In my past life, working for large corporations, everyone around me had a well-defined role. There was a team in charge of the strategy, a team responsible for analytics, different set of folks who took the analysis and translated it into policy, then someone who took that and designed a product solution and wrote out a spec, a project manager that helped coordinate and, of course, the engineering team. I may have missed someone – but you get the sense. Every six months or so, the division I was in would go through a reorg – to centralize, or to regionalize, or to better define the role of one of the teams above, or to split it into two, etc. What drove the reorgs was rarely a change in company direction – more often than not, it was the overlap in the roles of multiple teams, or unhappiness by a subset of people about not being recognized, or being pigeonholed into a piece of the landscape that wasn’t attractive.
Now that I am part of the leadership team at TrueAccord, we’ve had some conversations about the best way to split the end-to-end responsibility of building and operating a technology platform between teams of people. As I ponder this topic more and more, I am becoming convinced that there is tremendous value in keeping roles broad and multifaceted – particularly in teams where employees’ average level of work experience is less than 10 years per employee.
As I usually do, I laid out a list of pros and cons of creating specialization at junior levels:
- Hiring for expertise – the company can hire employees that already bring the specifically needed skill to the table. It’s also important to realize that it is tough to hire great generalists – people usually have spikes and no one will be excellent in all aspects of the job if the job is very broad.
- Developing expertise in house – if people focus on doing a specific task, they become very good at it very quickly.
- Focus translates into productivity – this is debatable, but I do believe that focusing on a more narrow area helps most of us be less distracted and therefore get more done.
- You are asking people to guess what they are passionate about. At junior levels, many of the best, smartest, innately curious professionals have not yet decided to commit themselves to a specific field of work – this is why rotation programs are often very appealing to these folks.
- People get bored and may soon look for opportunities to “try something else” – not necessarily with your company.
- Growth opportunities are limited by availability of a mid-level position in a specific group – you are not growing agile leaders in this model.
For a small company that aims to attract people that are passionate about its mission, feel a strong sense of ownership, and welcome the opportunity to get their hands dirty and contribute in multiple ways, the Cons outweigh the Pros. Generalization beats specialization.
Of course, everything is good in moderation and every company needs to find its sweet spot on the spectrum between uber-specialization and an “everyone does everything” model. At TrueAccord, we have built a team of Analysts who are incredibly multi-capable – they are not responsible for the architecture and development of our Collections engine, and they don’t do Sales or Customer Service – but they guide product decisions, develop customer-facing content, code logic on top of the platform the Engineering team built, they do analysis, and they manage cross-functional projects. I would have killed for a role like that when I got out of college! By the way, if you would as well, check out the Careers section of our website – we are hiring. These are fantastic roles, and they come with exposure to and mentorship from the leadership team, including the CEO and COO of the company.
My CEO recently compared our analysts to stem cells – “you can grow them into anything you need” – and I think that’s right. By broadly defining roles, we are hyper-charging the employees’ growth, encouraging them to think holistically and understand the business end-to-end – we are growing our company’s next generation of leaders. I passionately believe in hiring externally at junior levels, but sourcing leadership roles internally as much as possible – and I believe that keeping junior role definitions broad is a key to getting there.
Sofya Pogreb, COO, TrueAccord
Sofya Pogreb brings over 15 years of Financial Services experience to TrueAccord. In the past, she’s advised Fortune 500 clients at McKinsey and Company and headed Risk Management for the Americas region at PayPal. She holds a B.S. and M. Eng. in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.