Adaptation: The Darwinian Imperative

The late Leon Megginson, a prolific author and authority on business management research, takes a twist on Darwin’s theory of evolution by famously concluding that it is not the strongest of the species that survive, but those who most accurately assess their environment and successfully adapt.

Over the last few months, I have been on the road taking this message to TechServe Alliance chapters around the country and via our “Survival Lessons” webinars. This theme will also be showcased at our annual conference in Palm Springs.

In business, assessing your environment starts with data. When you think about it, a data-driven approach to decision-making is simply analyzing your environment in an objective, fact-based and systematic fashion. This approach is not unlike the Darwinian metaphor where a hunter survives by constantly scrutinizing his environs. He must rely on facts and experience, not merely his “gut.” In order to bring home dinner, he must be adept at silently tracking his prey, while at the same time carefully studying shifting wind patterns and avoiding any noise that can reveal his presence.

Being successful in the IT & engineering staffing and solutions industry today is no different. While it used to be much easier to ignore external forces when gross margins were fat and firms sold for a multiple of revenue, successful executives must be constantly scanning the horizon for both threats and opportunities. Today, the industry looks far different than it did even 10 years ago. And the landscape will no doubt change dramatically over the next decade as well.

So how do you adapt in order to not only survive but prosper?

Megginson also embraced another concept called "mutual aid." As the industry trade association we embody this concept. Indeed, without getting melodramatic, the original founding of TechServe in the late 80s was a response to the fight or flight choice when the very existence of the IT staffing industry was threatened by Congress. TechServe fought back and as a result of this "mutual aid" by like-minded competitors we were able to prosper.

While TechServe’s original legislative mission is still a core part of what we still do, we scan not only for threats in the legislative environment, but also in the marketplace. We help you observe the winds of change by offering important tools such as conferences, webinars, Operating Practices and Sales & Recruiter Metrics reports, our 360-Degree Industry Study, and a host of indices and regular economic forecasts that help you account for industry trends in your decision-making.

Let me offer a few examples. Firms are increasingly learning social media is critical component to their recruiting strategy. TechServe members of all sizes report that at least 10 percent of their positions were filled from social media sources, and reliance was even higher for small firms at 17 percent. Our research has also found that the most important factor driving profitability is controlling SG&A payroll.

Finally, while we are always monitoring for environmental threats, the long-term time horizon suggests opportunities abound for savvy owners and executives. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment for IT professionals is at record lows. And by 2022, more than 1.4 million computer science jobs will be available. This trend is highlighted by data showing that since 2000, IT employment has outpaced total non-farm employment by a factor of almost 5 to 1.

Of course, the every-changing environment requires you to think like your clients in order to anticipate their needs. With a smaller pool of talent available, flexible staffing will be in ever-greater demand. And that is just what we as an industry do -- provide just-in-time IT and engineering talent for the "on demand" economy.

All of this creates a great dynamic for discourse in Palm Springs. I look forward to hearing how you are responding to the marketplace. In addition to advocating adaption to member companies, we attempt to "practice what we preach." Our thinking has shifted from merely offering association programs and services, to developing and deploying solutions for member companies. Our newly launched website reflects this member-centric orientation.

I hope you take the time to explore some of the resources I’ve mentioned, as well as network with your colleagues not just at the conference, but online on our internal social network TechServe Connect.

Good management and best practices comes from mutual aid, as Professor Megginson so cogently noted. TechServe looks forward to working with you to help you not only survive, but thrive in the ever-changing marketplace.