The Focal Point Blog // Business Strategy // Tom O'Neill // September 20, 2022

Hustle Culture is Canceled

Talk about unintended consequences. As the arms race for digital services talent rages on, salary expectations are through the roof. These rising costs and increased competition have made balancing the supply and demand of people who are our product increasingly difficult. Our (and their) success has become an Achilles’ heel. 

Yet it’s not just about the money. Digital service companies naturally provide opportunities for people to learn, evolve, and develop their craft by doing meaningful work. As a forum for pursuing fulfillment and growth, these firms have a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining top talent. It’s easier said than done. However, it’s also imperative for long-term success. 

These opportunities for growth are often overshadowed when businesses stretch talent too thin at the mercy of the billable hour. The well-known rollercoaster of too much or too little work – and too many or too few people to do that work – is causing stress, ambiguity, friction, and burnout in today’s workforce. In the wake of the great resignation, the great raise, or whatever else we’re calling it this week, today’s workers are calling foul on this inconsistent and outmoded approach. And while the perennial “agency grind” will always drive our businesses forward, with the excitement and thrill of working on cutting-edge and innovative projects, something else is getting left behind. And that’s the aimless hustle brought on by poor planning, fragmented focus, and unrealistic expectations of today’s professional services talent. 

The status quo of reactive planning, a this-is-the-way-we’ve-always-operated ethos, and the downstream confusion this creates for talent is no longer sustainable. The hustle culture of putting in more and more effort – without seeing fulfillment, growth, or focus on the other side – is canceled. 

Better planning FTW

I’ve spent my entire career in professional services roles. And for the last three years at Parallax, I’ve counseled hundreds of leaders on balancing the needs of talent with the needs of their business. The common trend I see is not about people wanting to work less for more money. That narrative is too convenient and dismissive of the amazing drive that will always motivate our people. It’s hustling for too much meaningless work and not enough meaning. In other words, it’s not about working fewer hours, it’s about wanting fewer unfulfilling hours, exacerbated by bad planning and a myopic view of resourcing that leaves workers and bosses in a constant scramble. 

So many companies struggle to escape the status-quo mode of fragile processes and broken reporting that does almost nothing to show the future demand and capacity for their teams. Or they lack confidence to make better decisions about staffing and hiring. Fixing an established approach seems too hard, too time-consuming, or too complex. But it doesn’t have to be this way! By unlocking a better view of a team’s workload, leaders can evolve away from business heroics and arrive at something much more consistent, measured, and scalable. It’s a win for the business and for people who get better visibility and more consistency. Better planning, though, is only one half of the equation. 

Let’s Embrace Mission Culture

I believe the leaders and organizations that will win out in today’s war for talent will do so by creating alignment, excitement, and commitment to mission and purpose. Because when talented and driven craftspeople believe in the organization’s mission, they’ll go all in. People want to focus and feel the gratification of knowing their work has an impact. More consistent and future-looking planning can help smooth out the bumps in the road and bring more consistency and predictability to the business; and a workforce fully committed to the mission will find even more ways to contribute. The results, I promise, are what follows. 

Leaders must be ruthless in their pursuit of mission. They must create a culture and a vision that people want to be part of. Because when talented practitioners are enlisted in what the organization is trying to accomplish – and they have a clear sense of how their own contributions and aspirations fit – the ambitions of individuals and the goals of the organization work hand-in-hand. What happens next is that bit of magic we all experience as entrepreneurs and founders. It’s when growing teams are in sync, the projects and work just make sense, and customers and clients keep coming back for more. Because no other firm can do it quite like you do. 

Here’s how we get there: By breaking a status quo of broken reporting and reactive planning. Empowering teams with less ambiguity, more clarity, and greater confidence. By showing them how their work contributes to a larger mission. By abandoning the aimless busywork that never made much sense and marrying great talent with a clear mission and an achievable plan. We can all be part of a better future by putting that ambiguous and aimless hustle behind us while embracing a more focused mission culture. 

If the last couple of years have shown us anything, it’s that today’s workforce is talented, ambitious, and mobile. And they’re craving opportunities that deliver personal fulfillment as much as they deliver business results. Great leaders will recognize this. Then, they’ll do what they do best: double down on mission, clarify the business opportunity, and seek out great talent to come along for the ride. Now that’s something worth hustling for.