Is it advantageous to be a specialist or generalist within the Finance Transformation space?

Posting date:21 Oct 2019

There are two types of Finance Transformation professional - Specialists and Generalists.

Specialists are often given niche titles, like P2P Global Process Owner and S4HANA System Implementation Lead, and a set of very specific responsibilities. Alternatively, generalists see themselves as all-encompassing Finance Transformation professionals with a broad experience of doing a bit of everything in every arena, whether that be for example, a system implementation, shared service centre set up or process improvement project. 

While there is a clear divide between the two types of professionals, what there isn’t is an understanding of which one is the best and as an organisation, which is more desirable. I have posed this very question to many of my clients and it seems they too are torn. 

Some show a preference for specialist professionals who can come in with a wealth of knowledge about a niche subject while others reap the benefits of a generalist who brings the benefits of a diverse and varied career path and can likely turn their hand to any project thrown at them.

While many remain undecided, I’m keen to hear your opinion of what the optimum Finance Transformation professional looks like and what experience they bring to the table.

Are they specialist, are they generalist, have they started their career as a specialist and branched out into other areas or have they over time narrowed down their focus to one specialism after climbing the ranks as a generalist?

I had this very conversation today with Finance Transformation Director in my network. Despite spending his 30-something years as a Finance Transformation professional in different pockets of transformation projects, he will only hire specialist people into his team. His experience is so varied in fact that its quite unbelievable but while he has developed a great understanding of Finance Transformation programmes over the years, his worry is that his successors will merely be a Jack of all trades in this space and a master of none.

This made me wonder, is he being too selective by assuming the next generation of leaders haven’t followed his exact path or, has he got a point?

In my opinion, a diverse career history is not only a vital attribute of every professional but it also makes for a better leader with more adaptability, leadership skills, stakeholder engagement capabilities and a general understanding of how different finance transformation projects operate. 

On the other hand, I understand that if you have a specific need you would naturally opt to hire a person with the exact career profile and is hedging a bet on someone’s similar competencies asking too much of our clients? 

It’s a risk but is it worth the risk and worth staying open-minded for someone with a diverse skill-set to bring to the role?

I’d like to hear from you. What makes for the better Finance Transformation professional – a generalist, a specialist or, both?