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Survival Skills

Skills that were desirable in an employee a few years ago are now critical to the prosperity and sustainability of your nonprofit.  Those skills are important to the long-term prosperity of your clients.  Your board members also need those same skills.  Those skills need to be taught and nurtured both in your staff and clients.

The intangible skills are the ones you should be seeking and fostering in your employees and volunteers. Intangible, hard to measure, skills are primarily interpersonal skills.  Other intangible skills are problem solving, creativity, proactivity, presentation, listening, and analytical skills.  They are skills that are difficult to automate or replicate with technology.

The tangible skills are the skills that are easily measured.  They are the technical skills that are unique to a job.  Many of those skills have been automated over the past several years.  Now the person (employee, board member, or client) needs greater depth and breadth of skills than ever before.  The breadth helps him or her complement what automation has to offer.  The depth helps him or her do things that are beyond the capabilities of automation at this time.

Part of creating a competitive advantage over the standard process everyone else uses requires finding intangible skills that complement the tangible skills your employees and volunteers have.  Intangible skills that help your nonprofit gain a competitive advantage, such as interpersonal skills in the increasingly common automated world, combined with tangible skills that are built on the person’s interdisciplinary knowledge are especially valuable.  One example is the IT specialist who understands marketing and is socially skilled.  It is unnecessary for an IT employee to be a marketing expert but being able to blend marketing needs into IT decisions creates more effective solutions and systems.  Further combining those skills with an ability to communicate and collaborate well is a competitive advantage for your nonprofit.  Think about each of your employees and what intangible skills will make them even more valuable to your clients, donors, and the rest of your team.

Intangible skills are transferable skills.  If you create a disciplined and intentional process, you can use your staff to mentor each other.  This process will strengthen your team and lower your dependence on specialists and superstars.

The unrelenting evolution of our society forces each of us, and the organizations we work for, to be adaptive.  Being adaptive depends on creativity, courage, and freedom.  Therefore, your team needs to have the freedom to use the intangible skills you are fostering.  Providing the freedom to use the intangible skills may be the most difficult part.  It means taking risk and taking responsibility for missteps.  Your staff will be reluctant to try something new if they feel there is a threat hanging over their heads.

Next Step:

Place more emphasis on intangible skills than the tangible skills when hiring

Develop a process for nurturing intangible skills

Review and amend the list of intangible skills periodically

Give your team the freedom to fail or at least stumble

Encourage your board to use the same (preceding) four steps when recruiting new members

The intangible skills will increase the sustainability of your mission.  Tangible skills are becoming less important every day.  Teams with extraordinary intangible skills created the innovations you enjoy today.  Those teams significantly enhanced the future prospects of the organizations they worked for and made your life better.  Your clients are depending on your team to do the same for them.

Take It Further:

Modify your programing to develop the intangible skills in your clients so that they can flourish in the same ways you want your staff and mission to flourish

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