How surprised would you be to learn two skills business leaders consider “very important” lack among college graduates? According to a report which surveyed hundreds of employers, over 25% of four-year and 50% of two-year college graduates possess deficient writing skills. Writing is not the lone skill lacking either, as the report also noted only 3% of two-year and 25% of four-year college graduates possessed excellent oral communication skills. Alarming statistics for businesses, but important opportunities for current students. If current students focus on improving their business communication skills, they can obtain a distinct advantage over fellow job seekers. The following interview provides in depth information concerning business communication from an industry leader.
Ms. Lelah Hill is a VP of Human Resources for a large credit union in Nashville, TN. Having many years of experience in a business setting, Ms. Hill gained indispensable knowledge of communicating with people at all levels of an organization and was gracious enough to lend her expertise and answer some important questions concerning business communication in the workplace. Readers will learn the importance of being thorough and succinct, how not to make an audience fall asleep during a presentation, and how not to drive an executive crazy. Please enjoy the insights on business communication by an HR executive with over 20 years of experience.
What is your professional history (include your timeline and roles)?
“My career in HR began in October 1998 as an HR Coordinator. Since then, I have held the following positions:
- Director, HR and Marketing – 5/2000-5/2001
- Director, Training – 5/2001-7/2002
- HR Manager – 7/2002-7/2003
- Director, HR – 7/2003-6/2004
- AVP, Human Resources – 6/2004-2/2009
- VP, Human Resources – 2/2009-Current”
What writing advice do you have for professional communicators?
“The biggest piece of advice I would give regarding writing is to learn how to be succinct, including pertinent details and eliminating unnecessary information. In HR, dealing with a lot of documentation, it is important to keep written communication brief and eliminate unimportant facts.”
What is your one pet peeve when it comes to professional writing?
“My biggest pet peeve is poor grammar, particularly the incorrect use of a word. In a recent complaint from an employee, they kept referring to our department as Human Recourses. It drove me crazy!”
What kind of business reports do you read and/or compose regularly?
“I prepare various informational reports quarterly. For our President, I prepare a recruiting report that gives an overview of the positions we have filled internally and externally and measures the time-to-fill for each role. It also shows historical data, so that we can track any trends we are seeing in recruiting and adjust our efforts accordingly. For the Board of Directors, I prepare a quarterly report of our Leave Donation Pool, which summarizes any donations made to employees, as well as donations given to the pool. Annually, I prepare a compensation analysis for our President and CEO, which analyzes where employees fall within their salary ranges. Based on time in the position and performance, I identify any inequities and make recommendations for adjustments. I, also prepare an annual analysis of our Employee Satisfaction Survey, which gives our President and CEO feedback on areas our staff feels we are doing well in, as well as areas for improvement. This report includes recommendations for improvements. Finally, I do various reports as necessary, related to employee demographics and other work-related employee information. In regards to reports that I read, I read various internal reports related to the functional areas of our organization.”
What are your writing suggestions to make that type of report successful?
“For any report that is prepared for executive management or Board of Directors, it should be informative and thorough, but should include an executive summary. They typically want to know a quick synopsis, complete with any recommendations being made.”
What speaking advice do you have for professional communicators?
“DO NOT READ TO YOUR AUDIENCE. It’s easy to lose an audience’s interest, particularly if you read to them. Try to engage the audience, being mindful of your tone of voice (you don’t want to put them to sleep). Also, I’ve found that a conversational type approach tends to be successful.”
Name one thing you wish you had known about business communication prior to your professional career?
“The art of communicating briefly…I’ve learned this through trial and error over the years. In my opinion, communication is one of those areas we should always strive to improve in. There is always something you can do, whether it is verbally or in writing, to improve your communication with others.”
After assessing the Burning Glass list of Baseline Skills (2016), which skills not in the top 5 would you move into the top 5…and why?
“I would pick Listener, Time Management, Analytical Skills, Building Effective Relationships, and Problem Solving. Listening skills and building effective relationships are key to communication and will impact everyone in every position. Time management is also crucial, no matter what role a person is in, as it can affect an employee’s performance in many ways. Analytical skills and problem solving are skills that are not necessary in every job, but definitely strengthens an employee, no matter their role. They also are needed for professional growth and development.”
What team skills do you feel young professionals need the most?
“How to effectively collaborate with others, strong communication skills, and initiative.”
Ms. Hill provided sage advice not only for up-and-coming professionals, but for anyone in the business field striving to become better communicators. Ms. Hill stressed the importance of conciseness and clarity in professional communications. She stated one should always strive to make the communication informative and thorough, but make it to the point and eliminate excess wording. Time is a valuable commodity in the business world, with people having little to begin with, so it is important to make the point quickly. Ms. Hill also stated the importance of proper grammar. Poor grammar can convey a bad image of the writer in the minds of the reader and will reflect poorly on the employer as well. It is important to find any and all errors after composing a communication, to maintain a professional image.
Ms. Hill also discussed the importance of tone and engagement when giving an oral presentation. She stated the presenter should use a conversational tone and not read directly from notes to keep the audience engaged. Ms. Hill also listed building effective relationships, time management, and analytical skills as important traits to learn as a business professional. She stated listening skills and building effective relationships impact everyone in any organization, two important traits in professional development. Problem solving and analytical skills also strengthen any employee who utilizes them properly and will help them become a trusted asset for any employer.
Lelah Hill’s Biography
Ms. Hill graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 1993, earning a BBA in Office Management. Upon graduation, Lelah began working at Southeast Financial Credit Union, based in Franklin, TN., as Director of Human Resources in Marketing. During her time at SFCU, she ascended the ranks, and is currently the Vice President of Human Resources; a title she has held for over 10 years.
Ms. Hill’s LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lelah-hill-b41891a
— Nick Pruden is a senior at the University of Southern Indiana (USI), currently pursuing his degree in accounting. He plans on becoming an internal auditor after earning his BS degree in the fall of 2020.