Not all of your company's leaders, as you're no doubt aware, are natural-born charmers. But there's a big difference between lacking wit and not knowing what words or behaviors are potentially offensive to business partners or customers. Knowing you don't eat steak with a dessert fork, or text message while dining with business associates, is important. But what's more important is recognizing the kind of communication and body language that will get you in the door of clients you're courting, and the kind that will inspire the recipient to reflexively hit the "delete" button.
At Cox Communications, etiquette is thought of as more than the dos and don'ts of table manners, or what to write in a thank you note. Vice President of Talent Development Erin Hand and Manager of Talent Management Beth Valenta say the company thinks of it in terms of how workers build their "personal brand," meaning the overall impression they leave business colleagues, partners, and customers with. "We have a couple of different stand-alone classes that deal with image, etiquette, and branding, and then those concepts also are woven into other programs we have available," says Valenta. Hand adds that "etiquette" isn't all-encompassing enough to describe the "personal branding" guidance Cox gives to its employees. "I think of it as communication, leadership presence, and all the factors that go into your personal professional image," she says.
The company's emphasis on professional image comes through in the two half-day sessions it offers on the subject. One of these sessions, "Brand Me, Building Your Personal Brand," is the "big-picture course, focusing on the fact that as individuals we need to manage our career development, and to do that, you have to manage your 'Five Ps': your persona, product, packaging, promotion, and permission," says Valenta. "We walk employees through what those mean to them, and give them steps on how to manage their career using those concepts."
Hand says "Brand Me" sometimes is an eye-opener for Generation Xers and Yers. The program shows them how their current image links directly to their future career trajectory. "This is an awareness-building for them that each time they interact with someone they're creating an impact in terms of their personal brand," she says. "Employees who go through this program leave with at least one thing they're either more aware of as a natural strength they can enhance, or something they need to modify because it may be creating a distraction."
Cox meanwhile walks a careful line. It wants to cultivate young leaders with the professional images they need to be successful, but doesn't want to stifle diversity or create an intolerant culture. The goal of the program, Cox tells learners, is to prepare them for the various environments they may confront in the business world. "What we love about the overlying theme of this content," says Hand, "is its awareness of your personal impact and that each situation might require you to modify your strengths to meet the needs of your audience."
Professionalism in the Workplace
The PNC Financial Services Group offers its employees a series of etiquette learning programs to keep them on a professional and mannerly track. The company partners with external subject matter experts, as well as its own managers, to develop etiquette-related coursework for employees in all business areas, says PNC University Project Manager Kelli Whittington.
Exemplifying the company's approach is its "Professionalism in the Workplace" program, a half-day, instructor-led program designed for all employees that focuses on effective communication and interaction skills with co-workers and customers. PNC also offers the "Professionalism for Managers" program, which is designed especially for employees with people management responsibilities. "The half-day instructor-led program builds awareness through examples provided and discussed by business leader guest speakers," says Whittington, "and promotes behavior change based on commitments to follow-on discussions."
PNC's "Leadership Journey" program, on the other hand, is for internally promoted, or externally hired first-time, front-line supervisors/managers, and includes topics such as building trust; managing former peers; setting expectations; preparing for and conducting behavioral interviews; building and leading a diverse team; preparing and conducting effective performance reviews; honing work styles and behaviors; identifying and working with a mentor; and expanding professional networks.
And, of course, who could forget table manners? PNC hasn't, and, as such, offers "Dinner Etiquette," an interactive program that provides training to employees whose work involves hosting or attending business dinners with colleagues and clients.
Since questions about the right fork to use can be rivaled by confusion over what words and tone to use in professional e-mail, the company also piloted an e-mail etiquette program. "Results of the pilot showed Gen Yers did not understand how to write an effective subject line, get to the point, and why it is not appropriate nor necessary to copy everyone on an e-mail," says Whittington. The company noted that young people's reliance on text messaging abbreviations and acronyms may contribute to a need for greater attention to e-mail etiquette, though PNC makes a point in its etiquette education of showing learners that each generation in the workplace responds to communication differently. "Management trainees complete a session targeting generations at work that explores what influences different generations and in what ways," says Whittington. To ensure all employees get the etiquette education they need, PNC partners with an expert in multigenerational workforces to offer "Engaging a Changing Workforce." "The one-day facilitator-led program increases awareness of the characteristics, similarities, and differences of the four workforce generations," she points out, "and provides tactics for how to effectively motivate, engage, and interact with employees and co-workers from various generations."
Great (Etiquette) Expectations
ESL Federal Credit Union, which delivers etiquette education to its front-line staff, uses an instructor-led format to deliver content that stresses the company's five corporate values: accountability, caring about people, teamwork, integrity, and initiative, say Training Manager Kelli Loveless and Instructional Designer Lynn Starling. Etiquette is at least partially defined as how well employees adhere to these values in how they treat co-workers and customers. To ensure employees—especially the younger generation, who Loveless and Starling say are prone to text messaging under desks—understand what's expected of them during their new-hire training, ESL presents them with a document on their first day of work outlining their behavioral responsibilities.
The agreement, which all new hires must sign, includes requirements that trainees arrive on time every day; that they only use their cell phones (including receiving calls and text messaging) during breaks; that they check e-mail only outside of class; that they wear appropriate attire (which is defined for them); and that they understand unexcused absences may result in immediate termination.
At Hitachi Data Systems, etiquette expectations are given a boost by the learners themselves who seek out the training, says Vice President, Hitachi Data Systems Academy Nick Howe. "How we treat others is a core part of our values system and is built into the DNA of Hitachi," he says. "Our leadership and new-hire programs explicitly include etiquette, supplemented by online training and hints and tips."
Perception is reality, or so they say. Verity Credit Union takes that credo to heart in the etiquette training it offers. "We don't offer etiquette training per se," says Training and Development Manager Justin Martin, "but we do offer perception training that covers how to manage co-workers and the customer's image of both the individual and the company." This training, he explains, examines six "tangible" areas in which employees can leave a positive impression on the person they are interacting with, taking into account age and culture.
The key to effective etiquette education, says Martin, is becoming self-aware. Employees have to understand how they respond to different situations before they can learn the best approach to take. "It isn't about changing who you are but becoming more aware of your subconscious behaviors. Once you are focused on understanding yourself, then you can move on to improving your etiquette. This often is overlooked because many training programs are focused on external influences," he says. "To teach people how to reflect on their behavior, training programs should incorporate taking time to reflect on certain situations and what drove an individual's actions."
Self-awareness sometimes is best accomplished through activities involving other people, such as role play and storytelling, which Martin says bring to light how you react to real-world situations. "In a group dynamic, there is the option of modeling communication elements such as tone and body language to bring heightened awareness to perceptions," he notes. "We believe there is a greater possibility of an emotional connection with the material when it is conducted in-person. That emotional connection often translates better to behavior change."
Cerner Corporation also uses storytelling to get its point about etiquette across. Its "Reputation Management" program is led by an executive who tells stories that illustrate the dos and don'ts of etiquette essentials such as dress, grooming, body language, manners, showing respect, (not using) profanity, and proper decorum, says Director, Associate Learning Programs JD Biggs. The company also offers Miller Heiman's "Strategic Selling" to associates managing prospect relationships and selling in a consultative fashion. "We offer in-house modules for 'Presentations and Facilitation Essentials' that aim at professionalism in conveying and drawing out ideas," says Biggs. For those working with customers on the front line, he adds, the company provides another in-house module, "Take the LEAD," "that focuses on listening, empathizing, asking, and delivering value to our clients."
For its newest workers, the company delivers training that's more about the beginning of their career than about a specific age group. Says Biggs, "We focus on the 'art of polite conversation' and being aware of 'matter-of-fact dispositions,' as well as manners." Cerner also delivers programs that address and contrast work-life balance and generational attitudes about careers, roles, and advancement.
The proper way to communicate also isn't overlooked at Cerner, says Biggs, who notes the company takes care to point out the wrong and right way to communicate in a professional setting, ranging from language usage in e-mail to style and use of acronyms. But in the end, the personality employees present should be about the big picture they see for themselves professionally. "It boils down to career management," he says, "and understanding who you are in relation to the career path and advancement opportunities that lie ahead."
• Rather than just giving employees a dogmatic list of dos and don'ts, think of your etiquette training as teaching workers how to build their personal brand, meaning the overall impression they leave business colleagues, partners, and customers with.
• Focus on cultivating young leaders with the professional images they need to be successful, but also be cautious about not stifling diversity or creating an intolerant culture. The goal should be to prepare learners for all the environments they may confront in the business world.
• Different generations respond to behavior differently, so consider a course that deals with that topic. Attempt to increases awareness in learners of the characteristics, similarities, and differences of the four workforce generations while providing tactics for how to effectively interact with the co-workers and customers of other generations.
• Let employees clearly know what is expected of them via, for example, a list of the behaviors and attire your company considers appropriate, but, at the same time, let them seek out etiquette education on their own by giving them access to on-demand coursework.
• Help employees become more aware of how they react to situations and personalities. Once they know how they naturally react, they'll be able to better tailor their responses for different audiences.