Finding a New Appreciation for Communications

Masood Qader (MBP '16) reflects on valuable lessons he's learned about communicating with others during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Masood Qader (MBP '16) is a management consulting professional at ZS, where he specializes in market research and strategy for the global sales and marketing consulting firm. His work revolves around conversing with colleagues and clients all over the world, and he learned valuable lessons about the power of communications as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I always felt that if you focused on delivering the highest quality of work on your project objectives, you would be all right," he said. When ZS transitioned to a work-from-home model in March 2020 with the arrival of the pandemic, Qader realized how important day-to-day, in-person interactions really were.

"There was minimal interruption in our project work; however, there was a huge sense of anxiety throughout the firm,” Qader said. “This increased the responsibility of the project leads to deliver on promised timelines while also being aware of outside pressures and stresses that were becoming major factors on our core team members."

To help manage that balance, every week Qader offered a dedicated time for his teams to talk about anything on their mind, work-related or not. That was something he previously had not considered.  

"Getting the pulse of your team's wellness puts you in a better position to act and be proactive about relieving that pressure," Qader said. "This helped us understand each other more and become closer as a team, even though we were physically separated.” 

This past year also reminded Qader about the importance of understanding an audience's point of view, no matter if the audience is a client or a colleague. Understanding their motivations, their obstacles, and their preferred mode of receptivity should shape the content shared and the way it is delivered.

For a client, that may mean providing weekly updates via Slack or Microsoft Teams instead of on Zoom. For an internal stakeholder who has back-to-back meetings, that could mean scheduling a 25-minute meeting instead of 30 minutes to allow time to reset.  

Qader thinks those acts of consideration should and will remain in place even after society moves beyond COVID-19. He also envisions travel severely decreasing for consultants in the future, as people have become proficient at working from home, which reduces the need to have certain team members onsite with clients.

One thing that hasn't changed, but became even more valuable in his eyes, is the ability to succinctly articulate complex ideas for different audiences. That is a skill he learned in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Biotechnology program (MBP), and one that he thinks will further differentiate MBP alumni in the future. 

"The value of translating technical concepts has become more important than ever," said Qader, a MBP Industrial Advisory Board member. "With so many different topics competing for people's attention, having the ability to quickly relay critical information and its implications will continue to set MBP graduates apart from other job candidates. As we move toward an even more virtually connected world, the opportunities for MBP students will continue to grow."

To further differentiate themselves, Qader offered this piece of communications advice to current and future MBP students, though it is applicable to anyone looking to present an idea to someone else. 

"The biggest skill you can develop during your time in MBP is honing your ability to pinpoint the core elements and objectives you want to communicate succinctly," he said. "This will enable you to non-verbally exude confidence about what you are going to present."

McCormick News Article