3 BUSINESS CONSULTATION
Janique Cordier brings to her work a wealth of experience and education. She personally embodies the concept of diversity. From French universities Janique earned her undergraduate degree in biochemistry and a master's degree in marketing. With these degrees Janique worked as a manager of a manufacturing company which produced large earth–moving equipment. As a part of her work she developed markets, and sought ways to adapt the product of the company to the needs of clients and customers. Through these activities Janique came into contact with people from a wide array of cultural backgrounds. And, she began developing a capability for cross–cultural relations.
Another part of Janique's work has been travel. Over the years she has worked as a teacher in Africa and Chile, performed market research in Japan, and finally, started her own business and lived in the United States. In addition to French she also speaks Spanish and English. As can be seen, there are many parts to Janique's life which have prepared her to be flexible and adaptive.
It was after moving to the United States that Janique began her studies in sociology. Initially, for Janique, "Sociology was a way of learning about the United States. I knew I needed to understand American culture." The discipline also provided three additional benefits. First, "It provided a unique perspective on organizational behavior." Janique came to see work and organization from a social rather than technical or strictly business perspective. For example, the sociological perspective clearly differentiates productive work from mere activity. She observed that, "Many managers are caught in the `activity trap' believing that activity equals productivity." It was the nature of work and organization that became Janique's Ph.D. emphasis.
The second benefit of sociology was the development of an array of special skills. These are primarily methodological and include abilities such as survey construction and administration, interviewing, statistical manipulation and interpretation.
The third benefit is really a skill, but is not traditionally referred to as a methodology. This benefit, this skill Janique refers to, is sensitivity to cultures and the means of communicating across cultures. She says that, "In most businesses people are promoted into management because they have good technical skills. The problem is they have no people skills. This problem is compounded when a manager must interact with colleagues and subordinates who are culturally different." By focusing on cultural diversity the discipline of sociology prepares people to better understand those with whom they come into contact. This is as much a skill as being able to process data statistically.
While still working on her Ph.D. Janique and a friend decided to pool their interests and resources in order to create a business. The focus of this business is to provide an array of consultative services to business organizations. Janique has primary responsibility for organizational research, which includes survey research, administering focus groups, overseeing training, and instrumentation. The objective of Janique's consultations is to help a business develop its human resource. For example, through "executive coaching" a CEO can come to better understand the problems of communication which cross over levels of work. Or, through a special training seminar personnel in constant contact with business clients can learn how to be more flexible regarding client needs. These cases focus on developing an organizational actor's perspective rather than their technical skills.
As an example consider the following summary of a sales seminar conducted for insurance sales agents. The initial question asked was, "What is your product?" In response most sales agents answered, "My insurance policies." This sounds reasonable enough on the surface. However, below the surface you find another way of looking at the "product." The sales agents were asked if the kinds of insurance policies which various companies offered was common knowledge? They replied that agents were highly familiar with competition policies because in the industry policies are very similar from company to company. The agents were then asked the following question, "Given the similarity of policies in the industry, why should a potential client buy your particular policy?" After some discussion the conclusion is that a client's choice will be influenced primarily by the relationship to the agent. This then focuses the sales question on how the agent–client relationship is conducted. One implication suggested by this is that the agent's real product –– the thing the agent actually produces –– is an effective relationship, and not the insurance policy only. Viewed in this way the critical variable is the human resource. And, proper development of that resource, including development of the sales agent's own perspective, is critical to business success.
Janique also does work enhancing social perspective and human development on a variety of other fronts. The following is a partial rundown on the issues and topics which are addressed as human resource development. It is the case that business is more global now than ever before. As a result, business people from different parts of the world must somehow find common ground on which to work. There are two ways in which this can happen. One is international business relations conducted between two separate companies. The other is inter– organizational relations conducted between international divisions of the same multinational corporation such as AT&T. One of the most problematic variables of such relations is language. In any context, and especially a business context, it is threatening to not know what is being said because you do not understand the language being spoken. It suggests the possibility of secrets, and therefore unreliable relationships. As a case in point, the United States is the fourth largest Spanish–speaking country in the world. Yet, how many businesses are prepared to incorporate Spanish– speaking employees, clients, etc.?
Other issues Janique consults on are related to gender, minorities, people with disabilities, and age discrimination. In each case Janique seeks to help the organization interpret people, defined by these categories, as assets rather than liabilities. She does this with the following model. She begins with in–depth interviews designed to frame the issues. Typically, people tend to experience problems at the interpersonal level. The result is that the organizational response is often to micro–manage the situation. Since the objective is to produce macro–leadership it is necessary to redefine the interpersonal–level problem. This is done by generating broader awareness of the issue through seminars. It is also important to involve critical organizational actors because they have influence on the definitional process. General approaches at raising awareness are followed up with training designed to change behavior. Since macro–leadership is the objective, it is important to coalesce the employees of a business into a team. If they do not see the common ground then real change is not probable. Focus groups are one mechanism for accomplishing this as employees themselves negotiate the issues and take ownership. By making resolution the responsibility of everyone, then ownership is produced. Where necessary this process is reinforced with one–on–one training, executive coaching, and even having a "hot line" for immediate private talks.
When asked, Janique says that business is good. The fact is, change must be expected in both society and its organization. The result is that there is always a need for adaptation to new circumstances. Since it is easy for a business to be focused primarily on its technical existence, it will always need help in also focusing on social and cultural adaptation processes.
Once Janique's business has successfully completed a consultation on social change with a company the ground work is thus laid for future referrals. In fact, most future consultations with other companies are the result of referrals. Taken together these referrals and contacts constitute a valuable network. Janique refers to this network as "strategic alliances." These alliances put her consultant business in position to take advantage of information flows and developing trends. For example, being a part of the American Management Association (a professional society) keeps Janique's business in touch with the issues on which she may later consult.
Janique wants undergraduate students to know that there is a bright future in the type of professional work she performs. However, it does take initiative, creativity, and a sound basis in research. But it also requires clarity in the techniques of business. Therefore, Janique suggests that students be broadly prepared, maybe earning a dual major like business and sociology, so that they can operate in both environments. For this reason internships are highly recommended.
Finally, if one's consultant business is good, as Janique's is, what does it mean for income. Janique says it all depends on how busy you are and what kinds of work you are doing. However, as an example, on–site consultations usually run $175 – $200 per day, plus expenses. This alone translates into annual salaries of $40,000 plus.
The point of Janique's experience is, it is possible with the right preparation, to work independently with degrees in sociology. Sociology provides a much needed perspective and a set of skills which can earn you a living in the world of corporations.
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