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Want to Win in Business? Here's Are 4 Things You Must Do
Bentley’s PreparedU Project is dedicated to preparing millennials for success in business and in life. This series provides insights into ways that objective can be accomplished
You study business to get a better job when you graduate, right? Learn the rules of the game. Master the correct way to do things. Enter the workforce ready to go.
All a smart plan except for the last bit. Don’t wait to enter.
The sooner you take classroom theory and apply it directly in the business world, the better, according to Mark Davis, a professor of operations management at Bentley University. Understand real-world issues while you’re still a student and it’ll pay off later in a big way, he says.
Here’s how you can do it.
1. Use business leaders as role models
Professionals working in your field can offer inspiration. Davis, a former manufacturing engineer for General Electric, invites guest lecturers from different industries to meet with his students.
Tom Raffio, president and CEO of Northeast Delta Dental, talks about service guarantees and quality. Doug Woodward, managing vice president at Capital One, shares insights about how to build strong customer loyalty by creating great customer experiences.
“Students are often very surprised when they see a link between what the business professional presents and what we discuss in the classroom,” says Davis.
When you meet engaged professionals doing the work, you buy in, he says. You connect with the material differently. You see its relevance. You learn from them.
For the same reason, Davis takes students to visit the operations of local corporations such as the distribution centers of New Balance, CVS, and LL Bean, as well as the manufacturing facilities of companies such as United Electric Control, Philips, and Vicor.
2. Get to know firsthand what managers want
Better to hear it from these managers, says Davis. There’s an alarming gap between what many educational institutions are teaching and what businesses actually want, according to a recent article in the Huffington Post.
Ninety-six percent of colleges and universities think they are doing a good job of satisfying the needs of business, according to a survey by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup. Yet, Davis says, a newly released Gallup poll sponsored by the Lumina Foundation reveals only 11 percent of businesses agree.
“One of the big things I hear when I talk to managers is that business students get the theory and come out and get a job but have no idea how to apply it,” says Davis.
Indeed, 59 percent of business decision makers and 54 percent of corporate recruiters give recent graduates a grade of C or lower for preparedness in their first job, according to the Bentley University Preparedness Study, one of the most comprehensive surveys done on the subject.
“It’s important to address the real needs of today’s managers,” says Davis.
3. Learn from your mistakes now, rather than later
Acquire workplace experience as a student because, frankly, it’s the ideal time to make rookie mistakes, says Davis. He likes to share a comic personal story to make the point.
When Davis finished his undergraduate education, he went to work for GE on its Manufacturing Management Program. One of his assignments was as a foreman. All of the workers under him were at least 25 years older than him.
“I was nervous about managing people, especially because they were so much older than I was,” he remembers. “I’d never been in this type of role. I therefore constantly went to my boss with questions. ‘How do I do this? How do I do that?’”
One day, his boss took two pencils out of Davis’s shirt pocket and broke off the erasers and threw them in the wastebasket.
“Why did you do that?” asked Davis.
“If you keep coming to me with all these questions, you’re never going to make mistakes, you’re never going to learn.”
Students are allowed a generous learning curve in school, says Davis. Take advantage of it.
4. Develop liberal arts skills and use them to connect
Communication is key when it comes to business. Learn more about liberal arts and use that knowledge in your field, Davis says. He offers an example.
Together with Jane Tchaicha, a professor of modern languages at Bentley, Davis traveled to France with Bentley University students. Between the two of them, the students learned not only about operations management but also about the French language and culture.
On one trip, a group of Australian students met them in France as part of the joint program. These students did not have any cultural training prior to the trip, he says. And suffered for it.
“People do things differently in France,” he says. “There is a proper way you greet people, for instance. There is a proper way to shake hands. Our students knew to hand in their hotel room keys at the beginning of the day. They made a good impression. The Australians, because of their ignorance of such basics, struggled to make inroads with the French because they did not understand their culture.”
Find a university that encourages you to respect the liberal arts and develop critical-thinking skills alongside technical prowess, says Davis.
But above all, he adds, test yourself in the business world. Once you start bridging the gap between theory and practice, you’ll find it’s exciting. After all, it’s what you are meant to do.
Meg Murphy is a freelance writer.