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.

When Looking for a Job, Take a Chance!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today, I’m going to tell you a little story about my middle child and how she landed an amazing job in the tech industry before she graduated from college during her senior year.  There was a lot of hard work on her part studying hard and building relationships with her professors and advisers but there was also some chance in the events that led to what she is doing now in her first career.

At her university, like all universities, they have a series of job fairs for graduating seniors.  She attended all the job fairs the university hosted and spent time preparing for each by looking over the list of companies and deciding which ones she was interested in talking to.   I would chuckle when she would call me and ask me if I had heard about certain companies like Boeing and Burlington Northern.

When she arrived at one particular job fair, she spotted a booth at the front of the room but didn’t recognize the company.  It wasn’t on her list of companies she identified the night before but it was a pretty fancy booth so she decided to stop by and talk to the recruiter.  She figured she would take the opportunity to just to get warmed up and get a little real life practice before she started to get serious about talking to the companies she was really interested in.

My daughter ended up having a very good conversation with the recruiter and found out what the company did and that they were looking for some administrative positions in their corporate headquarters and trainers for their software implementations.   But she left the booth without leaving the recruiter a resume!  She figured she was just getting in some practice before starting to get serious with the companies she was targeting.  Later that evening she received a call from the recruiter who she spoke to at that first booth.  It turns out the recruiter was so impressed with my daughter during their conversation that she wanted to talk to her some more.  But she quickly realized that my daughter had left without leaving a resume so she started asking people in nearby booths who she was.  Fortunately, my daughter’s adviser was nearby and had seen the two talking and was able to give the recruiter her name and phone number.  She also had nothing but positive things to say about her.

The recruiter called my daughter that evening and scheduled a formal interview with her for the next day.  She apparently nailed the interview because the company flew her to their corporate office in Denver for a series of interviews.  There, two departments in the company interviewed her since she had expressed interest in both departments.   Ultimately, both departments wanted to hire her.  She found that out when the head of one of the departments actually called her at her hotel room and asked to take her to coffee that evening to talk to her again.  That department head told her this has never happened before – two departments vying for one candidate.   They had a nice conversation and the department head said that she would probably lose out to the other because that other department was more important and influential in the company.

Well, shortly after, she got a job offer from the more important and influential department.  The offer was extremely generous and I strongly recommended that she should absolutely accept.

She accepted the job and has now been working there for almost a year now.  She loves her work and is thankful that she decided to stop by at that first booth to practice before getting serious!

There are four clear takeaways from this story when you are out there job hunting.  First, explore all opportunities that are available.  You may not have ever heard of a particular company, but don’t let that stop you from interviewing with them.  There are more B2B and B2G companies out there that very few people have heard of but are just as prestigious to work for as any B2C company. Second,  relax and be yourself when you are interviewing.  My daughter wasn’t really trying hard to impress the recruiter in that first booth.  She was just there to warm up and practice and because of that she was behaving more naturally and like herself.  This obviously made a strong impression on the recruiter.  Enough so that she made the extra effort to find out who my daughter was and contact her for a formal interview.  Third, always leave your resume with every recruiter you talk to!  Most recruiters won’t take the time to figure out who you are if you didn’t. They talk to a lot of people at a job fair.  And finally, my daughter is awesome and I’m very proud of how hard she worked through college and her ability to start her career at a job she really loves.

A Story About Motivating Star Performers (and How I Goofed)

This story goes back to when I was a General Manager for a large department store chain, The Bon Marche (now Macys).

It was the Christmas season, the most important time in retail, and my number one producing Department Sales Manager (DSM) requested a day off that fell on the same day as a very important sales event.  It was for her six year old son’s birthday.

Being a hard driving and competitive store manager who had to obliterate his sales goals, I denied her request and told her she had to work. We had big numbers to make, by god!  She dutifully worked that day but her energy and enthusiasm was noticeably less than normal – a condition that continued on for several months afterwards.

Looking back, I realized what a hypocrite I was.

I had always preached “family first” but denied her the day with her son on his birthday.  She always worked hard and effectively every day and was my top performer is sales, credit, and customer service month in and month out.  But my short sighted quest to make my sales numbers on one single big sale day ended up costing me so much more.

Her morale was dashed and she became disengaged – my number one producing DSM – and I know it cost me more in sales numbers over the long run than what it may have cost me had I let her have the day off.  She remained noticeably disengaged and unenthusiastic about her work for several months after.  Her performance numbers slipped, affecting the total store’s numbers.

Not only that, my credibility was damaged with her and the rest of my store team.  I learned a hard lesson about how not to treat a star performer. I certainly should have allowed her to have that one day off and she would have come back an even a stronger and more engaged DSM because I would have shown confidence and trust in her team and her preparation.

Several months later, I told my star DSM that I used this story in a presentation I gave a at a store manager meeting. She was a bit embarrassed but I could tell it meant a lot to her that I was willing to publicly share my mistake with my peers.  It helped repair our relationship and restore trust.  About a year later she returned from a DSM training week in Seattle and told me that the Director of Stores (my bosses boss) shared my story about her and the mistake I made to her entire DSM class.  She loved the fact the story had such an impact and was being used to help train the managers in the company about engagement.

In my time as a department store General Manager, I found that the Pareto Principle applied in many aspects of my job including my management team. Twenty percent of my management team produced eighty percent of my store’s performance results.  My star performer above was in that twenty percent and by showing insensitivity and a lack of trust in her, I damaged a certain level of her ability to produce the eighty percent of the performance results that she normally achieved.

I should have allowed my Star to have the one day off to celebrate her son’t sixth birthday.  I should have trusted her preparation and her team to make her goals for the day without her being there.  I seriously goofed.  And it cost me.

Feeling Good About Your Work

Here is a Ted Talk I enjoyed listening to today.  It is Dan Ariely who talks about what makes us feel good about our work.

I enjoyed hearing about the various experiments he conducted and especially related to the example of the large computer software firm in Seattle.

In the story, the CEO unexpectedly announced the cancellation of a big project that involved a large number of employees.  There was no recognition or acknowledgement of the work they had done – it was just cancelled with all their work becoming meaningless.

In a meeting, the employees were asked how many now come to work a little later and leave work a little earlier than they did before.  Most raised their hands.  They were also asked how many now fudge on their expense reports since the announcement and while nobody admitted it at the meeting, they did confirm they do later at a more private get together.

This goes to show you that, despite the fact that these people were still employed and making the same income as before, they became disgruntled employees because their hard work was relegated to the trash can with no acknowledgement that what they were doing and toiling away at was important.

They lost their motivation to give 100% at work and are now even working against the company to a degree.

Our workforce regularly needs that ‘pat on the back’ and the recognition that we are doing a good job and contributing to the company – even when what we have been working on has been cancelled or ended.

Simple regular recognition and acknowledgement can make a huge difference in a workforce’s effectiveness and motivation.