Partner & Associate Director, Change Management & People Strategy
Judging from the headlines, 2022 looked like a brutal year for digital workers. Twitter dropped nearly 5,000 workers in November. Meta let 11,000 go. Amazon is expected to lay off more than 18,000. So far this year, Salesforce has said it will cut 8,000. After so many years of frantic hiring, especially during the pandemic, when demand for everything digital soared, has the bubble popped? Should other companies follow suit and cut their tech teams, too?
Absolutely not. Instead, my advice is to see the churn in Big Tech as an opportunity.
The clients I usually work with are traditional companies in various stages of digital transformation. These companies have struggled to find the tech talent they need to support their digital strategy: from experienced software and platform engineers to specialists in areas such as data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, cybersecurity, and robotic process automation.
This gap is especially pronounced as more companies try to develop their tech capabilities internally and reduce their reliance on outsourcing, where they’ve experienced higher turnover, data quality issues, IP risk, and overall less control. In the US alone, there were some 70,000 tech-specific positions that remained unfilled in 2021. The recent layoffs, which span tech, digital, and business roles, reduce this gap, but they don’t completely change the tight talent market.
Of course, many traditional companies are facing financial pressure themselves. I would encourage them not to freeze hiring altogether but to seize this unique opportunity to recruit the right talent: either filling niche roles where the talent is still so scarce or strategically bolstering internal teams—where one experienced software engineer may be worth ten of the junior coders they’re currently getting from contractors.
Many Big Tech alumni are the kind of employees you want in your organization. Their passion is solving problems, not climbing ladders. They came of age working for digital natives where “next gen ways of working” is simply how work gets done. They have an ingrained agile mindset. They’re used to collaborating in fully empowered, cross-functional, globally dispersed teams.
Moreover, Big Tech has been a great training ground for product owners, who we see coming into the fore as a crucial tech talent segment. These are the people who connect the technology to the business; they’re capable negotiators and problem solvers who can unblock their teams. Big Tech companies might recruit a cohort of around 200 “generalist” product owners at a time. These new hires cycle through different teams and business lines, developing the vast networks and general management skills to become successful mini-CEOs for their products. Many conventional companies with smaller tech organizations, by contrast, tend to hire product talent with specific tech skills or domain experience. These smaller companies often don’t provide the intensive learning experience to develop capable general managers. There aren’t enough strong generalists to go around.
Keep in mind, though, that talent being cast off by Big Tech also comes with challenges. Many are emerging from bad breakups with their employers. Some tech companies dumped entire teams with no warning and impersonal messaging—or even “ghosted” them and simply locked them out of their equipment. And for some laid-off workers, this treatment will have come after putting in grueling hours. Many also are coming from workplaces where the culture and talent management practices were largely driven by individual line leaders, many of whom had never been through a major layoff cycle before.
As a result, a lot of this talent will be looking for something new. They want problem-solving challenges, but perhaps without the crash-and-burn culture of the tech world. They may be looking for a stable company that treats its people well, offers interesting career paths, and connects work to a broader purpose. They may even be looking for something completely different. Here’s what one friend recently posted to his social media network: “I’ve been laid off and I’m open to anything. You guys know me. What do YOU think I’d be good at?” This sounds like an incredible opportunity for recruiters looking for high-potential, trainable talent.
To capture this talent, you’ll need to connect with candidates in a human and empathetic way. This is what BCG’s most recent “Decoding Digital Talent” survey suggests. When we asked digital workers what they want, compensation is indeed important. But there is also a big theme around relationships and respect. “Good work-life balance” is their top priority. Number two is “good relationships with colleagues.” That was a significant change from our prior survey, before the pandemic. There was also a big jump in respondents who cited “good relationships with supervisors.”
You’ll also need to tailor your value proposition. Good candidates likely want flexibility and may not adapt well to rigid bureaucracy. They’ll look for opportunities to develop their skills. If you say you’re agile, they’ll expect you to deliver single-threaded leadership and empowerment, not just squads and ceremonies. This may take some adjustments. But if you really need the kind of people who can pull off a digital transformation, now could be your chance.
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