Creative ways to obtain better business skills

Some approaches are no-cost or low-cost

Developing business skills is more important than ever in this down economy, but occupational health professionals often lack these skills, says Chris Kalina, MBA, MS, RN, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, director of global occupational health programs and services at Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company in Chicago.

"Nobody can do this for you. It's up to you to seek out these types of courses from various professional organizations and then plan to attend them," says Kalina. "You have to be motivated to do this and take the accountability." Here are some ways to improve your business skills:

• Find a mentor at your company who can guide you in presenting your message in the way it is done at your company.

A mentor is typically someone in a higher position than you at the company, but it could be anyone with skill sets that you don't have who is willing, says Pam Hart, MPH, RN, COHN-S, CSP, director of safety and wellness at Doherty Employment Group in Edina, MN. "Approach them and ask them for help," Hart says.

If you attend a company meeting where the presenter requests a decision and is successful in obtaining that decision, approach the presenter after the meeting and ask for time to meet with him or her. "Then when you go to that meeting, be prepared with a possible message you want to deliver. Ask the mentor to review and give feedback," says Hart.

Susan A. Randolph, MSN, RN, COHN-S, FAAOHN, clinical assistant professor of the Occupational Health Nursing Program, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says she has asked individuals to review her slides and observe a dry run of her presentation. "Try to anticipate the questions people might ask, and prepare for them," she says.

• Learn what metrics are valued in your organization, and communicate your recommendations in terms of those.

Look at how your organization measures other things, such as sales or hours of overtime. "This varies in each company," says Hart. "Manufacturing might measure inventory, quality, scrap, or work in progress. Service might measure complaints, service hours per client, or errors."

The company Hart works for measures sales and costs in terms of the number of hours worked. "I measured workers' compensation costs in terms of the cost per hour worked, and senior management could immediately relate to the number," she says. "They came to me and requested my metric be reported monthly on their dashboard."

Hart measures participation in wellness programs as a percentage of the total number of employees. "I also develop baselines, or I use a national benchmark for a campaign, and then measure the percentage of change after I have implemented the campaign to demonstrate success criteria," she says.

• Don't use business terms unless you understand them.

"There is nothing more of a professional killer than when a nurse comes in and starts spouting off business terms with no idea what she's talking about, and when someone calls them on it, looking like a deer in the headlights," says Kalina.

You need to be able to give intelligent answers when "speaking the language of business," says Kalina.

"Do not just use a term as a "buzzword." Always remember that you can be asked a question that is related to the terms you have been using," she says. "If you do not understand the term and how it relates to what you are speaking about, don't use it."