Welcome to BizComBuzz, the blog with weekly posts dedicated to providing business communication instructors with useful content to bring right into the classroom!

The Scoop contains short, timely blurbs you can discuss with students and colleagues.

Featured Articles explores issues affecting pedagogy, business communication, and classroom technology in more depth. 

News You Can Use condenses timely business-related news items and provides questions to generate lively classroom discussions.

Classroom Exercises offers case studies and writing technique assignments ready to download.

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Bonus Case Study: Pesky Clutch Problems Plague Harley-Davidson

[Instructors: The following case study can be used for a discussion using the questions below. We also provide a writing assignment (and sample solution) that encourages critical thinking about audience awareness and choosing an organizational strategy for a message.]

Founded in 1903, Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Motor Company is an iconic manufacturer of motorcycles with a loyal global following. The company also sells branded merchandise and apparel. Although most recently motorcycle sales have been trending down, Harley-Davidson is financially healthy, with a net income of $114.1 million on revenue of $1.27 billion in 2016.[1]

Manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson must ensure the safety of their products and fix any manufacturing defects. It’s the right thing to do. Customers correctly expect flawless operation of their pricey vehicles, and the organization’s brand reputation is at stake.

Also, consumers today are wielding a lot of power. In a 24/7 news cycle, social media outcries spread fast and carry far. This is why organizations err on the side of caution and issue recalls to repair their products and thus prevent potential injury as well as costly litigation.

What? Another Recall?

Owners of certain 2015-2016 HD models have had problems with the hydraulic clutch right after purchasing their bikes. The company then quickly issued a voluntary recall to correct the problem.

However, the hydraulic clutch engagement system keeps causing trouble. This time Harley-Davidson did not recall its vehicles, but it did decide to offer a free inspection by an authorized HD dealer, and, more important, to extend the factory limited warranty on the hydraulic clutch engagement system for five years. This warranty stays with the bike even if it is sold. The company wrote a letter to the owners of the affected motorcycles asking them to visit their authorized dealer to address the lingering problem.

Let’s Talk Strategy

[If you share the scenario with students, remove this discussion and address strategy in class.]

Is this a straightforward bad-news message? Does the pain the negative news might cause suggest the writer use a buffer and an indirect approach? The answer: This scenario requires tact but the approach should be direct. Despite the clutch problems, the audience is loyal to the brand. The writer has something to offer that is likely to offset any negative feelings. The goal is to prompt the reader to take action and bring the bike in for an inspection. A secondary goal is to maintain the customers’ goodwill.

Critical Thinking Questions

  1. Why did Harley-Davidson choose to write a letter to the owners of the affected motorcycles?
    Manufacturers know that most people take a letter on paper in their mailbox more seriously than e-mail. An e-mail message might be mistaken for promotion and overlooked in a busy inbox. A letter is tailored to reach its target audience. Because the defect doesn’t rise to the level of a recall, the company doesn’t need to make a public disclosure, risking negative publicity and perceptions of slipping quality.
  2. Why should the letter to the Harley owners be polite but direct?
    Harley-Davidson is not issuing a recall but is providing a remedy to a recurring problem. The issue isn’t likely to cause much pain other than being a minor inconvenience. The company is showing good faith as it stands by its products. Harley-Davidson has something to offer that the recipient of the letter will ultimately like and that will compensate for any disappointment.

Task. Write a letter that will be sent to all Harley-Davidson customers affected by the clutch problems. Address it to Ed Townsend, 1654 Wigwam Parkway, City of Henderson, NV 89011.

Solution: Harley Davidson Letter


[1] Bomey, N. (2016, October 18). Harley-Davidson plans cuts as sales, profit fall. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com

The F-bomb in the Office?

Casual profanity has permeated our language, even at the office, leaving some confused about what’s okay to say.

The root of the problem may lie in the way different generations interpret the use of profanity. Benjamin Bergen, author of What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, points out that although language is always in flux, today marks the largest gap ever between generational use of curse words. Bergen explains that if a millennial checks his Twitter feed before work and sees the f-word dozens or even hundreds of times, it’s more likely for that individual to use the word later at work when, say, complaining about an empty coffee pot. While some co-workers overhearing the f-bomb may not blink an eye, others, perhaps older colleagues, may take offense.

Another reason for the conundrum surrounding cursing is that today’s young workers do not consider the f-bomb offensive when used to express enthusiasm (That was f-ing awesome!) or as an adjective to indicate a reaction (What the f did she mean by that?) In fact, a recent survey found that 70% of millennials say they curse at work; about a third claim cursing actually helps a team bond. What millennials do find offensive is using the f-bomb to intimidate or berate (You better up your f-ing game or you are out!)

However, some experts contend that use of such language in the workplace does not reflect well on the speaker’s judgment. Many conversations that include the f-word occur between colleagues in common work areas where the profanity can be easily overheard. Although plenty of workers may find a chat splattered with cursing routine, others could consider the practice workplace harassment.

Where to draw the line?

Discussion

  1. In which work situations should you never use a curse word?
  2. What are the pros and cons of policies that regulate workplace language?
  3. What is the best way to judge whether to inject profanity into a conversation?

Secrets to Successful Group Work

by Janet Mizrahi, The Guffey Team, UCSB Writing Program

My program is committed to including a major group project into the curriculum of our introductory business communication course, and after teaching this assignment for 17 years, I’ve learned that the secret to positive team experiences lies in guiding students while they learn by doing. That, however, requires specific pedagogical strategies.

Below are some tactics you can weave into your own teaching when you include a group project in your curriculum.

“Sell” the project. Be enthusiastic about the benefits of group work by listing its benefits: more bodies to share the workload, diverse opinions and experiences to add varying perspectives, and different individual skills that result in a better end product. When touting the “real life” aspect of the assignment, mention that the collaborative experience is a great interview story to relate to a potential employer. If the team worked well together, students can explain why. If the team experience was problematic, the student can reflect on a lesson learned with real-world applications. Sharing these upsides of group work help early student buy-in to the assignment and leads to better collaborative experiences.

Choose a group formation practice. Grouping students yourself or allowing them to form their own teams are both valid practices. If you group students, you create a more realistic situation: In the workplace, we rarely choose with whom we must work. On the other hand, students who choose their own groups can better mesh schedules and work styles.

 Discuss teamwork skills and behaviors. Provide students with the background they need to be positive group leaders and productive group members. Many business communication textbooks (including Business Communication: Process & Product, 9e and Essentials of Business Communication, 11e by Guffey and Loewy) contain helpful sections about these topics. You can also provide handouts or point to online resources that offer advice to positive team behaviors.

Make students accountable. Some experts recommend team charters as a way to improve group participation. Such documents spell out responsibilities and consequences for not meeting those responsibilities.

Include strategies to deal with underperformers. Students often complain about “slackers” when naming what they dislike about group work, so it’s a good idea to have some practices in place for dealing with this issue. I ask students to assess their group experience in a letter or e-mail as a way for team members to vent steam, and so I learn about how the group worked as a unit. Students are asked to numerically rate themselves and their peers on specific behaviors (attends meetings, adds to meetings, meets deadlines, etc.) and discuss performance and that of their teammates in a narrative. These documents play a part in the final grade I assign to individuals.

My colleagues and I have also devised an escape clause of sorts: Teams may “fire” a member (after discussing it with the instructor) if they have proof that the member has not responded to attempts to confront his or her lack of participation. I back this up with an alternative assignment to write a 10-page research paper about the benefits of teamwork in the workplace. That seems to be enough to encourage active participation because I’ve never had a team activate the escape clause.

Provide class time for group collaboration. My colleague Gina Genova and I collaborated on a two-year study to help us define what our students saw as impediments to working in groups. We were surprised to learn that the biggest problem was making time to meet outside of class. Accordingly, we started allowing students to collaborate in class most days, at least for a few minutes. It’s a big help, students tell us.

Assign scaffolding exercises. Work plans, progress reports, Gantt charts, and rough drafts that build up to the final project are great ways to help students stay on track. Teach students to break up the project into a series of steps that lead to the end product, and help them manage their time by highlighting important due dates in your syllabus.

Group work is never easy for student and teacher alike. However, we can improve everyone’s experience if we provide students with some basic strategies for working well with others.


How do you guide your students through group work? Share your thoughts and ideas!