Each of us has multiple skills, yet oftentimes we're pigeonholed ("he's an accounting guy," "she's a tech person"). But those things often just reflect the job we were hired to do. When do we get to showcase our Renaissance skills? How can companies best find those out?
This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart in another guise: that of the generalist - specialist divide. I am a generalist and proud of it. Rather than choosing a specialty (which, honestly, isn't really required in the field of mass communications), I chose a frame: communications. Everything I do, read, think about is informed by the question, "how can I use this to improve the practice of communications (broadly defined)." This approach requires me to break down boundaries between disciplines, cherry picking those ideas and tools I discover and applying them to different areas than they were perhaps initially intended for.
These days, I am increasingly tying another frame to my ongoing inquiry: future of work. To me, communications is key to new work models that focus on a collaborative vs. a command/control approach.
So, maybe it would be fruitful for companies to rethink how they define jobs or assign job titles. Perhaps, rather than saying "you work in technical support" or "you are a marketing person" they should uncover the frame through which their employee or potential employee views the world and place him or her in the loosely-defined work boundary that best fits them. Of course, that requires rethinking how we partition out work.
Now, there are obviously professions that this cannot work for (surgery, for example), but for knowledge workers, I think there is a real possibility we can take a different approach.
Let's try to craft an example.
Why does marketing/PR have to be its own department with dedicated employees?
If we view the company as a network of individuals working towards a common goal (or goals), there will be some people there who are excellent at telling the company story to their particular audiences. The customer service rep., the salesperson, the receptionist and the HR manager (I am deliberately choosing non-line-of-business executives to make a point) may all be better company story tellers (brand managers) than the officially designated MBA assigned to the task. Why not empower them?
Your customers, your partners and, of course, your executives, are all groups that may hold excellent storytellers in their midst. You just need to identify them and give them the tools/training they need to broaden their efforts (augment/leverage them into greater visibility). You see this activity developing right now through blogs etc.
Now, this doesn't mean there shouldn't be leadership (with the appropriate skills) in the field of marketing/PR to shepherd along this loosely defined group. But I do think that the standard department approach can be changed.
I think that if we encourage people to be multi-dimensional, to embrace and use all of their various skills in their jobs vs. pigeonholing them then policing the borders, companies will gain much more benefit from their employees (and higher job satisfaction).