The people-training paradox

Ask most communications officers about the importance of their people and of their development and they'll often reply, "Our most important assets go up and down the elevator every day." But companies must do more if their actions are to support this supposed talent priority.

Ask most communications officers about the importance of their people and of their development and they'll often reply, “Our most important assets go up and down the elevator every day.” But companies must do more if their actions are to support this supposed talent priority. 

In particular, training is too often a tangential afterthought – frequently underbudgeted, occasionally tagged on as afterthoughts to other meetings with subject matters often instructed as one-offs rather than as part of a thoughtful, ongoing curriculum. 

If leveraging its talent is a company's greatest competitive advantage, what explains this paradox?

For sure, great examples of training abound, from IBM to GE, J&J to P&G. But these are exceptions.

Let's take a look at one area of training in particular.

There's not a company doing business today that doesn't express the need for better talent in the digital/social media space. Everyone is searching, trying to hire from the same relatively small talent pool, and most intuitively know the real solution here is much more training (admittedly, along with select hires).

However, social training is occurring too slowly and too narrowly. The problem is acute given the tsunami of change that digital and social have created for our business.

Baseline subject matter courses should usually focus on social strategies for engagement; listening and influencer relations; content creation and syndication; online issues and crisis management; metrics and diagnostics; and social tools for employee engagement. And then more, customized to your industry and to the priorities of your business.

But perhaps the bigger point is that training must be viewed as a real priority with appropriate support behind it. That means bigger budgets, a commitment for talent to participate in classes and not “let off the hook,” and a passion for continuous learning.

The best companies are developing robust curricula, with teaching being conducted both live and online. Certifications programs are becoming popular, establishing strong benchmark criteria in order for people to practice specialized aspects of their craft.

A good number of professional service firms can serve as models. These organizations, whether the best in the PR field or elsewhere (like McKinsey or Goldman Sachs), often are worth studying because these enterprises truly are all about talent – that's all they have. As such, training and career development are often part of their DNA.  

The rapid changes in our business and the ever-increasing interdependence communications staffers have with other functions such as marketing and customer service mean that developing the talent you have will only become more vital. 

Our industry offers a range of possibilities for valuable training, but companies themselves must do more if they're to be true to their stated belief that talent management is their greatest priority.

Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a digital and management consulting firm. He can be reached at bfeldman@pulsepointgroup.com. His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.

 

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