What is better, to be a ‘jack of all trades’ or a ‘master of one’? For HR, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.
The HR profession, just as the businesses it supports, faces a constant challenge to keep up with the latest trends and update itself. Evolving technology only poses more challenges. The different facets of HR are increasingly being handed over to specialists who have mastered one or two specific HR skills. An HR generalist, who has his hands in a lot of pies, may not deliver results or leverage big data in the same way as a specialist. Organisations are increasingly looking towards specialists to deliver data-driven results.
An HR generalist covers all aspects of HR from employee retention to rewards and benefits. Before big data, being a generalist would have been desirable as people with knowledge of a lot of different areas would have been considered a valuable asset for organisations. Donning the hat of a generalist would have been advantageous to individuals then, as it would have provided a range of opportunities to explore different areas of human resources, and also presented a wider pool of jobs to choose from.
Today, large organisations prefer to have a diverse team of specialists who can leverage business-wide people data effectively, and also deliver strong recommendations based on that data.
“The role of HR generalists in large organisations is shrinking. Today, they are more likely to be HR business partners who are seasoned people capable of bringing in value”
This is because, being competitive is the key in today’s work environment and companies are looking towards developing HR departments with a high impact. Leveraging people data is a good way to do that, which requires the help of a specialist. HR specialists have a good grasp of the evolving technology in the space and the know-how to use them for realising core objectives of the business. This is the reason why such individuals are becoming much sought after in the market.
Adil Malia, chief executive, The Firm, former group president HR, Essar group, says, “In terms of jobs for HR, we can expect roles like data analytics or standard process driving to go away. HR managers will need to be specialised in their domains and not data crunchers or process administrators.”
But does this mean that being a generalist is the flip side?
Joyeeta Chatterjee, CPO, Future Consumers, says, “The role of HR generalists in large organisations is shrinking. Today, they are more likely to be HR business partners who are seasoned people capable of bringing in value.”
Most large organisations today will appoint generalists at senior positions. With a lot of experience in different roles and functions, their perspective is critical when taking decisions on matters, such as budgeting, staffing, benefits planning and strategising.
Small and medium businesses, on the other hand, love generalists and will always have a demand for generalist roles. With budget and personnel constraints, having multi-disciplinary specialists is not possible for them. Such organisations will place more value on a person with a wide range of experiences, who can manage internal functions and external liaisons effectively.
“In terms of jobs for HR, we can expect roles like data analytics or standard process driving to go away. HR managers will need to be specialised in their domains and not data crunchers or process administrators”
Moreover, with India’s growing start-up culture, which is increasing phenomenally with each passing year, HR generalists may find themselves at an advantage.
Once startups become viable and begin growing, they need HR professionals to keep their businesses running smoothly. With a limited budget for an HR department, they prefer to bring in a few people possessing adequate experience and knowledge of the field. And an HR generalist is the best fit for such a profile.
Another scenario which may be advantageous is the rising gig economy.
Generalists will have working knowledge and understanding of multiple functions of the HR domain. This also means that they have the flexibility to move from one function to the next or even serve as a consultant to any company which may require one.
The gig space can provide generalists with multiple opportunities to freelance, making career flexibility one of the strong suits for such roles. In addition, such professionals have a host of transferable skills, which can be useful to any organisation.
Malia goes on to add, “The changing economy and the demands of the gig culture employees will require customised processes, engagement and connections. HR managers will need to learn that.”
While the role of generalists may be shrinking in some areas, there are many avenues opening up in others. Generalists are valued because of their ability to see the larger picture, work with multiple departments and to make sound decisions.