Talent in Our New Reality: Highlights from the 2023 Accel People Summit

March 22, 2023

min read


Kerry Wang

What do talent leaders face in the new reality of 2023? The landscape for talent has been on a roller coaster ride over the last few years. After pandemic layoffs, WFH, cultural unrest, an era of growth over profitability, extreme talent competition, and now fresh talent cuts, it constantly feels like the bottom is about to drop out from underneath many people functions. But is this actually about to happen? And if not, what else might the year hold?  

These were the questions my co-panelists and I explored at the Accel People Summit this past week. Myself, Zapier Chief People Officer Brandon Sammut, Lattice Chief People Officer Cara Brennan Allamano, and Accel VP of Talent Paula Judge discussed four things we’re seeing and hearing from employees, customers and partners as we plan ahead for 2023.

Maintaining talent density in an uncertain economy

All four of us agreed that the #1 concern we’re hearing and experiencing is maintaining talent density. With limited budgets and hiring, we all find ourselves forced to do more with less. We’re all trying to maintain a high quality of hire at our organizations, but this often requires building out new processes or ways of measuring this. In turn, that helps us understand how well we’re hiring and retaining good talent and learn how to adjust to keep talent density high.

To build talent density, Brandon is focused on building engaged employees, effective managers and capable teams. Cara phrases this as “effective, efficient and high-impact work,” and is focused on getting her organization's structure correct while they’re maturing. Everyone talked about the importance of being respectful and honest with their teams as the market changes and hiring patterns shift, companies adjust, and people may decide to move into new roles or even new jobs.  

Quality of hire has never been more important  

Two years ago at Searchlight, we felt like we were shouting the message about Quality of Hire into the desert, but in the last six months we’ve seen it catch on at companies of all sizes.  Quality of Hire is a quantified measure of a new hire’s impact on your business, as well as a stock ticker on the health of the business overall. At an earlier session at the summit, Accel Partner Vas Natarajan shared the People Flywheel he discusses in all his board rooms, and the flywheel starts with how great an organization is at bringing in the right talent. 

Brandon pointed out how Quality of Hire is more of a measure of the system by which an organization can bring in the right talent in a rigorous, data-backed way. I added that it’s also a way to give People teams more recognition for their impact on the business. To understand how you could report Quality of Hire to the board, read about how our customer Verana Health does this here.

Retention is top of mind

With limited hiring, organizations are focusing on keeping the high-quality talent they do have. One of the most common questions I get from companies after a RIF is “how do we keep our employees engaged?” Searchlight can provide data on a workforce that helps people teams answer this question. Brandon summarizes his approach to this as “doing common things uncommonly well” - for example, recognizing and rewarding folks that are contributing a great deal of value to the company isn’t complicated, but is difficult to do successfully! Focusing on winning, as well as growth, also helps retain high-performing employees and having some people leave isn’t a failure. Not everyone is right for every company at every moment in time.   

Changing technologies and the future

Overall, we all have felt like People leaders are getting more recognition, responsibilities, and visibility than they have in the past. People leaders are getting a seat at the table when they may not have three to five years ago, and the rest of the executive team better understands how people work contributes to business goals.

This also comes with increased pressure to show these contributions in quantifiable data and KPIs. In particular, Cara sees that people leaders are being called to be much more technical. The product and tech stacks we’re building now are large (Cara had 42 products in her stack at a recent role) and crucial to the overall success of the business. And all this technology has given people teams more time to contribute to the team strategically.  

Before our panel, Vas had shared that he believes the rising cohort of COOs will come out of the People org. I even heard at another conference last week, the Uplift Conference, that future CEOs will have to come from the People team! 

What’s clear is that the new reality is bringing with it hard challenges, but they’re worth solving. The people leaders that tackle them are at the forefront of their respective businesses, creating a wave of stronger, better organizations.

Watch the full panel below!

Kerry Wang

Co-Founder & CEO

Kerry, our CEO and co-founder, merges Org Psychology and Computer Science expertise. Passionate about people, psychology, and tech, she enjoys weekend reading and reality TV.

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