What it Takes to be Successful in 2023 and Beyond

Insights from the Technology Staffing Industry’s Leading Experts

Are you concerned about all the dire predictions on the state of the economy and a possible recession? The “dream team” of technology staffing leaders shared their thoughts and advice on these and other issues facing the industry.  From the impact on staffing businesses, to making small and large changes to safeguard your company, this panel of experts has tips to see you through this uncertain time.

Mark Roberts, CEO of TechServe Alliance, posed the question to the panel during the TechServe Executive Summit: “Do you see the economy as a cause for concern?” You might be surprised at how the panel sees industry prospects for the near future. Spoiler alert: they’re remarkably optimistic!

The panel featured:

  • Scott Aicher, COO, USTech Solutions
  • Barb Bruno, President, Good as Gold Training
  • Rick Carlson, Director, TechServe Alliance Sales & Recruiting Management Program
  • John Larson, Principal Consultant, TechServe Alliance M&A Marketplace
  • Tom Nunn, President, Tom Nunn Consulting

The expert panel discussed topics such as reconciling pessimism over the economy in the short-term with the acute shortage of technical talent and the ‘new normal’ of remote and hybrid work arrangements. The discussion closed with thoughts from each panelist on a fundamental question: What will it take to succeed in the technology staffing industry in 2023 and beyond?

Below are a few highlights, but don’t miss the full video.

Focus for client success

Mark: When you first meet with a new client, what do you focus on first? What are you looking for, particularly in the leadership and management aspects?

Tom: When I’m working with owners or executive teams, I have to find out whether they’re going to be comfortable making hard decisions. Whether it’s about people or things, they’ve got to be able to work outside their comfort zone. A lot of decision-making is based on gut feel. There’s a time and place for that, but I’m a data guy. I love data, I love metrics. I like to show them how they can plug their gut feel into data driven decision making.

Scott:The key thing with the most successful leaders is being very purposeful. Having strong self-awareness about what they do extremely well, and forgetting about the ‘shiny object’ out there. I focus on keeping everyone honed in to what they do really well and accentuating that. Building processes and strategies around helping that grow and foster.

Rick: The first thing I look at is numbers. If I’m working with salespeople, it’s their gross margin on a monthly basis. If I’m working with executives, it’s the P&L. The next thing I want to know is, what’s motivating you? What’s driving you to get there? Do you really have the desire to do the things you need to do? It all comes down to the numbers, and what’s driving you to get out of bed and achieve what you want.

Barb:I really want to know what their culture is. Culture has to be consistent top to bottom. The people on the front line – the salespeople, the recruiters – have to be aligned with the vision of the owner. Every business reflects the owner, so it’s a matter of getting into that owner’s head, figuring out where they’re trying to go, and making sure the team is behind them.

John: I want to make sure that the person leading the business – owner, the founder, the partner – has a clear understanding of the ‘glide path’. Whether there’s a flat trajectory, or if we’re taking off on an upward trajectory, everybody needs to be clear about that. Everybody says ‘we want growth’, but growth isn’t the panacea for everybody.

Mark: There are a lot of ‘bright, shiny pennies.’ There are a lot of things you could focus on if the leadership team is interested in scaling. Revenue, improving profitability, ultimately enhancing enterprise value. You can’t do everything, so what are the areas that deliver the biggest ROI?

Scott: One thing I really hone in on with owners is repeatable processes. Processes that are scalable, and allow you to do routine things with excellence now, so that as you add more to it, you can keep scaling. Make sure your underlying processes are strong, so you’ve got an agile business that can change and pivot without it being a major disruption.

Tom: Number one on the list is people. How do you get better at making hiring decisions? How do you vet salespeople and recruiters? Then, it’s developing leadership that can support those people as the business grows. It’s also important to invest time in figuring out the most important key performance metrics. What are the numbers telling me as head of sales, a head of recruiting, or as a CEO, and what do we do about it?

Rick: We’re in business to bring people into the organization, but it’s also our role to make sure those people succeed. Churning people is the costliest thing. Not only from a P&L standpoint, but also from the perspective of your clients. So for me, it’s the development of people. Make sure you bring the right people in, and do everything you can to get them where they need to be.

Barb: I think you get the greatest return on investment with just one stat: first interview to hire. If your people book more first interviews month after month, if you do nothing but increase the number of first interviews that are booked every month, you’ll make more money. From leadership down to the newest hire, I like everyone focused on that ratio.

John: I think there are opportunities today, as business owners, to make some investments in some trial or pilot situations. They could be home runs for us. Not singles or doubles, but home runs. Don’t bet the bank on it, but that’s something I would take a look at. Whether it’s investing in new personnel, or investing in a potential acquisition, be intentional about what your objective is, and stay focused on that.

The New Normal: Remote, Hybrid, In-person

Mark: The industry has been forever changed by the pandemic. Companies that were 100% in-person, and could never have imagined allowing anyone to work remotely, have gone remote or hybrid. You’ve seen what’s working to maintain company culture in the team. What are your thoughts about operating in this ‘new normal’?

Barb: For me, it’s the ‘stay’ interview. Too often, we do an employment interview, and we do an exit interview, and that’s all. It’s wise, at least once a quarter, to take your people offsite. Maybe to lunch, if you’re local. Ask them, ‘Why do you stay with me? Why do you like working here?’ If they love working for you, you’ll never have to look for people. You’ll retain your best people, and they’ll refer others. We’re in a relationship building business, and you can’t afford to have constant turnover on your front line.

Rick: People are getting comfortable with Zoom calls, and we’re losing that one-to-one stuff. In this industry, we’re all kind of the same. We’re presenting people that we think are great. I’m pushing salespeople right now, when they set a meeting, to try and get it in person. You’ve got to figure out why they’re going to buy from you, because they don’t need staffing companies. There’s 19,000 staffing companies, and 10,000 of them have an IT component. Your clients aren’t looking for staffing companies every day, so how are you going to differentiate?

Scott: One of the most difficult things to get right is communication. You’ve got to be in tune with your people. So I advise leaders to really listen, to invest time in understanding what’s going on in their lives. It’s different than it was in the past because you’re not sitting next to them. Be present, be purposeful in your discussions, and be empathetic. It’s hard to do, and it puts a lot on leaders, because we’re juggling a lot of different things. Make time to be purposeful in communication. It’s not easy, but it’s well worth it.

Tom: I work with large firms that hire young people right out of college, or a couple years out, and they’re seeing a resistance to working remotely. They want the camaraderie of being in the office. So maybe it’s shifting back a bit. But we’re probably always going to have some sort of hybrid model, so leaders should be thinking about camaraderie and connection. I try to do things that allow people to stop selling, stop recruiting, take a half hour off and do something fun.

John: It’s very challenging to hire new salespeople and develop new recruiters. One way to accomplish that is through an acquisition. That’s why people are looking very closely right now at team and culture. Yes, you have to have the financial foundation, but the people aspect is very important. I’m a believer in scaling. And scaling primarily is about the people. Want to grow your revenue? It takes people to do that. Want to improve your GP percentage? It takes people to do that. So invest in that team culture.

State of the Economy: Managing Through a Potential Recession

Mark: We’re in very interesting times, with two competing forces at play. The fear of an economic downturn is real, but we also have this incredibly tight talent supply. Is this the time to hunker down and assume a safety position, or is it time to invest?

Tom: Have a framework to guide your decisions. When you think you’re going into a recession, look at the discretionary expenses that you could cut back. If we’re going into a deeper recession, then maybe you’ve got to cut into the bone a little bit, maybe start letting some people go. I call that basic contingency planning. Or the opposite of contingency planning, coming out of a recession, that’s the time to really start accelerating your investments.

Scott: I’m pretty bullish on the opportunity right now. Everyone’s concerned, and rightfully so, but there’s such a shortage. It’s a good time to position yourself the right way. For the first time in a long time, our industry has some leverage. Talent’s going to win. So if you can deliver in this market, it allows us to come in with different ideas and best practices to help control the process.

Rick: I’ve been through economic ups and downs, and no matter what happens, we’re going to find that silver lining and survive. It really comes down to developing your people. Training them, making sure they’re not looking at this as ‘doom and gloom’. Some salespeople are going to see the market slowing down, and think they can pull off the gas a little bit. It’s not true.

Barb: Anytime somebody calls me and says, ‘Oh my God, a company laid off,’ I tell them they should be dancing. There are more candidates for them. When recruiters say it’s so hard to find people, I tell them that’s the best market. That’s where you can make the most money. If talent was readily available, you wouldn’t have a job. Recruiters have to quit pitching jobs. Candidates feel like a number right now, and they know they’re more valuable. So it’s talking about what they see next, where they want to go in the next five years, and helping them get there.

John: If you think of the financial marketplace, when is the best time to make money? When it’s down. The smart money is buying when it’s down. We all got the news about the layoffs. I would hope someone was on their phone texting their recruiters, saying, “There’s 11,000 people that we need to be contacting now, not tomorrow, because the competition will be going after them.”

Ready for Success — What to do for 2023

Mark: How about some final thoughts. What does it take to succeed in 2023, and beyond, in the technology staffing industry?

Tom: Having the discipline to do some things that get you out of your comfort zone as a leader, as an executive. Getting better at hiring, getting better at accountability and moving people out. How do you get better at making hiring decisions that are going to stick, so you’re not just cycling through people?

Scott: I think it’s about not being afraid to continuously reinvent yourself. Making sure you’re very agile in your mindset about how you’re looking at change. The world is changing quickly, so it’s about being nimble enough to adjust to it quickly enough.

Rick: We should be maintaining accountability. Making sure people are reaching the goals you’ve helped them set. The other side of that is training. Training tends to be a once a year thing, maybe once a quarter. It needs to be continuous. We need to help people develop. Invest in training on a regular basis for people, getting them the support they need.

Barb: This has been, and always will be, a relationship business. People we talk to don’t care about what we do. It’s all about them. Think as if every person you interact with has a tattoo on their forehead that says, ‘What’s in it for me?’ That’s what you always address, and you get to know them. If there is a downturn, they will cut some vendors. But they won’t cut out people that are their sounding board. You’ve got to know everything about them. You don’t have to love them, but they have to love you and trust you.

John: Be a continuous learner. Embed that not only in you as an individual, but also your organization. Make your company a continuous learning company, so that you’re able to adapt to the marketplace. Maybe you’ll downsize, but if you’re able to adapt, you’re able to pivot.

Missed the event?

There was a lot more to this discussion between veteran industry leaders, including a lively Q&A session with the audience. Don’t miss out! Watch the full video.

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