Top Ten Tips for Developing Soft Skills

No doubt your goal is to complete your college degree and get a job that you will enjoy.  As mentioned in my last blog entry, these days you need to be more than technically skilled to make it in the workforce.  Here are some practical tips for building and strengthening soft skills while working on your degree; doing so will better position yourself for career success.

1.  Strong work ethic

Should Nonprofits Operate Like Businesses?

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal debating whether charitable organizations should operate more like businesses. 

Charles R. Bronfman and Jeffrey R. Solomon, chairman and president, respectively, of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, presented the "yay" argument, while Michael Edwards, a senior fellow at Demos offered the "nay" argument. 

In a nutshell, Bronfman and Solomon argue that running philanthropies more like businesses will improve efficiencies, accountability and mission delivery.  Edwards counters that running a nonprofit like a business will have a negative impact on the poorest populations, eliminate the creativity that is necessary to make a nonprofit effective, and result in more accountability to corporate donors than to service constituents.

Personally, I think Edwards misses the mark by a long shot.

His position that an open ended and creative approach to nonprofit management is more appropriate than a more business like approach is, in my opinion, an invitation for fraud, embezzlement, lack of accountability and poor governance.  Efficiency and “creativity” are not mutually exclusive.

Additionally, NGOs that don't show a “return on investment” in the form of service delivery are organizations that have a very limited future.  Every donor, whether it be a large corporate funder or an individual dropping five dollars into a kettle, expects that his donation will be used efficiently and effectively.  To imply that charities that don't operate with a traditional business model are somehow less beholden to their donors than they are to their consituents, is quite simply false...thank God!  I don’t think there is a charity on earth that would agree with Edward's suggestion that a nonprofit's only obligation is to the population it serves.  Doing so would basically be an admission that the organization isn't attending to its mission, because the donor and the recipient of services both have the same expectation:  fulfillment!  If a charitable agency can't prove it is working towards that end, it shouldn't exist.

Edwards offers Occupy Wall Street as a successful example of the "creative" model.  To me, this is just absurd. One of the primary reasons the movement is starting to fall apart is because its message is so unclear (in addition to charges of financial mismanagement, drug use and crime amongst its ranks).  There is little, if any, actual infrastructure and even fewer common goals behind the movement.  Any business or nonprofit that replicates this model wouldn’t last a year in today’s competitive environment.  Occupy Wall Street is proving to be a perfect case study against Edward's suggested approach.  Getting attention doesn't always equate to success.

Edwards also goes on to paint the civil rights movement as a shining example of how the grass roots, creative approach is best suited for change.  In my opinion, one of the biggest reasons the civil rights movement was so dramatically effective was because it evolved into a well organized and well planned effort.  It had a visible and strong leadership structure, an unambiguous cause, and very clear, consistent and measurable objectives.

I don’t think that anyone would disagree that most social causes start at the grass roots level. Someone, somewhere feels passionate enough about an issue to begin playing an active role in facilitating change. Thus, a grass roots movement is born.  But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take a strategic and planned approach to the matter.

I once had a professor in graduate school who was very fond of the phrase, “It’s not the plan that counts; it’s planning that counts”, meaning a good plan isn’t etched in stone. A good plan is one that allows for flexibility in order to adapt to a changing environment.  To be a smart business or nonprofit, one needs to be flexible.  So for Edwards to claim that a business-like approach to running a nonprofit agency eliminates that flexibility, is both myopic and naïve…in my opinion.

**The opinions shared on this blog are solely those of its author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Goodwill of Greater Washington, its supporters or affiliates.

The Customer Experience Often Begins & Ends Online

Your prices are well researched and fair.  Your product presentation, functionality and distribution strategies are flawless.  You have very talented managers and associates who have been well trained in customer service, and your marketing team believes in the "customer is always right" philosophy.  So now you feel you've addressed all of your customer experience issues and will surely impress, convert and retain customers, right?

Hmmm...not so fast.  In today's digital world far more consumers have their first interaction with a product, service or business online.  They're visiting your website, Facebook page, mobile app, email newsletter or other digital platform before they ever step foot in your store or pick up the phone to call you.  And if they have a bad experience online, it's probably the last interaction they ever have with you. 

According to Neilson, 70% of online social network users shop online. says, "67% of consumers will use their smartphones to find store locations, 59% to compare prices, 51% to obtain product information, 46% to check product availability, 45% to shop online, 41% to find and use coupons, and 40% to scan bar codes".  And the figures are only growing.

Do you make it easy for customers to reach someone who can help them?  Remember, online shoppers aren't confined by brick and mortar hours of operation.  While this might seem elementary to most B2C retailers these days, many are still focused primarily on their websites, but haven't spent much time managing their social media and/or digital channels.  Additionally, more B2B consumers are using social media to research products and services as well. 

According to a recent study by Accenture, "only 8% of B2B companies would describe their social media usage as extensive. This is in contrast to the 65% of respondents who indicated that social media is extremely or very important."

Far too often, businesses still judge social media success purely by the direct and immediate impact it has on the bottom line, rather than looking at it as a customer service tool that helps ensure brand loyalty.  It is a point of direct engagement with a consumer or customer and provides a powerful and unique opportunity to show them that you appreciate and value their input and feedback.  Those who aren't viewing social media as a large part of the customer experience are still missing the boat.  But they won't be for long, because if present trends continue, they'll either be forced to adopt or forced to close shop.

So, how is your online customer experience?

Living Social Looking to Change its Business Model

In a recent interview with the Washington Business Journal, LivingSocial CEO  Tim O’Shaughnessy said, “We don’t view ourselves as a daily deals business, we view ourselves as a local commerce business”.  According to the author, O'Shaughnessy's comment hints at a possible shift in the LivingSocial business model.

O'Shaughnessy envisions a future where LivingSocial becomes an online seller of goods and services beyond just its daily deals.

The story points out that Amazon (a LivingSocial investor) is seeing tremendous growth outside of its books, movie and music sales.  Could Living Social soon become a competitor in this space...or a partner?

With free and geo-targeted "special offer" sites like Foursquare starting to gain some momentum as a self managed retail resource, and QR codes providing greater reach for retailers hoping to promote discounts at little to no cost, perhaps O'Shaughnessy is weighing a shift in LivingSocial's business model more as a mitigation strategy than a growth opportunity. 

There are a growing number of LivingSocial competitors popping up every day with new and unique competitive advantages that chip away at the huge market share that LivingSocial and Groupon now control.  Take recently launched Recoup for example.  Recoup has a daily deal model similar to LivingSocial's but with a more philanthropic mission.  Every purchase made on Recoup benefits a charitable agency of the consumer's choice.  The businesses that are selling on Recoup can also contribute a portion of each sale to a charitable cause.  Additionally, Recoup doesn't charge businesses up front unlike LivingSocial and Groupon.  In today's very socially conscious consumer culture and skeptical business culture, Recoup may be well positioned to take a measurable bite out of its high priced competitors.

O'Shaughnessy's comments are interesting.  What will be even more interesting is what is to follow.