Risks, Challenges and Countermeasures Faced by Beneco Futures since the Outbreak of COVID-19

Abstract

Due to the financial uncertainty and business development challenges after the outbreak of COVID-19, Beneco Futures is seeking solutions to optimise its operating process and leverage its current facilities and resources for financial sustainability. This report detailed current problems encountered by Beneco Futures and proposes corresponding countermeasures. This proposal also outlined and assessed the implementation process, risks and challenges, and the social impact that may arise in the process of implementation. The proposal analysed Beneco Futures’ core business issues regarding human resources and financial constraints. The project development process is conducted by design thinking and double diamond, which help identify business challenges and outline solutions designed. The value proposition canvas was designed to match recommendations with Beneco Futures’ pains, gains, and jobs to be done. Recommendations were divided into three sequent sections: find targeted candidates, entice those candidates, and provide support to them. These recommendations aim to screen out the right salesperson to help the company form a professional business development team and streamline the operational process with rational budget planning and potential funding suggestions. In the recommendation implementation process, the enterprise can emphasise Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) to covey a positive social impact, primarily the corporate social responsibility to the public and attract attention from potential candidates and clients. Besides value, Beneco Futures’ recruitment plan also has a social impact on decreasing the unemployment rate and promoting economic growth. The potential risks during the implementation include finding sales candidates, budget overruns, fund shortages, and low retention rates. Corresponding risk mitigation methods will be raised in the risk management assessment.

Share and Cite:

Wang, Y. (2022) Risks, Challenges and Countermeasures Faced by Beneco Futures since the Outbreak of COVID-19. iBusiness, 14, 230-244. doi: 10.4236/ib.2022.144017.

1. Introduction

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on people’s lives around the world and also on the global economy. A lot of trade cannot be carried out usually, which has led to many companies going bankrupt and many people losing their jobs. This paper will analyze how Beneco’s future will change under such a bad environment and how to respond.

Beneco Futures worked as a social impact supporting company aiming to help businesses take more social responsibilities and enhance their brand image. Current services, including training and consulting, are delivered via customized offline and online workshops, programs, and consultancy appointments. The company’s business purpose and mission are guided by and aligned with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. However, since the pandemic significantly impacts this self-funded company’s financial sustainability, Beneco Futures cannot support the business development team to invest full-time in delivering regular one-to-one consulting services to its clients. This proposal will identify the current business challenges and outline feasible human resource optimization solutions and implementation strategies after utilizing different analysis approaches.

In this case, Benaco Futures will experience a tough time. This paper will analyze and judge the changes in the company during the pandemic, such as the cost of human resources and social impact. So that Beneco can better respond to this and make the right decision.

2. Project Overview

Beneco Futures experienced financial and human resources constraints during this mid-COVID period, creating a vicious circle (Spacey, 2016) . In other words, less financial support results in fewer sales and marketing team people, leading to fewer new clients and worsening financial sustainability. Therefore, the deliverables of this project are creating actionable solutions to help Beneco Futures screen out suitable employees, designing enticement strategies, and improving operating efficiency with the corresponding budget, implementation, risk, and social impact analysis.

In the analysis and deliverable development process, a deep understanding of the business challenges and root causes can be deduced from design thinking, the double diamond process, and value proposition as three main approaches. The design thinking method, applied throughout the entire project and solution design, helped to understand, and define Beneco Futures’ struggles, brainstorm solutions and approaches, and finally test and assess solutions. This method emphasises a systemic overview of people-centred concerns and behaviours (Razzouk & Shute, 2012) . Combining it with the double diamond method (Clune & Lockrey, 2014) , the first divergent mode was to discover and analyse the client’s brief, followed by the second converge mode, which defined and confirmed the business challenges in client meetings. The third divergent mode articulated all possible solutions from three main perspectives: improving human management efficiency, improving finances, and optimising workflow (Gustafsson, 2019) . The final convergent mode was used to test and assess the feasibility of delivered solutions (Figure 1 Double Diamond). During this process, the team can understand Beneco Futures more and more deeply. For example, the intranet platform prototype was introduced in the client meeting for the initial assessment and test. However, the client hoped to utilise the current communication platform proactively, and this prototype failed the evaluation due to the lack of business needs.

The value proposition canvas was developed to visualise the targeted user segment’s goals and needs (Payne, Frow & Eggert, 2017) . After collating information from client meetings and interviews, the team understood that Beneco Futures’ associates were annoyed by irregular business development activities, one-on-one training, and admin work, which negatively affected their “jobs to be done”. Therefore, delivered solutions were designed to respond to these pains and gains and to help Beneco Futures’ associates achieve their value and complete their jobs. For example, a well-developed knowledge management system can help salespeople acquire practical knowledge and skills, helping them reach more clients and relieve Beneco Futures’ financial pressure. Besides, this system can save time by reducing repetitive and fundamental training and optimising the operating processes (Figure 2 Value proposition).

Figure 1. Double diamond.

Figure 2. Value proposition.

With the help of those three approaches, structured human resources analysis, budget analysis and implementation analysis were developed.

3. Human Resources Analysis

Based on the client’s information, the current associate persona can be created and summarised from demographic and personal value perspectives (Figure 3 Current Associate Persona). Beneco Futures’ current sales and marketing people are parents and people in career transition and functionally mixed with service delivery people.

They will reach potential clients during industry conferences, Beneco Futures’ primary brand development strategy. They have domain knowledge in an area with a specific target client group. Due to the financial burden during the COVID-19, most people are working for another company that needs sustainability and has become a treasured asset and network for Beneco Futures. From the individual value perspective, people who would like to work with Beneco Futures should have a higher consciousness of social and environmental responsibilities and be willing to help all other entities.

3.1. Targeted Candidates

In this sustainability consulting area, the depth of knowledge and experience can be vital to connecting to the target client base. Considering Beneco Future’s end-users, many Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) tend to contract with external sustainability consultants for strategy deployment. Those SMEs will select external consultants based on their experience, depth of knowledge, diversity,

Figure 3. Current associate persona.

and ongoing capacity building, as proven by Jane Courtnell. Meanwhile, the salesperson performance study demonstrated that sales experience positively coordinated with B2B sales performance, especially in women’s segmentation (Frino & Desiderio, 2013) . Therefore, for Beneco Futures, salespeople should at least have general and broad sustainability knowledge with a few years of experience to show their confidence during networking at an event.

In terms of age and relationships in the household, based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics demographic result (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2021) , those who participate in the part-time independent contractor mostly have family members and are from the age group 45 to 54 and 25 to 34. According to the relationship between sociodemographics and environmental values study, people with higher education tend to show more social and environmental concern than others (Sargisson, DeGroot & Steg, 2020) . However, B2B sales performance does not significantly correlate with sales-related education and degree (Frino & Desiderio, 2013) .

As for values, a preference study revealed that organizations provide a positive employee social environment and demonstrate a commitment to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Environmental sustainability and customer welfare attract job seekers, especially those with higher self-transcendent and self-enhancement values (Hicklenton et al., 2021) . Therefore, regarding personal and organizational value matching, Beneco Futures should look for people with high self-transcendent and self-enhancement values and attract them with core organizational values.

Mark Thacker (2020) analyzed the key personality traits of top sales performers (Thacker, 2020) . Regardless of industry, fundamental characteristics of a great salesperson include knowability, likability, trustworthiness, and empathy. In addition, they need to know their customers, be elastic to different situations and customer personalities, and build genuine relationships with trust. Considering these characteristics, teachers and salespeople share the critical link. They leverage strategic questioning and value accountability and relationship-building (Busteed, 2022) . The successful case of teacher-turned-sales from Eric Sarb also gave a strong demonstration (Transitioning Teacher, 2021) .

Recommendation

Combining those characteristics, the recommendation for target candidates is someone, like teachers, lecturers, and tutors, with excellent interpersonal and analytical skills and general knowledge in sustainability, preferably matching Beneco Futures’ service delivery. Those people will also have networks and value their social, environmental, and working responsibilities. Moreover, training is essential for all new associates, but considering Beneco Futures’ current labour conditions, it would be better if candidates required minimum training in sales.

3.2. Enticement

Commission rate

Based on the previous result of the targeted candidates’ research, teachers or those with relevant experience have primary characteristics of responsible and successful salespeople, including educational background, sustainability and social impact knowledge, and interpersonal skills. In addition, during their careers as a teacher, they may be expected to expand their understanding of sustainability science and policy to supplement their subject expertise in the classroom (Hoetker, 2021) .

Before starting to design the enticement scheme, especially for teachers, it is essential to understand why those people leave their current job. The result of research done by Bahr and Ferreira (2018) revealed that teachers dropped out of the education sector for several reasons, including unbalanced salaries and work intensification, lack of autonomy, and negative public image (Bahr & Ferreira, 2018) . The following small-scale questionnaire result also supported this finding. In addition, some have no interest in being a salesperson, no matter how much it pays. The rest believe a competitive commission rate will attract them to become potential candidates (Figure 4 Questionnaire result). Therefore, besides the flexible working hours that Beneco Futures can provide, a prototype of the commission rate design will be introduced in detail with considerations of the company’s cost and candidates’ benefit.

Due to Beneco Futures experiencing a financial predicament, the company needs continuous new clients to maintain a sustained and sufficient cash inflow. Without adding more burden on operating costs, a complete commission salary structure, meaning all commissions are based on sales, will be introduced instead of a pre-commission or salary-based remuneration structure. On the one hand, a full performance-based commission will minimise the initial capital required for the company. On the other hand, this will keep motivating the salesperson to grow and expand their connections.

Figure 4. Questionnaire result.

As for commission rate design, appropriate commission rates will maximise salespeople’s contribution to the company’s revenue. Echchakoui and Ghilal’s (2019) study also pointed out that the higher a salesperson’s attribute score, such as social reputation, the higher the customer retention rate (Echchakoui & Ghilal, 2019) . Unsurprisingly, those salespeople with high attribute scores, especially teachers, asked for a higher commission rate (Roy Morgan, 2017) . Considering the commission rate (30% to 50%) given in the questionnaire result and (5% to 40%) given in the industrial report (Subramanian, n.d.) , a four-tiered commission structure ranging from 20% to 35% was designed (Figure 5 Commission rate design).

Tested with Beneco Futures’ financial information, which is $200,000/year as minimum revenue and $20,000/contract as average consulting income, a break-even point of a self-sustained position can be estimated without considering the revenue stream from B2C and market intermediator. Recruiting a few casual salespeople can help share the pressure and make the sales target more achievable. Additionally, suppose one salesperson is fully committed to Beneco Futures and achieves tier III. In that case, the commission will be at least $90,000, which is higher than the Australian teachers’ average salary.

Value

It is inevitable that candidates today and in the future consider factors beyond compensation and perks when determining whether to accept a job offer. According to Deloitte’s millennial and Gen Z research, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce worldwide by 2025. They are actively pursuing and expecting a high positive social impact from companies and the government. Other than generating jobs and the economy, those job seekers are eager to make a difference. Over 50% expect companies to value environmental effects and social equality in procurement, manufacturing, and other operating activities.

Figure 5. Commission rate design.

In terms of loyalty and employee retention, millennials will not build strong bonds with employers who neglect employee welfare, society, and the environment (Deloitte, 2014) . A similar result was also proved in research by Mercer (n.d.) that companies with a high ranking of employee happiness and talent attraction have much higher ESG ratings (Mercer, n.d.) . This pattern supports the idea that ESG performance will assist businesses in increasing employee satisfaction and luring new hires. Furthermore, enthusiastic candidates for an employment boost a business’ talent pipeline and guarantee the availability of essential human resources. Therefore, to attract and retain those talents, it is necessary to demonstrate a value-matching and innovative company culture and highlight Beneco Futures’ positive social impact.

Recommendation

Therefore, considering the worldview of millennials and the value they seek, actively promoting Beneco Futures’ organisational ESG framework and United Nations’ sustainable development goals is a method that can entice candidates who value social responsibilities and positive impact. Advertising Beneco Futures’ value and social impact can be penetrated in recruitment and on different social media platforms. Beneco Futures can encourage and organise those regular salespeople to join charity events or activities as a group, such as charity running. A company called Aware services listed one job benefit: “Up to 4 volunteering days per year to support NFPs and charities” as a selling point on the recruitment page (Aware Services, n.d.) .

3.3. Supports

One-to-One Training

Based on information gathered from client meetings, one-to-one training is one of the pain points that Beneco Futures is experiencing. One-to-one training benefits in targeting specific individual skills in the workplace. However, the time spent on repetitive product training, such as reskilling the sales or consulting, puts an additional burden on the current labour, reduces the operation efficiency, and limits the overall Return on Investment (ROI).

Formal one-to-one training, whether online, internally, or externally presented, typically entails studying from professionals who are knowledgeable in marketing and adept at instructing (Tuorinsky, 2021) . Training on how to use that knowledge appropriately in correct situations will add more excellent value to their clients and prospects. Targeted training allows employees to benefit from internalising knowledge and applying it to their situation (Tuorinsky, 2021) .

In terms of disadvantages, because this training method consumes plenty of money and human resources, Beneco Futures may not be able to afford it in the long run, especially if adopting it on a large scale and without financial sustainability. Besides, research from Baldwin and Ford indicated that the extent to which competencies are acquired only through implemented job training is limited (Baldwin & Ford, 1988) . Comparing the human resource input and the output, the overall ROI does not support that one-to-one training should be used primarily in the long term. Beneco Futures aims to ensure its training investment yields the maximum possible returns.

Knowledge Sharing

Compared with one-to-one product training, a knowledge management system consisting of different knowledge-sharing activities and a knowledge management platform can be an effective option for long-term investment. Knowledge sharing in the workplace aims to exchange knowledge or assist colleagues (Gramberg & Baharim, 2005) . Knowledge-sharing capitalises on the knowledge found in the departments and teams and individual workers’ lessons accumulated during years of on-the-job experiences (Tuorinsky, 2021) .

Based on the client information and previous human resources analysis, a few experts are currently working for Beneco Futures for service delivery. In the meantime, its recruitment will primarily target those with years of experience in different fields. The well-developed knowledge management system enables experts to exchange ideas, learn from each other, and achieve high virtual collaboration (Tuorinsky, 2021) . Moreover, considering Beneco Futures’ current situation, which needed to form a professional marketing team with a limited budget, the knowledge-sharing approach to training employees saves Beneco training time and labour costs (Gramberg & Baharim, 2005) . In addition, there is no time or space constraint in conveying information to new salespeople, so they can access the resources whenever they need them and wherever they want. The accessible knowledge-sharing system will also give Beneco Futures’ current associates more time to work on their tasks and reduces their workload of performing multiple responsibilities.

However, the disadvantages of the knowledge management system include potential additional fees for establishing and maintaining the internal management platform (Tuorinsky, 2021) . Secondly, the success of knowledge-sharing activities is also highly relevant to internal collaboration and relationships in the company. This is best for workers who are already acquainted with one another. Additionally, knowledge-sharing activities take time to capture and preserve knowledge, which delays employee communication (Tuorinsky, 2021) .

Recommendation

After analysing both training methods and considering Beneco Futures’ situation and future, the recommendation for optimising resource allocation and operating efficiency is implementing a hybrid training strategy and partially transferring one-to-one product training to knowledge sharing. Under this hybrid strategy, Beneco Futures can primarily support the knowledge-sharing activities to reduce repetitive training and provide relevant tactic knowledge, including unique procedures of Beneco, experience-based lessons, proven solutions, and immediate answers before or during sales (Tuorinsky, 2021) . The form can be a knowledge management platform, mentor programme or curriculum. Then, provide essential individual support and practical scenario simulations via one-to-one training or group workshops.

4. Budget Analysis

4.1. Budget

Besides advertising and recruitment, which do not require an additional budget, the enticement and support solutions mentioned above will be discussed, primarily commissioning salespeople and a knowledge management platform.

Based on the four-tier commission rate design, Beneco Futures can only achieve self-sustain when the company contracts 15 clients per year, without cash inflow from other income streams. However, suppose the number of new contracts and commissions paid were under the break-even point. In that case, Beneco Futures needs to prepare around $100,000 as a buffer to support its operational costs and meet the self-sustain goals. Finally, the summarised funding analysis and recommendations will be discussed.

As for the hybrid training system mentioned in the previous recommendation, the primary cost consideration is from the knowledge management platform, other sharing activities and one-to-one training. Beneco Futures’ current internal communication platform is Slack, which is designed to connect people, enhance the information flow, and provide a flexible and inclusive communication solution. Slack’s current features, such as software integration, private channels, and free commenting, enable workers to have timely access to knowledge, enjoy automatic information management for searching or locating, and improve collaboration. Slack’s Future of Work study also proved that effective knowledge sharing would increase productivity by at least 20%. Meanwhile, over 90% of workers feel closer to their colleagues and establish trustworthy relationships (Luthi, 2019) . This will help Beneco Futures’ newcomers join the big family easily and reduce the initial sharing barriers.

Considering the services and outcomes that Slack can deliver, Beneco Futures can continue using this platform as a knowledge management platform and proactively utilise its knowledge-sharing features without additional operational cost. In addition, other sharing, and training activities, such as workshops and one-to-one training consultations, will use Beneco Futures’ current facilities, which will not incur additional costs.

4.2. Funding

As addressing the financing channels is not in this project’s scope, fund analysis will only give possible funding channels considering Beneco Futures’ current business position.

Beneco Future is at the beginning of the “seed/start-up stage”, in which the company builds sales maps and tries to expand its market (Social Business Design 2021) . In this phase, Beneco Futures can seek government funds, angel funding or crowdfunding as additional capital support, such as Social Enterprise Development and Investment Funds (SEDIF) provided by the government and Grants for Social Enterprises provided by Westpac. Regarding angel funding, which high-net-worth individuals provide, Beneco Futures must demonstrate a sound business and financial plan and build trust with those investors (Social Good Stuff, 2020) . In addition, these types of external funding will require Beneco Futures to create a list of client testimonies and successful projects and use its regular associates as treasure assets to expand Beneco Futures’ connection and network. Meanwhile, Beneco Futures can join the investor networks, such as the Australian Investment Network, to connect with angel investors and promote its business.

5. Implementation and Social Impact

Regarding implementation methods, Beneco Futures can use social media, designed job descriptions, and its official website to advertise its ESG framework and values when practising and testing the motioned recommendations and prototype. The risk and social impact in the process of implementation will be assessed.

Developing an outstanding value proposition statement with an emphasis on company value is a good implementation for the first step. By creating a compelling value proposition statement, both potential and current workers will find it irresistible. The current associates can also brand the company and attract future workers with their social responsibilities and activities.

Second, spreading the word by utilising social media platforms. Social media and other forms of alternative communication are quick ways to sway how the job market views the company while trying to develop a long-lasting employer branding plan. Having engaged, ESG-focused pages on Facebook, Twitter, and those LinkedIn will be examples of this. The sustainability activities the company is pursuing both internally and outside should be highlighted on these pages. The occasional posts will get the attention of some potential candidates and clients. Besides, by utilising the internet, a search engine optimisation (SEG) method can be used to enhance Beneco Futures’ searching exposure.

5.1. Risks

During the implementation process, there will be a few risks from financial and human resources perspectives that Beneco Futures should be prepared for (Figure 6 Risk management).

Figure 6. Risk management.

Beneco Futures may not find the best candidates in sales, especially those with teaching experience. The possibility of this risk can be high based on the small-scale primary data from the questionnaire. Most teachers or tutors in Australia are not interested in sales. The impact of this risk can be medium due to other available recruitment options. Therefore, risk mitigation methods include focusing on applications’ characteristics, updating associate persona, and posting advertisements to where teachers view them frequently.

From the perspective of retention rate, a full commission rate design has a medium possibility of leading to a low retention rate and more resources spent on human capital, because of its unstable but potentially high commission paid. Therefore, some salespeople can become “one-off transactions” requiring Beneco Futures to keep seeking new salespeople. Mitigation suggestion will be transferring the income structure from full commission to basic salary with a bonus after keeping financial sustainability.

In terms of budget, Beneco Futures can face budget overrun if there are unexpected expenses on implementation and seeking funding. A contingency plan is required to outline potential risks and their impact. Beneco Futures should also track the cost schedule and monitor its remaining budget and financial resources regularly.

Besides budget, Beneco Futures can experience a lack of funding due to insufficient new clients and external funding. Mitigation suggestions include tracking salespeople’s performance to determine whether additional casuals or contractors are required, preparing for bootstrapped funding, and diversifying its revenue stream.

5.2. Social Impact

A company that focuses on ESG can lead to many social impacts. It can provide context and clarity on the complex intersection of business leadership and the capital markets (CNBC, 2022) .  The company being ESG-focused can shed light on the businesses, executives, investors, and political figures who are influencing a more sustainable future.

First, it can address the long-standing issues of systemic racial and gender inequality. With a focus on social problems, a company can interfere with its workers’ behaviour and attitude. With the right idea indicated and broadcast, workers will establish the right view of gender and racial equality. Moreover, with the proper ESG events and open speech, the company can populate the equality idea through media and into the public using its brand effect and goodwill. By doing so, the company can impact society and be socially responsible.  

Second, the company can address and acknowledge the value of good corporate governance as the cornerstone for bringing about meaningful and long-lasting change. The company will be the first corporation to notice the policy change. By broadcasting these policies to its workers, the company can impact them accordingly. For example, when the company notices the policy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it can send emails to its workers to remind them to turn off the light when leaving the building and print documents using both sides of the paper. Through these small actions, the company can impact society from limited people to the public. 

Finally, the employment rate can be improved by Beneco by hiring newcomers in Australia. Due to COVID-19, many employees in Australia are faced with unemployment and loss of income, and salaries of the in-service staff have also been reduced. The opportunities provided by Beneco give unemployment may temporarily relieve the economic pressure on unemployment. Also, for people in other industries, trying to do sales may be an alternative career, especially for teachers and tutors. They may get an extra income, thus stimulating the economic growth in Australia (Lister, 2011) .

6. Conclusion

With the help of design thinking, double diamond and value proposition canvas, different recommendations were designed and assessed to help Beneco Futures screen the right people, design lure strategies, improve operational efficiency and create actionable solutions. The key deliverables and client expectations can be achieved via enticement scheme design, knowledge management system, and implementation analysis. The social impact analysis also ensures that proposing business recommendations are aligned with Beneco Futures’ company values and UN sustainable development goals.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this paper.

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