Digital Leadership & Soft Skills

🚀 Role of Generalists in Digital Transformation

Published by Pavel Nakonechnyy on in Leadership and Soft Skills.
🚀 Role of Generalists in Digital Transformation

From the publications of Adam Smith, economies, top managers and company owners strived to implement separation of labor and hire specialists to fill all the key positions. But in more recent works, we can often find mentions of generalists as an important part of the organization in Digital Transformation processes.

Thus, a question rises: who are generalists in IT? What value do they bring to the organization? What’s the role of generalists in the Digital Transformation of the organization?

🔍 Why organizations need specialists

“We all have a vast number of areas in which we have no talent or skill and little chance of becoming even mediocre. In those areas, a knowledge worker should not take on work, jobs, and assignments. It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.” – Peter Drucker

Businesses need specialists to be successful – this is nothing new. Having people with specialized knowledge in areas related to the company’s products, services, processes, network infrastructure, etc. enable the ability to serve customers and meet objectives continuingly. What many people do not realize, however, is that having generalists – especially in leadership positions – is just as critical to the organization’s success.

🎨 Who is a generalist

“The only meaningful definition of a ‘generalist’ is a specialist who can relate his own small area to the universe of knowledge’, Drucker wrote in The Effective Executive. “Maybe a few people have knowledge in more than a few small areas. But that does not make them generalists; it makes them specialists in several areas. And one can be just as bigoted in three areas as in one. The man, however, who takes responsibility for his contribution will relate his narrow area to a genuine whole.” — Peter Drucker, one of the key authors on the topic of the knowledge economy.

A generalist should understand the organization’s high-level system, including the hand-offs and interactions between people and processes. Personally, a generalist is not usually interested in working and developing his or her skills within a single area but is more motivated to learn more about the big picture.

👁️ Why generalists are important

An organization can have the most talented specialists in the industry but fail to meet any of its strategic goals if these people cannot agree on what’s important and work together to turn their combined talents into commercial success. By understanding the system as a whole, the generalist can bring value to the organization by focusing on overall company performance rather than attempting to optimize any single function or area. For this reason, generalists are often found in leadership positions and cross-functional roles like project management and planning.

Peter Drucker in The New Realities says: “Decentralization into autonomous units will surely be even more critical than it is now. Perhaps we will even copy the German Gruppe in which the decentralized units are set up as separate companies with their own top managements.” This decentralization is already seen in product-oriented Agile teams of IT companies.

Peter Drucker’s management by objectives is about bringing a balance among various departments and super-specialized experts who often refuse to work together. This balance is maintained through generalization. To be a good generalist means to have Vision, Courage, and Empathy to connect with people.

🚀 Role of Generalists in Digital Transformation

We live in a changing world as the biggest company of today are the ones that were not even founded 20 or 30 years ago. Information Technologies like AI or Cloud require deep knowledge and expertise.

At the same time, old leadership is often not capable of Digital Transformation. In some cases, they hire external consultants like McKinsey. In other cases, they create dedicated teams responsible for Digital Transformation.

Such teams need both generalists to investigate 360 customer experience and specialists to implement technologies for specific digital capabilities.

It is the role of the generalist to guide businesses through the uncertainty and ambiguity of Digital Transformation to help determine which specialist(s) would be useful to meet their goals and to connect specialists/agencies that bring expert knowledge. The strength of the generalist lies in connecting and understanding the business and its stakeholders.

Curiosity, eagerness, and introspection are all important character characteristics for the generalist.

⭐ Summary

Digital Transformation requires a change in the corporate world. Organizations need to embrace Innovation Culture and it’s the role of generalists to apply their skills and broad knowledge to bring new technologies into the day-to-day processes of old institutions.

In the words of Peter Drucker: “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old”.

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