At some point at many growing companies, there is a shift in hiring from generalist to specialist roles. Generalists start to be pushed into specialist roles, or the hiring efforts move toward specialist job postings. Ultimately, specialisation pushing out generalist roles can seem inevitable but is the wrong trajectory.
Creativity and innovation are related to broad curiosity (and generalisation) for knowledge work. The more specialised the roles at a company become, the less horizontal flow of knowledge and craft. Especially true for design and product departments.
The better approach is to hire generalists from the start and continue to do so with the growth but, in parallel, always look for fields of expertise that would benefit from specialisation.
Specialists should be hired when:
- specific problems emerge that require an in-depth and broad knowledge of the complex topic—but like, really in-depth and broad,
- experience in delivering particular solutions is vital—the problem and execution are well defined but tricky, or there is no room for mistakes,
- a given category of problems is frequently recurring, needs constant monitoring, or is fundamental to the whole offering or organisation.
The first specialist joining a team in a given field is usually perceived as a starting point to separate the area of expertise as a new team or department. In most cases, this is unnecessary. Separation of roles results in the separation of influence and agency.
It is better to treat the specialists as mentors and knowledge hubs in their field of expertise that can help generalists learn and grow.
If specialists were hired for the right job (dealing with specific problems as described earlier), they should also work on the meta-level of the expertise in the organisation. (Generalists usually do not have time to operate on the level of depth.) Specialists will be more motivated as their in-depth insight and craft can grow with meta-level projects. Organisations can benefit by uncovering new truths about the field and its offerings.