns while making the most of up turns. They must carefully manage operating costs in all price environments. And they must retain and develop people, as people are the most valuable asset in any company.
Helen Currie, PhD*
*The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author.
As my 8-year-old prepared to take the field for her last soccer game of the season, the theme of the pregame “pep talk” (to the extent there can be a pep talk prior to a U9 girls soccer game) was to focus on the process over the product. My daughter and her JFC Galaxy teammates listened seemingly intently as the coach explained the application of this message in hopes that all of the instruction about playing in space and keeping separation would be applied in this final match.
If you are a parent, you may have heard teachers or others in academia use the phrase process over product in the context of childhood and adolescent learning and development. The concept of process over product is not novel and actually transcends many aspects of our lives, whether that be personal relationships, learning a new skill, or trying to knock off an opposing soccer team.
On this particular day though, as I listened to the coach apply this message to soccer, my mind immediately transitioned to one of my favorite quotes by Michael Dell, a quote that I have shared with countless clients: “Ideas are a commodity. Execution of them is not.”
The parallels between this Michael Dell quote and the concept of process over product became obvious to me; and, the application of process over product to business became even more obvious. The idea, or the vision of the product, is the easy part. The execution, through a potentially limitless number of processes, is the challenging part.
Aspiring entrepreneurs, and in certain circumstances more seasoned business professionals, all too often focus on the product, or the end result, and neglect processes necessary to reach the end. The performance of key functions like building teams, the dissemination of due diligence requests to potential investors or lenders, onboarding and terminating employees, and contract management and negotiation all present undeniable risks without sound processes.
Sound processes are agnostic to goods or services and indiscriminate of industry. Whether you are launching a scalable internet and app based product or manufacturing craft beer, sound and deliberate processes are critically important to success. Ideas and visions of the end are inspiring and exciting; but, it is those individuals and organizations that focus on sound processes over the product that experience success over the long term.
At Millsaps College’s Else School of Management, our philosophy has always been that as educators we must foster and nurture an entrepreneurial spirit in our students and motivate them to strive to achieve life goals that go beyond ordinary endeavors. By offering an academically challenging, innovative curriculum, we have provided our students a strong foundation in fundamental business skills as well as general abilities such as critical thinking, communication, quantitative thinking, and historical consciousness.
More than 30 years ago, the faculty at Millsaps College’s Else School of Management became convinced that our students would benefit from direct exposure to international businesses. The globalization of business is a fact and its impact on organizations and society affects them personally. Recognizing the increasing importance of international business, the Else School created an international business program designed to focus on global awareness and cultural sensitivity.
Over a long summer session, our program offers students an opportunity to travel, study, and live in Europe with professors from Millsaps College. Each summer we visit at least three European cities, each with its distinctive culture and business practices. During the winter intersession, we offer an intense course that requires students to travel and live in Latin America for a two-week period.
Globalization requires educators to prepare students to be much more than merely technically competent. At Millsaps College’s Else School of Management, we work to involve students and business leaders in an interactive learning environment. We make every effort to bring "real world" experiences into the classroom, whether that classroom is “Across the Street or Around the Globe.”
It is with a sense of urgency that we realize that we must broaden business education so that our graduates can help lead the economy of this country as we compete beyond our local, state, and national borders. We at the Else School have made a commitment to introduce our students to the broader world, starting with local, regional, and national businesses and moving beyond to the international business community.
Jesse Beeler, PhD, CPA
Director, International Business Programs
Else School of Management
Do you remember when Mississippi was home to the Fortune 500 company WorldCom? In 2001, WorldCom was the second largest long-distance telephone and data services company in the U.S. It was headquartered in Clinton, MS, on a large, beautiful campus that could be seen by all motorists on I-20. WorldCom was a point of pride for the state and the city of Clinton. That is, until WorldCom managers responded to sudden and significant revenue declines with fraud. The shocking illegal conduct of WorldCom, Enron, and other companies around the turn of the century motivated the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB), the accrediting body for business schools (including Millsaps), to intensify its efforts to promote ethics education.
Ethics courses in business schools have more than doubled since 2004, the year AACSB began calling for more ethics education. And yet, ethical lapses continue to proliferate in the workplace, providing plenty of source material for news outlets such as Corruption Currents, the Wall Street Journal’s blog describing companies that are involved in financial, bribery, and money-laundering scandals. Admittedly, it is difficult to assess the impact that an increased emphasis on ethics education in business schools has had, but statistics from government agencies such as SEC, OSHA, and the EPA show no reduction in violations over the last decade. Critics have also questioned the ethical judgment of some decision-makers who may not have broken any laws, but seem more interested in economic gains than in the welfare of employees, customers and the community. Examples include drastic price increases for vital medicines, delayed decisions to remove dangerous products from the market, the replacement of current employees with lower paid immigrant labor, and deceptive consumer practices.
In addition to offering ethics courses, the Else School of Management teaches ethical decision-making “across the curriculum.” That is, making ethical choices is a fundamental value that informs all our discussions and cases. Nevertheless, scholars and practitioners know that, when it comes to doing ethical behavior in the workplace, context matters. In the WorldCom case, for example, unethical decisions were made by otherwise good people. Scott Sullivan, WorldCom’s CFO, actually relied on the compassion of his staff to encourage them to continue the fraud. He compared the situation to an aircraft carrier; the accounting modifications were needed so that the “planes” (the company’s investors, employees, and pensioners) could safely “land” without ruining their financial positions. The accountants knew it was wrong, but the emotional appeal worked; they became willing accomplices to fraud and were later arrested.
Business educators give students a strong foundation in ethical decision-making, but that is not enough. Organizational leaders must model ethical behavior and create a culture and reward system that encourages employees to do the right thing. Otherwise, the social and economic pressures of the moment can lead to immoral behavior, and possibly even turn a law-abiding citizen into a convicted felon.
Diane Baker, PhD
Professor of Management
Else School of Management
Sooner or later, business leaders become community leaders. That often means providing leadership for a nonprofit organization. If you have been selected for a leadership role at a nonprofit organization, consider these seven steps to make it one of the best years ever for the organization and for you.
1. Understand Leadership. There is no shortage of books on the leadership at your local bookstore. One wonders how many variations of leadership there can be. Peter Drucker, business management expert and author, wrote The Effective Executive over 40 years ago and it has stood the test of time. In it he said that effective executives do the following:
2. Understand Community. In this case, the community is your organization and its stakeholders. The common interest of your community is whatever the organization aspires to be or do. That should be found in the organization’s mission statement. Make sure that your organization’s members feel that they belong. Engage them. Communicate with them.
3. Set Personal Goals. Think ahead to the end of the year. It’s the annual banquet and you are in front of the group summarizing what has been accomplished during the year. What will you be saying? What are YOUR goals for the organization? What are the barriers to achieving those goals? Are they consistent with the organization’s goals?
4. Survey the Environment. Determine what needs to be done. Review the past five years’ minutes and budget. Meet with past leaders and other influential members to determine the real issues.
5. Plan the Year. One of the best ways to develop a plan is to have a strategic planning retreat. The steps in strategic planning are (a) situational analysis, i.e., where are we now, (b) visioning, i.e., where do we want to go, (c) goal setting, i.e., how we will get there, and (d) implementation. The first three steps are what should be accomplished at the retreat. It may also be a good idea to look ahead three years or so to set the stage for the future on some matters. One of the best things about having a retreat is that it engages members of the organization in the process of setting goals. It creates a sense of ownership of the goals.
6. Implement the Plan. To fully implement the plan, you’ll need to communicate effectively, run efficient meetings, follow up on plans and initiatives, and hold others accountable.
7. Celebrate Success. Celebrating success does two things that are very important—it gives the organization a chance to (1) look back and (2) look forward. Celebrations can range from the standard sit-down dinner and guest speaker to something more creative. In any event, the real heroes of the year both inside and outside of the organization should be recognized. Mention the goals that were set at the retreat, the goals that were accomplished, and the lives who were made better.
Here’s wishing you and your organization the best year ever.
Phil Hardwick, MBA
Director of Business Analysts
Else School of Management
Communicating effectively with family and friends is incredibly difficult as we all know. When it comes to a leader trying to communicate with their team, it seems to become exponentially more difficult!
At one point in my career, I was the chief of staff for a very intelligent CEO. He is one of those people who seems to have an idea a minute and thinks out loud. The problem for his directors was that they often did not know if he was giving them direction, asking them for their opinions, or just expressing an idea. One of my roles as chief of staff was to “interpret” messages sent between the directors and the CEO. Many times I would walk into the CEO’s office and say something along the line of “Chris is beginning to implement XYZ that you discussed the other day in your office—is that really what you want to do?” Often the CEO would look at me a bit confused because he did not even remember what he had said; he had no intention for Chris to do anything at all. At other times, I would have to go to a director’s office and tell them that the CEO really did want them to follow through on what he said and that it wasn’t just an idea. As you can imagine, things got a bit confused at times, which often resulted in wasted effort and unnecessary frustration.
Fortunately, we had a relationship with the company Ambassador Enterprises, LLC, which has a brilliant CEO who also seems to have an idea a minute. The difference is that they have developed a powerful tool to clarify their communications, which has greatly improved their effectiveness. That tool is called “The Five Levels of Communication.”
Level 1—An Idea. Throw an idea into the hopper; no action required.
Level 2—A Suggestion. The leader has thought about an idea and would like you to do so as well.
Level 3—A Recommendation. The leader has thought about the idea a good bit and wants you to consider implementing it unless there is a good reason not to do so. A suggestion may be appealed.
Level 4—A Directive. As it suggests, the leader wants action taken unless there is a compelling reason not to do so. A directive may be appealed.
Level 5—A Mandate. This is the equivalent of the house is on fire and get out. No questions, no appeal—just do it. This is very rarely used.
When we implemented this system, or way of talking, at our organization, the level of misunderstanding was greatly lowered. I use this approach often now and always to a good result.
It is vital that leaders communicate clearly to their teams. Using this framework, this way of talking, will greatly help achieve that needed clarity. The result is more effective teams and a more effective organization.
I had a difficult conversation at work the other day that I wish I had handled better. While it’s not uncommon for me to replay important or controversial conversations in my head after the fact, this one really stuck with me because it didn’t have to be as difficult as it was. The particular subject of this conversation isn’t particularly important. Suffice it to say that we had participated in a written communication that resulted in misunderstanding and hurt on both sides. In attempting to work through the chain of communication and diffuse the situation, both of us kept insisting, “that is not what I meant.”
Our insistence on our good intentions reminded me of a book I recently read, 35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say, by Dr. Maura Cullen. The book provides insight into reducing the diversity gap by improving our communication skills. Before exploring the particular dumb things we say, Dr. Cullen introduces several core concepts underlying her recommendations. The first concept she explores is the difference between intent and impact, noting that even well-intended people can cause harm.
When our communications have a negative impact, we tend to want our intentions to relieve us of the need to take responsibility. If we mean no harm but manage to say something we regret, then “I didn’t mean that,” becomes a plea for understanding. But when someone else says something hurtful, we don’t tend to focus on understanding their intent. To illustrate, Dr. Cullen suggests we imagine driving a car and taking our eyes off the road for one minute during which time we hit a pedestrian. Our first reaction is probably going to be that it was an accident; we had no intent to cause harm. Yet, for the pedestrian, our intention provides little comfort—he or she remains broken and bruised. That’s not to suggest that intentions are unimportant—I would far rather that the driver did not mean to run down the poor pedestrian—but at the end of the day, the pedestrian is no less hurt.
Thinking back on the conversation I wish I had handled better, I believe that neither one of us meant to cause harm to the other. But we were careless with our words and so focused on expressing our thoughts and making our points, that neither one of us considered the impact on the other. Could we have spent some time considering the power of our words rather than our intended message? Absolutely. Had we done so, might we have engaged in a meaningful dialogue rather than having to spend our time unravelling our poor communication? Very probably. Is it a mistake I’ll probably make again? Most likely. But being mindful of the difference between intention and impact can certainly improve my odds.
Kim Burke, PhD
Dean of the Else School of Management
Professor of Accounting
Employee retention begins with effective leadership. In an increasingly competitive job market, organizations are facing the critical challenge to retain employees they want to keep. Jobs are rapidly outpacing the number of qualified workers to fill them, increasing the likelihood of top talent being heavily sourced by other organizations. On top of that, new work behaviors from employees are challenging conventional ideas while many managers are using outdated approaches to motivate their workers. Organizations have to change the way they operate to remain competitive.
To paraphrase Abraham Maslow, author of Theory of Human Motivation, what a person can be, they must be. Maslow’s conclusion speaks volumes as to how leaders should approach retaining employees. Learning and understanding why people leave organizations gives a better perspective on why people stay and gives insight about how to influence these decisions. A common misconception is that people leave for pay. Although it’s true that people do leave to take higher paying jobs elsewhere, pay is not the root cause of most turnover. Employees often leave due to too little coaching and feedback, the lack of feeling recognized and valued, and too few growth and advancement opportunities.
It’s incumbent upon managers to shift from the mindset of managing to leading. Managers are going to have to challenge the traditional ideas of management and push back on the many business practices that are outdated and no longer relevant. This is challenging for some managers because so many are stuck focusing on input rather than output. For example, technology has made connecting with others and the world so much easier with tools such as WebEx, Google Hangout/Docs, and SharePoint, to name a few. Yet managers today, at an alarming rate, focus on the amount of time that employees “appear” to spend time doing something and not on what they actually produce. This is just one of many examples of how a fundamental shift in understanding current and future workers can assist in attracting and retaining top talent in organizations.
Organizations now more than ever need their managers to get comfortable with inspiring and engaging employees, challenging assumptions, building trust, providing real-time feedback, understanding and leveraging technology while embracing their own vulnerabilities to develop employees and create a culture conducive to the rapidly and ever-changing business landscape. Any employee has the potential to become a leader, but a manager who is responsible for those employees must be a leader.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” —Leo Tolstoy
“When you’re finished changing . . . you’re finished.” —Benjamin Franklin
Sr. Manager, Leader and Team Performance
Allen, D. G., Bryant, P. C., & Vardaman, J. M. (2010). Retaining talent: Replacing misconceptions with evidence-based strategies. Acadamy of Management Perspectives , 24 (2), 48-64.
Maslow, A. (1943). The Theory of Human Motivation (Vol. 50). New York: Psychological Review.
It was the initial meeting for my latest ELSEWorks assignment. After handing a few thick documents to me across a table in the Murrah Hall basement, Mr. Hardwick smiled, leaned back in his chair, and gave me perhaps the most influential piece of business advice I have ever received: “Just tell the story.”
Those words can set a person free. Free to write a project grant, free to make a presentation entirely one’s own, free to create an innovative business brand, free to dream with an entrepreneurial spirit. Storytelling, as a creative pursuit, may seem at odds with typical business objectives and mindsets. In a world driven by revenues, expenses, and the almighty bottom line, there doesn’t seem like there’s room for anything other than the hard facts and figures. But I don’t believe that particular perspective anymore. Business, especially socially responsible business, should touch something a little more human. Everything, and everyone, has a story.
Adjacent to the Millsaps College campus is a neighborhood called Midtown. Once named Factory Heights, Midtown used to be an industrial neighborhood but when its manufacturing days ended, the area fell into severe decline, exacerbated by neglect and limited resources. Today, Midtown reflects the possibilities of “from the ground, up” revitalization, boasting an active creative economy, growing Arts District, dynamic neighborhood association, and continued business development.
The narrative is important. The changes seen in Midtown are the result of the collaborative efforts of Midtown residents and entrepreneurs, aided by Midtown Partners and ELSEWorks. Together, they represent a large group of passionate people who share the same goals and continue to work relentlessly to achieve them. It is our commonalities that make progress possible. It can sometimes be a fine line to walk, especially when proverbial “outsiders” talk of bringing in new people and new businesses to an existing place with its own culture and identity. Without cohesive interests, aligned values, and mutually beneficial business offerings, we threaten to gentrify the neighborhood. That is not the tale we wish to tell.
What ELSEWorks does within Midtown is organic and without agenda, seeking to bring useful economic development into the neighborhood in a way that preserves the identity of the community. Business is more than the sum total of what it does and physically creates. It is about exhibiting a level of humanity that transcends the traditional worship of net profit. It is about knowing and respecting people, whether they are who you work with, who you work for, the people you hope to help, or the people you wish to serve. In the end, it is with people, because of people, and in people that a business finds its true source of power and success. I have seen it in projects as wide ranging as art galleries and beer gardens. That is the narrative I wish to tell, the account I now believe in, the plot I hope to continue to pen.
The story of Midtown is not yet finished.
ELSEWorks Business Analyst
According to Investopedia a bull market is a financial market in which security prices are rising or are expected to rise. The term bull market most often refers to the stock market but can be applied to anything that is traded, such as bonds, currencies and commodities. Bull markets are characterized by optimism, investor confidence and expectations that strong results should continue. It is difficult to predict consistently when the trends in the market might change. Part of the difficulty is that psychological effects and speculation may sometimes play a large role in the markets.
From March of 2009 to today (October 17, 2017), the stock market as measured by the S&P 500 has increased at an annual rate of 18.75 percent. This is particularly excellent performance when compared to an inflation rate of below 2.0% for the same period of time. I think this qualifies as a bull market. When will the inevitable correction come? I don’t know.
This current bull market is a long one by historical standards. In fact, depending on how you measure it, this current run may be the longest bull market in U.S. history.
Going back through time, the bull market just previous to the current one was the 1995 through 1999 Internet Bubble. Remember pre-internet days? Many of you probably don’t. During this five year bull market the S&P 500 posted an average annual return of 28.7% with a low 2.37% inflation rate. This bull market brought the term irrational exuberance into our business lexicon. It was also followed by a three year bear market.
The bull market prior to the Internet bubble ran from 1982 through 1989. The S&P 500 increased at an annual rate of 19.29% for this 8-year period with a 3.75% inflation rate. Remember the go-go 80’s, Reaganomics, falling oil prices, lower taxes, lower inflation, and Gordon Gekko? Many of you don’t. I do.
Prior to the 80’s Bull Market was what I call the Great American Bull Market. It started right after WWII (1947) and ran through 1972. There were a couple of minor bumps along the way, but over this 26 year period the S&P 500 averaged a 13.94% annual rate of return with a 2.68% inflation rate. Along with all the other baby boomers, I grew up during this bull market…happy days, Ike and JFK, muscle cars, and the Beatles.
I like Bull Markets.
Bill Brister, PhD
Assistant Professor of Finance
Else School of Management
In its 2016 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners reported that in the United States there were over 1,000 cases of discovered fraud with a median loss of $120,000. Unfortunately, fraud is not just a problem with publically traded companies. The 2016 Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud indicates that 37.7% of fraud occurs within private companies and another 10.1% occurs at not-for-profit or charitable organizations.
There are many internal control resources available for managers and owners of small businesses. Perhaps the most authoritative and well-known is the guidance published by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission—otherwise known as the COSO Framework. While the COSO Framework has its roots in big, publically traded companies, the COSO Framework has proven to be adaptable to organizations of all sizes. To its credit, COSO does not use a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather approaches risk assessment and controls based on the unique operating characteristics of an individual organization.
To be true, investing in internal controls can be an expensive endeavor so here are three low-cost starting points:
Fraud can emerge as a problem in any organization of any size. It pays to be proactive and take steps now to reduce the likelihood of fraud in your organization.
Guy McClain, PhD
Assistant Professor of Accounting
Else School of Management
"The American workforce has more than 100 million full-time employees. One-third of those employees are what Gallup calls engaged at work. They love their jobs and make their organization and America better every day. At the other end, 16% of employees are actively disengaged—they are miserable in the workplace and destroy what the most engaged employees build. The remaining 51% of employees are not engaged—they’re just there.
"These figures indicate an American leadership philosophy that simply doesn’t work anymore." (Clifton)
"After two decades of working with CEOs and their teams of senior executives, I’ve become absolutely convinced that the seminal difference between successful companies and mediocre or unsuccessful ones has little, if anything, to do with what they know or how smart they are; it has everything to do with how healthy they are." (Lencioni)
"The most important decisions that executives make are people decisions." (Drucker)
We have an organizational health problem in this country that is undermining the effectiveness of our organizations in both the for-profit and nonprofit worlds. The implications are far reaching in that it affects the overall health of this country economically, it affects the communities where organizations operate, and it affects the health of individual employees and their families.
The cause of the problem, and the solution, rests with those leading those organizations at the C-Suite and Board levels.
Many leaders of organizations have come through the business education system and are well schooled in the “hard science” aspects of running organizations. They know how to produce and read financial reports, develop strategic plans, manage supply chains, produce sales forecasts, ensure they are complying with human resources regulations, and all the other aspects of running an organization that are so important.
As important as good systems and processes are to a well-run organization, we have to embrace the fact that the health of the people in our organizations is more important than our strategies and systems. I once worked for an incredibly successful businessman who made the statement that there was no need for customer satisfaction surveys – what was needed was employee satisfaction surveys. His position was that if you have satisfied employees, you have satisfied customers. Put another way - if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business.
Leaders have to learn to think differently about the people of their organizations realizing they are individuals with fears and hopes. It is up to us to take a deep look at our organizational culture and to start making the needed changes. Often it starts with looking in the mirror. It is up to us to first change our mindset.
It’s not really that complicated, but it is hard work. It begins with truly caring about the people in your organization. Do you see them as obstacles, means to an end, or as persons? Start with how you view others and go from there.
In summary is a quote attributed to Peter Drucker—“Culture eats strategy for breakfast."
Clifton, Jim “State of the American Workplace Report” (p. 2). Gallup (2017)
Lencioni, Patrick M. The Advantage, Enhanced Edition: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business (pp. 8-9). Jossey-Bass. Kindle Edition
Peter Drucker, http://creativefollowership.com/the-most-important-decisions/
As those two great philosophers Lennon and McCartney wrote in the words of a song, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Life is a team sport. All of us, at one time or another, need a little help from our network of friends, perhaps much more often than we realize. Being a part of an effective network is what is called a “force multiplier” in military speak. A soldier who is a force multiplier is one who makes her or his fellow soldiers more effective; they make those around them a more effective unit.
Building and maintaining a network multiplies our effectiveness and the effectiveness of those who are in our networks; it’s a positive sum game. But like physical networks, our personal relationship networks must be well maintained to keep them in good working order. They can be ethereal things; they can go away if you don’t spend some time working on your network relationships. You keep your network vital by being a good node yourself. That means being a two-way connection; tap into your network when you need a force multiplier but be ready to serve those in your network when they seek your collaboration. Or, as the title of a movie from several years ago suggested, “pay it forward.” Every now and then, do a random act of kindness for some of those folks who occupy important nodes in your network. If you treat the people in your network as only one-way junctions, you will soon find yourself networkless, isolated. Most of us can think of times when our networks have come to the rescue or we’ve been the life line for someone in our network. Robinson Caruso was the only one I know who could get everything done by Friday! But then Friday and Robinson were in each other’s network.
Regardless of which stage of your career you have reached, whether you are a new college graduate, mid-career, or beginning to wind down professionally, you need to part of an effective network. If you are a young, college graduate, those on your network will expect you to be the recipient of most of the benefits of the network. The flow will be mostly toward your node. But, as you move along in your career, those in your network will begin to expect you to reciprocate, and the flow will become two way traffic. Even then, you can’t expect to go to the network only when you are asked or you are doing the asking. You must spend some time just checking in with your network mates, even if it’s just a quick note, lunch, or happy hour adult beverage where the talk is about the family, whose team has done what, or just to say hello. Like any asset, you first have to invest in the asset and then devote some time and effort to maintaining it, even when you aren’t putting it to work.
So what’s the message? Build a good network and keep it tuned up. For those of you who are deeper into your careers, consider getting involved with younger members of your profession by volunteering to speak in classes, hiring them as interns, or just hanging out with them. Who knows, being a network facilitator might be a great late life way to volunteer.
So, to paraphrase the 1998 Kenny Rogers and First Edition song, have you just checked in to see what condition your network is in lately?
Patrick Taylor, PhD
Associate Professor of Economics
Else School of Management
“Success” means an array of different things to each one of us. Some value success in wealth, titles, and degrees while others see success as helping others achieve their goals or raising a family. There’s simply no right answer. I believe the only way to achieve real success is through integrity.
Consider four areas of how integrity can help you achieve your success:
In the boardroom or other situations, people won’t follow you if they don’t trust you. Open communications and transparency in decision making are critical to establishing trust. At our company, we have weekly staff meetings among the management team. For years, the main conference room doors were shut every Tuesday at 9:30. I often noticed that employee hallway traffic doubled during this time. Employees were eager to know what was going on behind those doors. Three years ago, we set out on a mission to change that feeling of exclusion among our team. I made a decision that doors would remain open during staff meetings. This very small gesture proved to have a big impact on morale. We began to receive positive feedback from our employees. Organizational cultures that value openness and transparency may reduce employee turnover and will generally perform at a higher level.
Most businesses now operate in a hyper-competitive, global business environment. Building customer loyalty is a wildly important competitive advantage. In our company, we place major emphasis on getting the customer experience right the first time. While we certainly make mistakes, we make a point to own those mistakes quickly, address the issues, and resolve them. A few years ago, we had an independent firm conduct a customer perception survey of our company. Our customer service department scored extremely well. We built customer loyalty by applying honesty and accountability.
Integrity is a vital part of leadership. As leaders, we inspire and empower engaged people in the pursuit of a common goal. Early in my career, I encountered a boss who wanted to get the deal done at whatever cost. His numbers looked good, but the success was short term. He earned a reputation of talking behind others’ backs, creating conflict, and telling inappropriate jokes. I personally wanted nothing to do with this guy and left a great company as a result. Less than a year later, he was gone – evidence that without integrity, leadership simply isn’t possible.
Companies spend billions of dollars building their brands. You, too, must invest in your personal brand. Integrity is a great brand attribute. It can be transferred inside a company from one position to the next, from one employer to the next, and outside of the office. We may not have hit this quarter’s profit plan, may have missed the deadline for launching the company’s new marketing campaign, or failed to convince the jury in one of the firm’s biggest cases, but if we failed with integrity, there is always a chance to try again. People who have a reputation of integrity will always come out ahead in the end. I see it time and time again. Integrity should be a key aspect of building the “you” brand.
Integrity is a commitment and a process that becomes natural when practiced. Build your success through integrity!
R. Ryan Cole
President and Chief Executive Officer
Trilogy Communications, Inc.
Welcome to the Else School of Management, the internationally recognized and accredited business school of Millsaps College. In this new series, our faculty, staff, alumni, and friends will provide information about business leadership and processes as well as opportunities for executive training and education to support the Else School’s mission of serving both the business community and community-at-large.
The Else School of Management is accredited by AACSB International and offers undergraduate degrees in business, accounting, and economics as well as graduate degrees such as the masters of accountancy, masters of business administration, and Executive MBA. In addition, the Else School has a vibrant Executive Education program that provides custom as well as open enrollment training and support for businesses. Our faculty are experts in their respective fields, with significant practical experience working with businesses and organizations. And, our alumni and friends are successful, dedicated business people with great vision and understanding that they willingly share with all of us!
We hope that this webpage will become a virtual home you visit again and again, finding excellent resources that help you address the issues you encounter at work and in your career. Our articles will cover a wide range of topics, and reflect both the best theories from the academy and best practices of business and leadership.
Again, on behalf of our authors, welcome to the Else School business series! We look forward to providing insightful and meaningful information to improve your business experience. We hope you enjoy it and look forward to hearing from you!
Kim Burke, PhD
Dean of the Else School of Management
Professor of Accounting