As a part of an ongoing effort to help our clients make informed decisions in the time of COVID, we surveyed and interviewed nearly 1,000 CIOs, CTOs and Chief Digital Officers at the F1000. Our aim — to find out how these tech leaders are approaching critical (potentially make-or-break) business decisions that best position their organization to emerge a ‘winner’.
The number of survey responses, paired with the level of transparency and candor, signals to us the importance and appetite for communication and collaboration across industry peers. If SPMB can be a conduit for bringing these ideas and best practices together to a broader audience, we’re delighted to do so.
Here’s what we learned…
We were surprised to see a nearly even three-way split in response to whether you plan to acquire talent, lay off employees or hold tight.
For those doubling down (41.2%):
- Many of you are looking at this as an opportunity to pick off all of the talent that was not available to you during the raging bull market of the last decade.
- The companies that have chosen to acquire talent right now all have some kind of digital transformation underway.
- A frustration of those pursuing this strategy is pushback from the CFO organization due to shrinking or frozen budgets. Makes sense. I’ve frequently brainstormed with executives on how to position this… an A+ engineer costs about 40% more than an average B+, but is 300% more productive. And A+ engineers only go to work for A+ technical leaders. Therefore, investing in top tech talent actually saves you money… There is a mountain of evidence on this topic.
- Another common frustration is organizational pushback, with some concerned with the optics of hiring new employees during a time of layoffs and furloughs. A few of you have given feedback that this hurdle was much stronger back in March or April, but with more companies ramping up hiring, this has been dissipating. A recent article in Harvard Business Review speaks to this topic.
- For those looking for an outline on how to rethink your organization in the era of COVID-19, you can find my recent article in Forbes on the topic here.
Those pausing (29.4%):
- Some of you are holding tight and waiting to see if the market improves before making any significant moves.
- However, this number was closer to 80% six weeks ago and is now 30%. Two of you joked: “Yes, I realize that not making a decision… is making a decision.”
Those taking defensive positions (29.4%):
Those surveyed that are laying off employees seem to fit one of the following profiles:
- You are in industries that are just shut down at the moment, such as hospitality, leisure, travel. Revenue is just not there, and therefore you need to remove cost.
- Capital intensive businesses, those that manufacture a physical product and/or those with inventory requirements.
- Two-sided marketplaces that heavily rely on small businesses.
- Anything that relies on APAC from a supply chain perspective.
- Companies with weak balance sheets or generally tight cash flow requirements.
- Many of you are simply trying to bridge the gap between today and a future state where business is more predictable.
Keeping the current mix (35.3%)
- Many of you feel that you have the right mix of FTEs and contractors, and plan to keep the composition of your organization.
- Those that see this as an opportunity to insource talent or convert contractors to employees cite COVID as showing them that they can truly decouple geography from function and productivity.
- A recent article not only supports tech giants’ willingness to let employees work from home, but also tech talent’s desire to leave SF and work remotely or from secondary tech hubs.
- The technology leaders looking to outsource headcount mention cost as a motivator, but it seems to be less about bringing down overall cost and more to shifting budget to initiatives around automation or building new higher-level functions and capabilities like data and security.
Harder to measure productivity (52.9%)
- Measuring productivity is something that is on everyone’s mind given WFH at this level this is new for most of us.
- When pressed, many of you admit that this issue is not just a function of COVID, and that you have been searching for an answer to this for a long time.
- A few of you are thinking of building a discrete organization that focuses exclusively on engineering efficiency. Note that Salesforce and Twitter have done a very good job thinking through and building this function internally. You didn’t hear it from me ;)
The belief that 50% of the workforce will be WFH (64.7%)
- All of you feel that our relationship with work has permanently changed to some degree.
- Many of you feel that you have hit some unexpected roadblocks early on in terms of enabling a remote workforce, but feel that there is a lot of work to be done to get this right in the new norm.
- A few years ago, I wrote an article for Strategic HR Review when I saw large companies investing in product-focused Chief Digital Officers at the expense of core IT capabilities to support a technology-enabled workforce. It was called “So you just hired a Chief Digital Officer, now what?” and focuses on how to build strong internal people technology capabilities. You can find this here.
Accelerating spend on transformation (76.5%)
- I was surprised to see the expected doubling-down on your company’s transformation efforts, pretty much across the board.
- Those in the middle of a transformation plan to accelerate the rate of change.
- Those in the early stages plan to get moving quickly, catch up and are looking for help.
- Most of you feel that the world continues to spin, and customers are more demanding than ever and if you do not make some bold moves, you face an existential crisis so “why not?”
Many of us live and breathe by whiteboard…what software or other tools are you using at home to brainstorm with and convey your thoughts to your team?
- The biggest learning coming out of our bonus question is this… we all need to quit our jobs and start a virtual whiteboarding company.
- Everyone is at a breaking point with Zoom for a variety of reasons, and mostly out of frustration by our inability to physically express concepts and ideas in drawings in a group setting.
- A few suggestions from the group include the following:
- Miro (a favorite!)
- Confluence (by Atlassian)
- Traditional MSFT products (including Teams) and Google suite (note that Google Cloud is an SPMB client).
While there’s no “one size fits all” solution for any organization, especially in the face of a global pandemic, there are shared experiences, lessons and learnings to be gleaned from industry colleagues.
Hopefully this analysis brings a level of comfort to fellow leadership teams across the tech and innovation landscape in terms of how peers are thinking/feeling/doing during this time.
If SPMB can be a conduit for bringing these ideas and best practices together to a broader audience, we’re delighted to do so. Furthermore, if we can be helpful to you or your organization (even for a verbal white-boarding session), please get in touch!