February 2018 | 

Specialist to Generalist: Preparing for Your Next Career Move

Specialist To Generalist

Developing an organizational mindset — one that can see how all of the various areas of a company link together and affect one another — is a critical step in becoming a general manager. But, says Wharton professor Gad Allon, gaining that mindset on the job has become increasingly difficult.

Previously, many companies developed talent over time across functional areas, and/or provided mentors or coaches to support their managers. “That is no longer true in most organizations,” says Allon, “and trying to become literate in marketing, finance, strategy, operations, and leadership on your own, on the job, isn’t easy.”

He says in addition to the amount of knowledge needed to understand the main issues and challenges for each traditional business function, new managers must evaluate theories and insights that often conflict. “It isn’t easy on your own to sort through all of the research,” says Allon, “and to know what will work in your organization and what won’t.”

Allon serves as academic director of Wharton’s Business Essentials for Executives. The program exposes participants to state-of-the-art research and practices in every key management discipline. “You don’t need to become an expert in each, but you do need to be literate and develop basic skills. Then you need to be able to put it all together, understanding the organization as a whole, and the linkages and connections between each area. The choices managers make can have multiple impacts throughout the organization, so making a decision means considering how every area might be affected.”

The week-long program brings together faculty experts in finance, accounting, marketing, strategy, operations, and leadership. Allon notes that in addition to doing research and developing models, they all actively apply their insights within firms. “That application means they have first-hand knowledge of what works and what doesn’t in real time, and they bring that knowledge to the classroom. What we’re teaching now is slightly different than what we taught three or four years ago because we are continuously learning and refining the program content.”

Business Essentials for Executives is also about helping participants begin to apply what they learn immediately. The program brings their organizations into the story by addressing their current challenges beginning on the first day. During the week, they begin to apply classroom lessons, and get feedback and insights from faculty and fellow participants. A post-program webinar then keeps them accountable, reflecting with the learning community about what’s working and what isn’t.

Ultimately, says Allon, participants come away with a broader perspective. “When you are a general manager, you are never sure where the next problem will come from. It could be with team building, motivation, finance, customers, or strategy. You need to be able to look across the organization, understand the major issues facing each functional area, assess the current situation, and anticipate the future.”