Why is a PR pro heading Alcoa's HR? Why not? We're experts at understanding what motivates people and using communications to engage them to act. At Alcoa, the new HR buzzword is "employee engagement." PR's sweet spot is building relationships and that helps tremendously since Alcoa HR's challenge is maintaining trusting relationships with staff, particularly during our current union negotiations.
An HR department's primary goal is attracting and retaining top talent. To do that at a company such as Alcoa, with 60,000 employees in 31 countries, it doesn't hurt to draw on a PR pro's marketing experience and persuasion skills.
Our talents don't just apply to HR. Alcoa's previous head of corporate communications moved to M&A and quickly became the company's top business development executive. Our CEO recognizes that PR pros have the knowledge and skills to adapt to new functional responsibilities. Instead of worrying about having "a seat at the table," communicators now choose which seats they want.
I've always addressed the "seat at the table" issue by offering to "set the table." We designated the director of executive communications as the organizer of the jour fixe, the weekly session at which most strategic issues are discussed. She solicits and approves items for the agenda, reviews presentations, and helps the CEO communicate his feedback. Now, communications is in the loop on key discussions and, by managing the dialogue at the corporate table, we boost the impact and influence of the communication function.
I learned the benefits of volunteering when I was the Secretary of Defense's speechwriter. When he complained that his briefing papers from the staff groups were too long and confusing, my team volunteered to turn the staff's dense and random input into clear, concise background and talking points. When the Secretary returned from meetings, he gave me feedback that I relayed to staff officers. With that new access and influence, we improved the quality and timeliness of all regular communications vehicles.
None of these roles are in the standard PR toolkit. Yet nobody else can do them better than PR pros. Seek them out for greater professional success and the joy of applying your talents to another function.
Jack Bergen is VP of global human resources at Alcoa. Prior to that, he was SVP of corporate affairs and marketing at Siemens Corporation.