Moving from Generalist to Specialist: 4 Hints You Need to Hire More Specialists

Written by Chris Lucas on July 26, 2012

Posted in Human Resources

As a startup or early stage company, you need people who can juggle a lot of different responsibilities. After all, the coffee, the spreadsheets, and the product development aren’t going to take care of themselves, right? But at a certain point, you need to go from the company that prides itself on the people who wear many hats to the company that gets stuff done.

So how do you know when to stop hiring generalists and start hiring people to tackle specific jobs/roles? Here are four tips:

1. You have one person doing 12 things. In the early stage of our company, the only marketing person was me. We were trying to execute on a ton of different projects. Everything from webinars, email marketing, SEO, PPC, contests, etc. The list ran on and on. One day, we wrote every project on a whiteboard. We had 12 projects. Twelve! One person was trying to execute and be successful with 12 different things. We quickly realized this wasn’t possible for one person to do so many things and expect them be a success. I covered several different areas and there was no way one person could be expected to know how to execute perfectly on them all.

2. You stop accomplishing things. You know what happens when you have one person trying to do everything under the sun? Productivity suffers. Projects stop getting accomplished. Sure, you and your team can dream up 100 different things to do, but when it push comes to shove, who’s going to accomplish them? When you are wearing many hats, things seem to be in a state of forever “almost done.”  When you start to see your projects are all at about 90%, but nothing ever gets finished, it’s time to start hiring for specific roles.

3. You stop measuring. One of the main reasons, I think, that you should start hiring specialists is because of measurement. One thing worse than not getting things done is not knowing the results. How is the email campaign going? Are people using our new features? Is that spinning orange starburst CTA really driving customers to buy?

The problem with a team of generalists is that they move from one project to the next. Stopping to evaluate success or failure falls to the wayside in favor of the next BIG project. If you have a team of generalists, stop and ask yourself how many “Set it and Forget it” campaigns you have running right now. My guess is a few. By hiring a specialist, someone owns the project from start to finish. That means owning the data and the results, reporting on them, and tweaking them to make them better.

4. Your CEO is answering support requests. I say this one kind of tongue in cheek. Our CEO still answers his fair share of support requests, but it’s not how leadership should be spending their time. Yes, absolutely, when you are a small team, everyone needs to answer phones, ship orders, and answer customer calls. But, there comes a point in your business when you need to have someone setting vision, planning strategy, and guiding a team. Fred Wilson, famed venture capitalist wrote a post a while back on the role of the CEO, here is a quote from the post:

“A CEO does only three things. Sets the overall vision and strategy of the company and communicates it to all stakeholders. Recruits, hires, and retains the very best talent for the company. Makes sure there is always enough cash in the bank.”

CEOs and management teams need to be the leaders of your organization. They need to be working on the business not in the business.

Hiring is one of the trickiest things any organization can do. Hiring the right people can make your business take off. Hiring the wrong person can set you back both in time and money. So, it’s crucial to understand when you need to start hiring for growth and when you need to start hiring people who can specialize and expand your organization.