The Manager as Writing Mentor

By Speck, Bruce W. | Training & Development Journal, April 1990 | Go to article overview

The Manager as Writing Mentor


Speck, Bruce W., Training & Development Journal


The Manager as Writing Mentor

The purpose of an undergraduate degree in business is to prepare students to function successfully in the business world. The gauge of success for students and their employers is often the students' ability to progress through organizations to management positions--positions that require deft communication abilities.

Newly graduated business majors with solid academic preparation in business are frequently incapable of communicating effectively, especially when the communication must be in writing.

When Stine and Skarzenski surveyed businesspeople in a 1979 article in The Journal of Business Communication, "many respondents echoed an executive vice-president who wrote, 'Today's graduates are conspicuously deficient in the basic rules of English.'"

In a study of the communication abilities of new accountants in a 1984 article in the same publication, Andrews and Sigband noted that in rating written communication, responses that called new accountants "inadequate" numbered almost three times those that rated them "satisfactory or higher." The message is that most graduating business students do not communicate well.

Who will teach aspiring managers to communicate in writing? The employee's immediate supervisor may need to shoulder the burden. In-house seminars, professional tutoring, and other training supplements may aid the manager in educating subordinates, but I believe the most effective means of training originates with the manager who serves as a writing mentor.

Acceptable writing

At the outset of a new employee's career with an organization, management should explain in clear terms--orally and in writing--what constitutes acceptable writing. For two reasons, managers should not expect students to know without being told that good writing skills are necessary for advancement in their careers:

* Business schools tend to emphasize quantitative skills--they relegate writing to required composition classes or require students to write without giving them adequate instruction.

* Most undergraduate students are inexperienced as managers, but have preconceived ideas about how business operates. Their preconceptions often do not allow them to believe that writing is important to their success in business.

New-employee orientation can affirm the following:

* that the employee will be evaluated not only on technical expertise but also on communication abilities;

* that the company will support writing tasks by providing managerial mentoring;

* that managers will model good writing and encourage clarity and conciseness by asking employees to write honestly and candidly;

* that individual efforts are secondary to team efforts when employees produce certain types of written documents.

Good writing and job

advancement

The first step is to emphasize the necessity of good composition skills for advancement in the company. A manager may want to cite clarity, conciseness, organization, spelling, and grammar--the five most important writing components managers look for in their subordinates' writing, according to Stine and Skarzenski. He or she should also discuss punctuation, often a major weakness. The manager may want to emphasize the costs involved when written communications do not follow those guidelines--including costs associated with loss of goodwill and income from unsuccessful bids or contracts due to poorly written proposals, letters, or memos.

Ways to emphasize the necessity of good written-communication skills are limited only by a manager's creativity. In the end, the employee should leave the orientation with the unmistakable impression that writing ability will be a large part of his or her evaluation.

The mentoring process

The second point each manager should confirm is that the company will support an employee's writing efforts. …

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