June 25, 2024

Specialization vs. Generalization: How to Hire the Best Team


  • Small Business Employees

  • Small Business Tips

Building a great company is like building a house: You'll need specialists such as carpenters, equipment operators, electricians, and plumbers. However, to manage these professionals, you'll want to hire a general contractor who can oversee and coordinate them. A "GC" knows enough about what each of these specialists does to make sure you're getting the most for your money.

In managing your business, you'll also find a clear need for both. The trick: how to know who you need and when.

What makes specialists, well, very special

Business owners stand to gain much from specialists—often more than they may have imagined at first.

A skilled specialist can:

  • apply their expertise to improve the quality of your goods and/or services;

  • increase the real and perceived market value of your offerings, due to their advanced expertise; and

  • quite frankly, save you from yourself. A specialist can spare you from having to perform tasks, such as building a website or writing ad copy, that when done poorly can harm your brand and livelihood.

When to hire a specialist

  • Your business is scaling up and has more sophisticated needs.

  • Marketplace demands call for greater expertise to keep you competitive.

Keep in mind, the more specialized an employee gets in a certain area, the more competitive they become in the job market, and the more they'll cost to hire. But as we've noted above, they can represent a great return on your investment.

Generalists leverage versatility to your advantage

On the other hand, when you're keeping operations lean and mean, generalists can play whack-a-mole in ways that specialists simply can't:

  • A generalist with a proverbial bird's eye view of things may be able to spot connections or opportunities that a specialist can't see.

  • A broadly trained and experienced employee may be more cost-efficient than a specialized full-time hire for some roles because they can fill several needs.

  • An employee who handles many areas of a small business, like sales, marketing and customer research, will know firsthand how these areas contrast and complement each other and can ensure they work in harmony.

When to hire a generalist

  • Earlier on in your business, when your day-to-day needs may vary, one versatile team member is easier to manage than several bit players.

  • During times, whether early on or when resources are tight, that you need more bang for the buck in your hires.

Case in point: A growing business calls for versatile management.

Soon after entrepreneurs Mike and Denise started RestEZPros1, a property management business in a growing second-home region of the Northeast, they realized the need for a human resources (HR) manager. They didn't have the time, let alone expertise, to create and enforce policies for their 20-person team of account managers, covering everything from remote work and personal time off to handling potential cases of harassment and discrimination. And what if they made a mistake?

The couple hired a skilled HR generalist out of retirement to handle recruiting, onboarding, and creating and enforcing all of those aforementioned policies. The HR manager also ensured that the firm complied with federal and state employment regulations and administered the RestEZPros benefits plan.

When business booms, needs change

However, as RestEZPros grew, its needs became more complex and sophisticated. The potential talent pool for RestEZPros dwindled, and recruiting became a trial. The couple also found they were relying more on full-time staffers than part-timers, increasing the need for a full and comprehensive benefits plan. By contracting with a recruiting specialist in the real estate field and an expert benefits consultant to work with the HR manager, they grew the business by finding seasoned talent and wooing those candidates with a competitive benefits package.

So which one is it for your business?

Fortunately, there's no single answer. Choosing between these two valuable types of employees is highly situational and hinges on a few key factors.

  • The obstacles your business is facing right now

  • The complexity of those challenges

  • The amount of time and money you can spend to combat these issues

Analyzing these factors can help you identify what skills, functions and investment make sense for where you want to go. Also remember that employees are always open to career development: A specialist may acquire a broader perspective, while a generalist may decide to zero-in on a particular challenge of your business and become a specialist in the process.

The bottom line: When done with care and forethought, investing in people is a smart move for any small business.

Since 2008, Fora Financial has distributed $4 billion to 55,000 businesses. Click here or call (877) 419-3568 for more information on how Fora Financial's working capital solutions can help your business thrive.