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The Hidden Problem of Genial Generalists

Posted by Bob Corlett on August 10, 2009

Well rounded employees, we all like working with them. They are the cheerful, upbeat, utility player - the kind of person you can put anywhere and they do well. Often described as team players, self starters, and good all around generalists. Small organizations particularly love them. Nonprofit leaders like having people around who can "turn on a dime" and are not flustered when the organization turns on a dime. Utility players do not have job descriptions, but are more commonly doing a  hodge podge of unrelated tasks - making these people very hard to hold accountable - which is, of course, the hidden problem with hiring genial generalists.  Utility players are not very demanding to manage, but it's often hard to get spectacular results from them.

If you want to keep your team small, hire lots of good generalists. Give them a diverse blend of responsibilities. Have them fill in the gaps when you launch new initiatives. Have them cover for vacant positions, or help out underperforming workers. Rely on their good nature to "roll with the punches" if you have not fully thought through a change initiative. You'll enjoy their cheerful demeanor when you move the goal posts.

Just don't plan to grow, or excel in your new initiatives.

If you want to do amazing work, then hire at least a few people you can hold accountable.  Instead of hiring only genial generalists, hire some hard-driving, achievement oriented people - people who are really good at setting and achieving goals.   (Yes, there are plenty of results-oriented people who can still play well with others).

When you hire top performers, you may not have as much fun when you change direction, you will get more "push back" when you muddle their responsibilities, and you will definitely have some explaining to do when you move the goal posts.

But you will be much more likely to reach your goals.

If you are wondering how to attract top performers, download our Guide to Writing Job Descriptions. 

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To gain more perspective on performance management and employee turnover, visit "What Drives Employee Retention and Employee Turnover?"

 

Topics: Performance Management, Employee Turnover