Are Your New Hires Fit for Business?
One of the more enjoyable aspects of senior management roles is observing the entry of recent graduates into the workforce and witnessing their subsequent career development. Over time, Ive begun to notice some common characteristics, markers for future success if you like, that are perhaps underappreciated in our schools and colleges.
It has become fashionable to emphasize the importance of proficiency in the basic competences, the so-called three Rs. Certainly I am no exception in expecting employees write clearly, read quickly and work comfortably with numbers. However, I believe that there might be another set of skills, similarly basic, but more applicable to social interaction which also deserves attention. They may be called the three PsProfessionalism, Presentation, and Project Management.
Professionalism in my book is about dependability and trustworthiness of the individual. Does he or she honor commitments? Does he pay attention to the needs of others before satisfying needs of the self? Will she go the extra mile to achieve an important goal?
I pay close attention to these traits because I have learned that people with these attributes make for more effective performers while being easier to manage. One may think that these traits are common or generally aspired to among professionals. However, this is not the case.
There are many experienced employees who require constant supervision or cajoling to perform even simple tasks. Whether this is because of a change in societal norms, an entitlement mentality, or an overzealous application of a life-work balance philosophy, we seem to have created a culture where its OK to let things slip. Unfortunately, in the real world it is actually not OK, and although I have no interest in telling people how they should live their lives, those who appreciate this simple fact will have a much improved chance of career success.
Whether your field is in the private or public sector, the military, or in a nonprofit, you will rarely get far unless you learn to marshal the energies of others. Practically, this means an ability to present an argument so that people willingly support your idea or initiative. Unfortunately, presentations are often regarded as a vehicle for delivering half-truths and in certain corners of society the whole idea has gotten a bad reputation.
Sitcoms and TV commercials routinely poke fun at stilted presenters who drone on in poorly lit conference rooms, invariably putting their audience in a state of borderline catatonics. Nevertheless, in most organizational endeavors a good presentation is a valuable form of communication. It is also by no means easy to master. Besides a self-assured delivery that steers clear of arrogance and a thorough understanding of the topic, a good presentation depends on intellectual clarity so you can distill an argument to its essentials and can communicate in terms that your audience will understand. That requires empathy for the positions of others while maintaining personal conviction. Also, a presenter will have to address objections in a constructive manner, which probably means taking some knocks without giving in to them. All of this is not an insignificant skill set and one that is definitely worth developing.
Finally, project management is an essential competence for many different professions. Let me make clear this is not about knowing the intricacies of a Gantt chart. Rather, it is about breaking down complicated and frequently ambiguous requirements into manageable tasks, prioritizing actions, and using resources appropriately, including other peoples time, all in the service of a worthwhile goal. In a way, project management is about optimization under imperfect circumstances in an imperfect world. Too often, classrooms seem designed to remove the very imperfections that make the world the way it is. That is not necessarily helpful.
I have noticed that individuals who master these skills not only outshine others, but also seem more open to new ideas and are better equipped to apply new techniques and thought constructs to disparate fields. As with everything in life, some people are naturals, while others need to work at it. Nevertheless, a greater recognition of the importance of these qualities would help prepare all students better and would lead to a stronger workforce, one more capable of competing on a global basis.
Joe Ruck is president and CEO of BoardVantage. Prior to joining BoardVantage, Joe was SVP of Marketing at Interwoven and part of the team that drove the company through one of the most successful IPOs of 1999. Previously, he held sales, marketing, and executive positions at Sun Microsystems, Network Appliance, and Genesys Telecommunications, subsequently acquired by Alcatel.