The End of the HR Generalist

Before I became an official MRGer, I spent a couple of years working for a global organization in their HR department. It was an experience I found immensely valuable and intriguing from the perspective that I was able to observe first hand “how the sausage was made” so to speak.

It was challenging from a knowledge side (i.e., a lot of unknown unknowns) and an interpersonal side (i.e., let’s just say I’m better suited as a consultant). The department I worked in was complicated; almost having split personalities. There were the normal human resource responsibilities (e.g., payroll), then recruitment, then learning and talent development, and finally a business partner side. In some ways this worked well and others…not so much.

As I walked away from the experience, I remember thinking that the senior level roles inside that HR organization (and even below) were complicated, but complicated in unique ways. For me, the most interesting aspect of HR departments is that their client is the organization itself, which means they are serving others inside of the same mechanism they exist within – and, ideally, function within. This creates a myriad of complicating factors because the “client” has widely varying expectations and a sense of entitlement that makes it impossible to please everyone. Moreover, because HR exists within the thing it is trying to serve, there is the potential for bias. All of this creates decision-making and execution problems. HR leaders are continually walking a tightrope between executing what they believe is needed for the organization and what the organization is telling them they need (potentially very discrepant things!).

The experience led me to two linear conclusions: HR leaders now need a level of organization, industry, and institutional knowledge to be successful. Therefore it’s logical to conclude that HR Generalist role is a thing of the past. HR is becoming uniquely complicated and with that, roles are becoming much more specific. With this, specific knowledge about a particular aspect of HR (e.g., leadership development, recruitment, HR Ops, etc…) is necessary to be successful.

It wasn’t surprising to me then when our best practice research on Senior HR Leaders showed that integrating wide-ranging information, anticipating longer-term consequences of their actions and decisions, and appreciating how these decisions impact the broader organization is vital to support their important toward their success.

Secondly, having and maintaining a specific level of knowledge within their area of expertise (i.e., the opposite of having general knowledge!) was also predictive of success.

Head on over to the BPR for the full set of results!


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About the author

Drew is MRG's resident I/O psychologist. When not at MRG, he's either with his family (most likely) or in his workshop (less likely). His stack of unread books is commendable.

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