Sector Agnosticism

YAegGCLhvo0aJugTGHimYcWBFvZBeakoqI8_Avwh8p8-1 A post by James V. Toscano

Saturday’s HBR e-newsletter has a nifty article, “How to Woo Talent From the For-Profit World.” by Jenny Davis-Peccoud, who heads Bain’s global social impact practice. She leads off with “ Social enterprises and nonprofits increasingly recognize the need to adopt management disciplines used successfully in the for-profit world.”

Davis-Peccoud states that the major reason for those with this business training and skill who do change “career lanes” and go into some type of nonprofit work is to follow a passion for social impact. She cites a number of nonprofits that have benefitted from such switches. The benefit is not just one way, for these recruits also want to build skills and gain experience, additions to their resumes for possible returns to the other side. Seems the corporate ladder is slower that ascent in social enterprise.

Davis-Peccoud characterizes what is happening as “More of a lane change than a permanent detour.” In an internal Bain survey, those who switched lanes and back mostly said that social enterprise and non-profits “had helped develop their persuasion, listening, empathy, and collaboration skills.” Most of all, 85% of the respondents said these skills were “highly or somewhat relevant to their for-profit jobs.”

In this informative article, the author then tells us that, “For several years now, the lines between those environments have been blurring. Sector agnosticism–a desire to contribute to the world regardless of one’s job sector—puts an increasing premium on the corporate need for employees who understand the disciplines of sustainability and social responsibility that are common at social enterprise.”

The Lines are Blurring

Yes, the lines are blurring, although there is still a noblesse oblige, a one-sidedness, clearly evident from our for-profit colleagues. And it isn’t that there’s a rush on from the stream of MBAs pumping out of the business schools. Newly minted MBAs average about 5% of their class going into nonprofits, with Harvard having about 3% of their graduates going into nonprofits and government, with Yale averaging 9%. In a WSJ article, Melissa Korn points out that many of these MBA’s going into business opt for jobs in social responsibility and with companies seeking environmental and social change.

We certainly see this in the nonprofit world. Many of our students in the master’s program in nonprofit management where I teach do not want the MBA degree, which may have negative value implications for some of them.  They want the degree that is designed to teach them the skills needed for nonprofit leadership, going well beyond persuasion, listening, empathy and collaboration skills. We do teach finance, HR, fundraising, management theory, ethics, evaluation and measurement and a host of other useful disciplines and skills important for nonprofit executives. Our nonprofit graduates are as ready for a career in organizational management as those coming out of our MBA program. The difference among our nonprofit graduates  is in the very same things those Ivy and Bain MBAs are looking for.

Multi-lane Opportunity for Equally Talented Executives

By the same measure, we might be able to improve for-profit companies through recruiting of some of our nonprofit executives, who would bring a range and variety of skills few in the for-profit environment would have, holding age and education constant. We necessarily develop expertise in a wide range of areas that are largely siloed on the other side.

We in the nonprofit sector can ill afford to lose some of our top people, although I think the point being made is about where and who has the talent to be truly creative, efficient and effective in running an organization, any organization.

And, maybe, that’s where we leave it, once we have established some equivalency between sectors and have some mutuality in what is being called the Tri-Sector, with all of us needed to focus on our societal problems. Then we can all slide in and out of B-Corps, nonprofits, social enterprise, for profits, consultancies, government and academia, all according to our values, the forces that shaped us, the opportunities before us, and our vision for the world and ourselves.

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