Alison O'Shaughnessy

Wandering with Purpose at the 2017 Net Impact Conference

It’s the night before the first day of the Net Impact conference and I’m furiously looking through their website, writing down all talks I want to attend and people I want to network with.  The list was long – if I wanted to get to everything, there would have to be 5 extraverted versions of myself. I went to sleep feeling anxiously prepared.

Standing in line to register the next day, I saw a looming sign featuring the theme of this year’s conference – “Path to Purpose.” It struck me that I didn’t know my purpose for attending. Yes, I knew I wanted to network and learn new things, but that’s not purpose. Those are actions to satisfy my purpose. Suddenly, I felt like a lost child in a giant shopping mall. Where is my purpose?! Where’s an adult that can tell me where my purpose is?!

This isn’t a new feeling for me. Most of the time, I feel like a cat constantly changing direction to look at the new shiny thing. Professors, career counselors, and parents ask me, “what do you love to do?” In the words of one of the keynote speakers at Net Impact, Cheryl Dorsey President of Echoing Green, “what makes your heart sing?” I mean, a lot of things. I love connecting and helping people on a deep level. I love coming up with new and creative ways to communicate an old message. I love traveling and food. I love being outdoors. I love movies and culture and art and their impact on society. DO I HAVE TO PICK ONE?

At the risk of going crazy trying to define a purpose that would further my career and define my life’s work, I decided to keep it simple – be curious, learn something new. I left the extensive list of people and sessions in my bag and made game time decisions. It felt like I was moving with a tide – going to sessions and exploring which conversations moved me, then finding sessions that dig deeper into that topic. For example, Paul Hawken, the author of Project Drawdown, walked us through the top solutions to reverse climate change. I was moved to tears to hear that women’s issues had some of the biggest impact – Solution #6 was educating girls and solution #7 was family planning. Giving the control back to women gave them the power to choose their own path, which usually led to smaller families and higher education. This led me to the gender equality panel, one I didn’t consider before hearing those statistics. It turned out to be my favorite session. I learned about the implications of cognitive diversity from Mary Harvey, a Principle at Ripple Effect Consulting and former US women’s national soccer team goal keeper. I found out from a fellow student that computer science started as a female-dominated field before the personal computer revolution made it a “masculine” endeavor. Later, one of the sessions I wanted to go to was closed, so I ended up at “Don’t leave your values at the door.” Cause marketing is another passion of mine and it just so happens that the woman who essentially invented it, Carol Cone, was leading the panel.

I satisfied my “conference” purpose – I was curious and learned new things. Did that lead me to my life’s purpose? Not exactly, but it did reignite my passion for impacting food systems. And it did make me want to explore and understand gender equality and its impact on the workplace and environment. Most of the successful professionals I heard from had winding paths to their current positions because they were curious individuals with multiple passions. And with each pivot, their purpose became clearer. So, for all my fellow wanderers out there: Having a wide range of interests is a good thing. Don’t be afraid to follow your passions through unconventional career paths. Go to that art opening. Volunteer at that organic farm. Reach out to that person with your dream job – the one you never thought would want to talk to you. With each new opportunity, you’ll discover the common thread that spells out your purpose.

Written by Alison O'Shaughnessy

Ali is a 2018 MBA from the Center of Sustainable Business Practices. She spent most of her career working in digital marketing for non-profit clients in New York City. After graduating, she plans on combining her expertise in marketing with her passion for socially and environmentally responsible business practices by working for a company that shares her altruistic values.

The Path to a Powerful Cause Marketing Campaign

Times are a-changin’. No longer can a company skirt around their moral code. More and more, customers are demanding products and services that serve a greater moral purpose or stand for something good. This doesn’t mean companies can do one project or one campaign and claim they are a purpose-driven organization. Consumers are smarter than that. They can sniff out inauthentic approaches like a bloodhound. At the same time, companies shouldn’t be compelled to hide their efforts to keep their valiant efforts anonymous. On the contrary, now more than ever it is important to communicate what they’re doing to contribute to a better world. So how do you approach mission-based marketing in a unique, genuine way? I’m on a mission to find out. Below is are three considerations for companies struggling with this issue. Throughout this article, you’ll hear from an expert on the topic – Molly Malloy, Director of Brand Purpose Planning at Futerra. Futerra calls themselves a “Change Agency” and for good reason. They are “McKinsey meets McCann” – always on the cutting edge of combining Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) consulting and communications to deliver complete solutions for companies that are serious about making a change and amplifying their existing efforts.

“Don’t put lipstick on a pig” – this one seems obvious, right? However, companies are still taking a “greenwashing” approach to sustainability efforts on the reg. Many times, this isn’t an evil plot to fool consumers into buying into their fake mission. Executives may have the best of intentions, but aren’t putting the tools in place to really deliver on their promise. According to Molly, “consumers must feel a company’s desire is sincere to make a real change.” To ensure their clients are doing just that, Futerra and their clients put a lot of time into determining how they will implement initiatives that have real impact. This is built into their DNA. Their “logic” team is made up of sustainability and social impact experts that help clients implement the actual programs. The “magic” team (including Molly’s role) creates strategies to accurately communicate this idea internally and externally. The biggest takeaway? Don’t just say you’ll do it, actually do it. Commit to change and implement it. Then communicating it will come (relatively) easy.

Make it personal – One of the challenges I found in my research, and something Futerra confirmed their clients also face, is simply how to make more people care. “For a lot of brands, it isn’t enough to go after the hardcore environmentalists or social activists, we want to affect change by bringing these messages to the mainstream market. We’re constantly striving to scale these initiatives and campaigns. That’s how we make the biggest impact.” Molly explained. How do you do that? Make the issue personal and get creative. A lot of the problems our world faces are nameless and sometimes halfway around the world. How can you establish a connection? One example of how Futerra overcame this obstacle was through their work with the UN and their Wild for Life campaign. They realized that it was hard for people to care about wild life poaching since it was so far removed from a lot of people. They solved this problem by creating a quiz to find out what your “spirit animal” is, personifying and creating an emotional connection to the issue. They promoted it through partnerships with celebrities who disclosed their own spirit animals. Case and point – don’t assume people care already. Get them to care by establishing a connection with the issue using unique tactics and channels.

Do your research and establish meaningful partnerships – In 2012, Susan G. Komen Foundation and Baker Hughes Inc., an oil and fracking company, partnered up on a campaign to distribute pink drill bits to job sites around the country to increase awareness of breast cancer. I’m sure you can predict how this story ended. Since fracking is associated with cancer, both organizations suffered major backlash for this campaign.* To avoid making the wrong partnerships or promoting an initiative that may not align with your mission, do your research. “Not only do we look at data concerning consumer behavior, we reach out to experts that can inform how we approach our strategies.” Social, political, environmental, and social issues are highly charged. Admitting a gap in knowledge and seeking out credible information to fill that void is crucial. Consumers are always more informed than you think. Do everything you can to explore the range of topics associated with the initiative and seek out experts that may have opposing viewpoints. This will give valuable insight into the complex nature of these issues and how you approach solutions and communications strategies.

Authenticity, scalability and insatiable curiosity are essential to developing a successful CSR strategy and communication plan. However, every company and approach is unique. The most important question to ask yourself before pursuing these types of initiatives is “Why?”. Why are you doing it? If it’s to earn more revenue – re-evaluate. Consumers will pick up on the reason behind the campaign. Change may be scary, but companies shouldn’t shy away from the challenge. According to Molly – “Brands have to know, right now, what they stand for. If they don’t communicate their values, they are falling behind.”

 

*http://www.nbcnews.com/health/cancer/pink-drill-bits-bring-complaints-komen-tie-fracking-n223166

 

Written by Alison O'Shaughnessy

Ali is a 2018 MBA from the Center of Sustainable Business Practices. She spent most of her career working in digital marketing for non-profit clients in New York City. After graduating, she plans on combining her expertise in marketing with her passion for socially and environmentally responsible business practices by working for a company that shares her altruistic values.

Making a Case for Change

I’m sure a lot of you can relate to the failed attempts at implementing an initiative you feel passionate about. You are certain it’s going to bring positive change in a variety of ways, but can’t seem to get others on board. You’ve all but given up on your noble crusade. Fear not brave change-agents. Below are tactics that can help you get buy in with upper management and move you toward responsibilities that don’t make you want to run for the door at 5 pm on the dot.

Do your research.

The biggest mistake you can make is stating a claim without backing it up.  According to Sean Ryan in Harvard Business Review, people have something called a “negativity bias,” which means we’re more risk averse than risk taking. “The average person requires a gain twice the value of the potential loss,” so hedge your bets by being over-prepared. Show, don’t tell, why you think your initiative is important to the future of the company.

Know Who You’re Talking To

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People famously wrote “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Rather than thinking about it from your perspective, put yourself in their shoes and frame the issue to address their motivations and concerns.  Is this person only trying to hit the bottom line? If so, is there a way to frame this as a revenue generating opportunity? Are they worried about competitive forces? If so, can you use your initiative as a way to differentiate and get ahead of those competitors?

You’ll Need Back Up

Teamwork makes the dream work, people. As cliché as it sounds, this holds true when you’re trying to sell something to upper management. On top of showing your boss you have support, gathering expertise from multiple areas strengthens your ideas. Don’t just ask your work husband for help, recruit those with influence that are most likely to get on board with your idea. Map out your network and organize it into four categories as shown below and determine your game plan to get the key potential supporters on board.

Two birds meet one stone

The other night, I decided to go out rather than go to the gym. We ended up dancing for a few hours and I woke up sore – no workout necessary! You know how good it feels to accomplish more than one goal with one action. So does your boss. Chances are, if you think your idea is worthy of your boss’s attention, it satisfies a greater need that they are already trying to address. This is called “bundling”. According to Ashford and Dutton, by bundling, “a seller taps into resources and communication currency the other issue may have.” In other words, your company wouldn’t have to start from square one. If there are already efforts in place that you can apply to your initiative, use those to your advantage.

Have a great idea? Believe you could inspire change in your organization? Stop. Take a deep breath. You can do it, but you need a plan. Sit down and evaluate who you need to convince and how you can back yourself up both with facts and with people. Think about your organization’s existing initiatives and how you can pair yours with your boss’s priorities. The more prepared you are and the more passion you bring to this endeavor, the more successful you’ll be. You got this.

This blog was inspired by a class assignment developed for the Management Individuals and Organizational (MGMT612) course lead by Dr. Reut Livne-Tarandach.

Written by Alison O'Shaughnessy

Ali is a 2018 MBA from the Center of Sustainable Business Practices. She spent most of her career working in digital marketing for non-profit clients in New York City. After graduating, she plans on combining her expertise in marketing with her passion for socially and environmentally responsible business practices by working for a company that shares her altruistic values.

Winter Break Already?

“Before you know it, it will be winter break.” We kept hearing that over and over from the second year MBAs. I didn’t believe them. I’m sure my classmates would agree, looking at the workload, I didn’t know how we would get it all done, but we did. I know more about bonds, balance sheets, and beta, but I think I learned the most through my relationships with my classmates. Even though we all ended up in the same program, we came here from such different places looking for different things. I underestimated how valuable others’ backgrounds could be to my own experience.

Uncomfortable. One way I could describe how I felt going back to school in a new state across the country after 7 years in the working world. Let’s face it, no one likes feeling discomfort, but most of us came here to challenge ourselves, so it’s inevitable. Who likes to admit they’re confused? Wrong even? This was a regular occurrence for many of us. It felt less daunting when classmates mapped out a concept on the whiteboard before I could even ask for help. Or when multiple people came up to me after class to offer experiences on a topic I seemed interested in. I came to realize that a big part of getting an MBA is learning about yourself and how to bring authenticity to your future position. It is a lot easier to find that genuineness when others are so willing to share themselves.

I can now confirm that yes, the first term goes by lightning fast. We learned in management that, “close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work.”* I think the same goes for business school. I mean, case and point – even after spending every waking moment together, we still want to sing karaoke on Thursdays together. Time and time again we heard that the key to success in the business world is teamwork and collaboration. Based on that, I think we’re going to have a very successful class walking into graduation day saying, “It’s over already?”

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*https://hbr.org/2013/07/we-all-need-friends-at-work

Written by Alison O'Shaughnessy

Ali is a 2018 MBA from the Center of Sustainable Business Practices. She spent most of her career working in digital marketing for non-profit clients in New York City. After graduating, she plans on combining her expertise in marketing with her passion for socially and environmentally responsible business practices by working for a company that shares her altruistic values.