Now Hiring: Hybrid Specialists

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In the pre-pandemic workforce, it was common to recruit for two separate types of positions: roles that focused on strategy, and roles that focused on implementation.

A strategist, typically in a leadership role, would create a plan—be it relevant for marketing, product development, workforce planning, you name it—and they’d collaborate with the tactical experts that would bring that plan to life.

These two positions were the dream team. But the pandemic brought along an enormous right-sizing effort and, with fewer staff, companies have begun looking for people that can both strategize and implement. But do these candidates actually exist? Or are we on the hunt for a purple unicorn? 

The Case For Dividing Responsibility

There’s a reason that this split—strategic versus tactical—has been so prevalent over the last fifty years. 

When we begin our careers, we’re generalists. As we gain more experience, we begin to focus on the roles that spark our passion—we prioritize gathering experiences and responsibilities that we enjoy. And over time, we become specialists.

Specialists are, by definition, very good at working within a niche. Strategists are great at strategizing; tactical experts are great at implementation. This forked path means that very few people truly have the skills—or interest!—to do both.

Before the pandemic, companies had enough work to sustain both tactical and strategic roles. When companies began reducing their workforce, it was out of necessity; just about every company had to create and implement a new strategic direction to stay afloat. 

Companies now have the opportunity to build their workforce back more thoughtfully. For many, this has included combining the strategist and the tactician into a single job description. 

But is it a good idea to hire one person to do two jobs? 

Creating the Post-Pandemic Worker

The labour market is very hot right now. Candidates are reconsidering what they want from work and, as Canada’s economy has reopened, companies cannot hire fast enough.

But it has become increasingly clear that hiring for this new type of hybrid role can be a very tall order. Why? Because of how roles have traditionally been conceptualized, virtually no one has this multidimensional experience, especially at higher levels. 

Companies are realizing that they’re asking for something that may not exist. So, they have two options: hire for two separate roles as they did before the pandemic or work with candidates to shape them into the kind of worker suited to that role. 

This represents a challenge. Beyond merely onboarding new employees—which is already difficult in these virtual environments—human resources must create development plans and milestones to ensure every new hire gets to where they need to be. 

The good news is that this is entirely possible. Developing these hybrid roles just takes a little preparation. 

How Companies Can Support Hybrid Roles

Between the tactical and the strategic, it’s easier to teach tactical skills. 

If an organization is hiring a strategist into a hybrid role, they should support that candidate with structured tactical training, including opportunities to self-evaluate and test their progress. This kind of training could be done in-house with a supervisor or another employee that knows those job responsibilities very well. Alternatively, organizations may opt to send an employee for training at an external institution, like a course at a technical college. 

It’s more challenging to teach strategy because strategy is informed by real life experience. There’s no night school class that teaches strategic decision making in your specific niche of the market. 

As such, it can be more difficult to hire a candidate with tactical experience into a strategic, decision making role. For these types of positions, I often recommend organizations first look within their own ranks, as employees with prior company experience and high levels of engagement are more likely to succeed in such a position.

Part of the labour shortage in Canada comes from a lack of developed candidates. Too often, to fill a role, companies look outward when, typically, the most valuable assets available to you are the people already in your staff. 

It is critical that companies develop clear career paths within their ranks; they should offer training and mentorship opportunities that encourage the professional development of their employees. This fosters greater employee engagement, increases retention, and makes the knowledge of those employees infinitely more valuable.

How Candidates Can Upskill for the New Workforce

Candidates must also be proactive in positioning themselves to obtain these sought after roles. Strategists might opt to go back to school or to enrol in technical training to become the generalist that companies are looking for. Employees in tactical roles could ask, within their own organization, to be invited into strategic meetings to learn on the job. 

Overall, one of the most important traits a candidate can bring to a hybrid role is coachability and an eagerness to learn. 

It’s okay if you don’t meet every requirement on a job description. Are you passionate about this work? Are you enthusiastic and excited to learn? Then apply. Reach out with details of your professional goals and how you will upskill to reach them. 

We are entering a period of widespread upskilling and retraining in the Canadian labour market. This is an exciting period where candidates and organizations alike can reimagine roles, and pursue roles they’re passionate about. 

But both employers and candidates must be proactive and ready to put in the work or they could miss out.