Dave Conrad has honed his knowledge through decades of work as an independent business consultant, his experience in sales and marketing for public and private companies in a range of industries, and his positions in higher education. He’s author of “Ask Dave,” a column for the Rochester Post-Bulletin. His first book, which shares the same name as his column, is available for purchase at the Augsburg College bookstore.
Business professor Dave Conrad shares workplace guidance with 100,000 readers through weekly newspaper column
The majority of American workers report being unhappy in their jobs. One of the biggest factors for this dissatisfaction is poor workplace communication, according to The Conference Board’s annual survey of 5,000 U.S. households. Other top factors that contribute to workplace dissatisfaction include issues related to compensation, recognition, and career development.
None of this is surprising to Dave Conrad, assistant director of the Augsburg College Master of Business Administration program at Rochester and associate professor in Rochester and Minneapolis. Each week for the past eight years, Conrad has shared straightforward business and workplace guidance with 100,000 readers of his column, “Dear Dave,” published in the Rochester Post-Bulletin since 2006.
Conrad said that while he fields plenty of questions on workplace communication issues, he also responds to queries on everything from conflicts among coworkers to issues of company culture, managing change, and problem solving. There’s probably no question that has been left unasked of Conrad. And his advice is so popular that he published a book based upon his column and has another one in the works.
Conrad dispenses usable guidance that blends management processes with leadership thinking so that readers can gain insight into the worlds of their coworkers.
“My readers tend to be everyday, hard-working staff employees or mid-level managers who need everyday advice,” he said.
Clear counseling cleans up clumsy communication
Conrad doesn’t really need to be told by a national survey that communication problems vex employees at all levels. He knows it because, time and again, he receives questions from readers struggling to give voice to their opinions or to share information about the direction an organization is heading.
“People are bursting at the seams with ideas, input, and feedback, but there often is no one listening,” he said.
When one reader in 2013 asked Conrad why it seems that managers don’t interact with employees—not even to ask how the employees are coping—Conrad delivered his trademark guidance, mixing simple steps with insight:
“Organizations thrive on communication and dialogue. It is crucial that managers simply interact with employees … and ask if they can help the employees in any way,” Conrad wrote. “Managers should pass along information about the company that will help employees understand the mission, vision, goals, and objectives pertaining to where the company is heading.”
Conrad said that the reason this type of communication is critical is because it creates what he calls “we-ness,” a shared purpose among employees that can inspire everyone to work toward shared goals.
Conrad also offers practical guidance for how managers should communicate with employees: share honestly, strive to promote dialogue, ensure every voice is heard, and welcome ideas and input without chastising the messenger.
When a manager asked Conrad how to more effectively guide change after learning that her employees felt she didn’t connect well with those employees who most needed information, Conrad first shared insight on the organizational need to develop a change-management communication plan. The creation of such a plan is an important step in ensuring that the manager delivers the right information to the right people at the right time.
He followed up with the types of information to include in the plan so all his readers could understand steps toward shaping and managing change.
“Communication gaps and weaknesses must be discovered, and a systematic means of providing instructions, information, and feedback must be created and implemented,” he responded via the 2014 column. “To get and keep people on board: Explain the ‘why’ of the change. Clearly communicate the vision, mission, and the objectives of the change management initiative. Have and articulate ideal outcomes. Get people interacting and sharing ideas and perspectives.”
Insight for Auggies
Conrad’s approach was no different when we asked him what insight he has for Augsburg College alumni just starting out in the work world and those who want to grow their careers.
Conrad said that it’s likely Auggies who are beginning their careers will need to perform unglamorous—and possibly, humbling—work for a while. But that’s normal.
“I love the saying: If you do what you love, you will never work a day the rest of your life,” Conrad said. “The problem is, when you’re just out of college, it’s easy to get confused about what you can do in the workplace, or even what you want to do.”
Just as Auggies are sorting through what they might want to do, employers will be watching. Conrad encourages Auggies to stay positive, maintain enthusiasm, and take on tasks they never thought they would have to perform. Early in their careers, he said, Auggies should show off their work ethic no matter the task assigned.
Conrad’s tips for young employees include taking on the assignments nobody wants, asking managers for feedback on their work, and seeking guidance for how to earn promotions.
“Not only is this a way to demonstrate drive and ethic, but it also offers a way to practice the communication skills that make a workplace more rewarding,” he said.
For Auggies further along in their career, Conrad offers similarly upbeat advice.
“Keep things fresh, engaging, and constructive—dare I say ‘positive,’” he said. “Volunteer for small and big projects, mentor budding managers, be there for people in need, learn new things, and do anything that shows care about the productivity and well- being of the organization, others, and especially yourself.”
Employers are attracted to employees who understand the importance of their work on their team, department, and organization. Through the reflective practices and hands-on learning built into an Augsburg College education, Auggies leave campus knowing how their work makes a difference in the world, and they are ready to lead in organizations ranging from nonprofits to Fortune 500 businesses. And, they are ready to do it well.