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Posts Tagged ‘Organizational Communication’

The helpful folks at the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) have recently provided vital information for college graduates entering the work force. This is must-have information, for knowing what employers want in new hires should be part of every graduate’s career plan.

According to NACE’s Job Outlook 2013 Survey, the number one skill/quality employers seek in job candidates is “ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization.”

Here’s the NACE top ten in order:

  1. Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization.
  2. Ability to work in a team structure.
  3. Ability to make decisions and solve problems.
  4. Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work.
  5. Ability to obtain and process information.
  6. Ability to analyze quantitative data.
  7. Technical knowledge related to the job.
  8. Proficiency with computer software programs.
  9. Ability to create and/or edit written reports.
  10. Ability to sell or influence others (NACE, 2012)

This information is timely and relevant for me as well. For my doctoral dissertation,  I am currently formulating research on the influence of Web 2.0 technologies on Millennial Generation students’ interpersonal communication skills and abilities. My own research echos the NACE finding — employers want new hires who can communicate effectively face to face.

In fact, Numbers 1 and 10 go hand in hand. Successful employees need excellent interpersonal communication skills in order to sell and influence others. Book after book, study after study, all proclaim that employers want effective communicators, but these works often cite “written and oral communication skill” equally. However, the NACE study is clear: the ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization is critically important.

Why is there such sudden emphasis on face-to-face communication among employers? Could it be that there really is a deleterious effect of growing up digital, of being a heavy user of Web 2.0-enabled technologies? Could it be that college grads of today are less skilled (or less predisposed) to communicate effectively face to face?

I have been curious about such questions since I began my college teaching career in 2004.

By next spring, I hope to have clear answers to such questions once my mixed methods research is completed. I intend to study the phenomenon of Millennial Generation students’ interpersonal skills and abilities in considerable depth. I am excited about what I will learn.

But in the meantime, I hope all my students will pay attention to what NACE’s study found out.

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In studying narrative inquiry as part of my Qualitative Research Methods class, I was struck by some similarities with my training in communication/public relations. The shared essence is storytelling.

The qualitative researcher seeks out the narrative, which may be oral or written and may be elicited or heard during fieldwork, an interview, or a naturally occurring conversation, according to Susan E. Chase, writing in Denzin and Lincoln’s Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials (2008).

Chase says a narrative may be a short topical story about a particular event or specific characters such as an encounter with a friend, supervisor, or physician, or it may be an extended story about a significant aspect of one’s life like schooling, work, marriage, divorce, childbirth, illness/injury, war, etc. Or, narrative can be on a person’s entire life.

Throughout my career, I have embraced the concept of  “communicator as storyteller.” For example, if the employee communicator is trying to explain why safety on the job is important to both employees and to the organization, then one of the best ways is to find a person who is actively engaged in safe operation of equipment and let him or her tell the story.

In this example, the narrative is crucial to credibility and, I believe, readability as well.

My valued textbook Public Relations Writing (2008) by Thomas H. Bivens, discusses the information strategies of exposition and entertainment. Bivens says two of the most-used forms of exposition are narration and description. As Bivens explains, narration is simply storytelling. Storytelling is useful for both informational and persuasive strategies.

But is there a difference between how the qualitative researcher gathers and uses narrative inquiry and how the communicator gathers and uses stories for organizational media?

Chase views contemporary narrative inquiry through five analytic lenses:

First, the researcher treats narrative, either oral or written, as a distinct form of discourse. It is retrospective in making meaning, for it shapes and orders past experience.

Second, researchers see in narratives verbal action, as in doing or accomplishing something.

Third, stories are both enabled and constrained by a range of social resources and circumstances.

Fourth, researchers treat narratives as socially situated interactive performances that are produced in a particular setting for a particular audience and a particular purpose.

Fifth, the qualitative researcher using narrative inquiry views herself or himself as narrator developing interpretations and seeking ways to present and publish the narratives studied.

This is instructive for the communicator as well. The communicator frequently seeks out a narrative that is retrospective, such as how an employee learned to operate equipment safely over a period of years. This is, as number two above says, verbal action of how the employee accomplished safe operation.

Are stories in the workplace constrained by a range of social resources and circumstances as stated above? You bet they are. In using the narrative of an employee, the communicator might find out that the culture of the organization, and the resources it provides, are not conducive to safe operation of equipment.

Workplace stories are indeed interactive performances of time and place and audience, as in number four above.  The employee narrative is a snapshot in time and can have tremendous value to the organizational communication audience.

Finally, the communicator definitely interprets the collected narratives in order to edit them and publish them in organizational media. Here the organizational communicator has an advantage over the qualitative researcher — the communicator often is responsible for his/her own media and has full authority to publish, whereas the researcher must seek publishers.

To me, the efforts of both the qualitative researcher using narrative inquiry and the organizational communicator using storytelling are similar. I believe that each can learn from the other, making each practice that much stronger.

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