Building Businesses That Last
How Forsyth Tech Is Transforming Corporate Culture
One big bad wolf. Two fallen houses. Three little pigs. Four different ways to tell the same story.
Chances are you now have the tale of The Three Little Pigs running through your head. So do participants in a training class conducted by a corporate trainer from Forsyth Tech’s Business & Industry Services department. This session is taking place in a spacious, well-lit room in the department’s new location at 525 Vine Street in Innovation Quarter, Winston-Salem’s fast-growing collaborative research park.
The class consists of 16 middle-management employees. The company’s senior management has identified internal communication issues that are decreasing productivity and has reached out to Forsyth Tech’s corporate training department for help. In response, Forsyth Tech has developed a series of leadership training classes for the client, beginning with the most popular – the DiSC, a personal assessment tool used to improve work productivity, teamwork and communication.
The DiSC acronym stands for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness, representing this system’s four different behavioral styles.
“Once participants identify their own style and have a basic understanding of the others, I have them complete a task that makes them think about how to apply what they just learned in a memorable way,” says Sherri Kong, one of Forsyth Tech’s corporate trainers. “I break them up into groups based on their primary DiSC styles. Then I ask each group to retell the story of The Three Little Pigs to the group whose style most strongly conflicts with their own to see if they can figure out how to communicate the story most effectively.”
For example, says Sherri, the “D’s” are results-oriented and don’t like details unless they request them. The most effective way to communicate with them is to provide bare-bone facts and bottom-line conclusions: There were three pigs, one wolf. Moral of the story: Build house of bricks. The end.
On the other hand, Sherri explains, C’s love details. You will engage them if you talk about the wind velocity of the wolf’s breath, the exact measurements of each house and the weight of each pig.
(Just in case you’re curious, “I’s” would appreciate a funny interpretation of the fairy tale that goes off on an unexpected tangent, and “S’s,” given their preference for stability and consistency, would like to hear that the wolf was vegetarian and pro-pig rights, ensuring none of the characters got hurt.)
“I’m not teaching revolutionary ideas,” Sherri adds. “I’m teaching basic principles of caring, sharing and handling conflict. The idea is that we often communicate, or tell a story, the way that we want to hear it rather than thinking about the needs of the other person.”
“The DiSC helps people understand that if they take something someone says personally, the root of the offense may be linked to a difference in DiSC styles. We use the lens of DiSC to reframe interpersonal conflict and misunderstanding in an objective way, which can greatly enhance organizational communication.”
Connecting The Dots
The DiSC assessment is just one example of the many courses Forsyth Tech’s Business & Industry Services department offers corporate and industrial clients large and small to meet its workforce development needs.
“Our mission is to help the local business community grow and prosper,” says Jennifer Coulombe, dean of Business & Industry Services. “North Carolina was one of the first states to recognize the connection between economic development and workforce development. We foster this connection by offering a wide range of assessment tools and educational and industrial training programs designed to upskill workers and create high-performance corporate cultures.”
Another example of how Forsyth Tech serves the needs of the business community is represented by its partnership with the Northwest Piedmont Workforce Development Board.
Trained staff from Forsyth Tech and the board frequently go into the field to observe job-related tasks and employee performance in order to help companies determine the skills needed for those jobs. If sixth-grade math is required for a particular task or position, then that minimum requirement is incorporated into the job description and skills assessment testing. “This helps remove the guesswork from the selection process,” Jennifer says, “by making hiring, promotion and training decisions much more efficient, which in turn can enhance overall organizational performance.”
Innovation Quarter: Endless Possibilities for Training and Collaboration
Forsyth Tech’s decision to relocate its Business & Industry Services department to a transformed factory building in Innovation Quarter this past fall was strategic and designed to give the college a strong presence in the heart of Winston-Salem’s vibrant local business community. The 525 Vine Street facility offers businesses an expanding array of assessment, training and education programs supported by classroom, seminar and video conferencing space as well as computer labs for IT training. In addition, a wet lab offers biotechnology and nanotechnology students training that can help connect them with job opportunities within Innovation Quarter and the larger community.
According to Alan Murdock, vice president for Forsyth Tech’s Economic and Workforce Development division, the move of the Business & Industry Services department to Innovation Quarter accelerates the college’s immersion into the business community, placing it in the hub with other like-minded educational entities, such as Virginia Tech and Wake Forest University.
“I’m excited about things I don’t even know are going to happen in Innovation Quarter and the surrounding business community,” says Alan. “There are so many opportunities for business and industry to collaborate with us in new ways – I can’t even imagine what Innovation Quarter and our role in it will look like in five years.”
“Our presence here is going to connect us even more deeply to business and industry,” Jennifer adds. “The collaborative spirit that exists has already helped us form new partnerships in the Quarter and expand relationships with existing clients.”
One of the first clients to utilize Forsyth Tech’s new training facilities in Innovation Quarter is Murray Supply Company, a local, family-owned company in the plumbing, industrial sales and maintenance repair business with more than 100 employees in locations across the state and Richmond, Va. For more than a year, Forsyth Tech had been providing monthly training sessions at the company’s headquarters in downtown Winston-Salem. But, after seeing Forsyth Tech’s new training facilities, the company decided to move those sessions to Innovation Quarter.
“We are very much a continuous learning organization,” says David Murray, president of Murray Supply. “When we recognized that we had some communication barriers between our warehouse operations, we went right to Forsyth Tech for help. They catered a course for us, and we got nothing but great responses from our employees. Our Forsyth Tech trainer, Sherri Kong, is very intuitive and instinctively tailored classes to our business. Sherri is now a member of our family.”
As Human Resources manager for Murray, Anne Cashion is responsible for coordinating the training programs with Forsyth Tech. “We are using Forsyth Tech’s corporate training capabilities for a variety of reasons, including sales training, Excel training and leadership development,” she says. “Now our people crave the training!”
The Sweet Taste of Success
In addition to corporate and industrial training, the Business & Industry Services department at Innovation Quarter is home to the Small Business Center, which fosters local economic development by supporting creative entrepreneurship within the community.
“Statistics show that more jobs are created through small business compared to big business,” says Allan Younger, director of Forsyth Tech’s Small Business Centers in Forsyth and Stokes counties. “Small businesses have just as much of a chance to make a difference as big businesses.
“When we have a strong network of small businesses within a community, and consumers and businesses buy local, then small businesses can be successful.”
The Small Business Center offers a host of resources to potential and small business owners, including confidential one-on-one counseling and seminars on creating business plans, time management tips for small business owners, and administrative best practices. All are provided free of charge.
“No one offers more education, training and business counseling to small businesses than we do,” Allan points out.
“Eighty percent of small businesses fail within the first five years – the fail rate is even higher for restaurants,” he says. “I want my clients to be in the 20 percent that succeed. They can do that by doing the necessary research, planning and preparation up front to know their market.”
A student who spends hours studying for a final exam stands a far better chance of passing than someone who goes in and “wings it,” and the same holds true for entrepreneurs, Allan points out.
One local business that hopes to find itself in the “20 percent” success category is Black Mountain Chocolate, a purveyor of small batch artisan bean-to-bar chocolate located in Reynolda Village and Trade Street in Winston-Salem.
Allan has known Dawn Peters, a former teacher and the company’s “Creator of Chocolate Happiness,” since two of his teenagers were in her kindergarten class. When she reached out to Allan when starting up her new business, he was pleased to offer her some of the Small Business Center’s services.
“Deciding to purchase Black Mountain Chocolate with my husband, Brent, a tax attorney, is a second act for us,” Ms. Peters says. “I had no retail experience before opening up our retail shop in Reynolda Village in November 2013. My 10 one-on-one counseling sessions with Allan were invaluable. Our business involves marketing, finance and production – we can’t be experts in all of them, so that’s why I consulted with Allan.”
Before opening the production facility on Trade Street this past fall, Ms. Peters took face-to-face classes at the Small Business Center in QuickBooks as well as online business modules that she could explore at her own pace.
Is it too early to tell if all the careful preparation is paying off?
“Sales so far are well above expectations,” says Mr. Peters. “We believe Dawn’s one-on-one counseling with Allan played an important role in our early success.”
From helping new businesses such as Black Mountain Chocolate to established firms such as Murray Supply Company, Forsyth Tech’s Business and Industry Services department is accomplishing its mission to support the local business community through educational courses and industrial training classes aimed at keeping companies competitive amid the ever-changing demands of today’s economic and technology-driven environments. Now, in its new location at Innovation Quarter, the college will be able to offer even more tools and services to support the transformation of companies into high-performance organizations.