In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule,” claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. For most people that means you have to spend 10 years @ 1,000 hours per year just working on your chosen specialty (I chose 1,000 hours since we all have to spend hours in meetings, vacations, sick, etc.). I am being especially generous since many people have “1,000 reps of 10 hours” in their 10 years of experience doing the same things over and over, many people get less experience over 10 years.
While watching the Olympics, I was struck by the similarities between Olympic swimmers and specialist HR implementers (ie. both having 10,000 hours of practice in very specific skills).
For example, when the Olympic selection committee (you, the client) is picking an athlete to represent the country in the 100 meter butterfly (analogy HR specific implementers), they are looking for experts. Unfortunately, many times at the end of the day, your management, is willing to accept a medalist in a completely different sport, or someone who is a “TV personality” because they generate good headlines, but an amateur at swimming. Obviously two different skill sets. One can pretend to be the other, but will never win the race.
This Olympic analogy continues. If HR implementers are swimmers, then Big SI implementers are shot putters. Sure they are competing in the same location and can even be from the same nation, but their skills don’t intersect at all. This divergence of talent isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you are aware that a generalist SI implementer will not ever win an HR race.
The moral of my story is that you must know the type of race you “have” before you ask for firms to compete in it. Don’t expect a generalist SI (shot putter) to do a good job on an HR project (swimming). They might be cheaper (or have better star power within your company) but once thrown into the pool, will sink every time.