Proposal to Institute a Peer Mentoring Program within the Lundquist College of Business
Lundquist College of Business
Improving Soft Skills in College Graduates – May 2019
From: Team 4 To: EXCELL
“The art of communication is the language of leadership”. James Humes, a presiding justice in California, shows us how important communication plays in leadership, and without leadership, society has no direction. Lundquist College of Business is no exception when it comes to understanding the importance of leadership, always seeking to create the most cutting-edge curriculum to inspire this. As college students, we collectively see the lack of communication skills among our peers and college graduates. Without communication, students are failing to land jobs and function successfully in the workplace. A required peer mentoring program must be established in order to attack this issue head-on and make an effective difference in these students’ careers.
“94% of recruiting professionals believe an employee with stronger soft skills has a better chance of being promoted to a leadership position” (forbes.com). Communication plays a big role in these soft skills and is relevant in every kind of workplace. There are all kinds of different communication including:
· Formal emails
· Networking etiquette
· Body language and tone
It is important to be able to communicate not only to function well in an office environment, but be able to communicate efficiently for others to understand and maximize clarity in important conversations. The importance of communication is especially evident in leadership roles. If a manager does not communicate well, employees won’t understand their task well and will not be capable of performing their task well. When it comes to college students, however, a lack of these skills hinder students from being able to successfully network and interview with business to even begin their professional career in the first place.
As part of our own research, we sent out a survey to current college students to get a sense of how students feel about their own soft skills. We received over 40 responses. As shown below, when asked what skill they wish their courses put more emphasis on over 60% of responses chose communication as their least developed skill as a result of college courses.https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/n0Ozcvs5kgVaDMBJ2bL93B_wJzOI6X6sTyOaIj2WpY8Ei_fpK7mKjTpWLhwadxKQA6_IXMurxi6u3CsjcumUDMvrx4wXVm-6LOkcOy52q3hQs3UoNukL7A377-Fzwys_4PRc0UA5
When speaking with 9 different managers and professionals, 6 of them brought up a lack of professionalism and communication skills in new college graduates hired. One manager, Blue Stiley Owner of Shadow Fitness, explicitly stated “I had to add a proper etiquette and communication lesson to my employee training because I was finding trainers failing to communicate professionally with clients and going on their phones at inappropriate times” (Manager Interview, April 2019). Managers are having to go out of their way to teach new employees skills that should be taught in higher education. From this research, a clear issue of communication amongst new graduates exists and a solution to help students practice this is necessary.
One of the main causes of the slow decrease of communication skills across generations is the evolution of technology. As people become more and more addicted to their phones, they lose that face to face time that forces people to develop their communication skills. It has now become normalized to regularly spend time on phones texting, streaming, and browsing social media. As of March 2019, the average screen time is 3 hours and 15 minutes. On top of that, they found most people to pick up their phones an average of 58 times, 30 times being at work (blog.rescuetime.com). The unhealthy addiction to our phones is staggering. Not to mention, younger generations are going to place on the higher side of that average showing how significant of a role technology has on our increasing lack of communication skills. In an interview with Pauline Thaler, advisor at Mohr Career Services, she mentioned how the biggest complaint from businesses at career fairs is students looking at their phones and failing to be fully present at the event (Thaler, April 2019). Students aren’t even capable of ignoring their phone for an hour at a professional networking event. Furthermore, communication is fluid and always changing. If over 3 hours of screen time are spent daily, individuals are also failing to keep up and adapt to communication as it evolves over time leading to an even bigger gap of students and their workplace. Overall, the longer this problem goes unnoticed, the worse this problem will get and the harder it will be to fix in the end. This must be dealt with now.
⇒ List the measurable objectives that your solution to this issue will achieve, and link them to
the grant evaluation criteria.
With a lacking skill as large as communication, there are many aspects we want to ensure Lundquist students are not missing by the time they graduate. Following are some of the key objectives we want students to walk away with.
· Ability to write a clear, concise formal business letter
· Interview skills and professionally representing yourself/skillset
· Create networking skills with peers and mentors, these can be represented by relationships formed, business and personal
· Ability to differentiate between the right situations for formal, professional, and casual communication
These are the main objectives we want our solution to bring to every Lundquist College of Business student. These goals are measurable to a certain extent and are easily taught and reinforced through our proposed mentorship program.
⇒ Prove your solution meets the objectives above, is feasible, and will create a meaningful and
sustainable improvement. First, provide a big-picture overview of your solution so that your
audience can visualize it. Next, describe in detail the solution you propose. Address all parts
of your comprehensive solution. Prove that your solution will work, clearly identify the
benefits, and show how it meets your objectives. If there are obvious risks, address them
openly and explain how you mitigate or eliminate the risks.
In order to help develop students’ communication skills, the Lundquist College of Business has a number of things in place that should be effective, including:
· BA 308: Leadership and Communication
· Career Services Advising
· Career Labs and Communication Workshops
· Negotiation Classes
· Newly added Leadership minor
However, these can be under-utilized by Pre-Business, Business Administration and Accounting majors and are only helpful if you engage in them. As students tend to find themselves busy with classwork, campus activities, jobs and other clubs or events, there need to be incentives that encourage them to participate in these activities on an ongoing basis throughout their time at Lundquist to make them impactful. The “marketing rule of seven” says that you need to hear a message seven times before you take it seriously and consider it (catamountmarketing.com) While the original marketing concept is around convincing a buyer to purchase a product, this can also be applied to learning a skill and incorporating it into your life. Thinking about this related to the objective of improving communication skills says that a student will need to be involved in multiple interactions that reinforce the basics around effective communication to actually learn them.
Our solution is to create a formal program that partners pre-business students with seniors to allow them to learn from each other. There are three main components to the program: addition of a communication skill section to the business school application, development of incentives to encourage seniors to act as coaches, and creation of a structure that allows pre-business students and senior coaches to meet and work together. Participation would be required for any student intending to apply to a Business Administration or Accounting major and would be introduced at the start of their second year.
Pre-business students, who are likely newer to the university environment and have not had the chance to participate in a range of activities and classes, have a particular need to focus on communication skills. The earlier a student is exposed to the concepts and techniques around communication, the more likely they are to experience the seven interactions needed to reinforce the messages. The classes that make up the prerequisites are only introductory in nature and don’t have much practical experience, but are intense and time-consuming and don’t leave much extra time for training opportunities. For those reasons, our proposal creates a need for students to practice and learn the foundation of effective communication before they are admitted as a business student.
The first aspect of the proposal is to add an interview process to the Lundquist College of Business major application. These interviews, however, are a bit of a twist on the traditional college interview process where a student is questioned by an alumni or member of the admissions committee.There are two sections to the interview in our proposal. In the first part, the major candidate has the assignment to schedule a meeting with a senior business student and conduct a two-way interview. The pre-business student needs to send a formal request to arrange a meeting time, dress professionally, prepare interview questions to learn more about the senior student and be prepared to answer questions similar to those on the application for Business majors. The senior student provides coaching and feedback following the interview with the expectation that they will be available to provide coaching and help the student prepare for the formal application interview. The application interview itself would include the senior mentor as well as a faculty member and would allow the student to answer questions related to their application. This new addition isn’t designed to weed out candidates, but to give them the opportunity to talk about themselves and provide additional context to their application responses. With only 2500 characters to work with for each supplemental question, it can be difficult to manage to that amount of space.
As an interview can add to a potentially stressful application process, students would need to be prepared and taught the basics for success in the interview part of the application process. Three information sessions describing the details of the interview and the roles of the students and the mentors would be held each quarter and students would be required to at attend at least one of them when they reach sophomore status. This serves as an introduction to outline expectations, provide specifics on the assignment, define the role of the senior mentor and outline what they would expect and how to be successful. The overview section would also specify how to find and interact with a senior mentor and the timeline. This would include a structure, likely a web application, that provides brief biographical information about the mentors, their areas of interest and background and contact information. The pre-business student would be expected to send formal emails to mentors within two weeks of the overview session and would be able confirm that they have engaged a mentor and provide their name in the same web application. The program coordinator would be able to use the application to indicate mentors that are still available and help with the matchmaking between the student and mentor, as needed.
As with many things, practice makes perfect when it comes to interviews. In a article from The Balanced Careers, the authors state “The more you practice, the more you will be prepared to respond during an actual job interview” (Doyle, “How to Rehearse for an Interview”). The two-way interview with the senior mentor provides at least one opportunity for practice and could include multiple sessions if the student is interested. Asking the pre-business student to interview the senior first allows them to become connected and familiar with the mentor and their experience. Building a rapport and level of comfort is likely to make it easier for the mentor to provide feedback and for the pre-student to listen to them. With the mentor also attending the formal interview, the applicants should feel more at ease with a familiar face in a stressful situation.
The other critical piece in our proposal are the senior mentors. Though they have more experience with communication and may have personal experience through jobs or internships, they can continue to learn and practice communication skills as well. Studies, like the one conducted by a researcher at Washington University show that, “learners expecting to teach recalled more material correctly, they organized their recall more effectively, and they had better memory for especially important information” (www.futurity.org). Each senior mentor could be responsible for 5-6 students a quarter with a minimum commitment of 3 hours: one for an introductory two-way interview, one for a feedback session and one to participate in the formal application interview. This allows the mentro to get to know the student a bit, share their experience and help with any questions or coaching. They could participate more with the pre-business students if both find it to be helpful, but that is not part of the requirement. With a diverse student body, mentors can come from various backgrounds and have vastly different interests, allowing a student to find someone who they feel comfortable with.
This solution meets our team’s objectives because it:
· Engages students throughout their academic career from application through to mentoring
· Focuses on early engagement by starting with pre-business students
· Creates multiple opportunities to hear the message which should solidify the skills
· Provides structure and facilitates learning and teaching
· Reaches all Lundquist College students
Because students are required to participate as a part of the major application, students will have to participate. It also has the added benefit of creating networking opportunities for students early in their college career that they may not otherwise have.
There are two key risks that come to mind related to this proposal. The first is related to the senior mentors, as the program won’t work without an adequate population of mentors who are motivated and engaged with the pre-business students. One way to mitigate this risk is to provide benefits and incentives for students to participate, including:
· Class credit towards graduation
· Content that can be added to resume regarding the program and role
· Financial stipend for participating
The pool of mentors could also be expanded outside the Lundquist College of Business. Students from the SOJC, who are trained in communications, would also be candidates to act as mentors. Other upperclassmen could also be considered as mentors in order to ensure that there is an adequate pool. The second risk is related to the overhead required to successfully manage the program and repeat it continually from quarter to quarter. Training needs to be developed to introduce the program, a web application needs to be developed and maintained to execute the matchmaking and there are likely to be countless questions and issues that come up on a regular basis. In order to mitigate this risk, a program coordinator should be dedicated to leading this program full-time for at least the first two years. They would own all aspects of the program, from recruiting the mentors to creating the training to answering day to day questions. Once the program was established, the program coordinator might be able to reduce the time spent on managing the details to about 50% of their time.
TECHNICAL PLAN (RORY)
⇒ Provide a specific list of tasks and a timeline for completing the tasks required for the solution
Our communication skill solution begins during the fall term and targets sophomore Pre-Business students. By sophomore year, nearly all prospective LCB students have declared Pre-Business and are zeroing in on their final few prerequisites courses. Students will be required to attend one of three instructional meetings that will be spaced out between Weeks 2 and 3 of fall term. Students will be made aware of the mandatory attendance through emails and posters in Lillis and the business residential community. Also, business prerequisite course professors will be asked to mention the meetings in class.
These informational meetings are simply intended to give an overview of the project with enough time for students to fulfill the requirements and likely will not last more than 45 minutes. The agenda for the meeting will include a leading LCB faculty member teaching the importance of proper communication skills in all business environments and contrasting that with the deficiencies of many recent college graduates. It will be stressed that employers are feeling underwhelmed by the business communication etiquette of new hires and the LCB is instituting this program as a way for its students to get ahead of the game. Senior students who are serving as mentors in the program will be encouraged to attend and share their perspectives on the values of the program. Finally, the timeline for completion will be presented to the students who will have plenty of time to fulfill the requirements before their official LCB application.
Since between 250 and 300 students typically apply to the LCB during spring term, the three meetings will be held in Lillis 282 as it is more than big enough to accommodate the entire application class. Although the emphasis will be put on attending the fall meetings, there will be two meetings held during the beginning of winter and spring terms in order to give transfer students and Pre-Business students on irregular schedules the same amount of time to complete the program. These meetings will be held in smaller classrooms.
The second aspect of the program requires students to reach out to their senior mentor to arrange a time to meet face-to-face. The student will be required to find a time that works for both people, choose a convenient place for their senior mentor to meet, and dress appropriately for a business conversation. This exercise resembles a realistic meeting arrangement between people in business.
CONCLUSION – Hamad
⇒ Re-create exigency by briefly recapping the situation and benefits of your solution. Provide a
clear call to action to the reader (what you want the reader to do).
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