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Was That Communication Failure My Fault? A Millennial's View

Kim HardyMillennials' 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.

Previous Articles

The Four Character Traits of Entrepreneurs by Matthew McLaughlin

Matthew McLaughlinI 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."

Matthew McLaughlin
McLaughlin, PC

Your Dream Job by Diane Baker, PhD

Diane BakerGraduation is almost here at Millsaps. Seniors and those graduating from our MBA and MACC programs are finishing up their final papers and exams while also preparing for another adventure. It is an exciting time. A new career awaits!

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, our graduates are not the only people looking for a job or seeking changes in their careers. The median number of years employees have worked for their current employer is just over four. For those between the ages of 25 and 34, the median job tenure is just under three years. Over a 40 year career, that's potentially a lot of job changes!!

When is it time to move on from your current job? Various surveys indicate that people leave jobs due to an assortment of factors including limited advancement opportunities, dissatisfaction with the work environment, poor management, long hours, low pay, etc. Do you know what always makes the top five list? Boredom! The desire for more challenging work is often the motivation behind the search for a new job, frequently rating above the desire for better pay and benefits.

What does a dream job look like? Have you ever worked on a job assignment, hobby or home project that was so engaging that you truly lost track of time? Your attention was so focused on the task at hand that nothing else, at that moment, mattered? The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi used the term "flow" to describe the experience you have when you are completely absorbed in a task and become oblivious to anything else that may be happening around you. Flow occurs when you work on a meaningful task that provides the perfect match between your skills and the challenge of the task.

According to Csikszentmihalyi, if your skills are not up to the challenge, you will be in a state of anxiety. If you are bored, it is a sign that the task is too easy and you are not fully engaging the skills that you possess.

How often are you in flow at work? If the answer is "never" or "almost never," maybe it's time to look for another job, either in your current organization or in another one.

To achieve flow, it is important to continue to seek new challenges and build upon the skills you have. In this respect, flow encourages personal and professional growth. Fortunately, Millsaps' Else School has numerous degree and certification programs that can help you with that!

Diane Baker, PhD
Professor of Management
Else School of Management
Millsaps College

Change and Sunk Costs by Kim Burke, PhD

Kim BurkeI've been involved in a lot of strategic planning this year, and as I was poring over the notes from a recent planning retreat, I kept recalling something my dad used to say. One of his favorite dad-isms was that "you always have to have a plan, but the beauty of the plan is that it can and will change." Over time, I've come to realize that having a plan is fairly simple. What we tend to struggle with personally and organizationally is allowing the plan to adapt and change.

In fact, the more we've committed to our plans in terms of time, effort or financial resources, the harder it is to walk away even when the signals are pretty clear that we should. What's interesting about our commitment to our current course is that the amount of time and effort we have invested in the past is gone no matter whether we continue as is or opt for a change. Still we often let those past actions play a strong a role in decisions regarding our future. In economics and accounting, we call these past investments sunk costs. Rationally speaking, these costs shouldn't be considered when we make decisions about our future plans, but, that's far easier said than done.

We see this phenomenon all the time—the employee who wants to pursue a different career path but worries about "losing" all the years he or she has worked in this industry, position or organization. We see it in the organization that is being slammed by market competition but "can't afford" to change because it has invested too much in its existing products, services or processes. I was working with an organization recently as we considered several peripheral initiatives that were eating up a lot of the organization's time. One initiative in particular had grown organically over the past few months and consumed considerable resources along the way. Discussion of this initiative required an inordinate amount of time. Interestingly though, our conversation didn't center around whether the project fit the organization's mission, because it clearly didn't. Instead, we kept coming back to all the time and effort that had gone into getting the project off the ground. It turned out to be a textbook example of the havoc that sunk costs can wreak on decision making. Every stakeholder in the room knew that the organization's current plan of action needed to change because the collective activities were not sustainable. Every stakeholder in the room agreed that this particular initiative was not an appropriate fit with the mission of the organization. Nonetheless, every stakeholder engaged overlong in the discussion of the previously incurred costs. Even when we identified the costs as being sunk and agreed they were not relevant to the debate, it was still difficult to maneuver the conversation away from the costs and back to the core issue.

So how do we avoid those textbook mistakes and embrace the beauty of change? The first step may be recognizing that the fear of "losing" our previous investments does not have to define our future actions. That doesn't mean that we should abandon our plans without significant consideration. There's something to be said for the old adage about continuing to try in the face of failure. But, we might want to consider WC Fields wise corollary that, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it."

Kim Burke, PhD
Dean of the Else School of Management
Professor of Accounting
Millsaps College

How Healthy Is Your Organization? by BG Allen

BG AllenWe have an organizational health problem in this country that is undermining the effectiveness of our organizations in both the for-profit and nonprofit worlds. According to a Gallup poll, 67% of US employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged at work. 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."

BG Allen
Executive Coach
Coachwell Inc.

Business Leaders as Community Leaders by Phil Hardwick, MBA

Phil HardwickSooner 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:

  • Manage time
  • Focus on contributions and results
  • Build on strengths
  • Set the right priorities
  • Make effective decisions

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
Millsaps College

Welcome to the Neighborhood!

Coffee ProseThe Else School is very excited about the opening of Coffee Prose in Midtown, right across the street from Millsaps College, on the corner of Millsaps Avenue and N West Street. Coffee Prose offers a selection of used books and coffee, as well as a variety of products created in Midtown, such as pastries from Heavenly Sweetz, breakfast tacos from Feast Specialties, cold drip coffee from Mississippi Cold Drip, and tea from Natural Saga. Various businesses and artists have their wares on display, including stained glass windows from Pearl River Glass. Spencer Ellswood, a Millsaps senior from Austin, created a beautiful steel Coffee Prose centerpiece that is displayed prominently in a bookcase.

The story behind Coffee Prose centers around community. The residents, artists and business owners of Midtown envisioned a comfortable gathering place to share coffee, food, books, conversation and more. The Midtown Neighborhood Assoc., Business Association of Midtown (BAM), and Midtown Partners, Inc. all provided considerable input and supported the effort. Dr. Michael Pickard from Millsaps College is partnering with Coffee Prose to create a non-profit organization that focuses on rare books and literacy advocacy.

Else School students, including those pictured, were also deeply involved in much of the research and planning for Coffee Prose, one of many projects that our students have worked on in our neighborhood. Here's what one of our ElseWorks alums, Mariah Gibson, said about her experience with Midtown:

Once named Factory Hill, 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 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, and 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…

Mariah concluded that "the story of Midtown is not yet finished," and Coffee Prose is evidence that the Midtown community continues to grow.

The Things We Say by Kim Burke, PhD

Kim BurkeI 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
Millsaps College

We Have a Crisis in Leadership—Or Do We? by BG Allen

BG Allen"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.

BG Allen
Certified Executive Coach
Adjunct Instructor
Executive Education Program
Else School of Management
Millsaps College

Leading to Change by Terrence Black

Terrence BlackEmployee 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

Terrence Black
Sr. Manager, Leader and Team Performance
Entergy Nuclear

Should Managers Be Brutally Honest? by Diane Baker, PhD

Diane BakerJack Welch, the CEO of GE when it was the most valuable company in the world, famously said, "The biggest cowards are managers who don't let people know where they stand," and "You measure your people and you take action on those that don't measure up." Those who did not measure up were labeled by Welch as "C players," falling into the bottom 10% of performance according to his famous "vitality curve." He referred to the top 20% as the A players who possessed key qualities of GE leaders; the rest were "B players," who performed competently enough to be viewed as valued contributors.

Steve Jobs also liked to segregate workers into these 3 categories. According to his biographer, Walter Isaacson, Jobs believed you had "to be ruthless if you want to build a team of A players," because "It's too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players" (Isaacson, 2011, p. 181). Is it a good idea to label workers as A, B or C players?

Sometimes students learn about leaders like Welch, Jobs, and other famous CEOs and conclude that it is important to be "brutally honest" with workers about their performance in order to run a successful company. This is the wrong conclusion. You don't have to be brutal to be honest. In a class discussion last year, one of my students who thought brutal honesty was an asset told another student to "get off your soapbox," after she made a point with which he disagreed. Is this his example of being brutally honest I wondered? In fact, research shows that using language that demeans or humiliates others is counterproductive. Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, and others were successful not because they were brutally honest with their employees. Many factors play a role in a company's success; an abusive management style is not one of them. Brutality leads to frustration, anger, silence, fear, and turnover. We all need honest feedback to learn and improve, but that feedback should focus on the problem, not the person, and be descriptive, not evaluative in nature.

Welch was not wrong when he said that people need to know where they stand. Performance expectations must be made clear and employees need to understand where they fall short and how they can improve. However, threatening, labeling, or disparaging others have nothing at all to do with improving performance and productivity. Honesty, yes. Brutal honesty, no.

Diane Baker, PhD
Professor of Management
Else School of Management
Millsaps College

I Node I Needed a Network by Patrick Taylor, PhD

Pat TaylorAs 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
Millsaps College

Success Through Integrity by R. Ryan Cole

Ryan Cole"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:

Establish Trust

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.

Build Loyalty

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.

The "You" Brand

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.
Jackson, MS

Teaching Business in a Liberal Arts College by Diane Baker, PhD

Diane BakerIt is quite rare to find an accredited business school that exists within a liberal arts college like Millsaps College. From my perspective, as a business professor, I can't think of a better place for a business school. "Liberal studies" refer to courses that are not directly applicable to a particular vocation, such as those from the arts, humanities, social sciences, mathematics and natural sciences. When the first business schools opened in the U.S. in universities such as the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, Columbia and Dartmouth, liberal studies were understood to be the foundation for business courses. Early documents from Columbia, for example, indicate that administrators sought to provide "knowledge of science, technology . . . politics, sociology and related subjects . . . to improve human competence for the conduct of business."

Technical skills are critical for jobs in today's market and the market of the future. Some have suggested that the jobs of the future will require sets of technical skills that are not traditionally associated with each other, for example data science and advertising. Importantly, however, our society needs workers with more than technical skills. Steven Muller, former president of Johns Hopkins, expressed concern 40 years ago that if we focus only on technical skills, we are in danger of creating a highly specialized but fragmented education that would likely produce "highly skilled barbarians."

Today's managers must have the skills to think critically and creatively, solve problems they have never encountered before and communicate effectively to people from all parts of the organization, community and world. As the world becomes smaller thanks to communication technologies and transportation advances, we need people who are sensitive to cultural differences and the varied paths that societies have taken to arrive where we are today. It would seem that business knowledge enhanced by a liberal education would help students develop these abilities and understanding, preparing them for success today and in the future.

Our society will greatly benefit if business courses continue to encourage students to think critically and globally in the spirit of a liberal education, as Joseph Wharton hoped when he donated funds to build the first collegiate business school in the US, to "provide liberal education in all matters concerning finance and commerce."

Diane Baker, PhD
Professor of Management
Else School of Management
Millsaps College

The Responsibility of Corporate Citizens (Like Us) by Douglas R. Boone

Douglas R. BooneWhen I first entered the workforce in Jackson there were lots of "homegrown" companies and one thing they did very consistently was take care of the community. It certainly was in their interest to do so because it was the community that sustained them. The community purchased their goods and services, the community provided their workforce, and the community educated their employees' children. But most of all they did it because it was the right thing to do. Both the local businesses and the community were invested in one another.

Over the years many of those local businesses were acquired and merged with regional or national companies, moved away for one reason or another or simply didn't survive the changing tides of the economy. In some instances they have been replaced with other local businesses that value the same relationship with the community—but in many cases they have not been replaced. And companies that had no tie with the community, other than the fact that they housed some part of their business here, chose not to participate as readily. There are other dynamics that have shifted the sands below this long-held tradition of community support: the cost of doing business is higher, businesses have fewer resources to share, and community needs have skyrocketed. The dollars have been spread thin.

Now don't misunderstand me—I still see many of our corporate citizens supporting wonderful causes—but I cannot help but believe that there is more that can be done. Those companies that have maintained their tradition of community support need to encourage, nay even challenge, their fellow organizations to do the same. Our various business and economic development associations need to encourage their members to be supportive of their community. As we tout our community to new companies for relocation or expansion, we should impress upon them that a cornerstone of how "business" is done here is showing support for the community. We as managers and executives should encourage our people to be involved locally. There is no downside to being a good corporate citizen. It builds and strengthens the community, which in turn makes it more attractive to new companies, and they in turn strengthen the community, which in turn…you get the picture.

Plus, it is just the right thing to do.

Douglas R. Boone, PMP
Vice President, Business Development and Community Relations
Methodist Rehabilitation Center

Else School Leadership Forum: Investing in Our Future by Kim Burke, PhD

Kim BurkeThis is the fourth in a four-part series stemming from the Executive Education Forum on the Future of Business Leadership that took place on November 15, 2018. Panelists included Stephen Bye, CEO and President of C Spire; Margaret Cupples, Partner with Bradley Law Firm; Haley Fisackerly, CEO of Entergy Mississippi; and Cathy Northington, COO of Mississippi Economic Council.

In this article, we'll explore the panelists' thoughts about the future of leadership in the state. While not always the case, too often Mississippi is ranked toward the bottom of lists of state assets or accomplishments (e.g. access to healthcare, public education and the economy). With some exception, most of the panelists focused on the need to invest today in order to see a brighter future, and most of that investment was in people—training, attracting, and retaining them. Below you will find a summary of the panelists' thoughts about how the state can develop more and better leaders.

  1. Investment in Education—Basic concern about education is one reason people don't come or stay in the state. Panelists noted the need for improvement in the educational system, but also the need for more skills training. The coding and STEM programs at the Mississippi Children's Museums, Base Camp Coding, and Mississippi Coding Academies were cited as one of the contributors to creating and attracting a skilled workforce.
  2. Investment in Technology—Panelists noted the equalizing quality of technology. With appropriate technology, geography becomes less important as people can work from anywhere. With ongoing investment in technology and the existing quality of life, Mississippi can offer an appealing place to live.
  3. Investment in Individuals—Recalling that there are currently 50,000 unfilled jobs in the state, the panelists pointed out that until those jobs can be filled with skilled workers, leadership will not grow. In addition to the investment in education discussed above, leaders need to ensure that everyone understands the multiple opportunities available to them. The panelists conversed about providing internships, cooperative programs and mentoring for children caught in a cycle of poverty who may not think those opportunities would be available to them. Providing opportunities for those children to visit the colleges and universities of the state to encourage them to pursue higher education was also discussed.

In closing, the panelists were asked for their succinct predictions about the future of leadership in the state. Stephen Bye said, "What we invest in today is what we will see in 5 years." Margaret Cupples stated, "It's [our leadership] going to be a lot younger. We need to equip them for the job." Haley Fisackerly referenced an increasingly diverse leadership and workforce, noting, "It's a good thing a lot of organizations are focused on addressing workforce issues." And Cathy Northington said our future leadership will depend on "the soundtrack that we write today."

Phil Hardwick closed the forum by quoting Peter Drucker who said, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

Kim Burke, PhD
Dean of the Else School of Management
Professor of Accounting
Millsaps College

Else School Leadership Forum: Generational Diversity at Work by Kim Burke, PhD

Kim BurkeThis is the third in a four-part series stemming from the Executive Education Forum on the Future of Business Leadership that took place on November 15, 2018. Panelists included Stephen Bye, CEO and President of C Spire; Margaret Cupples, Partner with Bradley Law Firm; Haley Fisackerly, CEO of Entergy Mississippi; and Cathy Northington, COO of Mississippi Economic Council.

In this blog, we'll explore the panelists' responses to the challenges of managing multiple generations in the workforce. There is significant literature that describes the substantial differences among generations (from the Traditionalists to Gen Z) and their approaches to work. Understanding and being responsive to generational differences in the workforce is key to attracting and retaining employees, a competitive advantage in today's market. Below you will find a summary of the panelists' thoughts about managing multiple generations in the workforce.

  1. Flexibility—Today's workers look for significant flexibility in the workplace. Flexibility includes where they work, when they work, how they receive feedback, and even how they move up the ladder. Millennials are not the only generation behind this demand—even some Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers see the appeal of this kind of flexibility. Leaders have to re-think long-standing processes that were born of a different generation.
  2. Respect—Cutting across most generations is the need to be respected at work. Organizations can demonstrate respect for employees by recognizing individual needs and circumstances, rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach. Employees want their voices to be heard, and they want to see that their input is valued enough to be part of the organization's decision making process. Careful listening and valuing input results in an inclusive organization that is more likely to attract and retain employees.
  3. Quality of Life—In Mississippi, employment opportunities exceed the supply of workers by 50,000 unfilled jobs. Accordingly, leaders are pressured to make their organizations more attractive to compete for employees, at a time when the best job is not defined solely by its salary and benefits package. While they are interested in compensation, today's workers are more focused on their quality of life. Considering whether to offer benefits that reduce student loan debt, or ways to address the common needs of night-shift or veteran workers, helps employees find the quality of life they seek while also recognizing them as individuals (see #2).
  4. Connection—Related to the quality of life issue noted in #3, the younger generations in the workforce seek deeper connections than they might find with the cohort they were hired with. Affinity groups for women, people of color, LGBTQ employees, etc. are increasingly important to these generations. So, organizations are well served by creating those opportunities to connect. Connecting high performing employees to emerging leaders also provides a connection that fosters the development of the next generation of leaders.

In some ways, the message is simple: leaders must always be thoughtful about managing diversity in the workplace, including generational diversity, in order to be competitive.

Kim Burke, PhD
Dean of the Else School of Management
Professor of Accounting
Millsaps College

Else School Leadership Forum: Critical Competencies by Kim Burke, PhD

Kim BurkeThis is the second in a four-part series stemming from the Executive Education Forum on the Future of Business Leadership that took place on November 15, 2018. Panelists included Stephen Bye, CEO and President of C Spire; Margaret Cupples, Partner with Bradley Law Firm; Haley Fisackerly, CEO of Entergy Mississippi; and Cathy Northington, COO of Mississippi Economic Council.

In this blog, we'll explore the answers to one of the questions faced by every leader of every organization. With an increasing rate of change in the workplace, people are forced to move into leadership positions more quickly. As a result, identifying the competencies we seek or seek to develop in our emerging leaders is critical. I have taken the liberty of summarizing some of the panelists' thoughts and identifying some critical competencies that emerged from their conversation.

  1. Self-awareness—Self-awareness is considered one of the four essential components of emotional intelligence (the other three are self-management, social awareness, and relationship management). It is fundamental to good leadership that leaders understand their own strengths, weaknesses, personality and style. This understanding helps them unravel motivations, identify trigger points, and foster flexibility, and adaptability. With self-awareness, leaders can exercise positive influence more effectively.
  2. Inclusiveness and diversity—It is difficult to imagine a leader who does not embrace the increasing diversity of workers, customers, markets, etc., in our society. The panelists agreed that it is crucial for leaders to encourage diversity and provide an inclusive environment. Inclusiveness encompassed leaders caring for their employees as individuals, providing opportunities for collaboration and input, and leveraging that input to make better decisions.
  3. Confident Courage—Aristotle included fortitude in his list of cardinal virtues, and our panelists cited courage. They defined courage as the willingness to make bold, potentially unpopular, decisions. The panelists agreed that to be truly courageous, these bold decisions must be based on "uncompromising integrity and ethics." Stephen Bye further amended the characteristic to call for confidence in making bold decisions, noting that confidence results from fostering inclusiveness and listening to the voices of others.
  4. Passion—Whether they specifically called for "passion" or implied it, each of the panelists pointed to passion for the business as a basic requirement of leadership. Some talked about passion in terms of caring for the well-being of the workforce and customers, or for mentoring and supporting others within the organization. Some pointed to passion in terms of the compelling commitment to integrity. More important than what they said about this characteristic, though, was the degree to which each panelist exhibited his or her passion. Each panelist possessed the right strengths to excel—they were knowledgeable in their field, communicated well, exhibited self-awareness, etc. But it was their passion—their obvious motivation, caring, curiosity, and commitment—that identified them as leaders who others want to follow.

Kim Burke, PhD
Dean of the Else School of Management
Professor of Accounting
Millsaps College

Else School Leadership Forum: What Is Leadership? by Kim Burke, PhD

Kim BurkeThe Executive Education program of the Else School of Management recently hosted a Forum on the Future of Leadership, an opportunity to talk with leaders in our state about advancing leadership in the state. The panelists for this Forum included Stephen Bye, CEO and President of C Spire; Margaret Cupples, Partner of Bradley Law Firm; Haley Fisackerly, CEO of Entergy Mississippi; and Cathy Northington, COO of the Mississippi Economic Council. Phil Hardwick served as moderator. Over the next four-part series, I will provide some summary and commentary based on the insights of these leaders.

As we were planning the panel for the Forum on the Future of Leadership, we were fortunate to have a number of leaders in Mississippi from which we could choose. And, it was interesting to consider what made these men and women leaders in our state. Phil Hardwick prompted me to think more deeply about the enormity of the concept of leadership. He pointed out that if you search for the term "leadership" in books on Amazon, you get over 70,000 results. These books often offer definitions of leadership, many of which come from some of our more well known experts who either research or are leaders. Here are just a few:

  • Joel Barker: "A leader is someone you would follow to a place you would not go."
  • John Maxwell: "Leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less."
  • Peter Drucker: "A leader is someone who has followers."
  • Warren Bennis: "Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality."
  • Bill Gates: "As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others."

There are certainly more definitions to offer, but what struck me as more important than an eloquent articulation was the common spirit captured in these quotes. That spirit includes the ideas that 1) leadership is not bestowed, but earned, 2) leadership requires influence to encourage others, and 3) leadership requires action. I found myself thinking about the many leaders in this state. I recognize our leaders as those who daily work with limited resources to create opportunities for community building, community service and advancement of the state. Our best leaders earn their place; they care for and empower others; and they move us forward. And, we are thankful for them.

Kim Burke, PhD
Dean of the Else School of Management
Professor of Accounting
Millsaps College

Fundamental Errors by Kim Burke, PhD

Kim Burke"I'm always fascinated by the way our brains are hard-wired to simplify the complex while also protecting our egos. For managers or team members of an organization, one of the most complex issues we have to deal with involves working with each other and figuring out how to improve the team, improve the outcomes and meet or exceed expectations of the organization. Sometimes, though, our brain's hard-wiring to simplify takes a shortcut that leads to flawed thinking. The shortcut I'm thinking about today is fundamental attribution error.

We've all experienced it, that moment where we mistake a situational effect for a character flaw. We think our boss "doesn't listen" because he or she is checking the phone during a meeting, when what we don't know is that the boss is waiting for a call about a very sick family member. Maybe a coworker cuts us off in conversation leaving us to think "what a rude jerk" when, in fact, that coworker was informed earlier that she had to finish a report for her boss immediately. Or, perhaps more dangerously, we observe a member of our sales team not selling as much product, or our accounting team processing payments more slowly, and we reach the conclusion that these team members are not good at their jobs. Unfortunately, we tend to share those thoughts with others in the organization and can easily build some consensus without understanding that our sales team is facing significant drops in demand for the product due to a lower-priced, well-advertised competitor's product, or that our accounting team has just taken on new responsibilities with a reduced number of staff. Our shared perceptions then make it even more difficult for our boss, coworker, sales team, or accountants to act productively and meet expectations.

The "boss who's not listening" or the "rude jerk coworker" can communicate in ways that improve how others perceive them and their actions. But, we've all been in those situations where managing someone else's perceptions of us is not our priority, and we should have the right to expect some leeway from our coworkers. What's also interesting about fundamental attribution error is that when we are the ones who don't listen, act like a jerk or fall behind in performance, we are quick to point out that it's not a character flaw but the situation that led to these actions and results.

It's a fine line for any manager or team member to distinguish between those issues that arise due to situations that can and should be changed versus those that are character driven. And, the further removed we are from the situation, the harder it is to make that distinction. Make no mistake, though, the problem is not always situational. We just need to be cautious and remember that our immediate response is often to assume a character flaw when considering the behavior of others. We can't attract and keep our best employees and build our best teams if only our behaviors are attributable to the situation.

Kim Burke, PhD
Dean of the Else School of Management
Professor of Accounting
Millsaps College

Can You Pick a Winner? by Diane Baker, PhD

Diane Baker"I think we should hire Mary," Jim told us. We all looked at each other. Jim was our boss, and we all respected him. But none of us understood what he saw in Mary as the director for our new Employee Assistance Program. "She's so enthusiastic," he said, adding, "I think she could sell this Employee Assistance Program to our CEO." When I interviewed Mary, she talked so much I couldn't squeeze in my questions. I wondered if she would be able to listen to employees who came to her office. You can't listen if you're always talking!

It's not unusual for people to disagree about who the best candidate is for a job opening. Over the years, we each develop our own set of filters through which we view the world, and that includes job candidates. Our perceptions are affected by our experiences, values, biases, personality…even our mood! We tend to focus on information that confirms our preexisting beliefs and ignore whatever is incongruent. It's not intentional; it's human.

It's not just misperceptions that can lead us astray as we evaluate job candidates. Most candidates are using impression management techniques to influence how we perceive them. They use professional dress, direct eye contact, a firm handshake and enthusiastic demeanor to communicate competence and confidence. We've all done it! It is not enough to be competent; job applicants must also appear to be competent to get the job offer. Some people are very good at appearing competent even when they are not.

As employers, we have to learn to cut through the facade and figure out who the truly qualified candidates are. It is nearly impossible to determine who the best candidate is among a large pool of applicants, but we can use tools to identify those who are qualified. Unfortunately, the favorite method used to assess candidates is also the least reliable: the unstructured interview. Our biases can go wild when we use informal settings and off-the-cuff questions to assess job candidates. Instead, we should carefully craft our interviews, asking the same set of questions to each candidate. Behavioral and situational questions are better predictors of performance than informational questions. Behavioral questions ask candidates to give specific examples of past performance, such as "Tell me about a time when you were a team leader and one of your members did not meet expected standards." Situational questions are those that describe a likely job scenario and require candidates to suggest a course of action. These type of questions are much more informative and harder to fake than questions such as "Tell me about yourself," or "What are your career goals?" An even better indicator of job competence is to have the candidates perform job tasks that they will actually do on the job.

When it comes to making a hiring decision, it's hard to predict the future. What you can do is structure the selection process to improve your chances of hiring a qualified candidate.

Diane Baker, PhD
Professor of Management
Else School of Management
Millsaps College

Ray Dalio's Principles and You by Patrick Taylor, PhD

Pat TaylorOver the summer, I read Ray Dalio's book, Principles. Dalio is the retired CEO and founder of Bridgewater Associates, which has about $150 billion under management for its clients. In his book, Dalio describes the essential elements upon which Bridgewater is built. He calls them "radical transparency" and "radical truthfulness" wrapped in a meritocratic organization. What he means by "radical transparency" is, with very few exceptions, everyone either knows or is free to know everything about the business. By "radical truthfulness" he means that everyone is expected to always be completely honest about their points of view about all facets of Bridgewater's business and express them, within the bounds of civility, at all times. No secrets, no unspoken grievances, no hidden misgivings. For Dalio, truthfulness is not the opposite of duplicities or deceitfulness. He simply means, to use the words of the late Howard Cosell, "telling it like it is."

You may think practicing radical transparency and truthfulness would stifle interpersonal work relationships and productivity. Dalio finds exactly the opposite. It is liberating and affirms everyone's value and gives hearing to everyone's ideas. It unshackles, rather than handcuffs, creativity and creates a common sense of purpose and personal responsibility.

Dalio principles are, in effect, rules everyone at Bridgewater uses when making decisions. Occasionally new issues arise, what Dalio calls "we haven't seen this before" events. Once the issue is successfully resolved, new principles for dealing with similar, future events are created. So more and more issues become "we've seen this before" events and they are handled routinely.

He recognizes that not everyone, or even many people, choose to adapt to Bridgewater's culture. Those who don't aren't around long; they either leave voluntarily or are terminated. Dalio says Bridgewater goes to extremes to help both new and old employees who are struggling, either with the culture or the skill requirements of their jobs. Only when he and employees are "radically truthful" with each other can those who are temperamentally disposed to adapt to Bridgewater's culture make the adjustments necessary to succeed.

Regardless of how radical transparency and truthfulness strike you, Dailo points to the fact that following the principles has made Bridgewater a giant and made many people rich, including Dalio himself. By the way, he started from a very modest beginning and nearly failed at several points early on. So Bridgewater and Dalio succeeded by being very good at what they do. He attributes Bridgewater's success to its meritocracy and radical truthfulness and transparency.

A Bridgewater-like culture isn't for everyone or every organization, which Dailo is quick to admit. However, perhaps if more organizations were more transparent and more truthful in all their dealings, we'd all be better off. So, more transparency, more truthfulness, please. A word of warning, though, radical transparency and truthfulness does not exempt those of you in the "C suite." It means everyone, perhaps most importantly you.

Patrick Taylor, PhD
Associate Professor of Economics
Else School of Management
Millsaps College

What's Going On with Wells Fargo? by Caitlin Sockbeson

Caitlin SockbesonWells Fargo has become a great cautionary tale of how unethical behavior (and particularly unethical leadership) can poison company culture and damage a company's reputation and performance. Let's recap:

  • As early as 2015, regulators had begun to examine the bank's cross-selling practices.
  • In 2016, it was revealed that employees opened millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts in customers' names without their knowledge. The bank was fined and thousands of employees were fired.
  • By 2017, it had come out that employees who tried to report unethical behavior were punished or fired; managers were warned before inspections took place and given time to shred documents; more phony accounts were found; WF illegally repossessed cars and charged customers for auto insurance they didn't need, and the bank caused customers to miss deadlines and then charged late fees or changed the interest rate on their mortgages.
  • A new study revealed sex discrimination as well, with the bank 25% more likely to punish women for misconduct than men.
  • WF was sued in early 2018 for discrimination against black and Latinx loan applicants.
  • A computer glitch earlier this year initiated home foreclosures on hundreds of customers.
  • The latest news is a Justice Department investigation probing fraud in WF's banking unit that serves corporate customers.

Wells Fargo has had to pay millions in fines and settlements and their recent advertising campaigns strive to rebuild trust with customers. So, what can we learn from the Wells Fargo debacle?

  1. Compensation systems matter. The fake accounts were driven by unrealistic sales goals and incentives built around the number of accounts opened. "You get what you pay for" is often quoted as a warning for customers, but it works for employers, too. Compensation systems are powerful and if not constructed thoughtfully can encourage unethical or illegal behavior.
  2. Too much emphasis on terminal values and end goals leads to an "ends justify the means" mentality. Make clear to your employees that HOW goals are accomplished matters and that unethical behavior will not be tolerated.
  3. Although companies can have strong subcultures that might impact just one unit of a business, that was not the case here. As more and more information comes to light, it becomes clear that there was a strong, pervasive, unethical culture at Wells Fargo.
  4. Culture doesn't change overnight, and it doesn't change without effort. Wells Fargo didn't suddenly start misbehaving in 2015 (they had been fined and sued multiple times in the first decade of the 2000s) and they didn't suddenly clean up their act, either (including recent firings for employees' falsifying receipts). Several executives and board members have stepped down or been forced out, but the CEO, who took over in 2016, is not new to the company. He has been there for years, as president, COO, and CFO. New leadership can help drive culture change, but when the leadership isn't really new, it's questionable whether new values will be emphasized.

So, could your business ever go the way of Wells Fargo? Keeping a close eye on your compensation system—what are you incentivizing?—and conducting culture audits to see what values your employees are enacting are two ways to keep your company on the right path.

Caitlin Sockbeson
Assistant Professor of Management
Else School of Management
Millsaps College

The Curse of Knowledge by Paul Jones

Paul JonesThe curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that makes it difficult to remember what it was like not to know something that you now know. This can cause us to assume our audience has the same knowledge and perspective that we have making it difficult to communicate in terms that our audience can relate to.

I was struck several years ago by the curse when I received a call from someone struggling with a computer issue. I clearly guided him to reboot his PC and to continuously hit F8 as his PC booted up. I waited patiently on the phone as he followed my instruction anticipating the PC would boot into Safe mode. Unfortunately, after several attempts, he could not get his PC into Safe mode.

Confident my instructions were accurate, I asked him to try it again. I know he was getting frustrated as I could hear what sounded like muffled machine gun fire as he banged away at the keyboard. Finally, he asked me, "When I am hitting F8, do I hit the F key and then the 8 key or do I hit them at the same time?"

I was speechless. Instead of hitting the single F8 function key, he had been hitting the F key and the 8 key. Once I explained that there was an F8 function key at the top of the keyboard, all was well and we ultimately fixed the issue. In this case, I failed to consider that my knowledge was different from the knowledge of my audience.

So next time you are preparing for an upcoming presentation or a crucial conversation with someone, take time to consider the curse of knowledge and try the following quick tips to avoid the curse.

1. Recognize that the curse of knowledge exists.

If we are not aware of or do not make a conscious effort to avoid the curse of knowledge, it is likely that no matter how confident we feel our message was delivered, our audience will have a different view and our message may miss the mark. Be open to learn new communication techniques to increase your communication effectiveness. When possible, ask for feedback to see if your method and message are resonating with your listener.

2. Know your audience.

In order to communicate effectively, you must know your audience. Knowing your audience helps you avoid assumptions and allows you to better understand their perspective and level of knowledge. Avoid unfamiliar jargon and use concise concrete language that resonates with your audience.

3. Tell Stories.

Tell stories and use examples to provide context and texture to your message. Stories and examples that the audience can relate to provide credibility and helps your message resonate. Telling stories promotes better engagement with the audience and takes advantage of our brain's natural tendency to remember narratives.

Paul Jones
President, Multicraft Ventures
Millsaps AALP

Psychological Safety for Staff by Talya Straughter

Talya StraughterMillsaps now offers an Advanced Applied Leadership Program (AALP), a set of classes designed to “guide, grow, and shape the leadership team of your business.” Being a member of the AALP introductory cohort has been amazing. New connections, different topics, guest speakers, coaching sessions and required readings have added to my leadership development. A favorite session was Building and Leading Teams. We read the Harvard Business Review article “High Performance Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It” by Laura Delizonna (August 24, 2017). Who knew, there is a name for the kind of environment I strive to create as a leader. As a leader I know that there is no “I” in team; I am responsible for my team and I have to get my hands dirty. Finally, someone gets it.

Before giving birth to my youngest child, I would garden. Going to the store to purchase the items was critical. Selecting the right flowers and getting the dirt and fertilizer were important steps in the process. I could spend hours at the store. Once home the real work started. Preparing the section of land took time because I did not use a tiller. My tools of choice were a shovel and a hoe, plus hard work. Straight lines for the display; digging up the grass; feeling the dirt in my hands; placing the flowers perfectly; putting the fertilizer down; watering the flowers and finally taking in the beauty of my labor.

Creating a psychological safe environment is like gardening. Learning about staff individually, hearing their thoughts about issues, and giving them permission to have a voice are key. After talking with my staff, I decided to take some time out of each month to spend time together as a group. I was interested in providing a safe space in order to help develop them. Our meetings were coined Therapist Talks. This time was structured in a way that they were able to develop and share goals, start working towards them, and understand self-care and how to achieve it.

Creating a psychologically safe environment takes a great deal of maturity as a leader. You have to allow yourself to become vulnerable with your team. Creating a risk taking environment allowed us to grow. I believe that providing this environment allowed for clients to get the level of services needed.

I have long left that team, but our Therapist Talks made a lasting effect on them. Staff members reach out to let me know about the goals that they have accomplished, be it finding a new job, using their voice as a tool, earning another degree or learning a new skill. I feel confident that providing that space for them and investing time in them actually filled their cups and gave them the permission to go forth.

My ideas are confirmed; I had to create the atmosphere in order for trust to form to prepare for growth. Through creating a psychological safe environment our team operated like a well-oiled machine both professionally and personally.

Talya Straughter, DPC, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH
Owner, Talya Straughter, DPC, LPC, Inc.

What Is Emotional Intelligence (and Why Bother)? by Chuck Sampson

Chuck SampsonWe know Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ) when we see it, even if we’re unfamiliar with the term. Witness the colleague who can “keep her head when all about her are losing theirs and blaming it on her”; or the middle manager who gains cooperation for an important initiative from his peers over whom he has no formal authority. Contrast these examples with the genius employee who is also an “interpersonal disaster,” or the boss who trumpets an open-door policy, only to bring the roof down on anyone unfortunate enough to walk through it.

Daniel Goleman, an early researcher on the concept, defines Emotional Intelligence as “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.” Here are the four domains and corresponding competencies that describe Emotional Intelligence:

Emotional Intelligence

The research on Emotional Intelligence is extensive and, among its many findings, two stand out:

  1. Unlike IQ, we can increase our EQ. And it behooves us to make the effort since . . .
  2. EQ (not IQ) is “the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence” (Bradberry and Greaves, Emotional Intelligence 2.0).

How do you improve EQ?

It starts with self-awareness. Know where you stand on each of the EI competencies. Performance reviews, or, if available, a formal multi-rater (360-degree feedback) assessment, are good places to start, but may not offer enough specificity on where and how to direct your EI improvement efforts. Instead, consider a tool like The Social and Emotional Intelligence Profile (SEIP)—a robust instrument focused specifically on the respondent’s Emotional Intelligence (Deirdre Danahar, co-leader of the Advanced Applied Leadership Program at Millsaps, is a trusted source to consult for its administration and interpretation).

A less rigorous, but helpful resource is the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0. Before you read it, however, take the online assessment (the link comes with your purchased copy) and then use the results to guide your reading. You can also re-take the assessment at no cost at a future date to determine improvement over time.

Getting an objective baseline, whether through formal assessment tools, performance appraisal, or informal feedback helps you specify and prioritize the competencies you want to improve. Next, look for situations where you can practice applying the competency. Be intentional. Prepare and don’t wing it. Finally, leverage your success by forming an alliance with someone you trust who can observe you and give good feedback.

There is no downside to investing in Emotional Intelligence. Even the Ancient Greeks thought it was important. Virtue and genius were inseparable to them as Eric Weiner notes in The Geography of Genius. Hubris—a telltale sign of low EQ—would prevent the most brilliant philosopher or architect from earning the title “genius.” Moreover, one particular god was chosen to enact retribution against the hubristic. Her name was Nemesis.

Chuck Sampson
President of Charles E Sampson & Associates
Organization and Human Resource Development Consultancy

Does Education Matter? by Bill Brister, PhD

Bill BristerIs the cost of a college education a good financial investment? That’s the question.

Here are some statistics that show the average annual earnings for 40- to 44-year-old full-time workers in the U.S. by various levels of education.

Did Not Graduate from High School: $31,628
High School Graduate with No College: $53,211
Bachelor’s Degree: $87,550
Master’s Degree: $107,268

The average worker with a bachelor’s degree earns $87,550 annually. The average worker with only a high school degree earns $53,211 annually. That’s a difference of $34,339 per year. If we assume that the average worker will work 40 years over their lifetime, that’s a difference in total earnings of $1,373,560 in favor of the college graduate.

Now, because I am a finance professor, I would like to know the present value of this differential earnings stream. So, using a 2% annual growth rate of earnings and a 3% discount rate (30-year Treasury Bond Yield), I find that the present value of the differential earnings stream between a college grad and a high school grad is $1,116,379.

This means that if your college education cost less than $1,116,379, you will have made a good financial investment. I think most college educations cost much less than $1,116,379, and therefore college education is usually a very good financial investment. I hasten to point out that I am aware of many non-financial benefits derived from a good education—all good topics for future blogs.

The data shown above is provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This data also show differences in earnings based on race, gender, and age; and may in fact, illustrate biases in the workplace—all good topics for future blogs.

But for now, one thing is certain; there exists an education bias in the workplace.

Bill Brister, PhD
Assistant Professor of Finance
Else School of Management
Millsaps College

Social Media: Did You Make a Sound? by Sophie McNeil Wolf

Sophie McNeil Wolf"If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?"

Working with clients and participants in my Community Enrichment Series classes at Millsaps College, I ask this question often. It may seem like a strange thing to pose to small business owners, but in the social media world, the analogy is everything.

If you aren't telling your story aloud, how do you expect anyone else to know about it? Most people I know aren’t mind readers.

In class, I often refer to ripple effects. In digital media, it is about creating waves. Likes. Shares. Comments. Influence.

When I ask students how they can create ripple effects, the immediate reaction I get is “posting multiple times a day.” But, is that the answer?

In short, no. Quite the opposite. Because communication is more cluttered than ever before, you must be strategic. Posting less and engaging more helps you create higher quality content, pay attention to what your audience really wants from you, grow your community quicker, and establish you as an expert in your industry.

One of the largest missed opportunities I see is this lack of collaboration and engagement. Yes, you want to get information to the masses, but if you aren’t keeping the “social” in social media, your platforms are nothing more than alternative news silos.

There are ways to change this. Tag relevant accounts in your posts—albeit, this does not give you license to spam. When announcing a partnership, tag the partnering organization. Are you hosting an event with other organizations or have sponsors of your events? Tag them! Find peers on social media and engage with their posts in a supportive way. Do you encourage customers to ask you a question on a post or through private message? Respond—quickly.

Current expectations around response time are one hour or less. While 84% of users expect a response within 24 hours, 72% of users expect a response in under 60 minutes. Sprout Social found that 48% of survey respondents valued a quick response on social media above any other action a brand could take. (Yikes!) Put yourself in the shoes of your customers. When you submit an issue to a company, how quickly do you expect a response? This means someone must be ready to answer questions as they arise. Not just 8–5. At night. On weekends. Rapid response time is the new normal. Turn those notifications on.

Social media management is much more than posting pretty photos. What it takes is claiming your story, breaking through the noise, being consistent, and engaging to create community.

Sophie McNeil Wolf
Office of Communications and Marketing at Millsaps College
Editor/co-owner of Find It in Fondren and Explore LeFleur

The One Way to Climb Any Corporate Ladder by Bob Potesky

Bob PoteskyFor anyone working in a mid-to-large company with aspirations of getting to the top, advice is easy to find. Amazon has endless titles that sound like Strategies for Career Advancement and promise “12 Steps to Success!” or “Your Dream Job in 90 Days.” Alternately, your cousin Frank would be delighted to bend your ear about how he made Senior Vice President back in 1987. Or you could spend a few thousand traveling to a seminar where a loud, excitable career coach exhorts an adoring audience to achieve greatness.

Let’s skip all that and focus on one deceptively simple, easily misunderstood, and nearly foolproof strategy for climbing the corporate ladder:

If you want the next job up, act like you already have it.

Ok, there are a few caveats and clarifications, but still, pretty simple.

Let’s start here: exactly what do I mean by saying “act like you already have it”? Pretend you literally have the title on a plaque by your desk. Take personal responsibility every day for that larger scope of work. Often that means taking a bigger view of the company’s purpose, or its role in the lives of your clients. See more of the forest and less of the individual trees. Comport yourself like a leader.

Oh, but you say—that’s a lot of extra work for no extra pay. True, at first you become a major bargain for your company, but who hasn’t had to prove themselves before getting rewarded? That’s capitalism. That’s life. Instead, think of this as a power move. While most people are passive and wait for someone else to anoint them, you are taking charge.

Another possible objection: you have a boss or co-worker who will feel threatened by your new attitude. Well, not if you handle this right. “Act like you already have the next job” doesn’t mean to be bossy or difficult with the people around you. It doesn’t give you the right to measure someone else’s office for your furniture. Powerful leaders can be effective with a surprising degree of humility. And your boss will probably love that you just made her job easier.

Give yourself that promotion and act the part, and inevitably the corporation will notice, get used to you having that role and officially give it to you. Depending on the responsiveness of your company and their degree of need, that may happen in weeks, months, or years. But in the large majority of cases, it will happen. And if, despite everything, it’s clear you’re at a truly dead-end place, then yes, you’ll have to move on. But at least you got some powerful practice for your next opportunity.

Bob Potesky
Executive Creative Director
The Ramey Agency

Welcome Back to the Else Executive Series! by Kim Burke, PhD

Kim BurkeWe are back! Last year, the Else School of Management launched its first weekly blog series authored by faculty, staff, alumni and friends, all of whom called on their considerable business experience to help build a 51-week series (we did take Christmas week off). With the goal of providing a virtual home for resources to help address work and career-related issues, our authors consistently delivered thoughtful, insightful and practical articles. And our social media analytics suggest that our followers are interested in even more.

For those of you new to the series or the business school, here’s a quick primer on the Else School of Management. The Else School is dedicated to serving our students, the business community and the community-at-large by providing excellent instruction, engaging with our corporate and community partners and convening important conversations about business and leadership. The School 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. Last year, we introduced a new executive education program dedicated to increasing the level of leadership competence in the state. This robust program continues to flourish as we grow the development opportunities for mid to upper-level executives and establish our position as the leadership resource for Mississippi

In the coming weeks, you can look forward to informative and useful conversations that improve your business experience. You may recognize some of our authors, and we will introduce you to some new contributors along the way. Either way, you can expect coverage of a wide range of topics that reflect the best practices of business and leadership. And, as always, feel free to engage with us through social media.

On behalf of the Else School, its alumni and friends, welcome to the Else Executive Series! We hope you enjoy the series, and we look forward to hearing from you!.

Kim Burke, PhD
Dean of the Else School of Management
Professor of Accounting
Millsaps College