In 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:
- Draw on that palette of diverse knowledge to recognize patterns and connect the dots across multiple areas.
- Drill deep to focus and perfect the thinking.
Research shows EG’s have:
- A better ability to adapt to change
- More accurate assumptions of the future
- More insightful ideas
- A deeper connection to those with different perspectives
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.