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What is the value of generalist

#1 What is the value of generalist
06/06/2010 17:51

Mark Casio

It seems to me that most of the top tier firms are generalists! mckinsey, bcg, bain, booz, etc..

what is the value that these firms bring to clients.

Or why do firms like generalists over specialists?

I know there are specialists out there who specialize in different industries or different problems

why don't companies hire those?

an automotive guy for an auto client

an Operation Research for optimizing and stuff like that

a financial guru for finance and so on and so forth

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#2 RE: What is the value of generalist
06/06/2010 20:14

j to Mark Casio (#1)

The simple answer is you can't afford to have a specialist sat on the bench waiting for an assignment that fits their skill set,.

The cynical answer would extend this to say most generalists can be converted into an apparent expert in what ever the client's field is by a careful choice in words in their profile. More cynically still real specialists have a tendency to dislike peddling snake oil and are more likely to push back if they don't believe the client is being given the right advice, or making the right choices.

The pragmatic answer is that it often doesn't need a specialist to see where a client can make improvements, even in a specialised field.

I have a personal concern about people whose sole specialism is generalist consultancy though. I like to work with a team that have done a real job as well.

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#3 RE: What is the value of generalist
07/06/2010 08:43

billum to j (#2)

agree with j. some industry sectors do demand specialists however, particularly capital markets, and there the model can be slightly different - more bench time in between the niche roles, but far higher rates to compensate. from experience running oneof those practices, there are downsides however - those specialists tend ot be hired in from industry and take a while to take on the broader consulting skillset. in a way I think that is a more honest model - I've also worked in a generalist environment and felt very queasy about representing some of those consultants to clients - it's hard to distinguish that model from the 'bodyshop' which they seem to despise (but which is another honest model - nowt wrong with open resource augmentation)

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#4 RE: What is the value of generalist
07/06/2010 09:34

jj to billum (#3)

In general firms prefer specialists. Note that the long run growth rate of specialist firms such as Accenture is much higher than the generalists like Mckinsey.

Also one could actually argue that Mckinsey is a specialist in Strategy rather than a generalist.

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#5 RE: What is the value of generalist
07/06/2010 12:17

Anon to jj (#4)

Agree with jj - the alignment is to activity rather than departmental function or industry specialism. Most McK could not "turn their hand" to IT Programme Management, or BPR, etc. They do "specialise" in their own way.

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#6 RE: What is the value of generalist
07/06/2010 13:47

hocuspocusnikelikesfocus to Anon (#5)

agree jj. MBB are seen by the market as specialists in their field, and the big integrators / delivery houses also have a clear set of specialisms. the problem is the grey area in between is this nebulous thing marketed as 'advisory consulting' , where the propositions are much less clearly defined and so are the skillsets and depth of content of the practitioners. it's interesting that most of the firms that regularly attract a slating on here for project quality, pay, quality of life etc tend to be that generalist 'advisory' type - perhaps the less specialised a consultant is, the more easy they are to replace and the more they are therefoer treated simply as an anonymous unit of resource ...

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