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.