Can Tech Talent Keep Up?

Berengere Peter - Technology Market Leader, EMEA, Korn Ferry Advisory


I have been specialising in people consulting for 20 years, helping my clients unlock their potential through organisational dynamics, leadership and talent. I focus on the technology sector, with my remit spanning from fast growing scale up businesses to large global legacy technology organisations.


I am particularly fascinated by transitions. Being a mother of teenagers is probably the trigger for this passion, but I have also been fortunate enough to witness, support and guide many individuals as they transitioned into real leaders - and this equally feeds my passion. Similarly, I find the scale up transition moment for a business fascinating to observe. I admire organisations that are entrepreneurs at heart, have passed the first stages of expansion and financing cycles, and have a true ambition to scale up rapidly, disrupt and unlock their potential to fulfil a unique purpose.


Last year, I was invited to attend London Tech Week and participate on a panel at the Leaders in Tech Summit. My fellow panellists were executives from such organisations and the discussion explored some of the key leadership and talent challenges involved with scaling up. The main themes that arose were as follows:


Entrepreneurs are shaping the future of work


As technology disrupts more and more industries, the world is seeing growing inequality, discontent, and anxiety about the future. Businesses need to be engaging in, and owning, an active debate on humans’ role in the future of work. Employment is critical for a human-centric society and a central part of human development. In the London tech ecosystem, there are more skills needed than can be filled, and projections from London Tech Week indicate that the gap is widening.


Growth is not linear. It is made of transitions


Business growth has never been linear. Rather like with human beings, it’s a series of transitions, often with regression just before a major growth spurt, akin to a child becoming a teenager. Leadership transitions are also well known. We know that what has made you successful at a certain phase of your career can hold you back in the next phase. This phenomenon is similar for organizational growth and common across digital and traditional organisations, however digital companies by their nature are able to grow extremely fast, accentuating growing pains. Growth in these businesses does not always mean large increases in the workforce; however, the growth is always enabled by talent.


Going through such transitions involve making some choices, creating focus as opposed to fragmentation of initiatives. Leaders have to mature individually and, at the same time, collectively lift the organisation to a platform for growth. Leaders at the top need to align, and collectively own a focused growth agenda, separating what is transformational from incremental growth. They must proactively grasp the development of their organization’s culture, keeping their operating model aligned with the relationships the business is looking to drive with customers, and anticipating the capabilities (skills and cultural traits) that they will need. All these questions involve difficult trade-offs (such as customer-centricity with short-term profitability). If these trade-offs are not explicitly agreed to and owned, the organisation will grow on an unstable base.


The competition for talent is a critical one to win. It is hard to differentiate oneself beyond stock options and ping pong tables in the talent market. It is vital for a growing business to have a brand in the talent market that is authentic and aligned to its strengths as a company.


Amazon and Google are clear on their messages around innovation to attract talent; Apple through its emphasis on building a career for employees; Microsoft talks about “empower your future”; Facebook is big on culture. Purpose can be a stronger attractor than stock options or other financial factors. But in any case, a well-defined and authentic employer brand is critical.


Being loyal to your values is a key factor in whether companies are being able to maintain their cultures during periods of rapid expansion.


When companies are loyal to their values, their leaders collectively learn to make their culture evolve. They manage the inherent paradox of growth: how to put some structure in the business and stay entrepreneurial. They don’t confuse entrepreneurship with chaos.


Image: Korn Ferry Institute