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Generalist vs Specialist Skills. What skills are needed in the workplace? Which will help me advance in my career?

Specialisation is better

https://www.michaelpage.com.au/advice/career-advice/career-progression/specialists-vs-generalists

A saying goes: Jack of all trades, master of none.

Mastery of skills gives humans satisfaction. Specialists, with a deeper understanding of subject matter, can better spot and seize on emerging opportunities. Specialists may also have an easier time collaborating because it’s clearer how the work can be shared.

According to the Hays Asia Salary Guide 2019, 65 per cent of Singapore employers favour technical skills, like project management, over soft skills, like problem-solving, when hiring new employees. 

Division of labor and specialisation is a chief source of productivity gains using the example of factory assembly line. Output per worker increases in multiples; the factory becomes extremely efficient in producing items.

Should I specialize my career as a specialist or as a generalist such as consulting where I’m exposed to a variety of experiences and skills?

According to “structure” proponents, organizing by function allows for task specialization leading to process efficiencies and production consistency (no variations in the end product). https://hbr.org/2019/03/why-data-science-teams-need-generalists-not-specialists?referral=03759&cm_vc=rr_item_page.bottom

When is specialisation not so hot?

Specialisation increases coordination costs whereas Generalists are better at moving between functions. 

Specialisation may have its detractors, with some suggesting that it leads to the “dulling of talent where workers become ignorant and insular as their roles are confined to a few repetitive task”.

Specialization may provide process efficiencies, some say, but it is less likely to inspire workers.

Are some sectors more prone to specialisation skills, e.g. engineering, medical research or cyber security, u need specialist skills surely. But it’s good generalist skills that will get u to the top.

https://hbr.org/2018/07/when-generalists-are-better-than-specialists-and-vice-versa

Interestingly researchers Theodoridis found that generalists were “strongest in fields with a slower pace of change. Example, oil and gas, mining, it might be harder for specialists to come up with new ideas and identify new opportunities, while generalists may be able to find inspiration” connecting the dots from other areas.

If you’re a Manager, would you prefer to employ specialists or generalist?

In fields with a faster pace of change, eg quantum computers and gene editing, the researchers found that “generalists may struggle to stay up to date, while specialists can more easily make sense of new technical developments and opportunities as they arise.”

Research also discovered that generalist roles drive job satisfaction providing: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy in that they are not dependent on someone else for success. Mastery in that they know the business capability from end-to-end. And, purpose in direct connection to the impact on the business they’re making.

Generalists are more passionate about their work and making a big impact on the company.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnbaldoni/2020/07/23/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-its-not-personal-its-cultural/

Generalists =Mastery + Versatile + More tools in your toolbox.

Google’s Project Oxygen used internal company data to identify what makes a great manager. The list of traits of Google’s best managers revealed coaching, empowerment and inclusivity among the key skills for effective leadership. Tellingly, technical and specialist skills do not appear on this list. 

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Recently some of my international MBA Students asked me about recommendations for recruiting in India. This set me about researching for dome resources to start them off.

How do you choose a consultant?
1. Start with a reputable firm in your market segment.

2. Like all services, it depends on your chemistry with the person, and a match between the firm’s skills, your skills and interest. The only way to find out, is to call and try.

Here are some recommendations, albeit not comprehensive.

ABC Consultants: Top Recruitment Services Company in India
https://www.abcconsultants.in/

Career Net

Randstad

Accord Group

Talent Mappers

Software:
3leads

Job Portals
https://www.naukri.com/

Other international firms like Adecco, Kelly Services, Manpower, Michael Page will also have offices in India.

Companies in India

Comments
How were your interactions with consultants in these firms?

Are there any, you can recommend to help me update this list?

Thank you for your feedback.

With an internal career platform where AI proactively recommends jobs to you based on skills, tenure, project work, rankings. No doubt, IBM will soon be trying to sell this career platform to other companies.

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Photo: Taken at a old postal town on the Nakasendo trail.

Employee centric or Big Brother?

MYCA—IBM’s internal career platform called My Career Advisor—no longer acts as a self serve system; instead the AI proactively recommends jobs to you based on skills, tenure, project work, rankings, and so on.

Does 95% accuracy mean self fulfilling prophecy?

Accurate by whose predictions? I will be quite hesitant to work in a company where my career is decided by a robot.

Sensing this, the AI no doubt will weed me out. Well, IBM is not going to be on my favourite list of great place to work.

If I want to keep my job in IBM (hypothetically), I will certainly say that I love whatever is happening. Employee engagement survey scores have seen an increase of 20% in IBM. Does one assume anonymity or alignment? The same AI that gives out the survey can now detect the unmotivated with greater accuracy. Is there a conflict of interest? What is HR’s role?

Will I want to buy this HR solutions which IBM may try to sell my company? Hmm, why not. It certainly is a powerful machine from a profit/ cost perspective.

I recently heard this exchange on a TED talk about machines and replacing workers.

Henry Ford was hosting the Union chief Walter Reuther at his Ford car assembly line.

Henry Ford II: Walter, how will you get those robots to pay your union dues?

Walter Reuther in reply: Henry, how will you get them to buy your cars?

Whether this exchange took place, Ford in his HR practice understood the need to motivate and stablise his workforce with a decent salary because it is a circular economy.

Employees who leave your company may be potential clients, customers or your adversary. Understand the ecosystem.

IBM’s Artificial Intelligence Strategy Is Fantastic, But AI Also Cut 30% Of Its HR Workforce

https://www.forbes.com/sites/danpontefract/2019/04/06/ibms-artificial-intelligence-strategy-is-fantastic-but-ai-also-cut-30-of-its-hr-workforce/

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Photo credit: himself in Tokyo, 2 April 2019

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What cause sakura to blossom?
Change in temperature. Ironically, the shock provokes the plant to give out its best bloosoms.

Citrus growers too understand this science of winterisation. Without the sudden drop and rise in temperature, there will be no lemons and oranges which need warm summers and mild winters.

Winterisation is to be feared and appreciated.

Why do we fear change? Should we?
Farmers know that plants need preconditioning and acclimatisation to the change or extreme shock will kill it.

In this season of exteme winds of AI, blockchain and machine learning, are you helping your employees acclimatise to the new environment.

Farmers sometimes water the soil of citrus plants during winter to help them tide over.

Your efforts will be rewarded. With beautiful blooms in Spring.

I bargained with Life for a penny,
And Life would pay no more,
However I begged at evening
When I counted my scanty store;
For Life is a just employer,
He gives you what you ask,
But once you have set the wages,
Why, you must bear the task.
I worked for a menial’s hire,
Only to learn, dismayed,
That any wage I had asked of Life,
Life would have gladly paid.
                                                                      Jessie Belle Rittenhouse (1869-1948)

Millennials or Generation Y (Born After 1980)

With Gen Y, full time work is no longer the only source of income, identity nor influence like it was for Boomers. Nor is workplace, the only way to connect with a community. Rather, this generation feels connected with a global community through technology and may get their income through the Gig economy.

Brought up in small nuclear families, sometimes without adult supervision because both parents have to work, Gen Y can be very independent and savvy with technology.

They value ownership and expressions of their creativity and individuality. Explosion of the internet has also given them power such as own social media channels and influencers.

What companies can do

• Career wise, this group is unlikely to be as loyal as Boomers. With a shrinking workforce, they have no problems moving from one organization to another for higher salary and better perks.

•Beyond monetary incentives, Gen Z can be motivated by skills training, mentoring, feedback.

•Gen Z are generally value leadership style that are more feelers than thinkers. Organisational Culture such as collaborative environment, is extremely important for Millennials

•Flexible schedules as rewards, time off to embrace outside interests, and embracing the latest technology to communicate are also important for Gen Y.

•Millennials also thrive with structure, stability, continued learning opportunities, and immediate feedback. Structured path and career planning

• Millennials like to be heard. Factor in one-to-one communication. [Lisa Orrell]

Gen Z (born after 1995)

•Starting to enter the workplace.

•Larger than baby boomers or Millennials. •Motivated by social rewards, mentorship, and constant feedback.

•Want to be do meaningful and be given responsibility.

•Demand flexible schedules.

•Experiential rewards and badges earned in gaming and opportunities for personal growth.

•Expect structure, clear directions, and transparency.

•Majority prefer face-to-face communication.

• They see the world as a connected global marketplace and likely to see short stints overseas as part of their career development and work in a multicultural workplace.

In one workplace survey, research group Millennial Branding found 53 percent of Gen Z respondents prefer face-to-face communication over tech tools like email (16 percent) and messaging (11 percent).

What companies can do

To attract Gen Z, companies need to move beyond traditional recruitment methods and move into gamification, social media, especially with video, pictures and interaction on application process via blogs, Linkedin or Instagram.

Companies may want to provide more information during orientation, internships and job rotation or structured career paths. One company provided clear indications to Gen Z on

  • Where they will start
  • The short-term goals they’re supposed to meet
  • The skills they’ll acquire
  • Where they’ll end up in a year

The company also trains in sound-bites and offers short-term quarterly recognition in terms of rewards, not that different from the bonus points in computer games.

It also provides increased responsibilities half-way through its eight-to-12 month training program, knowing today’s young people will jump to a new employer for a better opportunity.

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An must-have is for leaders to pick up career coaching skills and more face-time with Gen Z to agree on goals and outcomes. While Coaching has become an essential leadership skill, companies can consider Peer coaching. Baby Boomers and Gen X may be roped in to provide mentoring for Gen Z teams. But gone are the days of command and control.

Have a friend at work? And why it matters.

Culture differences in HR

Retaining Gen X at the workplace

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Photo: woven slippers I spotted on the Nakasendo Trail, Japan November 2018

Gen X (1965 and 1980)

For Gen X, work is not only a source of income, but where many get their identity, influence and connectedness with a community.

Gen X are currently at the peak of their careers taking over leadership of the company or waiting in the wings. They have experienced huge swings in economic boom and bust, witnessed retrenchment, burnout and technology disruption.

Challenges in retaining  Gen X is that they are not a homogenous group. There are at least 4 groups with their unique characteristics:

(i) Waiting to take over leadership from Baby Boomers

(ii) Those who distrust company lifelong employment yet have expertise and able to work independently with minimal supervision. This group is more entrepreneurial with desire more control over their time and goals. Some will move on to become start-up founders.

(iii) Another untapped group are highly educated spouses, primarily women who have taken time off to look after young children and now ready to return to the workforce.

(iv) Need time off to look after young children or aging parents.

What companies can do

(i) Provide mentorship from Baby Boomers, bonus to recognise their contributions and leadership assignments to stretch them. Give them opportunities to mentor Gen Y and Z.

(ii) Provide consulting opportunities in the firm and maintain open door in case any want to return should ventures fail

(iii) Provide training and connect them to support groups to re-orientate and build confidence and skills. Flexible schedules and telecommuting or part-time work.

(iv) Allow time off and open door to return in future. Keep them connected to a support group and provide a sense of belonging (Maslow) to the workplace.

Recruiting and retaining Gen Y and Gen Z

How to retain Baby Boomers

Diversity in today’s workforce is not only about gender, nationality, religious beliefs, culture, but also age and generational differences. Inc.

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Photo credit: Himself taken in Naha, Okinawa, 2017

Different generations bring a diversity of perspectives as well as skill sets to the workplace, adding creativity and better ability to service customers.

Baby Boomers (Born between 1946 and 1964)

They are likely to be already working in the company, and in leadership positions. Gallup found that by age 68, only one third are still in the workplace. As Baby boomers possess institutional knowledge and experience, this can result in a significant brain drain. They can be tapped to provide knowledge transfer to Millennials.

Challenges faced by Baby Boomers include health problems and disabilities, and the need to take care of aging family members.

What companies can do [Dona Dezube, Monster] :

Courtney Templin, president, JB Training Solutions, Chicago and author of “Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management” suggests:

  • Start a mentor program to engage Baby Boomers to mentor Millennials
  • Part-time consulting and coaching to transfer knowledge
  • Offer a phased retirement option to employees who wish to work part time, drawing part-time salary, partial retirement benefits and must spend 20 percent of their work time mentoring coworkers.
  • Adapt the workplace to be more senior friendly
  • Set up a forum where older workers can share ideas for workplace improvements (BMW).
  • Set up multi-generational workgroups to share knowledge

Personal Motivation: What should I look for in a Job and Maslow

Recruitment/ Hiring practices

Individualist cultures – individual is hired based on his/her competencies (skills). Trust is based on one’s skills.

Collectivist cultures – loyalty to one’s in-group/ company is valued, hence there is a preference towards hiring those with similar social ties, value and social norms. Trust is based on not letting down one’s in-group

Different Attitudes Toward Conflict

In individualistic cultures, people tend to be verbally direct: they value communication openness, differences in views are aired openly

Collectivist group, indirect communication is preferred. Disagreement or Conflict is seen as embarrassing or demeaning. Differences are best worked out quietly and indirectly. Managers who work in cross-cultural environments must learn how to adapt their communication/ leadership styles accordingly.

This view towards conflict and communication hence affect the HR performance appraisal process

Individualist – direct feedback especially on areas to improve is accepted.

Collectivist – indirect feedback is preferred. Receiving negative feedback is received badly as shame, a loss of face and weakness.

Rewards and promotion

Individualist cultures – rewards and promotion is based on individual’s achievement, self interests.

Collectivist cultures – rewards is based on loyalty to team and company. Promotion may even be based on loyalty to company, e.g. years working in company, and seniority is respected.

  1. Examine how your company structures its compensation and rewards.

When I switched careers from the foreign service to the private sector, I was very impressed when the senior leadership went for a 2-day team bonding exercise. With high expectations, I asked my boss, “Are we going to have more cooperation from Dept A after this?”

Today, I’m much wiser. As much as a company wants to promote team work, there is a need to go beyond socialisation and games we play. The type of people you hire. Driven by win-lose or win-win. The way rewards and status are structured. To promote company loyalty, organisations give out company shares or team bonus.

2. How is status ascribed?

Do employees come from a certain school, e.g. Havard/ Ivy League graduates? Children of a certain social class? If so, you are more collectivist than you think.

3. What stories are told of your heroes?

Examine the stories people tell about heroes in the company. Is it about the risk they take, and the money they make? Or whether they live out company values of trust and teamwork?

4. How are differences resolved?

Is there a blame culture or pointing fingers? When your back is turned, people say nasty things.

5. What values are you bringing into the company?

Beyond the color of your skin, the accent and the gender, do you bring in people who embrace your values? Who are you attempting to change ?

Beyond Herman Miller Chairs or free lunches and corporate values emblazoned on company walls, what is unspoken and hidden may say more of your culture (National, organisational or even profession).

Have a coffee chat with a friend, instead of visiting company website or attending corporate presentations to understand what the real corporate culture is.