Will outsourcing bring the end of generalists?

Good personal career planning is all about good trend spotting and
developing your CV to remain as marketable as possible, writes Paul Kearns.

Have you spotted any recent trends in the way HR roles are changing?

Many years ago, just after I started my first job in industrial relations,
Maggie Thatcher came along and made it quite obvious that this was not a good,
long-term career choice. It prompted my move into training and development and,
ultimately, generalist HR work.

A natural career progression, you might think, but if I were counselling
young, ambitious HR professionals today I would strongly suggest they consider
avoiding the "generalist" tag. My guess is the future lies in
specialisation and there will be fewer HR generalists around.

One development that is causing this trend and fundamentally changing the
nature of HR is outsourcing. This is de-skilling a great deal of transactional,
personnel administration. Inevitably, this will lead to more specialists
dealing with higher volumes of work in narrowing areas of expertise.
Generalists will never be able to compete with such an efficient service.

Back at the ranch, those who want to remain part of the core HR team will be
left with a new range of roles to choose from. However, these will only suit
those who want to get much more involved in running the business. Even existing
specialists, such as compensation and benefits, will be expected to demonstrate
a much clearer connection to operating performance and shareholder value.

New roles in performance measurement and HR/business information are
evolving to become an integral part of operational management. Even though such
job titles already exist, the full extent of these roles will only be fleshed
out when the jobholders have developed a whole new range of skills and

At the highest, added-value end of the HR spectrum will be the organisation
designers and HR strategists of the future. They will design high-performing
teams, departments and functions. They will have in-depth knowledge of
processes and organisation structures and the interrelationship between the
two. They will know the pros and cons of hierarchies and matrix organisations
and will have found answers to the conundrum of how to balance the need for
managerial control with the new imperative of giving employees greater freedom
to act.

If these predictions prove to be well-founded then we may well see a
reflection of what is happening in society at large – the gap between the
"rich" and "poor" in HR will grow. The expert organisation
designers will be worth their weight in gold and HR specialists will attract a
premium. At the transactional end, however, the HR service centre operators
will always be viewed as an overhead and find their costs constantly squeezed.

If you’re an HR generalist, maybe it’s time to take stock of your career.

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