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This post is a part of my article for Better Business (no 2/2023,

Specialists or generalists?

Even if we're not interested in golf, we've heard about Tiger Woods at least once. Apart from moral scandals, Tiger is the embodiment of the myth that specialization from childhood guarantees success in adult life. His father started coaching him in golf as soon as his son started walking – at the age of 10 months. Tiger devoted practically all his time to golf. At the age of 8, he won the junior tournament in the under-10 category. Today he is recognized as the greatest golfer in the history of the sport.

From the point of view of the sporting path, the opposite of Tiger Woods is Roger Federer, who grew up practicing many different disciplines and focused on tennis only as a teenager. Currently, he is considered one of the best tennis players in history.

Studies of athlete development conducted on a large population show that the elite did not start with specialization but went through a period of generalization – they practiced various sports and only after some time began to specialize. Hyperspecialization is constantly promoted, but it turns out that the path to success leads through interdisciplinarity. For sports like golf, characterised by a certain simplicity of rules and predictability of the environment, early specialisation can produce very good results, but most sporting competitions are not like that and require a broader perspective and an approach based on different experiences (interdisciplinarity).

Science for business

It turns out that the conclusions from the research of the world of sport also work in business. Here, too, there is a complexity that is best dealt with by employees who, like Roger Federer, have a variety of experiences outside their specialisation. In enterprises, we have few repetitive patterns (it's not golf). Narrowly specialized people are often stuck in the so-called "cognitive entrenchment" and in a situation where the rules and environment change, they act like novices. During the transformation, generalists who are characterized by creativity and the ability to combine various, non-obvious elements work well. This ability to look at challenges from multiple perspectives can be developed by gaining experience in various professional areas.

Research conducted by economist Ofer Malamud from Northwestern University shows that instead of assigning an employee to a rigid career path and specialization, it is worth presenting her/him with a portfolio of opportunities and giving autonomy in choosing a development path. What's more, our work preferences change over time – personality, skills, and attitudes evolve. The development offer should correspond to our current needs.

The Whole Self Model

Companies need creative people with interdisciplinary experience and a broad perspective. Employees expect development opportunities tailored to current aspirations, skills, preferences and work styles. How to combine it? SAP SuccessFactors provides the Opportunity Marketplace functionality, which allows you to use the potential of employees while meeting their development expectations.

The basis of the solution is the so-called Whole Self Model. It allows employees and organizations to collect information not only about skills and competences, but also about aspirations, work style, motivation and many other elements thanks to which SAP SuccessFactors can more effectively recommend training, development paths, projects, mentors and resources.

Based on the information contained in the model, the system can automatically recommend development opportunities to the employee. In particular, these are:

  • mentoring programs;

  • matched career paths;

  • recommended training;

  • proposed vacancies (in internal recruitment);

  • project assignments – is a new opportunity offered in SF used to publish internal talent needs.

Sample recommendations for an employee

Let's look at how this translates into specific development challenges of the employee.

Situation/challenge Opportunity
I want to take part in a project conducted according to an AGILE methodology

Choose an AGILE mentor in our community

I think I will prove myself in working with clients

Review available career paths related to "customer orientation"

I've always wanted to be a salesman – can I try? In the Sales Department, recruitment for the internship program has started
Machine learning – I urgently need to train myself in this area Get machine learning training, best rated by colleagues
During postgraduate studies I gained competence in the field of marketing. I want to develop in this direction Maybe you will be interested in open recruitment in the Marketing Department?

Most recommendations from the Opportunity Marketplace come from other SAP SuccessFactors modules, among others Succession&Development, Learning and Recruiting, but it is also possible to create and publish other opportunities – so-called assignments – these are usually internal projects or internship programs. Users (employees) have access to recommendations tailored to their characteristics (holistic Whole Self Model) with editing and filtering functions.

Once an opportunity has been selected, the employee can track its status. In the case of e-learning, this is secondary (the training is simply immediately available), but for other opportunities in the portfolio it is important, e.g. applying to a mentoring program does not mean automatic acceptance by the mentor.

Once an opportunity has been selected, the employee can track its status

Mobile insights to recommended opportunities

The consequence of the selection and implementation of opportunities (e.g. completion of an internal project, internship or mentoring program) is most often the acquisition by the employee of new competences and skills that are recorded in the holistic whole self model. This will allow to expand the portfolio of opportunities offered to employee in the Opportunity Marketplace in the future.

The employee and the organization wins

SuccessFactors Opportunity Marketplace is not only a chance for the employee - it is also a new opening for an organization that is looking for generalists inside, ready to take on new challenges (often beyond their specialization). Companies need agility, improved internal mobility, ease in building dynamic teams and, finally, a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

The name of the module - Opportunity Marketplace - refers to the market relationship - we have sellers and buyers. Both employees and managers have something to offer (projects, competences, training, etc.). We want the exchange to take place on our internal market, not LinkedIn.

Opportunity Marketplace changes the paradigm of development management in the organization - now the employee gains subjectivity in career planning and this happens for the benefit of the company.
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