Monday, October 13, 2008

Who Needs Generalists?

As I start to pull apart the traditional idea of an HR department, the question I'm struggling with now is: What does a generalist do? Implement programs and policies someone else has written? Oversee the implementation of the work someone else does?

Now, I'm not naïve enough to think there isn't work that needs to be done on the front lines, but does the traditional structure still make sense? My vote is no. Here's why.

First, technology has spread to the point we should be much, much faster in performing routine tasks. We should be able to flatten the HR structure and handle tasks between local HR coordinators and area HR managers.

Second, employees are technically savvy enough to help themselves with most of these tasks. Even the ones we think aren't. We just have to provide a method for them to do so. Think self service, think transparent, think direct line of sight to what is important.

Third, most rules surrounding services are archaic at best. We need simple, flexible programs that don't require a day of training to effectively use.

Fourth, we have line managers who are divorced from HR work because they can be, and are tied up with fat to day operations. Some of that, though, is driven by the lack of well trained, engaged employees. And studies consistently show that an employees relationship with their manager is a strong indicator of engagement and correlated to retention and performance. Imagine if managers had the knowledge, tools and time to be the defacto HR rep for their team. Think that might help?

I can see a day when you are either a specialist (which we will need, thanks to the complexity of compliance requirements, SOX, training needs for emerging workforces, etc.) or an area HR manager that deals with a larger organization. Employee services, at the administrative level, are either handled in a self-service method by the employee or with their manager. The HR team has minimal administrative work, and instead works on training the line managers to be ready to handle employee needs or working on more strategic tasks.

When I talk to young HR professionals and they ask for career advice, I usually start with telling them to spend some time outside of HR if possible. Then, if they want back in, get really well versed in training, talent management or compensation. I think the rest is best outsourced or pushed down to the self-service level.

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