As a business lawyer, he challenged the notion that in our society, specialists are much more appreciated – and paid! – than generalists.
“Take, for example, a General Practitioner,” he said. “Clearly, a specialist has to put in more years of study compared to a GP. But the GP is the first person you’ll see when you’ve got a medical problem that’s not life threatening – or you’d be in the ER. This first layer of diagnosing and shifting GPs do is vitally important, yet undervalued.”
My client reasoned that if a GP misdiagnoses you and sends you to the wrong specialist, or to none at all when he or she should’ve, the results can be catastrophic.
He gave another example closer to home for him; business law. As a “first response” business lawyer, he gets all the questions and cases thrown at him. He is a generalist who knows a little about a lot. He enjoys communicating and collaborating with lots of different parties and functioning as a “bridge” between all of them.
“Guess what,” he said. “If I misjudge a case or an issue and misdirect the folks that came to me with it, the financial and/or legal consequences could be dire.”
My client went on to say that he thinks most employers undervalue their generalist employees. “Often,” he said, “just like with the GPs, these generalists play an important role in shifting and connecting. Same in HR. Examples abound. So why are these positions almost always less compensated and valued than those of ‘true specialists?’”
It’s easy to argue this case from both ends with obvious points…The amount of study that goes into specialization and the higher level of responsibility explain the bigger salaries. “But wait…this is where the generalist is often misunderstood,” my client said. “Because, as we just saw, the consequences of misjudgment by a generalist can be severe. So why this discrepancy?”
I firmly believe we’ll be seeing more and more organizations that do value the “jack-of-all-trades” aka generalist aka cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural employee that brings an understanding to the table of more than the little square in front of him.
This trend has already started with globalization and technology.
What do you think? Are you a generalist yourself? If so; do you feel you get the credit for your role that you deserve?