Investing in Employees Part 2 – The Specialist and the Generalist

In the first part of this blog series (link) last week, I examined the question of whether corporations should consider their employees a short term expenditure or a long term investment. I argued that even though some portion of employees may only be engaged in the short term for peak periods or special projects, companies do need to invest in part of their workforce as long terms partners who understand the business, the market and the customers.

Another dynamic in the employee investment space is the question of nurturing specialists and / or generalists. A specialist is an employee who develops a very deep expertise in one function of the business such as manufacturing, finance, human resource management, or sales support. A generalist, on the other hand, may spend time in several functions within the business and gets a broad understanding of how all the parts of the company come together.

So how does an individual determine if they should become a specialist or generalist? And should a company promote career growth in one or other of these areas over the other?

First, how does one make this choice? Really it should depend on what the employee themselves desires and where their talents lie. Some people love to develop outstanding depth in one area and become a subject matter expert. They love being deep in one area and becoming the “go to” person within the enterprise to help others and enjoy sharing their knowledge. Other people get bored after three or four years in one area. They get restless, yearning to learn and try new things. They enjoy seeing different areas of the business and how the pieces come together. Each person needs to determine their own path – check out my blog on career planning and the kinds of question you can ask yourself to help determine your path.

A strong organization will normally have a mix of specialists and generalists

Second, what should a company promote? Both! Strong enterprises are built on a good mix of specialists and generalists. Companies need both those people who have a deep understand of an area, and those people who understand the large picture and the general landscape. And both sets of people – the generalists and specialists – need each other.

One group should not value themselves over the other group and feel they are more critical. A diverse team that is successful realizes that everyone needs each other and their strength lies in their collective talents.

Investing in Employees Part 1 – Short Term Transactions or Long Term Partners?

In this two part blog series, I am going to examine different perspectives of employees. The continued (and often exclusive) emphasis on short term earnings and current quarter results often and easily spreads into decisions around employee management and investment. The short term view of employees is that they are temporary resources that we engage to deliver a certain defined service. When that service is no longer needed, the employee is expendable. Employees are viewed as short term transactions.

This construct may certainly be valid for a subset of employees, especially if a business has large swings and is “large temporary project based.” Employees may be needed to simply fulfill a large non-recurring contract. However, there is a real need to view a significant part of the employee base as long term partners.

Long time employees who have strong loyalty to the enterprise serve many important roles. Often they are the ones who have a deep understanding of the entire enterprise and how everything works together within the company, and grown into general management roles. Other employees develop a strong expertise of industry dynamics and fulfill strategic planning and market planning roles. Others develop a deep relationship with the client base and are the sales leaders. And some become experts and senior advisors and specialists within a certain function of the company. In Part 2 I will explore the generalist vs specialist dynamic a little deeper.

Very importantly, enterprise organizational and employee development tools and processes need to address long term employee partnership as well as short term transactional skills. There is frequently a gap here. When I meet with clients, many have robust programs for employees to develop skills in their current jobs. Annual development plan reviews often focus on skills to enhance or improve current job performance. But are employees also engaged on discussions of five or ten year career growth?

This is a typical short term skills building cycle, but a longer range career planning component needs to be added to employee development programs

Employee development processes need to have balance between the short term and long term and include a long range career growth component. That is what Total Engagement Consulting offers companies with our Career Road Mapping Services. We provide a construct and process for enterprises to offer employees long range career planning customized to their enterprise. This will increase employee engagement and productivity, retention and building long term employee loyalty and partnership.

Look for part 2 next week and also check out earlier blogs around career road mapping:
• Link: Introducing Career Road Mapping Services
• Link: The Business Case for Career Road Mapping / Skills Development

Also take my 11-question career road mapping / skills development quiz to see where your enterprise stands in the area.