Are You Invaluable? Better Find Out Real Quick.

At first, I thought this downturn was like any of the others I weathered over the years. But as time passes and I reflect on the situation – and I do that a lot lately – I’ve come to a different conclusion: this may not really be a “downturn”. The economics don’t really reflect it. Most, if not all, of the recent larger layoffs are from well-funded companies flushed with cash and enviable financial positions. 

I’m no economist, but the whole narrative around “we hired way too much during COVID, and now we need to clean house” makes no sense. Doesn’t make any more sense than the sudden “strategic need” to go back to office-based work. Why?

Because tech companies have always hired “too much” over the years albeit with cheaper money. We all know from experience that a good chunk of employees in any decent-sized organization doesn’t produce much and just kind of “floats around” in the system for free. That cat is officially out of the bag

I believe what’s really going on is a systematic recalibration of “work” and value as defined in the tech industry. We’re moving from a large volume-based military perspective (think WWII) to a much smaller, nimbler “commando” approach. Grunts are out; SEALs are in. From a numbers game to a guerrilla one. And the economics are totally different. How to make the cut?

Part of the catalyst behind this reframe is the “new improved” AI. Because now, not only are underperforming employees on the chopping block, but so are performing ones because current wisdom says that ChatGPT can do their work better, faster, and cheaper. Darwinism at work.

Many folks lately have been preaching “contribution to revenue” narratives lately – especially on LinkedIn. If you don’t directly contribute to revenue these days, your days are numbered. Mostly because revenue has become critical to startups/scale-ups all of a sudden. There’s a switch. Imagine that. Business 101 has caught up with Silicon Valley. But I think “revenue contribution” is just a proxy for overall value and indispensability. 

One fundamental question comes to mind if you’re a tech industry employee these days: am I invaluable or indispensable? What does it mean in 2023 tech to be “invaluable”? Note I’m not saying “irreplaceable”. As we all know, that’s a myth. 

If you’re not asking this question (and answering it) I can assure you your days with a six plus figure salary are numbered. So how do you become (or stay) invaluable to an organization in 2023? Here’s my ten point list:

1 – Be a strategic executor. If most of your work is tactical, checking off boxes, you’re likely replaceable with a cheaper worker. Or free software. Strategic workers are few and far between. ChatGPT is not strategic. ChatGPT doesn’t execute.

2 – Be super easy to work with. Don’t be a prima donna. Work that EQ quotient. It’s a lot easier to get rid of uncooperative, hard to work with people. Emotion matters. Grease the rails and minimize friction. It’s a team game. Be loved.

3 – Don’t get stuck in a functional role, namely, the one you were hired for. Be ready to do what’s needed when needed at the drop of a hat. Which in turn means you can pick up new stills and learn new stuff at the snap of a finger. Be re-deployable.

4 – Walk in your company’s shoes. Get into your boss’ and/or CEO’s shoes daily and ask yourself what you would do, how you would feel, what you would need in their place. If I’m in charge, what’s my biggest pain point? Make sure you have a significant part in (a) understanding it and (b) alleviating it.   

5 – Understand financials & economics. Get in the weeds on your market, your customers (no matter what role) and what keeps your company running, how it got there, where it’s likely to go, and how you fit into it. Read the 10Ks, annual reports, interviews, analyst reports, earnings reports, you name it. Talk to your CFO and really “grok” the economics. 

6 – Stand out. Stay top of mind. Don’t think staying quiet is ever safe. The quiet ones go first. And no one even knows about it when it happens. Pick your battles very carefully, but be the one they always ask about: “what would she say or think about this?”.

7 – Don’t ask what your company can do for you. Ask what you can do for it every day. It’s not about you. A paycheck isn’t a right or an entitlement. I know this isn’t the most politically-correct angle, but times have changed. Not suggesting this kind of sacrifice (that’s just insane if true), but if you’re invaluable these days, you’re proactive about soldering for the cause. If “their” cause isn’t your cause, you’re in the wrong place.

8 – Be the glue. The connective tissue who can collaborate and align with all the different business functions. Bonus points if you can bring them all together to accomplish concrete business goals. Unifiers, networkers, connectors are all invaluable in business. 

9 – Be quick and available. Speed is essential, and few people understand how to balance speed with recklessness. Be available when needed. Not suggesting you sacrifice work-life balance all of the time – just some of the time when it’s wise to. 

10 – Worship chaos. Because chaos is the state of business lately and folks who depend on stability, assurances, and status quo are fragile these days. And fragile folks are far from invaluable. 

In all my years in business, I’ve rarely met people who fit all these criteria. Which wasn’t a super big deal at the time, but seems to have become essential these days because times, they are a-different.

How do you know your job is safe?

The recent layoffs by large high-tech companies have shambled the status quo that being an FTE (Full Time Employee with benefits) of a corporation was a safe heaven. It is not and was never.

In the high-tech industry where product launches and technological improvements are released at warp speed, one has to keep-up and be relevant at all time. This is a key component to contributing to the organization’s bottom line, the well-being of the company and maybe, ensuring job security…

The recent layoffs by large high-tech companies have shambled the status quo that being an FTE (Full Time Employee with benefits) of a corporation was a safe heaven. It is not and was never. I personally have debated many times the dilemma of FTE versus Contractor with candidates. Ninety percent of job-seekers believed being an FTE of a corporation was a safe heaven and did not consider or even evaluate the alternative of being a contractor through a service provider.

Corporations will not hire contractors directly as the liability is too high and past lawsuits have discouraged them from seeking direct contractual relationships with talents. Most large organizations work with Managed Service providers to source their contingent workforce demanding business liability insurance of $10 million and many other stringent requirements in order to be included in their procurement system.

The difference between these two types of position is small: a Full Time Employee of a corporation is salaried, receives benefits, and most time equity. A contingent worker who renders services to the corporation as a contractor, is in fact a Full Time Employee of the service provider and is salaried and receives benefits too (except equity).

Therefore, the difference is the equity FTEs gain as a direct hire of a corporation. However, it comes at a price: the cost of a Full Time Employee is huge. The added benefits are fixed expenses that directly affect the bottom line and when time comes to tighten the belt, FTEs are generally the first ones to go. Do not get fooled: FTE is no guarantee you will have a lifetime job anywhere.

There is also a 3rd option, should candidates believe it is in their best interest: to render services as a 1099 Independent Contractors operating under their own sole-proprietorship or business entity. Usually, these talents work for smaller enterprises or start-ups as big corporations shy away from the liability mentioned above. In this case, there are no benefits. I do find that when a spouse/partner covers benefits, the worker opts for this option to benefit from tax deductions.

The contingent workforce model allows a company to operate within known parameters such as budget, timeline, and specific deliverables. It lends itself to scaling up or down based on company initiatives and business drivers. It takes the “sweat” out of the planning and execution of projects. Freelancers contributed to $1.35 trillion to the US economy in annual earnings in 2022 up $50 billion from 2021.

Why do corporations hire contractors?

  • Instant scalability with premium talents with low overhead
  • Access to individuals with proven results, often leaders in their fields without worrying about the longer-term costs by the way of benefits
  • No time/cost spent in hiring: screening, interviewing, onboarding, training
  • If a company want to be inclusive, innovative, and agile, a flex talent strategy is a huge differentiator.
  • Tremendous accountability from contractors as the Managed Services business model relies on performance for compensation which is not always the case with FTEs.

Why do you want to work as a contractor?

  • Option to take multiple contract roles as needed and make more money than your FTE counterparts
  • Diversify by working for more than one company and therefore, riding the wave better than FTEs do in time of downturn economy
  • Learn new things and accelerate skill development at a much faster rate than FTEs by being exposed to different industries and departments.
  • Higher flexibility with time and location of work as contractors are paid based on deliverables and performance. Note: some contractors do bill hourly.
  • When working with a managed services provider, contractors are W2 employees and get full benefits.
  • They have a wide variety of work and the freedom to choose.

After talking to many of my counterparts in the high-tech industry, the pulse is that large corporations will start to slowly re-hire the second half of 2023 to execute on their 2023 business initiatives. Small to medium companies will continue their steady but controlled hiring throughout the year and we see companies leaning towards hiring a contingent workforce rather than FTEs.

To close on the question of job security, there is no guarantee regardless of the type of work contract you have. What you do and your contribution to the company’s goal is what matters: being relevant.

Contingent Workforce: the New Era of Talents

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, contractors account for about 26% of the workforce and the managed services market is expected to grow to $257.84 billion by 2022.

Why consider Managed Services?

The concept of Managed Services is to outsource a support function to an expert agency that excels at managing the methods, the resources, and the expertise needed to meet deliverables and milestones within a defined budget.

It is a model that allows a company to operate within known parameters such as budget, timeline, and specific deliverables. It lends itself to scaling up or down based on company initiatives and business drivers. It takes the “sweat” out of the planning and execution of projects. Finally, it ensures success as the performance drives the compensation.

A big advantage of the model is for clients to focus their efforts on Intellectual Property and employee retention and delegate the execution to experts who will continue to deliver as long as the need exists or leave when the function is no longer required. It is one of the most flexible workforce models and has mushroomed in the last 10 years in fast-pace industries.

The contractual agreement is based on Service Level Agreements (SLA) that state the performance and quality metrics of the client/agency relationship for the particular outsourced function.

Common Managed Services handled in the area of Marketing, Operations, and Finance

  • Event Management (either full-service or only components of an event)
  • Creative Services: Graphic Design, Writing & Editing, PPT, Video production
  • Marketing Automation: Eloqua, Pardot, Marketo lead management
  • Data and analytics
  • Program/project management
  • Digital marketing program execution
  • Social media strategy, planning, and execution
  • Web content audit and management
  • Operations: data analysis: mining, quality, cleansing
  • Influencer relations and programs with analysts & press communities
  • Sales operations in M&A: migrating data, transitioning processes, and Day 1 readiness

How to engage in a Managed Services Model?

There is no one size fits all. Clients can bring in one talent or an entire team depending on how much they need to scale and how fast they require results. Flexibility is a key success factor. Companies are also able to choose from a broad pool of skilled, experienced specialists to maximize project efficiency.

The contingent workforce is an increasingly important component of an integrated workforce strategy. To harvest the benefits from this model, clients should align themselves with an established and reputable agency with high expertise in the field. Traditional staffing agencies are not always the right choice because of their general industry knowledge. Clients should demand an in-depth understanding of the marketing discipline for example as well as domain expertise such as technology.

About Netchannels

Netchannels has helped high tech companies for 22 years define and execute marketing campaigns. Our pool of talents is very solid and offers a very broad skill-set. We take the pain out of the hiring process by handling all the labor involved in recruiting, screening and interviewing job candidates. We onboard contractors and provide benefits. We carry a very high business liability insurance and meet all of the financial ratios required by the largest high tech companies. We’re also a certified WOSB.