In my role as Associate Dean at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, I am often called upon to give career advice to both our MBA students and recent graduates. I typically offer some traditional suggestions on how to go about assessing your skills and interests as well as ideas for developing a career strategy. Recently, however, I begin to think about the best advice I ever received.  I’ve been given some great suggestions by a wide variety of mentors and bosses and I thought it might be useful to pass it on here. After all, business success isn’t only about gaining the right credential or learning a particular set of skills. Ultimately, success is a question of how you apply that credential and those skills – and how you develop your values and your attitude toward work and life.


Here then are a few words of wisdom that every aspiring professional should take to heart:


  • “How can you help sell? Do good work.” Early in my career I was a management consultant. I helped a variety of organizations improve their operations and develop creative business strategies. I vividly recall one partner asking a bunch of us new consultants how we could help sell more work to our clients. Some of my colleagues offered a variety of marketing and sales ideas, but the partner cut them short and said “the best way you can promote the firm is to do good work.” I think this holds true whether you are selling your services to a client or trying to make a mark in your own organization. If you do good work, with integrity, good things follow.

  • “I’ve never regretted taking on something that I thought was hard.” One of my former bosses said this to me when I was contemplating taking on a new role – teaching an MBA class. I had not taught before and MBA classrooms can be intimidating places.   I wasn’t sure I should add the new responsibilities to an already full plate and was quite nervous about the role. My boss encouraged me to accept the position with this thought. And, of course, he was right! The teaching position was a lot of fun and led to even more opportunities to teach and interact with students. Since then, I’ve considered his advice often. Whenever a new opportunity has presented itself, I don’t worry too much about whether it’s hard or not – I think about what I might learn and who I might meet. Great opportunities are often hard work – you shouldn’t shy away from them because of that – it’s the hard work that makes them valuable.

  • “They’ll treat clients and professional staff the same way they treat administrative staff”. During my consulting days, we would evaluate potential hires on all sorts of criteria – analytical ability, communications skills, strategic view, interpersonal skills, etc. Most applicants were well prepared and expected to be grilled on these topics when interviewed by partners and consultants. What they may not have known is that the receptionists and secretaries could also provide feedback on their interactions with the applicant. If they perceived the candidate as arrogant, impolite or “pushy” they could add that to the overall evaluation. When I ran Chicago Booth’s admissions office, we instituted the same policy. Everyone on the team could offer an opinion on a candidate and it would have a bearing on the final admissions decision. The moral of this story is to always treat everyone you meet with respect – you never know who is watching. (It’s also simply the right thing to do).

  • “What will you learn”? Your career choices should focus as much or more on what you’ll learn as how much money you’ll make. At this point, I can’t recall who gave me this advice, but it has served me extremely well. Your value to an organization is dependent on how much you know and how you apply that knowledge. The more experiences you can develop and the more skills you can gain, the more valuable you become. Therefore, your career path should follow opportunities to learn new things – take on new responsibilities, participate in projects that are new to you, develop relationships with people you don’t know. The more you can do this, the broader your set of skills and the more valuable you become.

  • “It all starts with sales.” Whether you are an entrepreneur, an investment banker trying to attract clients or simply a rising manager looking to move ahead, the ability to sell and persuade is critical. Unfortunately, it’s a skill that many of us too often neglect. No matter what industry you’re in or what position you hold, sales, persuasion and negotiation skills are some of the most important things you can learn. The success of your organization and your own personal success often hinge on your ability to understand your customer (or your boss), present them with a compelling story, and convince them of the value that you provide. Take the time to develop these skills and you’ll go far.


These are just a few of the bits of advice that I’ve been given over the years. I’ve found them all to be right on target – even if I haven’t always followed them as well as should. I hope you’ll find them as helpful as I have.

The greatest challenge to any piece of employee research is translating the data into real improvements for the organization. It is the “so what?” justification of engaging with employees. Whatever sector your business is in, there are a number of issues that come up time and again:


“How do we keep up momentum?”


“How do we best impact business performance?”


and increasingly in these days of HR cutbacks:


“How do we engage line managers and make them accountable?”


To address these questions we have pooled together our expertise and experience of working with a wide range of companies to outline a straightforward approach for really effective action planning. Our four steps to success: Plan, Train, Develop, and Track provide a strategic framework for ensuring that action is the first – not the last – thing to be considered.


4 steps to success


In some organizations, an employee survey is still an isolated activity: something run by HR once a year rather than truly embedded into the business. In order to make the survey something more, it is good to keep in mind what the survey isn’t:


The survey isn’t an isolated event – it is an opportunity to start a conversation on how colleagues feel about working at the organization, and make changes for the better


The survey isn’t just about creating an action plan – it is an opportunity to use the insights to inform business decisions


The survey isn’t the only opportunity to engage – there are a whole range of touchpoints that can be used to enhance engagement.


Understanding what is expected from the survey and your overarching goals from the beginning can help ensure that you see real improvements for the organization. This paper presents key strategies to design surveys that inspire actions which, in turn, lead to organizational success.

As the business world continues to get more complex and the world economy more interdependent, what can you do to maintain your own leadership position and keep your company heading in the right direction? How can you stay relevant, informed, technologically savvy, and on top of the latest developments in your field or industry?


Clearly, the answer is continuing education. It’s no longer possible to rely on the skills you learned in a Bachelor’s or even Master’s degree to maintain your edge. Success in today’s business environment requires constant updating of skills and continual learning. While I suppose that this has always been true, in my view it has become an even more critical element of success. Business leaders today must spend more time learning and must master a wider range of subjects than ever before. New technologies, geo-politics, financial tools, marketing channels, public opinion – all are elements of your success and you need to stay abreast of the latest developments of each of them.


But what type of education do you need? What can you afford – both in terms of time and money? Fortunately there is a wide variety of educational programs and improvement opportunities – enough to meet the needs of any aspiring business leader. Here are just a few:


  1. Keep up with your reading. To be truly effective in your role, you need to read often and widely. For many executives, it seems difficult to find the time to read, but it’s the best way to stay up to date on world affairs, the latest technology trends, leadership concepts, and the like. The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, your local paper, and your industry’s trade magazines are all publications you should read regularly. However, I also believe that you should periodically take time to read things outside of you particular area of expertise. Pick up the latest management book, biography, or history. Consider magazines that cover topics seemingly far afield from your own – you’ll never know where you might pick up a new insight.
  2. Attend conferences and workshops. Many of us attend conferences, but few of us actually learn as much from these events as we might. Many of us think of these events primarily as networking opportunities. And, while networking is important, the right conferences can also expand our horizons and give you new insights into your organization, the future of the economy, and your own management style. Pick the events that are most likely to provide good solid information, take notes and ask questions – just like you did when you were in school.
  3. Participate in your school’s alumni activities. Many colleges and universities offer educational programs for their graduates. These programs often highlight the latest research by faculty or discussions on current events. They can be a low cost way to keep up to date.
  4. Stay connected to your favorite faculty members. Your former teachers can be a great resource for new ideas and insights. Keep in touch with any favorite teachers, read their papers and pay attention to what they say in University publications. If you’ve kept up a solid relationship with your teachers, you may find that you can even ask them for specific advice on issues you’re facing or opportunities that arise. You spent a lot of time and energy in their classrooms – make sure to take full advantage of that connection.
  5. Attend formal continuing education programs. Of course, you can always take part in formal executive education programs. Today’s education market boasts thousands of programs ranging from less than a day to several months in length. The topics of these programs range from basic supervisory skills to the leadership attributes of boards of directors and everything in between. Whether you are looking to sharpen your management skills, develop a new strategic direction or understand a new technology and how it will affect your business, there is undoubtedly a course you can attend.


Success in today’s fast changing world is not measured by how much you know but by how much you can learn. Your current knowledge is already out of date – the only way to maintain your leadership edge is to continually learn new skills, insights and worldviews. Exposure to new ideas and the ability to learn quickly are key elements of effective leadership today. At one point in time it may have been true that your learning curve flattened out over your career, but that’s no longer the case – at least if you want to keep moving ahead. Fortunately, there are so many ways to gain new knowledge, that it’s easy to maintain that steep learning curve – as long as you make it a priority.


Today’s audiences don’t want to read promotional ads, but they love hearing engaging stories. As human attention spans dwindle and the amount of content continues to grow exponentially, it is becoming more imperative to find ways to set your brand apart. For communicators who want to capture audience attention and keep their brands at the top of their audiences’ minds, great storytelling can be the key differentiator.


PR Newswire’s latest eBook “10 Tips to Leverage the Power of Storytelling” shares the best practices on how to captivate and engage audience with compelling brand stories. Viewers can also find examples of great storytelling done by well-known brands such as IBM and Panasonic. The full eBook is available for download now.

Skills gaps are an issue of increasing concern for employers today. The importance of innovation and preparing a workforce and its leaders for the future cannot be underestimated. Perhaps in reaction to the slash-and-burn budget cuts seen post-downturn, we are now seeing huge sums invested into training each year. HR professionals are under pressure to prioritize learning and development while demonstrating tangible return on investment. However, a learning and development strategy formed without adequate understanding of an organization’s needs can be as ineffectual as no investment at all.


Traditional methods of identifying gaps, such as asking managers, HR or business leaders, do not always get to the source of the issue. Feedback may be subjective and less reliable than formal research in focusing training on the competencies an organization really needs.


And when it comes to sourcing skills from outside the organization, recruitment is often undertaken without a real understanding of what skills and competencies are required for organizational success. To overcome these issues, a considered, evidence based strategy is required.


Learning Needs Analysis (LNA) is an effective, proven approach to identifying existing skills gaps, prioritizing recruitment, and identifying future needs. Driven by robust research techniques and using employee and stakeholder consultation, LNA gets to the heart of the skills business requires.


This paper introduces a Four-stage LNA approach that detailing the way in which company can draw on their employees’ experiences and nurture them for future organizational success.


Orc International's article

What does it mean to be a leader in the “sharing economy?” How do you lead when most of your employees are contractors or simply users of your website? How do you manage an organization that has been designed to virtually eliminate the need for command and control?


These are some of the questions more and more of us will face as new organizational forms and business models continue to grow and displace more traditional organizational structures. As the disruptive business models pioneered by the likes of Uber, Lyft, and AirBnB expand to other services and segments of the economy, more of us will be involved in starting, managing and leading these “organizations”. Even more traditional organizations will continue to evolve their human resources practices and allow flatter organizations, more flexible working arrangements and greater use of part time and contract employees. How can the leader of the future adapt to this new environment and what management skills and personality traits will be necessary for success? (Some additional thinking on this issue can be found in a recent Forbes article:


One of the first questions to ask is whether there is a “leader” in the sharing economy. If everyone is an independent entrepreneur, is there really a leader? Of course there is. Even Uber and AirBnB have leaders that created the business model, manage the overall direction of the company, set policies and standards, and maintain the brand. The role of these leaders has many of the aspects of leadership in more traditional organizations. The key difference, however, is that there is less command and control of individual employees that in a typical corporate structure. The rank and file “employees” are really independent contract workers (pending, of course, the court cases currently underway to determine employment status). Traditional methods of motivation, direction and evaluation need to give way to new tools and techniques.


Regardless of the changing relationship between new economy leaders and workers, leaders still need to provide the key elements of any successful organization – a vision, a strategic direction, a set of values by which the company operates, and a culture that supports the company’s goals. In fact, clearly articulating these goals, standards and values is even more important when you don’t have the opportunity to look over your employees’ shoulders. Leaders of tomorrow have to be great communicators, and work hard to craft a vision and values that are easily understood and welcomed by the workforce. Regular tracking of how the organization is living up to these standards is also important.


Training is also a critical element of the new economy. The workforce needs to be absolutely clear on what they can and cannot do, how they are expected to behave and how they are to reflect the company’s brand image. Uber drivers are expected to have reasonable automobiles, drive safely and arrive on time. AirBnB apartment owners need to be able to meet the expectations of the renters who stay with them. Leaders in the organization must provide the guidance to ensure that the customer experience is consistent and high quality. This requires not only training, but regular evaluation of the customer experience. This, in turn, requires significant investment in data capture and analysis. With thousands of “employees” around the world, all acting independently, the only way to keep an eye on them is through regular analysis of customer feedback data. In many ways, this data replaces the on-hand manager in a typical business structure.


Tomorrow’s leaders also need to be keenly aware of the public perceptions of their companies. With new organizational structures and business models come new challenges. Dealing with governments, lobbying for appropriate regulatory frameworks, handling misperceptions of the business model and fighting entrenched special interests become even more important.  Diplomatic and negotiation skills are critical. Public relations and the ability to sell yourself, your company and your vision are indispensable. Getting the public on your side can mean the difference between a thriving business model and a failed experiment.


Finally, leaders in these new organizations need to be vigilant and focus on creating environments where trust, integrity and safety are at the fore. These attributes are important for any organization but without ongoing daily supervision, it’s far too easy for a single employee to damage the image of the organization beyond repair. Leaders must continually communicate of the firm’s values and regularly review employee performance and customer comments. Ensuring adherence to a clear set of values is perhaps the most important role of today’s new leaders.


In summary, leaders in today’s sharing economy need to 1) create a compelling vision, 2) communicate the vision, goals and standards clearly to all employees, 3) develop a public platform for communicating with governments and the public and 4) create the data gathering and analytical tools to continually track of both employee activity and customer perceptions. Leadership today is no longer command and control, but more guide and cajole. Whether you work in a “sharing economy” company or are considering a flatter, more flexible organizational structure, your management skills will need to adapt. You’ll have less direct control but potentially a wider sphere of influence. As a result, effective communication is more important than ever before and developing and enhancing the firm’s brand image is critical. So, brush up on those communications and negotiations skills and make sure your data analytics are up to speed. Without them, you won’t have much to share in the sharing economy.



Despite some political misgivings and warnings from critics about the impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a recent poll by Edelman shows 69% of businesses and 67% of consumers in the member countries believe the trade pact will benefit their economies.


Companies in Vietnam, Singapore, Chile, and the United States are the most optimistic about a boost to their business from the TPP, which still must be ratified by lawmakers in all 12 countries. At just 17%, businesses in Japan and New Zealand have the weakest confidence about the benefits.


U.S. businesses are slightly less aware of the TPP than the country average but U.S. consumers have the lowest overall awareness at 44% percent, compared with the average of 66% and the high of 95% in Japan, according to the online survey by Edelman, a global communications marketing firm. (Please see the detailed U.S. data below.)


U.S. companies say they are prepared for the TPP (68% versus the average of 52%) and tend to see benefits for their business (53% versus 47%) but U.S. consumers are less upbeat or simply do not know.


Businesses across the TPP nations feel “cross-border relationships” and “access to products and services” are the most positive aspects, with “rules and regulations” as the most negative.


While two-thirds of consumers see the TPP as beneficial to their economy, only 47% feel it will benefit them and their families. The impact on jobs and employment worries 40% of consumers, with Canadians the most concerned at 51%.


Malaysian consumers are the most skeptical of the TPP, with only 49% believing it will be beneficial for their economy. Vietnamese consumers are the most hopeful about the benefits to their economy (96%) and to themselves and their families (80%).


The poll of 1,000 consumers and 1,000 businesses across the signatory countries – excluding Brunei and Peru – was done on October 7-9 by Edelman Berland, the company’s research arm.


The following are key data points for the U.S. segment of the poll. The average of the countries surveyed is included (in brackets) for reference.




Heard of TPP?

Yes:                                      70%        (76%)

No:                                       30%        (24%)


How beneficial for your economy?

Very beneficial:                33%        (22%)

Quite beneficial:              39%        (47%)

Quite unbeneficial:         10%        (13%)

Very unbeneficial:           8%          (9%)

Don’t know:                      11%        (9%)


How beneficial for your business?

Very beneficial:                24%        (13%)

Quite beneficial:              29%        (34%)

Quite unbeneficial:         12%        (18%)

Very unbeneficial:           9%          (10%)

Don’t know:                      26%        (24%)


How prepared is your business for TPP?

Very prepared:                 36%        (17%)

Quite prepared:               32%        (35%)

Quite unprepared:          12%        (24%)

Very unprepared:            20%        (23%)




Heard of TPP?

Yes:                                   44%        (66%)

No:                                    56%        (34%)


How beneficial for your economy?

Very beneficial:               18%       (22%)

Quite beneficial:             38%       (45%)

Quite unbeneficial:        11%       (9%)

Very unbeneficial:          12%       (8%)

Don’t know:                     21%       (16%)


How beneficial for you and your family?

Very beneficial:              14%        (11%)

Quite beneficial:            26%        (36%)

Quite unbeneficial:       10%        (15%)

Very unbeneficial:         12%        (11%)

Don’t know:                    37%        (28%)

For the HR community, diversity can be a topic that’s always niggling away at the back of the mind. It can make us question whether we are conforming to the policies, abiding by employment law, and using the right terminology. Having a diversity policy has become synonymous with “avoiding discrimination”; employing the “right” number of people from minority groups; promoting enough females to senior positions; or striking the delicate balance between performance management and bullying.


This positions diversity as a one-way process designed to advantage the employee, but with less focus on the benefits it brings to the employer. If we are completely honest, a lot of us probably see diversity as a chore, something that can get in the way of “business as usual”.


When we asked a global sample of HR professionals what they would be focusing on during the coming two years, diversity featured at the bottom of the list: below the likes of leadership development, employee well-being, engagement, employer branding, and recruitment and talent attraction. Only 12% admitted diversity was a major challenge that they were actively trying to address.


So why are we writing a paper about a topic to which our audience appears to be fairly ambivalent?


Through our research and interactions with organizations around the world, we are seeing increasing evidence for promoting diversity from a “nice-to-have” “box-ticking” exercise on the public sector agenda to a global imperative. Our research is showing that the definition of diversity is changing and that managing diversity is actually an indirect way of addressing those HR issues higher up the priority list. Diversity is no longer just about gender, age and ethnicity, and it is not just there to protect the interests of minority groups. It is a business tool that can address skills gaps, increase innovation, and derive superior performance from individuals. But the message is not getting out to the right people.


When organizations understand the reciprocal benefits diversity can provide for employees and organizations alike, it will be taken seriously. Organizations that are realizing this are the ones with not only an interesting mix of people, but also an agile workforce with a point of difference. Like employee engagement some 15–20 years ago, diversity will lose its fluffy- HR status and start to be part of C-suite discussions and woven into the fabric of employee value propositions and organizational culture.


Check out our paper for more on how the definition of diversity changes, how to build the case for diversity, what the barriers to diversity are, and how to make diversity work. We are challenging the status quo to get the message out there, that by casting our net wide enough and employing and supporting a diverse workforce, we will have the foundations in place to build a richer future.

It wasn’t too long ago that most business school students made a clear distinction between marketing and finance (or economics or accounting).  Finance was for folks comfortable with numbers, who were analytical, who wanted to deal with ”hard facts.” Marketing was all about “soft skills” and didn’t have much quantitative content. It was more “creative” and “intuitive.” My, how things have changed!

Marketing is no longer the “softer, easier” counterpart to finance and accounting. Over the past 25 years, the field of marketing has morphed into one of the most data intensive and analytically driven fields there are and quantitative skills have become an essential element in any marketer’s tool kit.

So what has changed? Why has marketing become the new haven for quant jocks? In a word – data.  The growth of new technologies and the explosion of data that they permit have completely changed the face of the field. Google, Amazon, Iphone apps, your supermarket loyalty card – everyone is tracking what you do and buy, who you talk to, what you say, and where you go. Digital technology in your phone, your car, your credit card, and thousands of other places allows companies to collect and store data that would have been only a dream just a few short years ago.

Today’s marketing is what turns this data into information, turns information into insights, and turns insights into action plans.

Does this mean that marketing no longer requires creativity and that all marketing decisions can now be distilled directly from the numbers? Not at all. In fact, one could argue that today’s marketers need even more creativity and a greater willingness to think outside the box than ever before. Asking the right questions, deriving real insights from data, and turning those insights into marketing plans and products requires broad thinkers, not those who are content to simply “follow the pack.”

So, what are the skills and domains that today’s marketers need to master? I think there are several:

1)    Data analytics. There is no question that today data is king. It drives the marketing decisions in nearly every industry and in firms of all shapes and sizes. Understanding how to collect, analyze, and present data is the new foundation for marketers. They are no longer the “poets” in business schools, but have definitely joined the ranks of the “quants.”

2)    Design thinking. The ability to turn customer insights into new products and services is increasingly a key element in a marketer’s toolkit. How will the consumer use the product? What is most effective user interface? How can we design the product for both ease of use and ease of manufacture? Understanding how consumers react to design, color, function, and form should inform your marketing strategy and marketers at all levels should have some understanding of these concepts.

3)    Consumer psychology. Understanding the customer has always been the goal of marketing professionals and most successful marketers have a deep understanding of consumer psychology and behavior. This hasn’t changed with the explosion of data. Turning the data into real information and insight requires not only the ability to analyze the data, but to analyze the thinking going on behind the data. Successful marketers combine the data and the psychology. They use their psychological insights to analyze the data and use data trends and anomalies to assess customer psyche.

4)    Social Media. Marketing communications today is all about social media. Traditional media channels have been declining in use for years. Understanding how to market through Google, Twitter, Instagram. or whatever new product will launch tomorrow is an indispensable skill. Understanding how consumers use and react to these media forms can give you a leg up on your competition.

5)    Marketing and communications strategy. Of course, marketers still need to understand the traditional skills that they have always relied on – advertising, communications, pricing, and distribution. These skills have not become less important in this era of “extreme data” but they can be informed by and improved by the insights provided through the data.

Business schools have responded to the challenges faced by this data explosion in a variety of ways. Most schools have expanded their coursework in data analytics and marketing research.  Some have gone so far as to develop concentrations or majors in data analysis. On the design front, business schools are increasingly tying up with schools of engineering or design to create programs that focus on how to create and market product and services that are functional, good looking, and that truly delight the customer.  Social media marketing is now an integral part of any discussion of marketing communications.  Finally, schools of all sorts have recognized that many of these concepts are best learned by doing – not simply by reading a textbook.  More and more schools now offer experiential programs to develop these skills – analyzing real live data sets, developing actual products for a client, creating social media marketing plans for everything from student conferences to local businesses.  Students now have an amazing set of opportunities to really hone their marketing skills. (You can see how Chicago Booth approaches these issues at

So, as you consider a career in marketing, recognize that the field is vastly different from just a few years ago. It is both more data driven and more creative and requires both “left brain” and “right brain” thinking. The most successful marketers will be able to combine elements of both.

In the beginning, things at work are new. Exciting. An adventure. But then … reality sets in. Routines are established. Tasks are assigned. And those goals that looked good on paper must take shape with daily focus. Over time, the hours, stress, or a pouty co-worker can grow tiresome.


Before you know it, your employee feels burned out. Their productivity dips. They become a bit gossipy. There’s talk that they may be looking for another job.


As the manager, you’ve got to step in immediately before it’s too late.


While many people associate workplace burnout with long hours on the job, we find there are many other contributing factors: pressure, tight deadlines, low morale, combative office relationships, and less than stellar health and wellness benefits. Organizational changes that disrupt the norm — such as new managers, new leadership, or new lines of business — can also create stress for employees.


Helping employees manage through stressful times is crucial to the performance of the team and to the organization as well. However, from our recent Global Perspectives study of 7,295 employees around the world, only 51% are satisfied with the policies/practices in place to help manage health and well-being. Additionally, only 51% of employees say their organization cares about their health and well-being overall. Clearly, improvement is needed.


Our research also indicates that the tolerance for things that lead to burnout is higher or lower depending on many factors, but most obviously age. For example, Gen Y employees tend to have a more mobile mindset. They think they can get a job anywhere, so if they start to feel burned out or dissatisfied, they will leave. Conversely, older generations, such as the baby boomers, can stay put in a job they’re unhappy with because their goal is to ride out their time until retirement. We call employees in this category “critical stayers,” because, while they have no intention of leaving, they tend to bad mouth their job, managers, or the organization. These employees can be a drain on the team, facilitating burnout for others.


Of course, we are speaking in generalities with the examples above, but workplace burnout is a serious situation that greatly impacts the bottom line.


Our most recent paper provided suggestions on how leaders can continue to find better ways to bring out the best in their employees. Read more here on a host of strategies to keep employees engaged and help mitigate burnout.



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