Here’s a piece of career advice: get out of this business. That’s not just a provocative lead intended to draw you into this column. I really believe it.
I was just reading a Harvard Business Review piece called "The Ultimate Marketing Machine." It was authored by the founders of strategy consulting firm Millward Brown Vermeer and by the chief marcomms officer at Unilever.
The challenges and opportunities facing marketers increasingly reads in a way that should seem awfully similar to communicators. For example, when looking through the lens of the marketing organization, the authors identified the best performing companies as those that:
· are big users of data;
· are purpose-based;
· connect marketing to corporate strategy;
· inspire their workers to get results;
· are very metrics-driven;
· are committed to internal professional development.
Beyond this, it should come as no surprise to CCOs (especially members of the Arthur Page Society who regularly receive reports on this matter) that lines are blurring across the C-suite. Indeed, as the above-referenced article points out, increasingly C-suite members are taking on "mixed" responsibilities.
For example, the article cites Motorola’s Eduardo Conrado, SVP of both marketing and IT, as well as Visa’s Antonio Lucio, who heads brand and product marketing. The list goes on to include the likes of Beth Comstock and Jon Iwata, who lead multiple functions for GE and IBM, respectively.
So what does this all mean? It’s pretty simple. Other people may be looking at aligning your function into theirs – and you may need to be doing the same. To succeed, communicators will need to be not only literate, but capable of leadership in critical aspects of other functions (including marketing, HR, IT, and customer service). That means rethinking career paths and developing the skills necessary to follow those avenues.
In this new environment, climbing the proverbial ladder (i.e. a straight line) within the communications organization (or within any discipline, for that matter) seems terribly outdated. Indeed, my former client Cathy Benko, vice chairman of Deloitte, wrote a book on this subject, The Corporate Lattice. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg similarly suggests that it's better to think of your career in terms of a jungle gym as opposed to a ladder.
My hope with this column is to encourage communications professionals in corporations and in large, multi-discipline agencies to get experience outside their current organizational structure.
There’s an interesting tension between this and the long-term trend in so many fields toward specialization. We see that tension in lots of places, not least higher education. On the one hand, almost all of us appreciate the long-term benefits of a well-rounded education, yet increasingly students are told that a more practical, business-oriented major will, at least in the short term, pay off better than one in liberal arts.
The challenge in managing your career is to do both: develop the expertise in communications that makes you an indispensable counselor while acquiring over time a sufficiently diverse set of experiences and knowledge that will enable you to become a leader in a cross-functional role.
Of course this isn’t an entirely new idea. We generally support moving people around the globe within our companies and rotating future leaders into different roles. Well, now it’s a little more complicated because I’m advocating we push people out of our own professional disciplines (and often, out of corporate silos). In short, we need to think bigger and more broadly.
If you’re in your 20s and 30s, in the early stages of your career, look for opportunities to take on new roles that give you direct or indirect involvement in other functions. If you’re thinking of going back to school for an additional degree, consider getting one that broadens your range rather than narrowing your specialization.
If you’re deeper into your career, do everything you can to make sure you aren’t typecast as just a "communications person." Push your boss for multi-disciplinary opportunities, take courses, broaden your expertise.
To stay in tomorrow’s game, get out of today’s business.
Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a digital and management consulting firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.