2020 is the Year of the HR Generalist

by Kris Dunn | Posted | Industry Buzz

2020 is the Year of the HR Generalist

"The year is 2020"

Decades from now, movies will be made, and features will be written about the year you're currently living in. Those features will focus on the events, the problems, the pandemic, the mistakes, and yes – the heroes.

I know it's hard to see right now. But the world (and specifically America) has a unique chance to create meaningful change as a result of everything that's currently happening around us at this moment in time.

And guess what? HR Pros at all levels will be critical to delivering the change that has to happen. But not all HR Pros are created equal as we head into a period of unrelenting change.

HR Generalists will be required to win in 2020 and beyond

The Generalist/Specialist debate is over. If you're an HR specialist, it's cool. We love you and you are valuable. But now, the impact of a great HR Generalist will span across the next decade.

Let's start with a solid definition of what an HR Generalist is. If you're an HR Pro with broad responsibilities for a group of employees who come to you with any and all HR-related questions under the sun and expect you to have all the answers, you're an HR Generalist. It doesn't matter if you rely on some specialists for answers, escalations or project work. If you're the face of HR, you're an HR Generalist.

That means HR Pros at all levels who fit that description are HR Generalists. You're an HR Coordinator but people come to you with everything? You're an HR Generalist. CHRO responsible for all employees at your company? You guessed it – HR Generalist.

HR Generalist isn't a title, it's a way of life.

And the life that HR Generalists are forced to live inside any company is why they are critical in the recovery process from the events we're experiencing in 2020.

Of course, all HR Generalists aren't created equal. The knowledge, skills and ability that separated the great HR Generalists from the good ones in 2019 remain the same. What's changed is that the markers of a great HR Generalist are now non-negotiable in 2020 and beyond.

What traits are mandatory to be a world-class HR Generalist in 2020 and beyond?

Here's a list to remind you of the super strengths all great HR Generalists have:

  1. Comfort with ambiguity and gray areas. Whether it's navigating the return to work from COVID, the growing desire from employees to work when and where they want, or helping an organization find a better path to maximize diversity and inclusion, great HR Generalists are comfortable with moving targets, no easy answers and general risk of being wrong. They aren't paralyzed when the issue in front of them seems hopelessly complicated.
  2. Influencing skills. Regardless of someone's position on the org chart, great HR Generalists have the ability to influence those around them. This ability to influence entry-level as well as C-Level employees is built on a platform of approachability, transparency and willingness to invest in conversations – long before they need to ask an individual for anything.
  3. Ability to negotiate. If their world is gray, it makes sense that the great HR Generalists understand the need to negotiate. The key to this skill is the willingness to spend the time listening, asking questions and understanding the needs of those around them. By investing time in the process, great HR Generalists have the ability to "make the ask" of any group and explain why that solution is the best possible outcome for all parties.
  4. Communications chops. Gone are the days when you could be a good to great HR Generalist at any career level and not be the master of all communications modes – written, social, face-to-face and speaking in front of groups. Directly tied to the ability to find the path through ambiguity, influence and negotiation is communication skills. Developing and delivering a message isn't spin, it's communicating a position. Leadership requires clear articulation of a position – and great HR Generalists at all levels are leaders.
  5. Self-awareness related reliance on rules. HR as a function has a long history of rules. This just in – the change thrust upon us with the events of 2020 means many of the old rules no longer apply. Life as an HR pro comes at you faster than ever in 2020. The HR Generalists who will thrive moving forward are those who understand that being attached to "the way we've always done it" is a limiting factor related to their performance.

There's no question that when chaos and change are at high levels, great (not good) HR Generalists at all levels are among the most valuable assets an organization can have.

Will HR Generalists star in any of the future movies made about 2020? No – but there's no question that if you look closely in the years to come, great HR Generalists will be among the most valuable supporting actresses and actors.

I hope we can recognize the great ones for the work they're about to do.

5 Ways COVID-19 Will Change the Future of Work

Discover how COVID-19 is changing the future of work and how HR leaders can prepare.


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Cover of the book
Cover of the book

5 Ways COVID-19 Will Change the Future of Work

Discover how COVID-19 is changing the future of work and how HR leaders can prepare.


Download Now


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