Hiring for growth: a specialist or a generalist?

Making sure you have the right team for your business is critical. The Reckon Team has some tips for small businesses looking for the best fit. Image from Visualhunt. ~WizeOwl

The right employee is indispensable to your business’ success, so picking a winner is paramount to growth. It has always been this way.  But what style of employee best suits your role and business? The Generalist or the Specialist? The Swiss army knife or the scalpel? Both have merits and this will be exceptionally business dependent but there are some core considerations that rarely change. Let’s weigh up our options.

The Generalist

The generalist is your well rounded and well practiced employee who has had experience in a bit of everything. They are your Swiss army knife – even if that knife may be a touch dull. They are a jack of all trades, but more often than not, a master of none. Not strictly accurate, there are indeed those that are practitioners of most and masters of some, but generally this is the way of the generalist. If you are a smaller business looking for growth you may find that small companies with few staff will err towards the generalist for the obvious reason of filling more than one role type in a less resourced business. They also make great leaders for larger businesses.

So what are the benefits of hiring a generalist to grow your business?

  • Low downtime maximises salary: With a generalist you can cover many bases with the one employee. That web page update done? Great, get them moving on your upcoming event. No downtime equals maximum output for the business for a generally smaller salary. This lower salary and better bang for your buck will help your business grow.
  • Great for startups: You will be on low resources when you start up a business, so you probably need a generalist. You need someone who can answer phones, fire off emails, get the printing done and balance the books, thus the generalist will be your first port of call to get your business moving upwards.
  • Great for leadership and management roles: There’s a reason they call them ‘general’ managers… well kinda. But really, generalists excel at leadership due a broad range of skills and knowledge over a skilled area. If you need a marketing manager you had better get a candidate that knows their way around CRMs, EDM systems, UX, web design, PR, advertising and social media. This way they know what specialists to hire and can effectively lead an entire department into greater prosperity. You do not want a gun digital marketer with little other experience, you want a big picture thinker: a generalist.

The Specialist

The specialist is your way forward. Your business may be built on a foundation of entry level generalist employees and high performing generalists in leadership but your grunt, your growth, your edge will lie in hiring specialists. They may cost more and be less flexible than a generalist but when ‘good enough’ is no longer good enough for a key aspect of your business then you need a specialist to step in. Almost every business will need to hire a specialist at some stage, just be aware of when to do so.

So what are the benefits of hiring a specialist to grow your business?

  • Moving into new areas: If the time for a growth spurt has come and new areas of business beckon to you, grab yourself a specialist. You need an employee that is exceptional at what they do to make your company exceptional at what they do.  A generalist is not going to help you master a new field or convince the market you belong in this new space, lead into new areas with a specialist only.
  • Good for reliability and confidence: If you are keen on convincing clients you are the best and intend on pitching yourself as a premium value option then you certainly need a specialist. To grow in many verticals you must rely on being in the top tiers in terms of service and product offerings, it is incredibly hard to do that with a generalist. They may cost more but you are paying not just for their education and experience but for their ability to raise your competency, your profile, your results and… your prices.
  • Often they are indispensible: As we have started to see, sometimes you have zero choice in the matter: you need a specialist to grow or your business will starve. Imagine running  a development house with a bunch of graduate coders. With the din of the ever expanding competition in your ears, you need an advantage to peek above the crowd. More and more we are seeing that specialist services delivered with impeccable quality will often be that avenue to growth. You’ll need a specialist for that.