It has long been argued that leadership is easy when times are good and for many Consumer Tech founders and CEOs the so-called pandemic boom meant good times became even better. Investors queuing at the door, a stampede for global talent, hypergrowth as BAU. Now for the first time in many of these organisations’ lifetimes, waters are looking choppier. As the world opens up post-Covid, people are relying less on tech to shop, work and play. Growth forecasts are subdued and the buzzword is no longer scale, but profit.
As the sector pivots to face new realities, the work of the CHRO and People function takes on a new significance. Budgets tighten, tough decisions must be taken affecting employees who don’t have ‘layoff’ in their vocabulary and, crucially, Senior Execs are for the first time tasked with leading their businesses into unchartered territory. Their capabilities tested, their true ability to innovate, adapt and inspire when the chips are down. Step forward CHRO; this is when the right People leader at the Board table and a truly business-aligned People strategy can help shape a resilient, productive, high-performing organisation despite external headwinds.
Employee engagement; the cognitive, physical and emotional connection between an individual and their employer will never matter more than when the freebies dry up and the outlook becomes uncertain. Companies that invest in what matters to their people will inevitably reap the rewards – commitment, energy, the collective extra mile which makes the commercial difference.
Emerging culture trends are centering now around four key pillars: Wellbeing, Flexibility, Trust and Communication – get these right and companies will retain key talent; building a community not a workforce and giving people the safe space they need when the ground is shifting around them. A purposeful, authentic and transparent internal communications strategy will not only keep the jungle drums at bay, but help leaders set the tone, control the message and set out their stall for what comes next. Even bad news delivered in the right way is far less damaging than watercooler whispers of what might be happening behind closed doors.
When layoffs must happen, bringing humanity and authenticity to what can otherwise feel like a brutal transaction will enable people to exit with dignity and the confidence to seek opportunity elsewhere. When burnout threatens those left to build again, strategies to protect and support are essential. This is not ‘HR stuff’, this is change management at its toughest.
For those of us who have been around long enough to remember the dotcom bubble burst of 2000, current trends feel perhaps less concerning. Great businesses find a way to adapt and thrive, great people take the knocks and seize new opportunities. All is by no means bleak in the Tech world; Crypto and Altfi markets continue to perform well, investment in Edtech, PropTech and Insurtech is high. AI continues to infiltrate areas of our lives we never thought possible and innovators continue to launch new enterprises, some of which will change the world.
Without people, none of this happens. Whilst people remain the biggest asset to entrepreneurs and businesses, the CHRO’s ability to navigate new landscapes, harness the best talent and build great cultures for those people to thrive in, has never been more crucial.
In the world of Executive Search, macroeconomic turbulence creates opportunity and a reframing of commercial priorities creates demand for a different breed of talent. Founders and investors now need far more from their People team than a well-oiled TA machine and a slick employer brand.