I recently had dinner with the Chief Technology Officer of a Fortune 500 company headquartered in northern Virginia, a large employer of very capable technologists with skills throughout the software development and infrastructure lifecycles. The conversation started generically enough with some polite questions about our respective businesses before one of seemingly routine question seemed to tickle a nerve with the executive. I asked, “Are you all planning on adding staff for any strategic initiatives in Q1?” To which the executive grumbled, “I wish. We’re so stagnant across the board. We’ve built an environment where people are too comfortable, even complacent. Perhaps they’re overpaid, under-challenged or both. Maybe it’s the strong bonus plan that keeps them around, but I can’t seem to get the ten percent annual turnover that I’m looking for.” Very eloquently, I responded, “What?!” To which he continued, “We’re a for-profit business in need of an engineering organization that is competitive, constantly infused with new talent, ideas and energy, and forward-thinking people. I can’t achieve that if I have the same players in the same or even slightly different roles year after year. I need to turnover ten percent of my workforce each year and may be forced to initiate some of that change if the dead wood doesn’t float away on its own.”
For his particular organization, this suggested that he sought to replace forty (40) workers with new staff in critical roles each year. Forty of four-hundred employees exiting and entering each year. That’s significant. And, I think, it offers some relevant insight for most employees, employers, job seekers and certainly staffing-oriented organizations.
It’s an interesting “heads up” for employees – an unexpected and not-so-subtle reminder of what at-will employment is all about, that skills must constantly be upgraded or one runs the risk of becoming expendable with lagging performance. For employers, there are actually two related considerations. First, employers must challenge themselves to build a workplace that attracts outstanding workers while also promoting retention, at least to the extent desired. Alternatively, it must consider how to avoid fostering an environment that promotes mediocrity or stagnation, as was the case for the CTO mentioned above. For job seekers, the lesson here is one of opportunity, that even within “fully-staffed” organizations, there could exist opportunities for well-qualified workers whether there are publicly advertised vacancies or not. And for folks in my business, it requires perspective on all sides of this equation, to stay dialed into hiring trends at familiar and evolving clients while keeping tabs on the candidate marketplace as well. In other words, to understand the real-time supply/demand balance (that’s another blog post for another day).
My take away on all of this is that the employment process is always in motion, a fluid process that rarely sits still. If you are reading this as a job seeker, ask questions of your hiring manager and/or HR liaison to get a feel for typical hiring patterns, job stability as well as tenure statistics; if you are in a position to hire, consider not only what quantity and quality of talent is available in the marketplace, but whether your present staff represents the most productive options for your business, on a seat by seat basis. Somewhere in between will be the insightful staffing partner such as UDig working to understand each side of the equation to effectively serve employer and employee alike.