Introduction to Silicon Valley’s 21st Century Talent Ecosystem
Updated: Jan 5
Are you prepared for the future of work? A decade ago, there was a shared understanding that hiring talent was in the form of a “war on talent.” Companies were somehow competing and at odds to attract, hire, and retain the best candidates. Perhaps this concept still holds true but the war phase is no longer how I would describe how to attract and retain talent. This perspective is just too limited to what is really happening out in the world of work. Today, I would describe the workforce as a talent ecosystem. A combination of mobility, innovation, and technology is provoking an organic evolution where talent is growing and advancing at an immeasurable rate with the advancement of technology, automation, and sophistication of hybrid infrastructures (“how the work gets done”). (Bonus Read: First Round’s “A Primer for Startups and Job Seekers to Win the War on Talent.)
With this new perspective, the talent ecosystem provokes a dynamic conversation around what the future of work will look like by new and improved ways of working, enterprise technologies, and hyper-connectivity. In this article, I will unpack insights into five key areas of rapid evolution impacting the future of work.
1. Talent Mobility
2. Elusive Talent
3. The Side Hustle
4. Physical and Virtual Workspaces
5. Still more work to be done in Equity, Inclusion and Belonging
Not surprisingly, today’s talent is more mobile than ever: pursuing new and multiple opportunities as part of their career path. Talent mobility is the process of a person changing roles within or leaving a company. The average tenure is two to five years across Silicon Valley's top 15 companies in all age groups. Depending on the role, that’s not a lot of time to create impact in a company.
No matter how much time and money spent on studying attrition, the top three reasons as to why people leave are (almost always) a bad/disengaged manager, lack of growth, and/or burnout. Bar none, I have found that personal/family reasons, better pay, or better opportunity can be attributed as secondary reasons why someone leaves their company. To truly solve these issues, companies need to set guiding principles to ensure responsible transparency and accountability into the hiring process and with managers. Examples would include: managers understand the hiring and compensation practices, there is clear manager accountability across the company, how to set and manage boundaries, and establishing feedback loops. It’s all low tech and not complicated. Some light research and grit will go a long way (with or without a HR person leading the charge!)
At this pace, the workforce has become a talent melting pot with employees not realizing their full potential in their current role due to being overleveraged (thus leading to burnout) or lack of opportunities for the person to influence new pieces of work. There is an old saying to spend a year learning, two years growing, three years influencing, and four years leading. In Silicon Valley, I always felt that my tenure was in “dog years” because the pace of work and ability to move fast was at a rate that was incomparable to a traditional corporate 9-to-5 culture. With the constant movement of talent attrition, how can companies get the most out of their talent in a year or two? Balancing this phenomena is a complex effort between leaders, culture, and retention efforts.
Since the digitization and automation of recruiting, recruiters spend significant time sourcing candidates through social media or email channels. It could be a matter of five clicks and a recruiter can send hundreds of emails to potential candidates. The ratio to success using this method can be low to yield the best talent. As a result, the most highly sought after talent has become inundated with recruiter outreaches. This practice of recruiting has gotten so overwhelming, that many of my former engineering colleagues have gone completely offline. I’ve heard time and time again, “If they want to find me, they will figure out how.” I’ve also found others intentionally don’t update their LinkedIn or just don’t engage with the outreach efforts. The most elusive talent seems to be going backwards -- less tech, more human connection, and curated opportunities that rise out of their existing connections.
The Side Hustle
It’s hard to ignore that people are leveraging their skills outside of the corporate environment to earn extra cash, build a company, or simply stay in a growth mindset. The “gig economy” isn’t going away anytime soon. The old way of thinking is that these are “outside activities and strongly discouraged” and the new way of thinking is “this work is additive to the success of a person in their role.” Talent is looking to create their own personal brand with multiple examples of success succeeding at all sorts of professional project. Josh Bersin’s piece about “A New Paradigm Has Arrived” talks about up to 40% of younger generations are engaged with gig work. This is an incredible data point that points us into what the future of work will look like as this percentage of the workforce engages into side hustles and the economic impact to the overall global economy.
Physical and Virtual Workspaces
With hyper-connectivity, there is a blurred line around “working hours” since wifi, phones, and computers make it easy to pick up and get back to work. The old way of describing this phenomenon was “work-life balance” but now it’s all about boundary setting. Employees should communicate “what’s ok and what’s not ok” working hours that might go outside of the 9-to-5 shared understanding or if an alternative work schedule is desired.
Still more work to be done in equity, inclusion, and belonging
Workplace belonging and inclusion is here to stay. While there has been significant progress in creating safe environments and ecosystems for equity, there is still so much more work to be done. Policy work influencing regulatory environments still have to catch-up with how companies are quite literally rewriting the rules of work. Areas I still see as not yet evolved or evolved enough are: ageism, the unintended impact to men through the women’s advocacy work, and creating opportunities for under-represented socio-economic backgrounds.
4 Keys to Successful Change
 9-to-5 Culture is Dead -- Work Hours Are Fluid
With an internet connection, everyone is connected to email, Slack, and other mobile enterprise tools. The work day has evolved beyond 9-to-5. Generation Z and Millennial workers view and approach their work day much different from previous worker generations. This concept of “designing my best life” is an important value that is realized in the way these individuals are living their life. It’s individualistic in nature and often inclusive to all of the varied and diverse interests they engage with.
Creating tolerance for a varied work day allows for inclusivity in your workplace culture to account for the fact that the workforce is hyperconnected. That said, there are obviously boundaries that need to be set in terms of setting expectations and accountabilities for each role, company office hours, and protections around preserving intellectual property. Accepting fluid work hours also allows for people to pursue other types of interests such as fitness, side hustles, family responsibilities, or optimizing individualistic productivity periods (“the night owl” versus the “early bird”).
 Forget Generalists and Specialists: Hire Learners
Hiring managers who adopt the mindset to hire learners opens up the capacity for new possibilities. It saves time trying to match a resume to a job description, removes bias from “culture fit,” and creates and inclusive practice to hiring. This new way of hiring allows for flexibility into the future of work -- and since we don’t yet know how technology or robots or Artificial Intelligence is going to impact the workforce, it’s best to get in the practice of accepting change through lifelong curiosity and learning.
 Embrace Change. Throw Away the Playbook.
Playbooks serve teams when there are processes that need to be documented. But not every process needs to be documented -- especially if too much process gets in the way of efficiency. When I was working in hypergrowth companies, I found playbooks to be more work than helpful so I opted to use agile frameworks that allowed me to move quickly while advancing the impact of the world.
 Curate Meaningful Relationships.
I’m guilty of practicing Chris Fralic’s “How to Become Insanely Connected” because this methodology has allowed me to navigate new conversations and opportunities. However, this practice has its outer limits. For the past couple of years, I’ve almost exclusively focused on the present moment: deepening existing relationships and offering my unwavering support to help. It’s simplified my life substantially; and, at the same time I’m not in a constant hustle to chase opportunities. Instead, let the opportunities find you. I’ve shared this advice to several of my colleagues and others have found similar outcomes.
As a practice, focus on people who are additive to your life -- they give great advice, they check-in on you, they are a safe space, and the feeling is mutual. There is this notion of Dunbar’s Number, which focuses on the number of meaningful relationships a given person can maintain. The number is: 150 relationships. A healthy exercise is to go through your contacts list KonMari style and ask yourself, “Does this person bring me joy?” If the answer is no, remove them from your contact list. See what happens from there. Over time, months and years, you will find that you’re surrounded by a tribe who is fiercely committed to your happiness and success. It brings humanity back into our lives without the social media to distract from authentic connection.
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