Feldman: Lateral education is the new professional development

Placing one or two of your stars outside your own managerial orbit may seem like it's asking too much, but if these folks rotate through other functions and then come back to communications, think how much more savvy and strategic your function will be.

My most recent column triggered the largest response I’ve had since I began writing for PRWeek several years ago.

As you may recall, the piece advised junior- and mid-level PR executives to get out of communications if they aspire to get to the top of the field.

While trying to be provocative, I was also trying to make an important point: Business functions are morphing and are becoming increasingly co-dependent. Digital is driving much of this new behavior, given the need for customer engagement, Big Data, better analytics, and so forth. Senior communications executives will need to be better businesspeople who are fully literate in customer service, marketing, and other functions, even HR and, to a large extent, technology.

I was not advocating people leave PR entirely. Rather, the inspiration for my thinking was an Arthur Page Society "Insight Forum" I participated in a couple of months ago in Atlanta. During the session, I posed a simple question to the audience of about 30 senior communications executives:

If you were asked to leave your current senior communications post and take another job in the same company for two years, what would have to happen during that time so that the experience will have been of maximum value when you return to your former post running communications?

The answers skewed heavily toward operations, business strategy, and finance. Lower on the list were marketing, customer service, and HR. However, what was unanimous was the acknowledgement that the experience would be of enormous benefit.

So, if my previous column was primarily directed at junior- and mid-level pros who are in the midst of building their careers, I will target more senior communications executives with this piece.

My encouragement to you is to nurture and support the kind of growth I am describing. It’s not easy. Taking your stars and finding them a career spot in another function is, in some respects, equivalent to you losing that person entirely. And if it’s a star, why would you want to do that?

The short answer: It’s the right thing to do.

If you want to keep your best talent, you need to challenge, invest in, and groom them. Doing so is obviously beneficial to both the individual and the company.

In a world in which we know how difficult it is to find and keep great talent, placing one or two of your stars outside your own managerial orbit may seem like it’s asking too much. It isn’t.

Your reputation as someone who selflessly builds careers will only make you more attractive to other candidates. And, if these folks rotate through a couple of other functions and then come back to communications, think how much more savvy and strategic your function will be.

The number one critique I hear from corporate leadership outside communications is that communicators are too tactical and not sufficiently literate and sophisticated in understanding the company’s business. 

If so, then a strong commitment to "lateral education" of the kind I’m describing can only help the function, not to mention the individual and the company. 

Our function is changing rapidly. The development of your talent should keep pace.

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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