In the fast-moving tech world, we’re all grappling with a big question: how do we keep human touch in the game when technology is calling the shots? It’s a puzzle that gets even trickier when you throw talent management into the mix. After all, what’s innovation worth if it costs us our soul or our staff?

Enter Jen Tress and Abdul Smith, the duo behind Verge Talent Partners. They’re not just spectators in the tech arena; they’re the coaches helping teams play a smarter game. With a knack for designing strategies that hit the sweet spot between growth and ethics, they’re in the business of ensuring that the tech world’s innovation doesn’t outpace its humanity. They’re the go-to experts for making sure organizations reach their peak without losing their people along the way.

In the tech industry’s rush hour, everyone’s trying to outrun the next big wave of AI without getting wiped out. Here’s the thing: it’s not just about staying afloat; it’s about managing the crew on board—your talent—without throwing anyone overboard in the process. The goal? Keep the human spirit alive in an increasingly automated world.

The technological upheaval is not exclusive to the tech industry. Leaders across all sectors grapple with similar dilemmas. Jen Tress and Abdul Smith’s insights resonate far beyond the tech arena, offering valuable lessons for leaders in any industry. Whether you’re steering a tech giant or are in a different industry, the principles of effective talent management remain universal.

During our candid conversation with Jen and Abdul, we rolled up our sleeves and dissected the ‘how-tos’ of talent management in an age dominated by algorithms. Jen and Abdul talk about the hard stuff—the sustainability of our workforce, the ethical crossroads we face, and how not to let the shadow of AI darken the value of our people. This conversation is a roadmap for marrying the raw potential of tech with the nuanced art of human-centered leadership. As we delve into the conversation, we uncover not just strategies tailored for tech but fundamental truths about nurturing and retaining talent in an ever-changing landscape. By learning from Tress and Smith’s expertise, leaders from diverse industries can anticipate shifts, plan strategically, and foster a workplace culture that prioritizes both growth and humanity. So, while the tech sector may be the focal point of this discussion, the lessons shared here are pertinent to all leaders striving for success in the modern business landscape. Get ready for an unfiltered dive into the truths of managing talent in the tech industry, guided by two of its most insightful navigators.

The AI Imperative and Talent Management


As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes a central player in the tech landscape, companies face a new challenge: integrating AI without sidelining the human element of their workforce. This shift isn’t just about upgrading systems or automating processes; it’s about rethinking the role of human talent in an increasingly automated world.

The Need for a Shift in Strategy

The surge in AI investments significantly reshapes tech employment, necessitating a strategic pivot in how companies manage and plan their workforce. Tress, points out the direct impact of these investments on staffing. “They are laying off tech workers to free a budget to invest in AI,” she notes. This trend highlights a critical shift where human labor assessments are increasingly weighed against technological capabilities. Companies are now tasked with finding a balance between leveraging technology and retaining valuable human skills.

AI as a Collaborative Force

Understanding AI as a collaborative force rather than a replacement for human workers is crucial. AI should be seen as an augmentative tool, enhancing the capabilities of the human workforce rather than displacing it entirely. “It’s a tool,” Tress says, “but to be effective, it relies on that human interaction.” This perspective is essential for companies looking to harness AI’s potential without undermining the intrinsic value of their human employees. Businesses can maximize efficiency by fostering a symbiotic relationship between humans and machines while maintaining a committed and motivated workforce.

Proactive Talent Management

Proactive talent management is the key to successfully integrating AI. Preparing the workforce for the inevitable changes AI will bring means anticipating future needs and aligning them with current employee development. Smith underscores the importance of forward-thinking strategies by encouraging companies to “understand where they’re going and the skills that are needed to be in that future state.” This approach involves mapping out future technological requirements and investing in training and development programs that equip employees with the necessary skills to thrive in a transformed workplace.

Proactive and responsible talent management extends beyond filling positions; it involves anticipating future needs and avoiding over hiring. This foresight prevents the unnecessary expansion of payroll and preserves capital for investment in emerging technologies. It’s crucial to recognize that cutting costs through layoffs isn’t a sign of fiscal prudence if the costs incurred were avoidable. Effective talent management should mitigate the need for drastic cost-cutting measures by maintaining a lean workforce aligned with actual business needs.

The proactive adaptation to AI requires leaders to not only invest in new technologies but also commit to developing their human capital. The goal is to create a resilient, adaptable workforce capable of working alongside advanced AI systems to drive business success.

In essence, as AI continues redefining the boundaries of technology and employment, the most successful companies will view AI as an enhancer of human talent, not a substitute. Through strategic workforce planning and ethical leadership, companies can navigate the challenges of this new technological era without compromising on their most valuable asset—their people.

Ethical Leadership in a Tech-Dominated World


Ethical leadership has never been more critical in the rapidly advancing tech industry, where the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies stretch far into every corner of society. As companies push the boundaries of what technology can achieve, the responsibility grows to ensure these innovations enhance societal well-being rather than contribute to its disparities.

Originally, many tech companies rallied their workforce with a mission to make the world better, which galvanized employees and created a sense of purpose. However, as these companies have matured, there’s been a noticeable pivot towards prioritizing shareholder returns over societal good. This shift has led to disillusionment among veteran employees, driving them towards roles in nonprofits and government, where they feel they can make a more direct impact. Consequently, tech giants are increasingly seen as stepping stones for recent graduates rather than institutions where seasoned professionals make long-term careers.

Navigating the Ethical Landscape of Technology

Ethics must steer the helm of technological deployment, guiding not only the course of development but also the implications of its application. Tress stresses the importance of intentionality in tech development: “It’s not just about what AI can do; it’s about what it should do.” This reflection underscores the necessity for tech leaders to critically assess the long-term impacts of their technologies. It’s about foreseeing the ripple effects on society and ensuring that these innovations are aligned with the broader values of community welfare and ethical integrity.

Building Business Models on Ethical Grounds

Integrating ethics into business models is essential for creating technology that serves the greater good. Smith illuminates this concept by emphasizing the human aspect behind the tech, “We need to think about how these technologies affect real people in real communities. It’s not just about the bottom line; it’s about building a future that is equitable and just for everyone.” His words call on tech companies to embrace a model where social responsibility is as paramount as innovation. By doing so, businesses can ensure that their technological advancements contribute positively to societal equity and are embraced as beneficial rather than feared as disruptive.

Transparency and Accountability in Tech Deployments

A cornerstone of ethical leadership in technology is transparency and accountability. Leaders must be forthright about the capabilities and limits of new technologies, creating an open dialogue with stakeholders about how these tools are used and the safeguards in place to prevent misuse. “Leaders must be clear about what AI can and cannot do,” explains Tress,” and the measures they are taking to ensure it is used responsibly.” This level of transparency builds trust with consumers and the public and reinforces the company’s commitment to ethical practices. It ensures that all involved— from developers to end-users—understand new technologies’ purpose and potential impact.

As the tech industry continues to evolve at an unprecedented pace, the role of ethical leadership becomes increasingly significant. By prioritizing ethical considerations in deploying AI and other technologies, tech leaders can ensure their innovations contribute positively to society. This ethical approach mitigates risks associated with new technologies and enhances the company’s reputation, ensuring long-term success and trust in the brand.

Strategic Workforce Planning


Strategic workforce planning becomes indispensable in the fast-paced world of technology, where new developments can quickly render yesterday’s innovations obsolete. This approach is crucial for tech companies eager to navigate the evolving landscape effectively, ensuring they are neither caught short-handed nor burdened with excess staff.


Importance of Capacity Planning and Resource Management

The cornerstone of strategic workforce planning is robust capacity planning and resource management. These processes allow companies to scale their workforce efficiently, matching the rise and fall of demand without the pitfalls of over-hiring or frantic layoffs. Tress emphasizes the strategic nature of these efforts, “When I say capacity planning and resource management, I’m referring to balancing workloads and understanding exactly how many people can handle upcoming projects without overextending.” This method ensures that resources are allocated efficiently, with each team member fully utilized but not overwhelmed, paving the way for sustained productivity and growth.

Proactive Versus Reactive Staffing

The recent wave of layoffs in the tech industry highlights the short-sightedness of previous over-hiring practices. While the market often responds positively to the immediate cost savings from layoffs, it overlooks the lost opportunities and financial waste incurred by maintaining an overly bloated workforce. A more strategic approach to talent management would allow companies to continuously invest in growth and innovation rather than resort to sweeping layoffs as a corrective measure.

A key aspect of strategic workforce planning is its proactive nature, which contrasts sharply with the reactive hiring cycles seen in many tech companies today. Smith points out the benefits of anticipation overreaction. “It’s about being proactive rather than reactive, “said Smith,” By understanding the long-term trajectory of our technology needs, we can align our hiring practices to match that vision without resorting to quick fixes.” This forward-looking approach allows companies to smooth out the hiring and firing cycles, reducing the disruption associated with sudden changes in staffing and ensuring a more stable work environment.

Boosting Morale and Productivity

Beyond the logistical advantages, effective workforce planning has significant implications for employee morale and retention. “Effective workforce planning isn’t just about numbers,” says Tress, “it’s also about making sure our people feel secure and see a future within the company. This boosts morale and productivity, which are critical to our success.” Companies can retain top talent and enhance their organizational performance by fostering a work environment that values long-term employment stability and career growth.

Strategic workforce planning is not just a matter of hiring and firing. It’s a comprehensive approach that considers the current and future needs of the company while ensuring that employees are engaged and productive. Adopting such a strategy is not optional for tech companies in the throes of rapid change and innovation; it’s essential for survival and success. Through careful planning and ethical management, businesses can ensure they remain agile and responsive to the market’s demands without sacrificing their workforce’s stability and satisfaction.

Embracing People-Centered Approaches


In today’s rapidly evolving tech landscape, adopting a people-centered approach in decision-making is beneficial and essential for fostering a supportive and inclusive workplace. This strategy enhances overall business resilience and adaptability, proving particularly valuable during challenging times such as layoffs.


Integrating People Teams in Decision-Making

One of the fundamental aspects of a people-centered approach is the early integration of people teams into the strategic decision-making process. This inclusion ensures that the human aspects of business operations are not an afterthought but a primary consideration, aligning them with financial and operational strategies from the start. underscores the importance of this integration, “When we involve our people teams early in the planning process, we ensure that human factors are considered right alongside financial and operational metrics,” explains Tress, “This leads to more holistic and sustainable business solutions.” By doing so, companies can create strategies that are effective and supportive of their workforce’s needs.

Mitigating the Impact of Layoffs

Layoffs, while sometimes necessary, can negatively impact both departing employees and those who remain. This is especially true when organizations find themselves in a rush to downsize because of shifting paradigms without fully understanding the roles that will be needed for a successful future.

A collaborative and people-first strategy during these times involves transparent and compassionate communication, which can significantly mitigate these effects. Smith explains that organizations need to be much more deliberate and strategic, especially if they are going to employ layoffs as a talent management strategy. “Before making any decisions about layoffs, it’s crucial for leaders to have a deep understanding of the skills and capabilities of their current workforce,” explains Smith, “This includes not just technical skills, but also soft skills and potential for growth.” Tress agrees, adding, “Leaders need to take a hard look at their talent pool and assess whether they have the right skills for the future of the company. Sometimes layoffs are necessary, but they should be approached with empathy and a clear understanding of the impact on both individuals and the organization as a whole.”

This transparency helps in maintaining a trust-based relationship with employees, making them feel respected and valued even in the face of difficult organizational decisions.

Supporting Employees During Restructuring

Handling layoffs with care and respect not only assists those leaving but also positively affects those who stay. How a company conducts layoffs speaks volumes about its values and ethics, impacting the morale of the remaining workforce. “When layoffs are handled with care and respect, it sends a powerful message to the remaining staff that they are valued and that the company is committed to ethical practices, boosting morale and productivity,” said Tress.” This approach helps not only retain talent but also maintain a productive and motivated workforce during potentially tumultuous times.

Embracing a people-centered approach in decision-making is crucial for companies looking to navigate the complexities of the modern workplace. This strategy ensures that human resources considerations are integrated from the outset, leading to better-aligned and more effective business strategies. Moreover, by focusing on transparency, compassion, and respect during layoffs, companies can foster a workplace environment that values and respects its employees, enhancing engagement, loyalty, and overall business resilience.

The Cultural Shift in Tech


The tech industry, known for its relentless pursuit of the next big innovation, is experiencing a profound cultural shift. As the sector matures, the initial dream-driven ethos that fueled rapid growth and disruption is making way for a more pragmatic focus on sustainability and long-term viability. This evolution is reshaping how companies manage their talent and affecting the overall morale within these organizations.

Transition from Idealism to Pragmatism

The shift from a purely ideological vision to a more pragmatic approach reflects deeper changes in the industry’s priorities. Where once the emphasis was on fast scaling and market disruption, there is now a growing recognition of the need for balance and sustainability. “I think employee populations are expecting and demanding more from employers,” explains Smith, ”I think they are also more willing to not be as forgiving or not be as understanding of, ‘Hey, you didn’t do this empathetically.’” This observation underscores a significant transformation in the tech landscape, where the reckless speed of innovation gives way to more thoughtful growth strategies that consider the long-term impacts on the industry and its workforce.

As the tech industry transitions from its idealistic roots to a more pragmatic approach, a corresponding shift in the workforce’s values occurs. Employees increasingly seek fulfilling work contributing to societal good, moving away from companies prioritizing profits over impact. This cultural shift challenges tech companies to reassess their values and strategies to retain talented, experienced professionals driven by more than just the bottom line.

Implications for Talent Management

This cultural evolution directly impacts how companies approach talent management. With a shift towards long-term sustainability, there is a greater emphasis on sustainable hiring practices and strategic workforce development. Tress discusses the changing approach stating, “As we move away from just scaling fast to thinking more long-term, our strategies for hiring and development have to evolve to ensure we’re not just filling seats, but really preparing for the future.” This perspective highlights the necessity for companies to adapt their talent management strategies to not only meet immediate needs but also anticipate future challenges and opportunities, ensuring a workforce that is resilient and adaptable.

Effects on Company Morale

The change in cultural norms within the tech industry also has a profound impact on company morale. As the industry shifts from a high-energy, anything-is-possible attitude to a more measured, stability-oriented approach, employees must adjust their expectations and perceptions of their roles. Smith notes the impact of these changes, “As the culture shifts from chasing the next big thing to a more measured approach, it can affect how employees see their roles and their value in the organization, impacting morale.” This adjustment can be challenging as it may dampen the initial enthusiasm and risk-taking spirit many tech employees thrive on. However, it also opens up opportunities for more sustainable career paths and a more stable work environment, ultimately leading to greater job satisfaction and loyalty.

The tech industry’s shift towards pragmatism and sustainability is leading to significant changes in how companies manage their talent and how employees perceive their roles and value within the organization. By understanding and adapting to these cultural shifts, tech companies can better prepare their teams for the future, ensuring that they not only survive but thrive in an evolving market. This strategic adaptation is crucial for maintaining morale and fostering a productive, engaged workforce.

The Cost of Layoffs


In the volatile world of tech, layoffs can sometimes feel like a necessary evil—part of the ebb and flow of an industry driven by constant change and innovation. However, understanding the tangible and intangible costs associated with layoffs is crucial for tech companies to handle these changes more effectively, aiming to minimize the negative impacts on the organization and its remaining workforce.

Financial and Resource Costs of Layoffs

While layoffs may seem like a quick fix to reduce costs, they come with significant financial burdens that can affect a company’s bottom line more than anticipated. These costs include severance payouts, potential legal fees associated with the layoffs, and the loss of investment in employee training and development. Reflecting on the broader impact of layoffs, Smith points out, “When you consider the tangible aspects of layoffs, like severance and rehiring costs, it’s clear that layoffs are not just an emotional strain but also a financial one.” This perspective highlights the need for companies to carefully weigh the immediate financial benefits against the long-term costs.

The Intangible Impact on Morale and Productivity

Beyond the direct financial implications, layoffs can significantly affect the intangible elements crucial to a company’s health, such as employee morale and organizational reputation. The disruption caused by layoffs can lead to decreased productivity and engagement among remaining employees, who may feel insecure about their own job security. “The intangible effects, like the impact on team morale and the ripple effects on productivity, can sometimes outweigh the immediate financial savings,” said Tress. This underscores the need for strategic planning and consideration of how layoffs impact not just the employees who leave but also those who stay.

Strategies for Managing Layoffs Effectively

To manage layoffs effectively, companies must implement strategies that address the immediate and long-term effects on the remaining workforce. Transparency during the layoff process is key; employees should understand why the layoffs are happening and what the expected outcomes are. This clarity can help calm feelings of uncertainty and distrust. Smith emphasizes the importance of communication, suggesting, “Being transparent about the reasons for layoffs and what it means for the future can help mitigate some of the negative fallout and help stabilize the remaining team.” Moreover, providing support systems for those affected and finding ways to re-engage and motivate the remaining team are vital to maintaining a healthy organizational culture post-layoff.

While layoffs may sometimes be unavoidable, how a company handles them can significantly influence its internal culture and external reputation. By understanding and addressing both the tangible and intangible costs, companies can better navigate the complexities of restructuring. This approach helps retain trust and loyalty among remaining employees and preserves the company’s standing as a responsible employer in the community.

Redefining Winning in the Tech Industry


In today’s tech landscape, a fundamental shift is needed in how success is defined. It can no longer be about profit alone—leaders must also consider their societal impact. This approach not only aligns with ethical practices but also resonates with consumers, investors, and employees who are increasingly prioritizing sustainable and socially conscious businesses.

The tech industry’s ability to redefine ‘winning’ without substantial regulatory oversight has led to significant freedom in how companies operate. However, this lack of regulation can result in practices prioritizing short-term gains over long-term sustainability and ethical considerations. Incorporating stricter external accountability and participatory design can help realign tech companies with their original missions to benefit society at large. The call for tighter regulations grows louder as the industry matures, urging companies to balance innovation with responsibility.

Incorporating Societal Benefits into Business Goals

Tress articulates a vision where tech companies must broaden their horizons beyond financial metrics to encompass community and environmental impacts. “We need to think about success not just in terms of financial gains but in how our actions affect the community and the environment,” Tress explains. This perspective encourages companies to foster a reputation for responsibility, which can lead to sustained success as it aligns with the values of a broader stakeholder base.

The Role of External Accountability

External accountability mechanisms such as regulatory compliance and participatory design ensure that tech companies remain committed to ethical standards while pursuing profitability. “Having a set of external checks and balances can help companies maintain a focus on ethical practices and prevent them from sacrificing societal good for short-term gains,” says Smith. This approach mitigates risks and enhances trust and credibility among stakeholders.

Leveraging Participatory Design for Innovation

Victor Udoewa’s inspirational work on using radical participatory design (RPD) methods demonstrates how research and design processes can be truly participatory to the core. Emphasizing the importance of inclusivity in the design process, Tress points out the dual benefits of innovation and accessibility that participatory design can bring. “Engaging with a diverse range of voices in the design process not only generates more innovative ideas but also ensures that our technologies are accessible and beneficial to a broader audience,” she notes. This method promotes products and solutions that are not only commercially viable but also socially beneficial, creating a competitive advantage in the market.

By redefining what it means to win in the tech industry, leaders can create a more sustainable and ethical approach to business. This redefinition involves balancing profitability with societal benefits, ensuring ethical practices through external accountability, and embracing participatory design to foster innovation that benefits all. Through these strategies, tech companies can achieve a new kind of economically rewarding and socially responsible success, setting a new standard for the industry.

Embracing Evolution in Talent Management

As the tech industry continues its relentless pace of change, the importance of adaptive and strategic talent management has never been clearer. From the integration of AI to the nuances of ethical leadership and the imperative of participatory design, the challenges are substantial but not insurmountable. This blog post has traversed through the critical aspects of managing talent in a tech-driven world, highlighting the transformative impact of ethical considerations, strategic planning, and community engagement on the industry.

The surge in AI and its profound effects on employment demand that companies not only adapt but anticipate the shifts in the landscape. Companies must pivot from reactive hiring practices to strategic workforce planning that account for future technological advancements and their impact on human roles. As we’ve explored, the ethical deployment of AI and the importance of aligning technological evolution with human values cannot be overstated. Leaders are called upon to integrate ethics deeply into their business models, ensuring that profitability does not come at the expense of societal good.

Moreover, the role of participatory design in fostering innovation underscores the necessity of inclusive practices. By engaging diverse voices in the creation process, companies can ensure their products and services are not only innovative but also widely beneficial. This approach not only aids in compliance with ethical standards but also enhances market competitiveness by aligning products more closely with the needs and values of a broad user base.

In light of these discussions, the cultural shift within tech companies—from being dreamers to pragmatists—poses both a challenge and an opportunity. It is crucial for these organizations to maintain their innovative edge by fostering a culture that values both creativity and practicality. The cost of ignoring this balance is high, as seen in the tangible and intangible impacts of layoffs and poor talent management strategies.

Thus, the call to action for leaders is clear: Evaluate and adjust your talent management strategies to stay ahead of the curve. The choice is to evolve or risk obsolescence. In an industry characterized by rapid development and fierce competition, standing still is not an option. Leaders must embrace a holistic approach to talent management that considers their workforce’s well-being, their stakeholders’ expectations, and the broader societal implications of their business decisions.

As we navigate the complex terrain of the tech industry, the path forward must be paved with intentionality, foresight, and a steadfast commitment to ethical practices. By redefining what it means to succeed, not just in financial terms but as responsible stewards of technology, companies can ensure their longevity and relevance in an ever-evolving world. Let this be a call to action for all leaders: it’s time to assess, adapt, and advance. Your future, and that of your company, depends on it.