The HR Expert-Generalist

AdobeStock_91768118In one of my regular recent blog reads, The HR Capitalist Kris Dunn, recently wrote about how Warren Buffet’s most trusted business partner, Charlie Munger, attributes his success managing Berkshire Hatheway’s stock market portfolio by “knowing a little about everything.”  Basically, being a generalist.

Here is the article about Munger from The Hustle.

Dunn, being an HR Blogger, of course related Munger’s successful philosophy to the HR Generalist function compared to the HR Specialist.

Dunn’s definition of an HR Generalist is the following:

HR Generalist – a HR pro at any level who is in charge of a client group of employees -meaning they provide HR services to a location, a business unit, a functional area or geographical area.  As part of this role, they provide counsel, service and insight across the HR Body of Knowledge – comp, benefits, recruiting, employee relations, legal, etc.

An HR Generalist can exist at the individual contributor level or manage people, as well as exist at the HR Rep, HR Manager, Director, VP and CHRO level.

As Dunn noted in his post, many attribute HR Generalists as more of an entry level HR position. It’s not. As he defines it, it exists at the individual contributor, Manager, Director, VP, and CHRO levels.

Back to Munger, his work-ethic theory is known as expert-generalism which is the opposite of the Gladwell’s famous 10,000 hour rule.  What Munger does is to focus “on studying widely and deeply in many fields, including microeconomics, psychology, law, mathematics, biology, and engineering, and applied insights from them to investing.” rather than just focusing all of his time on investment theory.

The originator of the term expert-generalist, Orit Gandish, chairman of Bain & Co defines the term the following way:

Someone who has the ability and curiosity to master and collect expertise in many different disciplines, industries, skills, capabilities, countries, and topics., etc. He or she can then, without necessarily even realizing it, but often by design:

  1. Draw on that palette of diverse knowledge to recognize patterns and connect the dots across multiple areas.
  2. Drill deep to focus and perfect the thinking.

In addition,

Research shows EG’s have:

Hmm, sounds like the world could use a few more EG’s.

I enjoyed both Dunn’s and The Hustle’s articles because I’ve had the most success in my career as a Generalist. First as an award-winning General Manager for Macy’s (The Bon Marche’) and as an HR Director and HR Consultant.

As a matter of fact, at Macy’s (The Bon Marche’), I regularly told my Department Managers that I expect them to be the experts/specialists in their area of responsibility because I joked told them that there was no way that I could know as much as they did – I was the General Manager.

I literally said the same thing as Munger,  “I have to know a little bit about everything” in the store. This meant knowing a little (but enough) about each department’s assortment, staffing, employee capabilities, and merchandising; customer service performance; current and upcoming sales events; sales and profit performance; local and national economy; store operations; capital improvements; customer, community, regional & corporate relationships; etc.

The philosophy worked (*self promotion alert!*) because my store earned the Store of the Year award twice during my 13 year stint as a General Manager.

Dang! I just remembered how hard (but rewarding) it was to be a General Manager!

I’ve also always proudly worn the moniker “HR Generalist” when I transitioned from running a Department Store to doing HR. But I often felt a little uncertainty reading articles and blogs touting how the future of HR is specialization.

After researching and writing this post, I now officially call myself an HR Expert-Generalist. I like it.

Dunn closed his post with the following wise and comforting words:

If you’re an HR generalist at any level, be proud.  You’re a trusted adviser that understands that the world is gray, and you also know how important you are in helping those in your client group navigate all the complexity and chaos that comes with managing a workforce.

Simply put, HR Generalists are the most important cog in the HR world.  Be proud, because you are irreplaceable.  

As always, it’s nice having a little confirmation bias every once and a while!

Oh, and just I added “HR Expert-Generalist” to my LinkedIn profile headline.

My HR Journey

How I ended up in HR

I was at a tech industry HR event in Boulder a few months ago and we were all asked to talk about our “HR Journey” – what was it that led us to choose HR as a career. Or what was it that led HR to choose us?

The exercise required that we had to get up in front of everybody and tell our story. We didn’t have much, if any, time to prepare as we didn’t even know we were going to do this exercise. The first “drafts” of our stories were a little rough but then we were allowed to get up again and tell our stories again, and this time they were more polished.

I enjoyed the exercise because it forced me to really think quickly of a story that led me to choose HR as a career. My mind was blank but it came to me as I was walking up to the front of the room to tell my story. Funny how the mind works.

So here’s my story…

I started my career right out of college working for a Pacific Northwest based retail department store called The Bon Marche’ (which is now part of Macy’s). I worked my way up the ladder until I reached my desired goal of being a Store Manager. I loved being a Store Manager and in my 13 years as one, I earned the Store/Store Manager of the Year award twice along with a record number of performance awards during my tenure.

I learned that I loved building consistent high-performing cultures filled with employees who loved doing what they did in a tough, low-paying work environment. In retail, HR is a very important and vital element. It was what I enjoyed the most and I was very good at it and thought I’d do it for the rest of my career.

But there was a particular incident that occurred that led me to seriously consider leaving and focusing on HR as my next career direction.

It was Sept or Oct and a young pregnant woman came in for an interview for the Holiday season. As a Store Manager I always enjoyed participating in the interviewing and hiring process. She interviewed well, I saw that she had potential, and I decided to hire her. I didn’t care that she was pregnant. I only cared that she was smart, enthusiastic, and cared for customers. She would be a great addition to the store team.

Years later, she reached out to me via Facebook and told me how much she appreciated me hiring her that day. I had changed the direction of her life. Nobody else in town would hire her because she was pregnant. To make matters worse, she was single and pregnant and her life was a mess. I had no idea at the time but my believing in her and hiring her gave her new hope.

My team at the store was just that, a team that cared about each other and helped each other. The team took her in and she became part of the store family. She was surrounded by people who cared and she responded by giving us everything she had and became fantastic sales associate.

I’m very proud of the teams I build and how they always cared for and loved each other. That is what I enjoyed most about my job. Building strong high performing cultures of people that loved (or at least liked) their work.  That is why I went into HR so I can help leadership build strong, high-performing teams.

Today, this woman owns her own retail business, has her life together, and is doing very well.  She is also is the proud mom of a beautiful daughter.

Bottom line, the main reason I moved into HR was to use my talent and skills to help organizations create positive, high-performing cultures where people really enjoy coming to work. We spend huge amounts of our time at work and I believe our workplaces should be happy and supportive places where we enjoy being every day.

The ability to create and provide a high-performing culture where people want to be, directly helps accomplish the importance of business goals in any organization. The overall company performance improves, productivity increases, and financial performance improves – all of which produces greater shareholder value.

I want to be able to be a positive influence on employees and, by extension, their families by creating a positive work culture where the employee is happy and feels like they are accomplishing meaningful work.

Frankly, it’s the right thing to do.  And I’m glad I’m able to do it.

The Creative Destruction of the Retail Industry

Amazon Has Changed the Retail Landscape

Amazon announced this past week that it will be adding 100,000 new full-time jobs in the US in the next 18 months. Having spent the early part of my career in the retail industry as a store manager for Macy’s, I like to still keep up with the news and goings-on in the retail industry.

What’s so interesting about the news from Amazon is the news from the big traditional retailers that is happening at the same time. Macy’s closed 40 stores in 2016 and announced it will close 100 more in 2017, recently listing 68 of those stores getting the ax. In addition, Sears Holdings announced that it is closing 150 Sears and KMart stores, and JC Penney recently announced it will be closing a bunch of its stores. I’m only touching on the major retailers here and there are dozens of the small retailers closing stores as well that are too numerous to list.

Obviously, Amazon and technology have fundamentally changed the entire retail landscape. The big traditional retailers didn’t see it coming and didn’t, or couldn’t, keep up. They seem to be heading in the direction of some smaller retailers, Blockbuster and Borders who are a shell of what they once were or no longer even exist.

I remember being asked by one of my employees back in the early 2000’s when I was a store manager for Macy’s what I thought about online retail putting traditional retail out of business. My employee was very concerned and I told her that I doubt companies like Amazon would ever be much of a threat to the big retail giants like Macy’s, Sears, JCP, etc.  After all, people like to go out and shop, handle merchandise, try things on, and talk to and interact with other people. I thought online retail would certainly have it’s niche (books, music, etc.) but didn’t think it would ever pose a serious threat to traditional retail.

Boy was I wrong!

Really wrong.

The news that Amazon is planning to hire 100,000 people at the same time the big traditional retailers are announcing huge store closings and layoffs tells you everything you need to know. Amazon has successfully changed the way people like to shop and I  include myself in that change.

Frankly, I love shopping on Amazon and because I’m a Prime member, I get “free” shipping for most of what I buy from them. Yes I know it’s a gimmick but it does make me feel special!

I find it a pain to go to the mall  and much easier to find what I want online where the selection is unlimited I click a few times and then get a package delivered to me in a couple days! I find it very satisfying.

There are some who are criticizing Amazon complaining that the jobs they are creating are low paying jobs. This is true, however, most retail jobs in general, have always been low paying jobs anyway so it looks to me that they are basically just replacing many of the jobs that the big traditional retailers are cutting.

There are also a lot of good paying jobs at Amazon, just as there are/were at the traditional retailers. There is the buying organization, management, HR, recruiting, IT, and other support services.

Amazon also makes an interesting claim that they sustain an additional 300,000 jobs due to their marketplace business:

Amazon has said that its employment figures alone do not capture its full effect on jobs. On Thursday, the company said its marketplace business, through which independent merchants sell goods on the company’s site, sustained 300,000 additional jobs in the United States.

And sure, Amazon has had some growing pains and had some bad press about their workplace culture but in talking with some of my friends who work there, they are making efforts to improve.

Jeff Bezos and his team have done an amazing job building their company from an online bookseller to a full line store and fundamentally changing our shopping behaviors. They’ve been aggressive and innovative and it’s been fascinating to watch.

Amazon is leading another round of creative destruction in the retail industry where one form of the retail industry is being replaced by a new and much more innovative one.  Shopping malls with  big anchor stores are being replaced by online retail just like downtown shopping districts were replaced by shopping malls back in the 1950’s -1990’s.  And I’m sure we will see something replace online retail in the future.

Creative destruction is tough.  It’s tough on many people. But creative destruction is also good and necessary for advancement and growth. If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t have all the things that make our lives so much more enjoyable. All you have to do is look back 50 years, 100 years, 200 years and see how far we’ve come and it was all because we allowed creative destruction run its natural course.

Don’t forget to take the survey on today’s subject about Amazon and the creative destruction occurring in the retail industry.

You Must Take Control of Your Career

I read a post over at TLNT a while back that reminded me of my experience with my previous career at Macy’s (formally The Bon Marche).  It’s about workplace loyalty and how it can work in the job market today.

A point she made personally resonated with me:

If you’re an employee and believe that your loyalty will be remembered by your employer when it’s time for the tough decisions, my question to you is, “why on earth would you place your career decisions entirely in the hands of someone else?” Not only will working at one place for too long make you stale, you’re giving up the control of managing your own career.

What if your manager retires, transfers or gets a new gig outside of the company? So much for all of those years of loyalty. Do you think your manager is going to present a succession plan for you on their way out the door? Avoid being naive and recognize the excess of “dog eat dog” attitudes in Corporate America.

I spent 22 years working for The Bon Marche’/Macy’s.  Twenty of those years  for The Bon Marche’ which was reorganized and converted to Macy’s where I remained for two years.  I worked my way steadily up the ranks during my twenty years at The Bon Marche’ where there was a core group of executive and regional management who I knew well and who knew me and what I was capable of accomplishing.

We had a long and positive professional history that I was proud to have developed and count on when it came to my performance and career decisions.

When the company reorganized and converted to Macy’s, they closed the Seattle corporate office and laid off all the executive management.  They also restructured the regions and brought in “new blood” and expanded the regional management staff.

My entire 20 year history of accomplishments, skills, and knowledge was immediately wiped out and meant nothing to the newly reorganized company.

Rather than being relied on and trusted to run and operate my store as I was trained to do – and was very good at – I was being told how to run my store by group of people who never ran a store.  I gave it my best but eventually realized I was no longer a good fit in the reorganized company.

I was miserable and dreaded going to work every day. My experience, knowledge, skills, abilities, and creativity were no longer valued or even considered.  I had to leave and move on.

I made the mistake of thinking my work history, accomplishments, and loyalty to the company would benefit and help my continued career with newly organized Macy’s.  It didn’t.

So, I left and took my KSA’s to Denver and am loving my current job as Director of HR, IR/PR  at a uranium mining company.

I learned a valuable life lesson.

You need to have complete control over your career. It is your responsibility, not your employer’s.   Network in your profession and in your industry.  Network outside of your profession and industry.  Develop relationships with recruiters.  Grow your knowledge in your profession and industry.  Periodically look at job openings to see what is out there and what they are paying.

You’re not being disloyal to your company, you are being responsible and taking control of yourself, your family, and your career.

As the author of the blog post I linked to above says:

Do you think your loyalty will be reciprocated when your company is facing tough times and has to review numbers and headcount for a reduction in force?