I was following John Byrne’s (Editor-in-Chief of Businessweek) twitter acount and he mentioned that the most popular article on Businessweek.com today is “Microsoft: Layoffs for Some, Visas for Others:”
As recently as Jan. 5, the company posted a policy proposal on President Obama’s transition Web site requesting that the government “remove caps that bar entry into the U.S. by high-skilled immigrants.” Several weeks later, on a Jan. 22 earnings conference call, the company announced plans to eliminate 5,000 jobs in research and development, information technology, marketing, sales, finance, legal, and human resources over the next 18 months, as well as thousands of contract jobs.
What we are witnessing here is yet another innovative human resource strategy for dealing with the economic downturn. Companies like FedEx are reducing pay and benefits rather than laying off employees. Now we see Microsoft laying off (presumably) domestic employees while lobbying hard to expand the number of visas they can hand out to foreign workers. A cynical person might conclude that Microsoft’s motivation is purely profit driven, seeking to replace highly compensated domestic employees with less expensive foreign talent. My hunch is that the problem is much deeper and more complicated; namely that the company has a surplus of employees with certain kinds of skills (finance, HR, marketing) while at the same time it has a scarcity of employees with unique skills (probably computer programming).
Let’s face it, the market for talent is quickly becoming a global market. The Internet is accelerating this trend, making it easier to find the best talent and engage that talent to provide value for our companies.
We can look at this trend from the perspective of the employee and the employer. From the employee perspective, a global market for talent means that every employee must continually upgrade their skills to remain viable, and they must seek to continually add value to customers to remain relevant. From the employer perspective, a global market for talent cuts both ways; it opens up new pools of talent in places like China and India, but it also lures away talent to companies willing to pay more or offer better opportunities.
All of these trends point to the increasing importance of employee engagement. An organizational culture that attracts and retains the best minds in its industry will become one of the key competitive advantages for businesses over the next ten years. But that will not be sufficient for success. The organizational culture must also engage the best and brightest to continually innovate in a way that adds increasing value to customers.