A new trend is developing in the tech and business world and the speed at which it is happening is alarming. The need for people is waning as companies seek to scale themselves profitably on a digital backbone – and it’s having a serious impact on our career paths.
When companies historically did layoffs, it was because they were in financial peril and had no choice but to saw off costs to stay solvent on the balance sheet. It was always painful, because you needed people to grow your business. Sacking people was not a good thing to do.
Suddenly it’s in vogue to shed people
However, if you were unfortunate enough to get caught in a layoff, you dusted off your CV, went out on the job market and (usually) found yourself something pretty quickly. Companies needed people – whether they were superstars, or solid foot soldiers; when you needed an employer, you would always find something.
Now something different is happening in the mindsets of business leaders – companies which are doing really well are in the process of proactively removing staff – both at junior and senior levels. You really don’t want to get caught up in one of today’s layoffs if you’re eager to stay in a similar job in future, because the modern business is adopting a new mentality – cut costs and scale profitably with a digital backbone. Adding armies of people is no longer the order of the day when you peer into an uncertain future, and many savvy businesses are eagerly looking to get ahead of making savage future labor reductions by making them now, in a more incremental fashion.
Case in point, Cognizant has been the golden child of IT services growth over the past decade, the firm ballooning from $2bn in 2007 to $13.5bn exactly a decade later, and yesterday announced 11% year-on-year revenue growth and a 26% increase in year-on-year net profits to $557m. The company continues to outperform the market with relentless growth. Meanwhile, the same firm has recently (reportedly) laid off ~6,000 staff in India and has just offered voluntary redundancy to 1,000 director-and-above US staff – a sizeable chunk of its US workforce.
Meanwhile, we witness firms merging together, such as CSC and HP, with the prime goal to rationalise their armies of people, while IBM’s US marketing employees were recently instructed that they must report to and work at one of these main offices in America: New York, San Francisco, Austin, Cambridge, Atlanta, or Raleigh – and offering redundancy options to those unwilling to make the move (who have renamed their firm “I’ve Been Moved”). And expect similar activities involving many of today’s IT juggernauts, such as Accenture, Capgemini, Deloitte, Infosys, TCS, Wipro, etc – all these firms are looking to deliver more “digital” services for clients with less people, as part of their “digital automation” drives. We’ve also been hearing about leading BPO providers bragging about delivering their traditional services on 10-20% less people, because they have figured out how to automate their services using RPA software and are making progress adopting machine learning techniques to speed up data driven work.
This isn’t just about corporate greed anymore – firms just don’t need people like they used to
One constant between now and the Great Recession of almost a decade ago is the insatiable greed of corporations and their shareholders to maximize quarterly profits at whatever cost to society and long-term planning. However, the rapidly emerging trend that is really causing alarm, is this determination to grow businesses while reducing their workforces, because the majority of people are now very replaceable with technology. We’ve never seen a situation where firms are growing their revenues, maintaining (and often growing) fat profit margins, but eagerly looking to trim whatever “fat” they can find.
New data from our 2017 State of Operations and Outsourcing Study, covering the dynamics of 454 global enterprises, highlights the emerging dynamics of C-Suites seeking both to slash costs (85%) but also to digitize their operations by breaking down the barriers between front and back offices and driving real-time data to support decisions (four-fifths see this as mission critical / increasingly important). Most alarmingly, only 26% of C-Suites now view developing talent quality as mission critical, while only 12% have not yet embarked on investments in automation and machine learning to reduce reliance on both low-end and mid/high-level labor:
The skills that were in demand, even 5 years ago, are now almost defunct, as marketing, programming, accounting, administration skills that were reliant on people, now being significantly enhanced by software, analytics and algorithms. What required 50 programmers, analysts or accountants 5 years ago, can be done by a handful of smart thinkers and much smarter systems. If you are in a profession like HR or procurement, the chances are your firm gave up on scaling up your division a decade+ ago and the emergence of affordable technology suites that do the job has already left these functions operating with as lot less people. Now this is happening right across the board, as the value or programming is diminishing (the future of IT is about smart logic and smart algorithmic thinking, not programming), the need for data analysts is shifting to simplicity as opposed to complexity, marketing is more about data science than content creation and finance is more about predicting data than archiving it.
So how do we survive? Here are seven tips to seriously save you
Before we embark on steps we can take to save ourselves, I would love to recommend a host of courses you can take to sustain your relevance in the modern workplace. However, there really isn’t a defined curriculum for this stuff – you need to develop a strong “unlearning” appetite to develop yourself on the job to get better at communicating and articulating your ideas, understanding how to manage data sets with greater logic and focus, and become a better collaborator, team player and driver of initiatives, with really visible impact on the business.
Firstly, you need to Unlearn – and fast. The first thing we all need to do is unlearn the work habits we picked up over the last decade or two. What was considered sufficient to check the boxes 5 years ago is now already in the legacy box (or, as I hate to call it, the “voluntary redundancy” box). The good news if your company probably still turns in a lovely fat profit, so they can still afford you. The bad news if you need to adopt a mindset of helping them grow profitably if you want to keep your job long term.
Secondly, crank up the urgency. You must focus on speed and urgency with short-terms plans to realize your long-term vision. Really look to deliver results in weeks not months and keep delivering robust outcomes as you go to enhance your credibility . Think of each individual project as a milestone achieved on a longer journey.
Thirdly, you must leave your comfort zone. Everyone in our industry needs to get out of our comfort zones, being bold, and smart about trying new ways of thinking, interacting, collaborating and driving positive energy. You have to venture outside of your comfort zone and take your colleagues and partners with you. You have to believe in what you’re doing and make smart, pragmatic – and sometimes bold decisions along the way.
Fourthly, focus on “quick wins”. Get stakeholders onside by demonstrating meaningful, impactful outcomes without major resource investments. Find a broken process that you can quickly fix with RPA or a SaaS/mobile app, or simply by converging data. Then find another… self-contained projects where you can prove your value quickly are the way forward, not hiding behind big projects that are hard to prove the ROI and seemigly never-ending.
Fifthly, focus on much more dynamic reporting relationships. The need for dynamic management is desperate in so many firms today: managers and staff must constantly interact to fine-tune performance against evolving outcomes. You need to manage up and down in the same constant manner, where relationships are fluid and dynamic – where you are constantly challenging each other with new ideas and ways of doing things . The days of the old “weekly box checking meeting” is over..
Sixthly, be smart about data and how it drives value to your job. Whether you like it or not, data is at the core of every modern enterprise – and you need to get with the program. If you can’t automate and digitize your rudimentary processes, you will quickly run out or value to any organization in today’s era. Being smart about data is no longer geeky, its career-critical.
Seventhly, put your ego aside and get used to flatter org structures. Companies need to kill the hierarchies and most emerging digital business have already adopted a flat structured approach to team building. People naturally collaborate in cross-functional teams motivated by shared outcomes. So put aside your old mentality of climbing the greasy corporate pole and get used to a whole new wave of politics – that of collaborating in flatter, autonomous teams where egos are driven by collective success, not just individual achievement.