Developing Communication and Professional Skills through Analytical Reports

Article excerpt

IN EMPHASIZING LEADERSHIP SKILL development in the business curriculum, the 1990 AACSB sponsored Porter and McKibbon report, "Management Education and Development: Drift or Thrust into the 21st Century?" fueled a major change within schools of management (Quinn, Faerman, Thompson, & McGrath, 1996). It challenged universities to make students both technically and interpersonally competent.

Recent studies of skills and competencies valued by employers continue to document the need for excellence in writing, speaking, and listening (Wilhelm, 1999; NBEA, 2000; US Department of Labor, 1993). Equally significant are such interpersonal communication skills as teamwork, working with culturally diverse populations, and adapting to change and the environment while maintaining a positive attitude (Rubin & Morreale, 1996). Wilhelm concludes the following from his-study of the expectations Arizona employers held for entry-level employees: "The highest valued skills and competencies by employers require for the most part an employee's ability to interact with and relate well with others in the workplace. Of the top-rated nine skills and competencies, none were technical in nature and eight represented abilities to successfully interact in the workplace" (1999, p. 120).

Drucker (1999) states that professionals in the 21st century must be workers who manage themselves using "soft skills" to relate to others in the workplace. What are "soft skills?" In a recent conference presentation, "What do Employers Expect from Employees," three human resource managers representing three large American corporations agreed on the following "soft skills" as the most important characteristics of employees (in addition to good communication skills and a good appearance) (Marshall, Patton, & Stocker, 1999):

* "How-can-I-help" attitude

* Good manners

* Willingness to take ownership

* Commitment

* Initiative, including the initiative to be a leader through assuming responsibility

* Adaptability

* Teamwork

* Relationship building through trust and respect for the firm and for individuals

* Desire to advance.

McCall and Lombardo's (1993) comparison of business executives who failed in their career objectives reveals the importance of soft skills to executives' success. The failed executives exhibited insensitivity to others, arrogance, aloofness, a lack of trustworthiness, over dependence on others, and an excessive drive toward moving up the corporate ladder.

Clearly, if students are to succeed in the workplace, they must obtain knowledge of soft skills and strengthen their communication skills including interpersonal negotiations and team skills. In a curriculum already squeezed with technical information also important to students' careers, the challenge is to develop innovative ways to provide professional development for future career success.

Furthermore, in an effort to validate the importance of business writing courses, AACSB has stressed the importance of assessment and accountability through value assessments emphasizing analysis of information, audience adaptation, and content through systematic analytical assignments (Varner & Pomerenke, 1998). This article discusses such an analytical assignment including: (1) skills developed; (2) historical background and description; and (3) step-by-step implementation guide for a successful analytical report project.

Skills Developed

The analytical report assignment described in this article develops and integrates the following skills: oral communicating, interviewing, writing, presenting, listening, interpersonal communicating, and working in teams. Through the professional development topics chosen for the report, students research specific professional skills graduates need when beginning their careers and gain knowledge of the soft skills through content. …