Is Management a Profession?

Basic Business Cents

Debate rages in academic circles on whether management is a profession similar to medicine, education,and law. Managers like to think of themselves as professional but there are many different characteristics. Management as a profession does not have a certification examination or barriers to entry like law and medical. It has no code of conduct; it has no yes-or-no criteria.

Business management is not expertise in a narrow field but ability to integrate excellence in a number of fields such as finance, marketing, engineering, production, quality, inventory control, and personnel. This raises the interesting question, “How does one prepare to become a professional business manager?”

Three areas should be integrated into a manager’s preparation, formal education, learning from others, and experience.

Although education is provided in individual fields as listed above, the most popular formal program is the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. Most MBA students have prior work experience. Each is building on a different base, learn different things, and go on to different careers. The universities recognize and build upon their experience and knowledge and use collaborative learning so the students can learn from each other. Harvard is noted for their case studies of real world situations and has been the leader in this group analyses and development of approach for solutions.

The London School of Business sent teams of students to analyze my company for several years.  We welcomed their scrutiny because we learned much from them. They expressed their views strongly and caused some discomfort to some of our people with their critique, but it was a very beneficial process and only made us better. Hopefully, they also gained some knowledge.

Another preparation step is to learn from others. This learning can be done informally by helping friends and acquaintances analyze their business problems and offering solutions or in a formal setting like SCORE®. This is a national organization that provides mentorship to small businesses at no charge. Consultants always learn from their clients so volunteering to help has dividends.

Collaborative sharing of experiences can also be informal or in a formal setting like the CEO Roundtable. This organization charges a modest fee and has a paid moderator for groups of about twelve heads of non-competitive organizations. They have monthly meetings and discuss a problem at one of the organizations, which the moderator selects from interim one-on-one meetings with each CEO. They focus on one problem each month but all gain because problems are often common from organization to organization.

Experience is the third step in preparation is experience. Always take time to analyze what you learned dealing with a problem. Develop your own theory on the best solution and compare it to what actually worked. Do not report a problem without a proposed solution so that you appear to be part of the solution and not a part of the problem. Volunteer for assignments so that you can learn. Identify the next desired position and prepare for it.

The profession of business management is indeed different than that of law, education, and medicine. Certification of qualification for business management would be problematic and arbitrary. It would be counter-productive and dysfunctional because it would inhibit cooperative learning. Management preparation must be a collaborative effort in each of three steps: formal education, learning from others, and experience.

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Achieving Job Satisfaction

A friend stated recently that his Dad worked his entire life at a job he hated. What a shame! We spend so much of our life at work that it should be something that we enjoy and receive satisfaction from doing something well and worthwhile.

Our job, our career, should bring us pride in what we do. Our accomplishments should be something our children like to talk about. Our work should bring fulfillment to our life. How do we find that work?

Let us talk first about our managers’ role in helping us achieving that pride in our work. After they hired us and placed us in the present position, they have a responsibility to help us achieve our job satisfaction and happiness. A question the manager should ask is, “Do I work in the system or on the system.” Typically, the employee is given a work process and does the best he/she can within the guidelines of that process. The manager’s primary job is to manage the process and not the employee. The employee will do the very best they can; they can’t help it. No one goes to work to do a poor job, but is often limited by his or her work processes. The managers therefore need to focus their attention on improving the work processes that will allow their employees to do better. Oh, and by the way, how does the manager receive more job satisfaction, micro-managing the employee or improving the process that allows the employee to do better? No doubt, the manager receives more job satisfaction by process improvement, which provides more productivity and pride in work by the workforce. Education, training, and positive feedback in real time also play a part in work improvement and employee satisfaction. Delegation of authority as the employee is capable and ready can give the employee an opportunity to blossom and grow.

Now for the employees’ responsibility: attitude, pride in work, enthusiasm, and happiness are all important in work productivity and quality. First, prepare yourself for promotion. Learn the requirements of the next position you desire and lay out a plan to improve you qualifications. Take advantage of education and training opportunities, learn from others, apprentice or intern, and volunteer to gain experience.

If that desired opportunity is not available where you work, don’t be afraid to seek it elsewhere. Gone are the days where we do the same job for our lifetime for most people. Most people today will have several different careers in their life as they seek opportunities leading to better work fulfillment. Technology is eliminating many jobs, social media is changing marketing and communications, and improved and innovative knowledge through electronics means is changing the work world. Display initiative and prepare yourself for change that will bring opportunities.

Money and titles are not the most important; job satisfaction and enjoyment are. Position yourself into an upward cycle of enjoyment in what you do, which leads to becoming a more productive employee, which leads to more satisfaction and pride in your work, which leads to becoming a better employee, which leads to ………..


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Benefitting from Internships

Who doesn’t like win-win situations?  How about win-win-win?

Some years ago, my company hired the daughter of a friend from across the lake. She was required in her college curriculum to intern with some company for a summer in her specialty, marketing. That was one of the best hires that we ever made. She was willing to work for no pay because the internship experience was required for her graduation, but we could not do that in all fairness to her and did pay a modest amount. She brought new, creative ideas that were successful and taught us as we taught her. From that time on, we hired one or two interns every summer.

An internship can be defined as a method of on-the-job training for white-collar and professional careers, similar to apprenticeships for trade and vocational jobs. These positions may be paid or unpaid and are usually temporary. Interns can be found in colleges, local high schools, and the post-graduate staff. Lance Bagstad, Superintendant of Park Rapids Public Schools, shared that recent legislation, requiring schools and businesses to work together in providing students with college and career readiness skills, is opening the doors for collaboration. Tried and proven school-to-work opportunities still flourish but can be enhanced through partnerships and likeminded goals. It might take a little digging to find intern positions but once the students unlock the process, they will have contacts and understanding that can be used year after year.

Win #1 is for the hiring organization. High on the list for most organizations is how to improve marketing and bring in more revenue. The marketing world is changing as it transforms into the electronic world. Who understands computers and application programs that take advantage of speed and amplification of communications like young people? Students interested in careers in marketing, technology, or preferably both, are ideal intern candidates, but other fields are also beneficial to many businesses. Students can bring current academic views and employees can learn from them. Most interns are eager to learn, display initiative, are intelligent, energetic, and extremely grateful for opportunities to grow.

Win #2 is for the interns. Learning and living real world character values of responsibility, accountability, and commitment resonates in an internship for young people. They gain knowledge and practical application of that knowledge which will help them in their remaining classes at school, make a little money, and gain satisfaction from being productive. Students can use an internship to determine if they have an interest in a particular career, create a network of contacts, or gain school credits. Not to overlook is the benefit in applying for career opportunities after graduation. The experience, display of initiative and other ideal traits will be duly noted by interviewing parties.

Win #3 is for the local community. Internships create jobs! Students share experiences with other students and school staff, which add to their knowledge. They create interest and excitement for career employment among other students. Perhaps most important to the community is creating interest among the students in working for local companies and keeping this promising talent in the local area.

Rarely do we have opportunities that cost little in time and money that offer these benefits to our organization, to the local youth, and to our community. Our local school is very open to partnering with businesses to provide the win-win-win for all. Try it and see for yourself.



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Changing Times

People don’t resist change; they resist being changed!

Too often, people do not recognize, nor respond to, change that is upon them and they are changed by others from outside their normal sphere of competition. An example is the computer industry. At one time IBM, Univac, NCR, Burroughs and a few others ruled the market. They did not react to the change of the users who desired smaller computers and distributed computer usage. Hence they were replaced by DEC, Data General, Varian, and a few others supplying minicomputers. That group did not react to even smaller and more user-friendly microcomputers as provided by Apple, IBM (they made a comeback), Dell, and Hewlett Packard.  Only Apple made the transition, in fact led it, to the next generation of tablet computers and smart phones. Apple is now joined by Samsung and others, as we see more and more serious competition from around the world.

Change is here; it will always be here, but at an ever-increasing pace. Some of the changes are: more focus on short-term thinking fueled by the increased speed brought about by the electronics world, social conscious, environment concerns, limited budgets, weather instability, on-line sales/marketing, and competition from anywhere in the world. Awareness of how these and other changes might change your business is critical, as is how you react to lead the way.

Recognizing the changing trends and willingness to change are two different subjects. Like most in the four generations of the computer industry, you can wait until your business is obsolete as other more adventuresome businesses move in, or you can lead the way. The change required is usually radical, not superficial, and must be made quickly. Leaders take a risk but the risk of followership is well-demonstrated. An example of the value of quick action is Nike teamed up with Apple to develop sensors in their shoes to transmit to Apple’s products to log speed, distance, calories burned, and other data. Other competitors are left behind with less desirable partners with whom to react.

Authors Elie Ofek and Luc Wathieu in Harvard Business Review, July-August of 2010, listed a 4-step process to address trends in business.

  1. Identify the Trends that Matter. Ask yourself, what trends have potential to reshape your business, and how profound are they, short-term or long-term trends.
  2. Conduct Experiments. One experiment would be a radical change that satisfies needs that customers might not yet know that they need. The second is a more conservative approach to reacting to perceived customer needs.
  3. Compare the Results. Examine what you have learned from the experiments. The first experiment might have uncovered a new market in which you can become the leader, or it might not. You might learn valuable information, which will enable you to more intelligently conduct the next experiment.
  4. Isolate Potential Strategies. With this new perspective, you can take action on a broader basis.

Change is not an option and you can change or be changed, the choice is yours.


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Employee Feedback

Dogs like a pat on the back, and people do too.”

W. Edwards Deming

People want and need feedback on how they are performing. They want to learn. People have an inherent desire to perform well, improve, and excel. Long ago, Human Resource or Personnel department staff recognized that supervisors and managers did not provide sufficient feedback to workers so they devised performance appraisal systems to force feedback at least once a year. Think for a minute, do we wait for months to give feedback to our puppy for wetting on the floor or coming when we call? Yet we often treat people that way by waiting months to provide feedback. Obviously, we need to give feedback in real time as performance is noted. The more time that is expired between the event and the feedback, the more the effect is diminished.

Okay, so we need to give feedback promptly, but how? In order for people to learn and grow, they need guidance by both positive and negative feedback. A good rule of thumb is to give three “atta boys” to every “aw shucks”; three positives to every negative. Positive feedback can be given in front of others as long as it does not cause jealously. Negative feedback should always be given in private to prevent humiliation. Both types of feedback should be constructive, helping the employee increase performance and sense of worth.

Be thoughtful and considerate. It is best to deliver the feedback in person unless the individual, or group, is remote. In that case, a handwritten note is more effective than cold email or voice mail. You might be surprised to find how many people keep handwritten notes, as they are meaningful to them.

Be real; be genuine in your feedback. Think carefully about what you say or do as the impact can have a lot more impact than you think. People can tell the difference when you are going through the motions or are sincere. Insincere positive feedback can be more damaging than doing nothing.

Pay attention to the frequency of your feedback. Too much, or too often, feedback loses effect and you may not be taken seriously. Too little and you don’t help the employee learn and they may feel neglected. Employees who feel neglected often look for another job where they will be appreciated. Turnover in employees is expensive.

For those on the receiving end of feedback, learn how to take it. Many people feel uncomfortable receiving a compliment because they do not know how to act. They don’t want to be seen as an egotist and so tend to deflect the compliment. A good way is to stand erect, look the person straight in the eye, and let them know how much it means to you. Sincere recognition deserves sincere expression of gratitude.

Don’t forget that managers and leaders can also be the recipients of feedback. You too, can feel good with a pat on the back. Learn how to accept it as employees will observe your behavior and emulate it.

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Elating Your Three Constituents, Satisfying Isn’t Good Enough

Dr. W. Edwards Deming often said, “Satisfying your customers is not good enough; satisfied customers will switch. You have to provides goods and services that are so good that your customers will brag about you to their colleagues and stay true to you.”

You have two other key groups that are equally important, stakeholders and owners.  Satisfying isn’t good enough for any of the three groups; all three must be elated with their relationship with you and your organization.

Customers will tell you what they want and need if you will only listen. Sounds simple but listening is hard as we like to talk and may not know the right questions to ask. Listening is an art and must be practiced.

Customers’ objectives can be broken down into three groups-quality, delivery (timeliness), and cost. Of course customers are looking for quality, not just of the product or service but also of the processes that produce the product or service. If the process is of high quality, then they can depend on the product or service to be of high quality. No one sets out to buy an unreliable or poor quality product or service.

Delivery or timeliness can relate to the product/service being available when and where needed. It can involve development time of new products, handling time, ensuring reliability of suppliers to deliver on time, or any element of time consumed from the raw material to the point of use by the end customer.

Cost is larger than the out-of-pocket cost of the purchase. The total cost of ownership should be considered including maintenance, product life, down time, and difficulty of use.

Stakeholders will also tell you what they want and need if you listen. Stakeholders include employees, suppliers, local businesses that benefit from your existence, and lenders. They want to be treated with integrity, fairness, honesty, and respect. They should understand your vision of the future for your organization and want to be a part of achieving that vision. The environment is also a stakeholder. The employees want to see growth opportunities, which involve a growing organization that provides education, training, and tutoring. They should be excited, energized, and comfortable that they made the right decision to join in your quest.

The owners are the third group, which must be elated with your performance. They also will tell you of their needs and wants if you listen. Their key objectives revolve around return of investment of time and money, growth, recognition, prestige, and leaving a legacy. Sounds like the same things you want, right?

What if you are the owner? Same thing applies and must be planned the same as the other two groups. Too often small business owners toil long hours without paying themselves a salary. Good planning and execution takes into consideration fair compensation for the owners as well as stakeholders.

The three groups can be likened to the abc’s of business-customers, stakeholders, and owners. Each is of equal importance and must be elated with their transactions with your organization. Satisfying them is not good enough.

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Electronic Word-of-Mouth Marketing

An old story relates of three business owners vacationing in Florida. One said he was celebrating a very successful fire sale. The second said he was also celebrating a very successful sale but his was a flood sale. The third inquired, “How do you start a flood?” There are many better ways to bring customers to your door, but the best by far is word-of-mouth. Getting your customers to brag about your goods and services to their friends and colleagues is effective, but slow to develop. A tool is available today to speed up that development, social media.

Many tools, called application programs or apps, are available to help you. The most common are Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, Google+, Pintrest, and blogs and new ones are emerging regularly. A posting by a customer about a positive experience with your product or service is made on their favorite app. If readers are impressed, they might re-post it and it is read by a whole new set of friends, and then another reposting, etc. This can cause an exponential growth in information about your products or services. If it really takes off, it is called going viral.

As important, if not more important, to posting on social media is listening to social media. What are your customers saying? What are they looking for? Are you offering them what they need?

All of this is dependent on the quality of your products and services. It can work in reverse and that is disastrous, so you have to make sure that you are providing goods or services that will cause people to brag about you. Just meeting their expectations or satisfying them is not enough; they should be so proud of the decision that they made to do business with you that they will want to share with their friends the good experience. People who use these apps tend to be on line daily so the news can mushroom quickly.

To kick start your electronic word-of-mouth marketing, get a presence on various apps for your business. You do not need to be on all of them, but be timely, current, and careful of what you post. Do what you do well. You will want to have frequent messages, at least weekly, that are not blatant advertising, but attention getting and interesting. They might be informative, useful, or practical. Of course, they need to be brief, which is mandatory on some apps.

Next, you need to get your customers to enroll as friends of your business app. You can do this with a small sign next to the cash register, use email “blasts”, direct mail, media advertisements, or simply talking to your customers when you come in contact with them. Make sure the directions are clear on how to transcend the process of becoming a friend of your company. Or better, collect email addresses of your clients and send them emails to invite them to become friends or contacts of your organization.

Electronic word-of-mouth is fast, effective, easy, and inexpensive. Our forefathers never dreamed of such a wonderful tool to use to promote their business. And you don’t have to reduce profit by having sales or wondering “how to start a flood.” Just make sure the quality of your goods and services is high and continually improving, so the resultant word-of-mouth is positive.

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Marketing Tools for Small Business

Do you like treasure hunts? How about one in which you can be assured of a successful hunt and find a treasure that you will cherish? You can enter this treasure hunt by taking your computer to and clicking on Templates & Tools. There you will find a choice of seven paths to take and you will probably find a treasure at the end of each path. The seven categories are: Startup, Run & Grow a Business, Business Advice, Marketing, Management, Technology, and Finance & Money. For this article, I chose to go down the Marketing path and took the fork, “Five Marketing Must Haves for Small Business”.

The five paths are:

  1. Brand Identity
  2. Elevator Pitch
  3. Promotional Tools
  4. Social Network
  5. Experienced Mentor

The key to great marketing is asking the right questions, both of yourself and your customers. Establishing your brand identity starts with asking yourself, what exactly are you offering, who will you offer it to, and how will they benefit. What will you be known for–something not otherwise available, great value, great service, convenient, high quality, etc.  Questions to ask yourself are:

  • How do you define yourself
  • Who is your target audience
  • What are their needs
  • What problems do you solve
  • What makes you different
  • How do your customers benefit from doing business with you.

Now take all your answers to these questions and condense them into a clear, concise, and understandable format.

The term “elevator speech” comes from the scenario in which you find yourself alone on an elevator with the key individual you wish to convince of your value and you have about a minute to make your persuasive argument of why he/she should buy from you (or recommend you to a friend or colleague). In that minute, you have to introduce who you are and what you do. Describe why you and your product/service are unique, how others benefit from it, and how that person would also benefit from it. And don’t forget that old piece of advice, “ask for the order”. Describe specifically what action you would like that person to take and in what timeframe. Now rehearse, refine, and rehearse some more until you can deliver your message naturally and smoothly in the time it takes that elevator to go from one floor to another. Remember what I said in a previous article, “The best extemporaneous talk is well rehearsed.”

Promotion is a key part of marketing and many tools are available which are inexpensive and carry your message long after your contact with a prospect or even in your absence. A good logo, which is unique to your business, memorable, and maybe tells your story, is a good place to start. Repetition is key so use your logo everywhere-business cards, brochures, web site, stationery, and throughout your company. They should be clean and neat, containing your name, organization name, telephone number, email address, web site address (social media profiles), and physical address. The rear of the card could contain the key points of your elevator speech.

A professional web site is a must today. People will check your web site to confirm that you are real and here to stay. Branded marketing materials such as flyers, mailers, and handouts are easy ways to keep your name and benefits in front of people. One should ask the question of what handout would people tend to keep or what would they toss without paying much attention.

We have all learned in our experience that word-of-mouth is the most effective form of marketing. Today social media is the new form of word-of-mouth. Through Facebook and other social media programs, photos, designs, tips, video clips, breakthroughs, and other news about your organization can be shared. If informative or interesting, viewers can share with friends, their friends share with their friends, and your message gets widespread exposure.

Business today is very complex and it is useful to take advantage of the brains of others. No matter how experienced and knowledgeable you may be, there are always challenges that emerge and you can benefit from the wisdom and experience of others. Mentors are available from SCORE, Small Business Development Corporation, friends, and other business owners, who bring a fresh perspective and can act as a sounding board for you. People like to be asked for advice; why not take advantage of it.

This is only an example of the treasures that await you at It is free and easily available so good luck to you. It could be useful and practical for you to use in your organization.



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Presentation Effectiveness

Think about those times when you went on your first date and you really wanted to make a good first impression. Did you start out by detailing your life history? Probably not.  Yet, when making a business presentation, many people start out with a slide detailing their organization history.  An article by Leadership IQ states that most presenters start out by talking about themselves, right from the first slide, and destroy their presentation.

Most people are selfish in that they want to hear or see in the presentation something that will benefit them and they care little about the speaker, or his organization’s background. If the speaker is putting forth something relevant and useful to the audience, it matters not how important the speaker thinks he/she is and and/or their organization.

So how should you start? First add to your understanding of their needs. Ask them what they want to accomplish with today’s conversation. Note the word conversation, you are not there to preach a sermon. It is best if you can get the audience involved. The next key word is listen; listen to their desires and note them down to make sure you address them. This note taking also exhibits a sincere desire to hear from the audience about what would make this a good experience for them; very important to make your talk effective.

Next, pay attention to the mechanics of your presentation. A good thing to remember is that any extemporaneous talk is well rehearsed. You are probably not intentionally making an extemporaneous talk but you need to be flexible to respond to the audience input at the beginning of your presentation. Know your subject so thoroughly that you can adjust the presentation to address the stated needs and wants of the audience. This may be more difficult if you are using slides. But, if you are just using a few slides to reinforce key points that you want the audience to remember, you can easily adopt your oral presentation to use the key points to fit the audiences stated needs.  Slides should never be just read, which is very boring. A good point to remember is that any talk worth listening to is worth learning by the presenter.

Address the audience; look them in their eyes. Of course, if you have your back to them reading your slides, this is difficult to do. Make sure at the start that everyone can hear you and annunciate clearly. Take your time and don’t race through your presentation. Pay attention to your body language, it sometimes tells as much as what you are saying. Have excitement in your voice and body language. You really want to get the audience with you; bobbing their heads up and down.

The conclusion of the presentation should leave your audience on a high note. This can be accomplished by addressing the benefits of whatever you are promoting in your talk. Again these benefits should tie back to the audience input in the beginning and your understanding of their needs. Use case studies, when you can, which are relevant to the audience.

Last, “ask for the order”. Get the audience to agree to take the action that you desire. Make it easy for them to say “yes”. Presentations without resultant action are generally of little value.



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Find Your Niche

“Give the razor away and make your money off of the razor blades” sounds like a good business strategy, doesn’t it? Perhaps Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. thought so when they developed the Keurig© single-serve coffee makers which made a huge impact on the coffee distribution market. They recognized that a segment of the coffee drinkers wanted to be able to conveniently get a fresh cup of coffee when the mood struck them. They differentiated themselves by developing a single cup coffee maker that used a patented container with enough coffee grounds for that one cup. So simple!

Southwest Airlines also made a big impact on their market by being different.  They took complexity and cost out of flying by selling tickets at the gate obviating the need of paying travel agents. They also eliminated in-flight services like providing food, and minimizing any baggage handling services. Convenience and simplicity won out over frills.

IKEA differentiated itself in the home furnishing business by targeting on the young working family with children. Their stores are open for extended hours and customers can browse at their leisure through displays of products arranged as they might be at home. Customers note the items they wish to purchase, pay for them, and pick them up themselves in the warehouse portion of the store. They assemble them at home and save. Again, differentiation and simplicity are keys to the strategy.

So, what can you learn from this? First, know your self and your business. What Can You Do Well that will set you apart from the masses? At what are you the best, what is your competitive advantage, and is it sustainable? Do you have special talents or can they be procured or attained? You can’t be the best at everything so you need to focus on a market niche in which you can dominate, at least be number one or two in your niche. Time, money, and efforts should be coordinated and focused on this object.

Second, What Provides Emotional Satisfaction? Certainly you should look forward to going to your home and family at the end of the day, but your work should be so enjoyable that you are excited to get back to it in the morning. What provides you with pride in your performance? What provides fulfillment that you are doing something worthwhile? Does your present position in your business lead to your ultimate goal in your career?

Third, What Provides Financial Satisfaction? Money is not always a motivator, in fact, it can be a de-motivator, but it must be considered and planned for. In other words is it worth it? It is valuable, in my opinion, a must to develop a profit and loss statement for your business or yourself. It should detail all revenue and expenses by category for the next year by month. Then update it each month and add a month on the end so you always have a running twelve months looking forward at your actual vs. planned, and take action as needed. Ensure that not only your present financial needs are being satisfied, but also that you are on plan to meet your retirement financial needs.

Finding your niche in your business market or career that satisfies your emotional and financial needs is easier said than done. But, it is critical to your happiness. Finding the strategic position for your business or career is not obvious. It requires creativity and insight that comes about through thinking and effort.


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