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The ABCs of Business

Certainly everyone recognizes the importance of an excellent education, including the value of learning for learning’s sake. But in today’s business world, education is the key to success in two critical ways—during the hiring process, when you choose the people you bring into your organization, and after the hire, in providing ongoing, appropriate training and development opportunities for your team members and yourself.

The role of education when you’re hiring…
Interestingly, 50 percent of people work in a field unrelated to their college major. So they have a lot to learn in addition to the knowledge they gained in the classroom—that is, personal discipline, open-mindedness, creativity, confidence and interpersonal skills. As a leader, you look for all of these qualities in potential team members, while also identifying those candidates who will become ideal employees after proper training and development.

Obviously, you want to hire people who have a good education in their chosen field. But the sad truth is that for too many college students, true learning takes a back seat to the attainment of a high grade point average. They see higher education merely as job preparation, something that looks good on a resume. Ironically, when they enter the professional world, they may not be qualified to do the work expected of them.

When a job candidate walks in your door you must make some major decisions: does the person possess the proper credentials for the job? Does he or she have the prerequisite skills and values that a diploma may not confer? If not, are you willing and able to educate the person in those areas where he or she may be lacking?

When you’re looking at potential employees, you may be tempted to accept educational credentials at face value, especially if the degree is from a highly respected university. Keep in mind, however, that we don’t just receive our education; we must achieve it as well. You may hire someone who has an impressive degree but who lacks the skills to perform at the level you expect. He or she may be able to regurgitate information by rote but lack critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Nor can you assume the candidate has the sense of accountability and responsibility you would hope for.

The following screening guidelines will help you evaluate and verify each candidate’s abilities:
  • Give appropriate cognitive tests to assess a prospective employee’s ability to think logically and reasonably.

  • Look for open-mindedness and the ability to change and adapt. Candidates with a sound education will have been encouraged to develop the skills to come up with new ideas and new ways of thinking. You want reasonable, logical thinkers on your team, but you also want people who are flexible and creative and who aren’t wedded to traditional ways of doing things.

  • Ask candidates to submit essays. Use their writing during the interview process to prompt discussion and to test the candidate’s communication skills. All the technical skills in the world won’t matter if your candidate can’t communicate.

The role of education after the hire…
The importance of education in business doesn’t end with the right hire. Very often you will bring on employees who are excellent in many respects, but who lack certain skills or personal qualities. You may also find that you need to further your own training and education, and that of your team members, in order for your organization to be the best it can be.

Here are some tips to help you on the job:

  • Offer training: It’s unrealistic to believe you can always hire your ideal candidates—people who are able to jump right into the job and make it their own with complete efficiency and proficiency, brilliant insights and encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of the organization’s business. More often you will have to offer training on certain aspects of the job, and that’s part of being a good employer. For example, a great engineer may need management training. Or, as a department’s focus changes, or the organization as a whole takes on new challenges, you may need to offer training to give people the skills to reach new goals.

  • Discipline and detail: Discipline isn’t just for unruly children and military recruits. In business, discipline instills a sense of attention to detail. In all organizations, it’s the details that often separate the winners from the losers. A candidate with self-discipline will arrive on time for the interview, dress appropriately and act professionally. Still, you’ve probably had the experience of employees who interview well, seem very polished and full of self-respect and call themselves detail-oriented, only to become slackers once they get the job. You may need to instill a sense of discipline in them yourself by setting rules and establishing guidelines, then requiring everyone to follow them. These must not be arbitrary but should be fair and applied across the board. Everyone from the CEO to cleaning staff needs to show up on time, meet deadlines and do his or her best to get tasks right the first time.

  • Asking questions: Ideally, you’ll be able to hire well-educated people who have learned the value of asking questions. Smart people know when to admit they don’t know the answer or how to do a specific task. But if you’re faced with someone who doesn’t know how to ask for assistance, it’s your responsibility as a leader to educate him in this area. Model this behavior for your people and show them that taking the initiative to ask what no one else understands puts them in a leadership role. A good leader asks a lot of questions, sometimes just to solicit feedback, sometimes to get people to think in new and different ways and sometimes because he or she really doesn’t know the answer and needs information.

  • Educate yourself: Business leaders must further their own education in order to be optimally effective. Lead by example; continuously upgrade your own skills. Keep up with the latest ideas, technology and innovations in your field. Always look for new opportunities to learn—online, in seminars, through trade journals and magazines, professional associations, etc. Bring in experts to train you and other executives. By continually learning and upgrading your skills, you’ll set an excellent educational example for the entire organization.

Education is the key to business success...
The difference between a true leader and just a boss is that a leader is concerned with the development of his or her people. A leader knows how to pick the best people for the team and to help them acquire the skills they need to perform optimally. They in turn will both become more valuable to the organization and gain confidence in their own abilities. The end result is employees who are better team players, more creative and more loyal—all of which translates into a stronger organization with a better bottom line.