There are years of growth, years of experimentation and then there are years of efficiency.
No prizes for guessing which bucket 2023 falls into. If you are confused, all you have to do is listen to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, who has quoted the term ‘year of efficiency’ multiple times over the last six months.
In tough economies, organisations naturally tighten their belts and it isn’t surprising to see them do the same now. From rising prices, reduced spending, slashed experiments, a laser-eyed focus on optimisation and layoffs, 2023 has undoubtedly been the year of efficiency and it doesn’t look like we will be turning a corner anytime soon.
Economic cycles are natural. According to the International Monetary Fund, there have been 122 recessions between 1960 and 2007. Recessions have become more infrequent and shorter over the decades but per experts, can only be accurately identified once they are over. A sustained growth with absolutely no downturn is usually extremely difficult to achieve and as far as my knowledge extends or that of the internet, no organisation has managed to pull off constant growth in all its years of existence. Like in life, organisations too have their ups and down and sometimes, the downs get really hard. Given the years 2020, 2021 and 2022, 2023 shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Markets do not appreciate wars nor political unrests; nor do they enjoy reduced spending by customers.
Years of efficiency are hard to digest. With the financial impact comes a large emotional impact. Top down directives increase, autonomy drops, and morale dips. Yet, these years offer an opportunity that is hard to grasp during a high growth phase. If you’ve ever been tired of building an aircraft as it flies, that aircraft has now landed. While some processes may increase in velocity, some have naturally waned.
There’s never been a time better than now, when the system has halted, to tinker around with it, take it apart and put it back together such that the next time it runs, it runs faster, smoother and cheaper.
I am going to use two examples to illustrate why I am extremely optimistic about this phase; but before I do, I am going to rephrase the year of efficiency as the year of digestion. After all, over the past few years, we have run at such a rapid pace that it is time we slow down and digest all that we have swallowed.
I am going to start with the most obvious – hiring. Most recruitment engines in the world have slowed down. If you are the exception, move along to the next illustration but if you aren’t, read on.
The first process I saw come to an almost grinding halt in 2023 was hiring. While 2022 began witnessing the start of calls for optimisation and in some cases layoffs, few if not most organisations plugged all open requisitions. As my colleagues in talent acquisition began their journey amidst an economic slowdown, many of them were pulled into an exercise that demanded they not only cut cost but embark on an analysis of the entire candidate lifecycle from start to finish, trimming fat where necessary and improving candidate experience while doing so.
The other space that goes hand in hand with hiring and has seen a complete switch in pace is onboarding. This is also a space that has gone through massive flux over the past few years without us having the luxury of stepping back and analysing if the changes worked. Like most processes, on boarding moved to fully virtual during the pandemic and even as return to office began, onboarding in most cases never went back to the pre-pandemic era. Theoreticians have hypothesised that those who onboarded virtually were worse off in cultivating culture than those who joined while everyone was at the office. While it is time to undertake this longitudinal study, it is also time to turn things on its head and lay a few experiments given the slow trickle. It is no surprise that onboarding software providers are having a field day.
The bottom line is that the year of digestion, efficiency or optimisation gets its name for a reason and that reason is more than the negative connotation attached to it. Despite the downturn in morale, when done right, it allows for smoother operation when the machine is back up and running. The question is not whether organisations will ever undergo years of digestion. It is when they do, how do you make the most of it?