Going T-shaped: The power of combining disciplines

The new trend of combining disciplines - Labourflaw.comBy Barbara du Preez-Ulmi. One of the new workplace trends is the move away from a focus on skills-set only, and to move towards a mix between fundamental competencies and behaviour (attitude and personal values) when recruiting for new talent. That probably explains a global increase in L&D (learning and development) jobs and a heavier investment in on-the-job skills development. Think about it – if your attitude is right, and if you show passion and enthusiasm,you can pretty much learn anything, especially if fundamental competencies exist.

Unfortunately, many companies and organisations still follow traditional principles when recruiting for a specific job role, and more often than not, disregard the potential for development and cross-disciplinary learning. Specific industry knowledge can always be learnt while on the job; if the thirst is there to grow, learning will be a breeze.

Fundraising marketers, marketing fundraisers

To make an example: A marketer who has fundamental competencies from content creation to strategy, analysis to campaigning, budget management to digital knowledge, will probably do pretty well in fundraising, and vice versa. Let’s explore this in more detail.

Fundraising could be described as this interesting discipline between traditional cold calling and inbound marketing strategies. Prospecting of donors may happen via traditional methods from event planning to networking, church collections and a promotional stand at the mall. But more and more, digital inbound marketing is seen as a way to create more successful fundraising campaigns by NPOs and NGOs. Social networks alone are able to offer a platform on which emotional connections are made, and causes are supported.

In fundraising, donor prospecting and cultivation follows the same process and approach as marketing professionals use when attracting new leads to a business. While a fundraiser at an Non-Profit may ask for donations, a marketer will ask for a trial sign up or a product purchase, for instance. Yet they both start off by creating a prospecting strategy including audience (or persona) – targeting, campaign goal-setting and content asset creation. When campaigning, they would both follow the process of planning, creating, implementing, measuring and optimising. Tricks that a marketer may be able to apply as a fundraiser, are the use of digital tools from lead-scoring, the creation of workflows, landing pages, CTAs (Click-to-Action buttons or banners) or the creation of persona visitor journeys with appropriate content assets and formats – this in order to make the right people stick, donate and recommend.

In fundraising, a strong communications strategy is associated with improved results.
In marketing, it’s no different: the right communication to the right audience at the right time generates quality leads. Topical search content planning, ad frequency capping, AB testing, story-telling, email campaigning, social profiling, sharing of free, valuable content and more are some of the principles applied.

We are only just beginning to think differently

So the fundamental competencies are similar; and what most likely makes their disciplines so interchangeable, is that it takes a special kind of nurturing, empathetic and strategic person to deliver well in inbound marketing, inbound sales and fundraising.

The above is an example which can be applied to most job roles and disciplines. I used it as I am familiar with marketing, communications, and the non-profit sector. Let me know if you have applied an interesting synergy either in your own job, or as an employer. You have perhaps taken on a job that was quite different from your previous experience from the outset, but you turned out to excel at it. Or you might have employed someone who you trusted would be a great cultural fit and with a fantastic attitude, to a role that did not match their skills-set in its entirety.

Are you T-shaped or I-shaped?

“Neither. I am a T-Rex!” – if that is your answer, I admire your self-confidence. Roarr! But jokes aside. A “T-shaped person” is a metaphor in talent acquisition to describe someone who can work cross-disciplinary. The vertical line in the “T” means that you have some in-depth expertise in a single field, while the horizontal line indicates that you are able to collaborate across disciplines with other experts and that you are able to apply knowledge in areas that you are not an expert in. In contrast, an “I-shaped person” has  in-depth functional expertise in a single field, but cannot cross-collaborate, and might want to rather cross their “I”s at some stage. The former would apply to someone who is a microbiologist, but hybrid-manages a team of dietitians at a wellness centre. The latter would be a content writer who knows nothing of SEO,  or how to analyse content performance.

Perhaps you are more familiar with the terms Generalising Specialist or
Master Generalist; be it as it may, the future lies in being able to retain core expert knowledge, while also showing awareness and interest in related disciplines; expanding on your horizon, and continuous learning. At the end of the day (as we say here in South Africa), a team of generalising specialists will probably find consensus more easily, and is unlikely to burst out into ego-driven expert fights that can only be resolved via mediation. So – by expanding your knowledge, you create understanding, and help prevent unnecessary conflict. 


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