Is it better for a company to develop a sea of generalists or specialists?
The ideal answer is probably yes—in the sense that you want to have a mix of both types of workers. But given limited resources, which would yield a better workforce?
This week, I’m sharing a series of posts featuring what 25 senior executives at leading organizations told me about how they manage change, including answers to the question above. Their insights come from an article I wrote some years back, but they are just as relevant now.
Change’s Impact on L&D
Today, in the series’ second installment, I want to focus on how change influences learning and development efforts, and vice versa.
Read below what execs from Caterpillar, Shell, General Mills, Deloitte, and other big companies have to say about how L&D and change management intersect. (Note that companies and titles reflect people’s roles at the time the article was published. In fact, almost none of the 25 executives interviewed work for the same corporation and even fewer hold the same job today. You know, things change. To view their full comments, and those of other executives, check out the original article, “Will Your People Be Ready?”.)
Bonnie Fetch, Director of People and Organizational Development, Caterpillar Inc.
In last few years, we recognized that we were moving people far too frequently and maybe trying to give people more experiences than were necessarily healthy for the organization or our customers. So now, we want to move people around cross-functionally only when it makes sense for their intentional development. The pendulum has swung back to a notion of deep expertise—which doesn’t mean that we expect our leaders to always be experts, but the good ones know how to leverage their networks rather than just try to figure things out on their own.
Ton van Dijk, Senior Advisor of Global Resource Planning, Shell
Some companies make the mistake of prematurely releasing personnel when their skills are no longer needed—e.g., in times of downturn. We don’t usually do that because we recognize the long-term nature of building skill-based capacity. We know we will need skilled professionals in the future, and it would take a long time to rebuild capability once gone. Of course, one of our goals is to ensure that we recruit people who have the capability to be very flexible to move from one business unit to another, too
Kevin Wilde, VP of Organizational Effectiveness and Chief Learning Officer, General Mills
The problem is not so much how long you take to develop someone but how you do it. That means constantly adjusting a person’s development curriculum to broaden the individual. For example, our leadership institute ensures that anytime anyone makes a transition into a new role, that person gets individualized training. You need to have a feel for context and that person’s skills rather than use a one-size-fits-all approach to development.
Michael Trusty, Head of Capability Consulting, Rolls-Royce
While I don’t like clichés, I don’t know any other way to say it: It comes down to learning agility. The people who have a comfort level with ambiguity and can pick up concepts easily are the ones who will thrive.
Craig Gill, Director for the Development Center of Expertise, Deloitte Services
To be ready for what comes our way, we’ve had to build up skills related to industry knowledge, communications, business empathy, and leadership. This sort of soft stuff is actually the hard stuff to teach, and we’ve come to realize that these skills must be taught very differently than technical skills. It’s made us adjust our approach to teaching, where we now teach these competencies more experientially, through role-playing and simulation.
Eric Biegansky, North American Change Management Practice Leader, KPMG
I’ve seen a lot of clients choose a flexible, contract-labor force. When they need people with certain skills, they hire them without bringing them into their payroll. That might work to an extent, but you cannot just farm out 30 percent, or whatever, of your workforce. There’s no perfect answer, other than to say that we try to hire as much as possible for baseline, more transferable, traits related to interpersonal relationship management and emotional intelligence. My bias is to be extremely careful when we’re hiring someone for a very niche, technical fit—because unless we can generate sustainable long-term value from a worker, we’re going to have problems down the road
Patsy Doerr, Global Lead for Diversity & Inclusion and Learning & Development, Thomson Reuters
Because of the pace of change, people get exposed to a lot more experiences in a shorter time frame than they used to. This gets more acute when you go into rapidly developing economies, where people are exposed to four to five times as much change as at corporate headquarters. I know a lot of people find this frustrating, but I think this is all for the positive. It helps accelerate learning. Sure, things come at us faster these days, but technology also makes it possible to get things done faster.
Bill Tarnacki, Director of Talent Management and Corporate HR, Pulte Group
We also look more broadly toward vendor education. Instead of looking at the vendor across from us and pounding the table and saying, “We demand that you shift and do it this way,” we educate and help vendors up and down the supply chain. They don’t operate independently, and helping them do their work better helps us too.
Sun Sun Chung, VP of Global Learning and Development and Strategy Integration, Pfizer
In recent years, our strategy has been to move from a country-, region-, or location-based leadership and hierarchy to a much more matrix-business-unit structure with a focus on therapeutic areas or diseases. It’s a cultural shift that has moved away from a direct command-and-control model. In fact, when we got a new CEO in 2010, we did a full cultural analysis to determine whether we have what it takes to achieve our goals and where we want to be in the longer term. The answer was no. So we’ve been really working on shifting our culture around this matrix-, rather than location-based, model. In some instances, this required developing different skill sets to help employees understand how to operate within the new framework. Instead of having managers come in for a three-day training session or dumping a binder on their desk and saying, “Here’s everything—now go away,” we’ve spread training across six to eight months in a curriculum focused on key business concepts, financial acumen, and other skills to adjust people to the new structure.
View entire remarks in “Will Your People Be Ready?”.
Also check out the first post in this series: