Friday, July 18, 2008

A Career in Social Research

If you have natural curiosity and enjoy studying social behavior and societal trends using logic and empirical observations, a career in social research may be right for you.

Social research is carried out by social scientists predominantly in the fields of social psychology and sociology along with the branches of political science, human geography, education, social anthropology, and social policy. Social scientists understand social life through research methods that are either quantitative, collecting and studying numerical data, or qualitative, examining personal experiences and interpreting them as they relate to social phenomena. Quantitative researchers often use questionnaires, statistical data, and surveys, while qualitative researchers rely on such methods as participant observation, interviews, and focus groups.

According to the Social Research Association, the principal areas of employment for social researchers are in the academic community, government, independent research institutes, and commercial market research organizations.

Many market research organizations have specialist social research divisions and employ graduate trainees along with more experienced social researchers. The Market Research Society, the world’s largest association dealing with market, opinion, and social research, along with market analysis, business intelligence, consultancy, and customer insight, offers much information concerning research news and jobs in research.

''There are various entry points to the industry; however, it is primarily a graduate-led industry, and the majority of applicants for research executive positions will be expected to hold a degree, although the particular degree subject is of less importance. In addition to an educational qualification, a number of personal qualities are essential, e.g. strong interpersonal skills, interest in people and their behavior, analytical ability, and organizational skills,'' according to MRS’s website.

Though the majority of social scientists are anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists, geographers, and historians, there are opportunities within research for non-graduates, such as a career as a field manager or research assistant.

One can start out in market research by joining an agency (agencies range from smaller consultancies to large international companies) or ''by working client-side, as a market research specialist within a client organization, where you are likely to be one of a small number of in-house specialists, responsible for conducting a certain amount of your own research and for commissioning external agencies to conduct larger projects,'' according to MRS.

See MRS’s webpage on becoming a market researcher for more information on starting out, training, important personal attributes, and the everyday work associated with being a market researcher.

In terms of conducting social research for academic organizations, researchers often work for large, well-recognized research facilities that have charitable funding or endowment funding. Such research centers typically conduct research for local authorities or the government.

Many trade unions, charities, independent organizations, and lobby groups employ their own researchers for short periods of time to conduct single studies.

According to the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, ''social scientists need excellent written and oral communication skills to report research findings and to collaborate on research. Successful social scientists also need intellectual curiosity and creativity because they constantly seek new information about people, things, and ideas. The ability to think logically and methodically is also essential to analyze complicated issues, such as the relative merits of various forms of government.'' Social researchers also need objectivity, systematic work habits, open minds, patience, and perseverance.

The demand for political science research is increasing due to growing interest in foreign affairs and politics, particularly immigration and environmental and social policy issues. Social researchers may also find work carrying out policy research for nonprofit organizations and consulting firms, and expertise in society and social behavior is also valuable to companies in marketing, advertising, and product development.

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A Career as a Training Specialist

Training and development specialists are pivotal in planning and conducting employee training and development programs. As technological and economic shifts affect the workplace, training specialists have become vital in maintaining a strong and productive staff.

Management has increasingly recognized the need for employees to develop skills, enhance productivity and quality, and build company loyalty. Training specialists develop programs that provide all three. As the work environment has become increasingly complex and the pace of technological change is so rapid, training has become an essential tool for helping employees stay abreast of the myriad changes.

In addition to assessing employee needs and arranging training, a training specialist may also deal with corporate requests, conduct employee surveys, or run orientation sessions. Training managers can also be critical during times of transition due to technological advances or company mergers.

Training specialists usually fill a variety of positions, and they may be called upon to run corporate training schools or apprenticeship programs. In some instances training specialists work within companies to help identify employees with the potential to hold leadership positions, ensuring that replacements are equipped with enough knowledge and skills when an executive leaves the company or retires. A training specialist may also work with upper management to help them hone their skills in dealing with employees.

Training and development specialists must be able to work well with individuals as well as work toward the goals of the organization. A number of different skills come into play to be an effective training specialist. Training specialists must be good communicators, both verbal and written. They must be comfortable working with people from a broad range of cultural backgrounds as the workforce has become increasingly diverse. They must be good mediators in reconciling conflicting ideas and opinions and generally work under high pressure. A training specialist must also have the ability to maintain fair-mindedness and possess an affable and persuasive personality.

Training and development specialists can have a wide range of educational backgrounds. For entry-level positions employers usually look for candidates with bachelor’s degrees in human resources, personnel administration, or industrial and labor relations. Other employers prefer candidates with bachelor’s degrees in technical or business fields, while still others favor a well-rounded liberal arts education. There are many college courses geared to a career as a training and development specialist in the departments of business administration, education, instructional technology, organizational development, human services, communications, and public administration.

A broad assortment of courses is recommended in the social sciences, business, and behavioral sciences, although some jobs require a specialized background in engineering, science, finance, or law. If you’re seeking advancement to top management positions, a master’s degree in human resources, labor relations, or business administration might help you achieve your goal.

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A Guide to Smooth and Effective Operations

Noted American author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau said more than a century ago, “Things do not change, we do.” The underlying meaning of this sentence clearly reflects the solution to smoother operations within an organization. I would like to present some ideas which might prove helpful to operations managers and directors tasked with handling company operations smoothly and effectively:

  • Identifying oneself as an authority is very important to a top operations executive. The ideas put forth by you may not always be the best ones, but your contributions and opinions play an important role in reaching the best solution. Dozens and dozens of potential solutions must be considered before arriving at a plan. Being creative and outgoing is more important than supplying the best idea every time.

  • To think of better strategies, allocate some time to think about operational problems amidst your busy schedule. Allocating time to think about certain topics results in innovative strategies and inventive tactics.

  • Persuasion drives leadership. Successful operations managers and COOs have to convince their staffs of the benefits of their points of view in order to get things done.

  • Make your operations staff feel important by asking for their support and delegating important tasks to relevant professionals in the group.

  • Most of the time, “fear-of-failure syndrome” is vastly exaggerated. Operations managers sometimes feel that the risk involved in a particular project is too great given the potential rewards. A “risk-versus-reward” mindset can prove to be detrimental to company ambitions. Instead, focus should be diverted to the process rather than the result for smooth functioning of a venture.

  • Risks usually are imaginable, and they can be managed by using the “untying-the-rope” approach: loosening the strands by diving right in and observing how the problem will permeate the company. By getting to the crux of a risk, one can solve any problem effectively. Rather than worrying about the worst, start expecting the worst, and then plan steps to nullify the potential impact.

  • Always be enthusiastic. As a leader, take the initiative to pep things up if the work is bogging everyone down.

  • If certain company operations are preventing the company from focusing on its objectives, it may be wise to outsource the non-core sections of the company to independent companies that specialize in outsourcing activities. It is cost-effective and saves substantial money to divert to fulfilling more useful tasks.

  • It has rightly been said that when cooperation is at work, communities prosper. Patricia Cumbie, a writer and consultant for Cooperative Development Services (CDS), claims that for 90% of the problems in today’s businesses, poor operations are responsible. The best indicator of successful operational tactics is employee and customer satisfaction. Cumbie also quotes Mel Braverman, another consultant and team leader at CDS, who says “operations are like a jigsaw puzzle for your organization. You don’t put it together all at once, and there are logical steps to follow by looking at labor, margin, and expenses.”

  • Promote a culture of accountability in the company, with you as an operations manager setting an example by taking the blame for anything that goes wrong. This will help others to be more proactive and responsible.

According to experts, company operations should be managed like a ship — always balance the cargo on board equally on all sides so that the ship does not tilt on one side. Operations managers can handle company operations effectively and smoothly if they are willing to cooperate, be receptive to suggestions, and put the company’s interests above their own interests.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Nirmal S. Shah: Motivating Change-Resistant Employees

Nirmal S. Shah: Motivating Change-Resistant Employees

Motivating Change-Resistant Employees

In business today, change is inevitable. Not only is it inescapable, but the speed of change seems to intensify as each day goes by. What this means to your business is that you really need the performance of every person in your company to constantly be on the upswing. So you can imagine how important it is that executives, managers, and supervisors alike take a constructive approach towards change management in order to consistently drive these improvements within your organization.

Now, change is growth, so it is generally a positive circumstance for your company, but nothing kills change like the resistance of the people within the business. How do you overcome employee resistance? Good question. Frankly, it’s pretty difficult to get people on board with change if they really don’t want to embrace it. There is no doubt that change is difficult for many people, and often you will hear employees lament company transformation with sad reminiscences about “the good old days” — and by that they mean the “good old ‘pre-change’ days.” Just listening to these stories brings visions of productivity trickling away like sand through your fingers. No one wants to see that. So leaders within a transforming company need to find ways to effectively manage change.

So how can your company create an effective change strategy that trickles down from top leadership into implementation by management and team leaders? Let’s take a look at a few techniques that have worked for us and our clients:

  1. Be upfront with your people. As soon as you know that change is afoot, you need to begin preparing the people in your company. It’s no big secret that one of the best ways to overcome resistance to change is to inform people about the change effort in advance. Let them know what is coming up, how it impacts them, what you want and/or expect from them in relation to the change, and the anticipated time frames. Being honest and clear in your communications is the key to setting the stage for successful change and helping your people to feel calm and collected about their situation.

  2. Keep the lines of communication open. Communicate often and regularly about the change within your company. In order to achieve a constructive change environment, it’s imperative that you know how to communicate the changes to your team. Continually explain what you want from the people within your business, and allow them to openly communicate their concerns, issues, fears, or perceived challenges related to the change. Honestly explore those thoughts with them. After you’ve made the decision for change, it’s a strategic move to ask for your team’s thoughts and participation in implementation. Encouraging your people to find innovative solutions for managing your company’s change has double benefits. Not only does it bring inventive solutions to the table that might never have been considered, but it also empowers your people to feel a sense of control and comfort during the acclimatization period. Win-win for everyone.

  3. Be clear about the need for embracing the change. If you observe your people showing resistance, speak openly and honestly to them about this. During a major company transformation is not the time to “pussyfoot around” and worry about further upsetting dissatisfied people. If you need them to embrace the change, it’s only right that you communicate the importance to them and make sure that they understand the consequences to both themselves and to the company as a whole if they continue to resist. There is no bite in the message unless defined consequences are communicated clearly.

  4. Allow accountability. We are all personally accountable for the manner in which we decide to handle change. It’s important that you don’t take responsibility when some of your people are not embracing the change within your company. You can not make people do what they don’t want to do. It’s important to be clear with everyone, to care about their feelings and the issues they are facing, but in the end, each person needs to be personally accountable for either stepping up or stepping out.

  5. Be Realistic. Lastly, know that if your people are putting up a lot of resistance to change, the likelihood is that this roadblock will always be there. Don’t expect a sudden “a-ha!” moment where they see the light and out of the blue embrace the change. Some people may “go along to get along,” but they won’t be happy and they won’t end up supporting the change. Productivity issues, absenteeism, and conflict are all signs that you’ll have to watch for — they mark resistant attitudes.
Change in today’s business climate is simply a fact of life. There’s no doubt that in order be a real contender, your company has to change with variations in the market. To ensure that your business culture is a driving force for productivity, it’s imperative that you have people who are able to adapt to these changes easily and without resistance. Creating this sort of affirmative change management culture is not always easy, but it is definitely worth it. Take the time and make the effort to learn ways to effectively manage the change in your company. Your productivity results and profit margin will be a glowing tribute to your efforts.

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Managers Ought to Be Powerful Decision Makers

As a manager, you will often land in a situation where all eyes are on you, waiting for the decision you will make based on your technical knowledge and expertise. At times, though, you do not have enough information to help you analyse the situation and make decisions. You may often rely on your gut feeling because you find it safer. The right thing to do at this time, however, is to go out and gather more information before making a decision because facts are always more powerful than intuition.

Bigger decisions involve higher stakes and may have a big impact on your organization. For most managers, these decisions are the toughest to make. However, delaying decision-making is not going to help your case; delayed decisions can prove more harmful than making the wrong decisions.

When you study a difficult problem in order to make a decision, you may find that you don’t have many options or that the only options you do have are not attractive. In such cases, you must learn to go ahead with a less-than-favorable option. Nobody expects you to know it all in business, and so, it is okay to get a second opinion on your decisions from experts around you.

Tips for Making Powerful Decisions as a Business Manager:

  • As a manager, you are responsible for the decisions you make regarding the business. Give careful thought to important decisions and gather as much information as you can to help you make effective decisions.

  • You will need to make decisions day in and day out as a business manager. However, give adequate time and effort to each decision-making process. Don’t try to deal with making multiple decisions at one time.

  • When your decision making is going to impact other teams or people, it is best to consider their opinions and gauge their needs. This will help you make effective decisions that will address those needs.

  • Be confident in your decisions. Do not go back on the decisions you make unless they are causing a loss to the business. Going back and forth on your decisions makes you look like a poor or inefficient decision maker. People will find it difficult to trust your decisions and put their faith in them.

  • Before announcing a decision, visualize the outcome of it. Think about how it will affect your business and the possible shortcomings it may have. Only after thinking it through extensively should you declare it publicly.

  • Do not stray from the objective of the decision at hand. Often, managers tend to lose direction when they have too much information to consider. Remain focused and consider all the alternatives and risks of your decision before finalizing it.
Effective decision-making skills are crucial for managers as their decisions have the power to take an entire organization in a given direction. Gather all the information you think you will need to make an effective decision. Analyze the facts and think about the potential strengths and weaknesses of your decision. And above all, keep faith in your decision-making skills.

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Challenges of Call Center Operations

Be it for research, making sales, or providing after-sales service, companies heavily rely on their call centers. Call center managers face daily challenges in balancing targets provided by management with the basic operations involved in running their call centers. A few of these challenges are described below.

1. Agent Attrition Rates

A number of surveys have revealed that call centers have the worst attrition rates. An annual agent turnover rate of more than 25% is witnessed across the industry. The primary reasons that employees decide to quit are:

  • More attractive opportunities elsewhere
  • Low salaries
  • Inconvenient work hours
  • Redundant work
  • Fewer career advancement opportunities
Call center operations suffer due to high agent turnover. Managers have to constantly train new staff only to find them gone in a year.

2. High Cost of Operations

Call centers are full of computers and technological gadgets that need proper maintenance. Furthermore, a call center that decides to purchase a workforce management system (WFM) must pay more than $50,000.

3. Cultural Complexities

When call centers are outsourced, managers face cultural complexities in their operations. Calls to and from foreign countries often meet cultural barriers that pose significant challenges in call center operations.

Solutions for Effective Call Center Operations

Since a single challenge may have multiple solutions, the implementation of the best solutions for operational problems is essential. Four specific call center operations solutions are discussed below.

1. Creating an Intranet

Call center operations can be more effective if an intranet is put to use. Agents should be encouraged to use the intranet, which may offer a help desk, recreational activities information, messages from management, company newsletters, and details on the company’s latest developments. This can help staff members remain connected with management.

2. Conducting Research

Every call center has its unique problems. Though time consuming, research on the requirements of your staff and customers will ensure optimal performance. A survey of staff and customers can be conducted, or you can analyze call logs or statistics to gather information on problems customers are running into.

3. Staff Training

A vital part of call center operations is training staff members. Agents should be aware of the full range of information available to them. Proper trainers provide the instructions needed to prepare an agent for success.

4. Examining Key Statistics

There are certain indicators that show the level of performance in a call center. Call center operations can be run more smoothly if the manager leverages on statistics pertaining to factors such as call volume, cost per call, percentage of successful calls, average time per call, and customer satisfaction.


Managing call center operations requires high-level troubleshooting and management skills as well as patience and the capacity to work under pressure. By studying the challenges faced by their call centers and applying the right solutions, managers can run call center operations more effectively.

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