This post is on one of my favorite topics : 'deep-specialist' roles in internal HR. Please see here (Specialist roles in internal HR - An endangered species ?) and here (Business alignment of specialists) for previous posts in this domain. The first post explored if these deep-specialist roles are becoming fewer in number. This post is about another related dimension : the average time that these 'deep-specialists' spend in a particular organization.
When we say 'deep-specialist' roles, we are talking about those roles in internal HR that require deep specialist skills/expertise in one of the functional areas in HR (e.g. organization development, reward management, leadership development etc.). It takes many years to develop skills/ expertise to this level. Often, this would also imply that
(A) Very few people can become deep specialists in more than one area
(B) Deep-specialists are high cost resources to hire/ maintain.
If we combine (A) and (B) above; it can lead to some interesting scenarios. (A) would imply that most deep-specialists would find it hard to find another deep-specialist role that they can move into within the organization. (B) would imply that the deep-specialist would have to maintain a very high level of contribution/value addition to justify his/ her cost. For this to happen there has to be a very close match between the the skill/ expertise area of the deep-specialist and the needs of the organization. Now the problem is that in many organizations the 'needs' (that necessitated the hiring of the deep-specialist) change - often quite quickly. This could happen because of many reasons - including those related to the changes in the business and/or those related to the HR strategy/structure/operating model. Now if the the 'original needs' (that necessitated the hiring of the deep-specialist) don't exist any more, that puts our deep-specialist in a peculiar situation : he/she can't maintain the high level of value to justify his/her cost and also he/she can't move into another role in the organization. So this could force the deep-specialist to leave the organization/look for another organization that provides a better fit. However, it could just be a matter of time before the same story gets repeated in the new organization. Again, if we assume that the above changes in business/HR happen frequently, 'logically speaking', this should lead to relatively shorter tenure for deep-specialists.
Since I know that a purely logical approach might not always lead to correct conclusions, I decided to do some sort of a 'reality check'. I spoke to some of my friends (who are deep-specialists) and asked them what is the average tenure they look at when they take up a new job. The answer : about 4-5 years in terms of aspiration and about 2-3 years in terms of the likely result. I feel that these (relatively small) numbers and especially the gap between the 'aspired figure' and the 'likely figure' for tenure, seem to support the inference/line of reasoning regarding the 'relatively short average tenure for deep-specialists'. Of course, this is far from being any sort of conclusive proof ! May be (since I am a 'deep-specialist at heart') I am just looking for excuses to jump around frequently !
What do you think?