Top 5 Insights from the 2022 Cornerstone Conference

Posted on Thursday, October 27th, 2022 at 12:40 PM    

I spent the middle of last week in Las Vegas–first for Cornerstone's analyst day, followed by their 2-day Convergence conference for customers and partners. It was an informative, fun, and engaging 3 days. I appreciated the opportunity to hear about the changes Cornerstone is making and the executive team's vision for the next 12-18 months.

This blog is a quick roundup of my top 5 takeaways from the event. You can check out the wrap-up video here.

Here are my top 5 insights from the event. I'll dive into each below.

  1. The big announcement: Cornerstone Talent Experience Platform (TXP)
  2. The central theme: A renewed focus on customer and user experience
  3. The smart investment: Skills tech
  4. The possible game-changer: A "non-jealous," open tech architecture
  5. The unknowns: A new leadership team and a big vision

The big announcement: Cornerstone Talent Experience Platform (TXP)

In his opening keynote, CEO Himanshu Palsule walked the audience through the changes wrought on the world since the last (pre-COVID) Convergence conference. He concluded that:

Industries are at a point of inflection that has fundamentally changed how we work and learn. –Himanshu Palsule, CEO, Cornerstone

Emphasizing that Cornerstone is a leader in the learning market, Himanshu said it's time to reimagine how Cornerstone enables its customers to work and learn. He announced the New Cornerstone and its flagship product, the Cornerstone Talent Experience Platform (TXP) (Figure 1).

The Cornerstone TXP aims to support the employee journey from hire to retire
Cornerstone's new Talent Experience Platform includes 5 major pieces.

Cornerstone Talent Experience Platform diagram | Cornerstone, 2022.

This platform includes:

  • A learning experience platform (LXP)
  • An opportunity marketplace (AKA talent marketplace)
  • A content curation studio
  • An Extensible Integration Hub (to make integrations with other vendors much easier)
  • Core learning and talent management capabilities (including all 3 existing LMSs)
  • All powered by skills tech

With this TXP, Cornerstone aims to provide a "true end-to-end talent experience" covering hiring, employee development, performance management, and more.

My take: A single platform is tempting in today's fragmented market

From about 2017-2020, our research saw the number of "point solution" vendors in learning tech explode. (Point solution vendors offer fewer than 5 functionalities and aim to solve 1 or a handful of problems well.) Back then, we wrote about connecting those vendors into a tech ecosystem that made sense for an organization's employees, data, tech infrastructure, and goals. There was a lot of complexity to deal with. And that complexity grew as more potential solutions entered the space.

Now, the pendulum is swinging back toward the center. Organizations are looking to simplify.

A platform that can do it all is enticing–and that's what this TXP promises. Cornerstone says the TXP will enable:

  • Personalized employee development
  • Ongoing performance conversations and annual performance reviews
  • Skills intelligence
  • Content curation

And it'll enable all that in one place, underpinned by skills data, with high quality, at scale. Sounds amazing.

My biggest questions are:

  • How will they stitch all the pieces together? Cornerstone built this TXP using tech from several different systems–some of which Cornerstone built itself and others which they acquired. Stitching it all together in a way that's seamless from a data and user perspective is going to take some work.
  • Will something give? I didn't expect the main conference to cover what's getting cut. But I was surprised not to hear more talk of prioritization, trade-offs, or streamlining during the analyst day.
  • How will they differentiate the 3 LMSs? Executives emphasized that they will not merge the Saba, Sum Total, and Cornerstone brands. That seems duplicative and confusing to customers. I'm curious to see how they'll make it clear–to sales reps, support staff, customers, and so on–which platform best serves which client needs.

The central theme: A renewed focus on customer and user experience

In the past, Cornerstone had a solid and well-deserved reputation as a customer-focused company. More recently–since about 2018–that focus fizzled. Customer and user experience declined. In conversations with customers last week, I heard words like "clunky" and "old school." And in a client panel on the main stage, one customer said:

For a while, as a client, I didn't feel heard. I didn't feel the promises made in settings like this were kept. — Cornerstone client, multinational food and drink processing conglomerate

Now the customer focus is back. The ethos of the New Cornerstone, Himanshu said in his opening keynote address, is customer-centricity.

Evidence of this renewed focus on customers is the addition of a Chief Customer Officer, Toya Del Valle, to the executive leadership team. Toya has experience leading customer success teams and a big vision for customer success at Cornerstone.

Moreover, Chief Product Officer Karthik Suri said he's committed to improving the user experience on the Cornerstone platform. He promised that customers will see changes starting in November 2022. There was a lot of talk throughout the 2 days about human-centered design and doing things in 1 click. In particular, they said they will:

  • Introduce a new user interface
  • Create consistency across products / platforms in the Cornerstone suite
  • Improve the admin experience across multi-step workflows
  • Offer mobile options

My take: Focusing on customers is never a bad thing

I loved seeing this renewed focus on customer and user experience. Cornerstone hasn't had a great reputation in the last few years, and it's awesome that executives were open about those shortcomings. They made it clear they'd heard the complaints.

My questions are:

  • How will Cornerstone marry CX/UX with the complexity of their offerings? Cornerstone has a lot of products offered in lots of different ways. They have the TXP but also offer all those pieces à la carte. They have 3 LMSs with similar capabilities and client bases, at least on the surface. As I spoke with customers at the conference, they wondered: How does all this apply to my organization? What products are suitable for us? How do these changes affect what we already have? How will people find what they need? It may be a challenge to help prospects and existing customers have an excellent experience navigating the current offerings' complexity.
  • Will the focus on customers stick? The renewed focus on customer and user experience is an exciting move, but it hasn't happened yet. With all the big product developments happening, I wonder if Cornerstone will deliver on the promised customer-centricity. There's a bit of wait-and-see in the air. For example, the client I quoted above followed her initial comment with this:

I've seen a shift in the detailed attention to keeping promises, but I am waiting to see what drops in November. —Cornerstone client, multinational food and drink processing conglomerate

The smart investment: Skills tech

I just wrapped up some research on skills tech, which Cornerstone participated in (public infographic here, full report available with a 7-day trial membership here).

A core finding of that research was how powerful skills tech can be. Skills tech–or technology that collects and organizes information about employees' skills–has the potential to help organizations:

  • Better determine the skills needed for specific roles and gauge the qualifications of an individual to fill those roles
  • Engage and develop employees in personalized, tailored ways
  • Create more flexibility and mobility—both in traditional roles and less permanent (project / gig) work
  • Increase equity and inclusion in the development and advancement opportunities available to employees
  • More accurately plan for the workforce, teams, and leaders they'll need in the future

Given Cornerstone's vision for its TXP, investing in skills tech–or an "AI-powered intelligent tech fabric," as they called it–makes a ton of sense. This tech fabric sits at the center of Cornerstone's product strategy and will knit together the disparate offerings in the TXP (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Cornerstone is using skills to connect the elements of the TXP
Cornerstone is using skills to connect the elements of the TXP

Figure 2: Schematic of Cornerstone's skills platform | Cornerstone, 2022

The skills graph, in the center of Figure 2, contains about 53,000 skills mapped to 250 million jobs. The skills exchange (the square on the right of the diagram) will consume 3rd party skills taxonomies and map them to Cornerstone's. That's an exciting feature, since many large organizations have multiple systems that use different skills taxonomies.

The graph will drive functionalities like skills assessment, learning and opportunity recommendations, and skills recommendations (prompting employees to add / approve skills on their profiles). Cornerstone also maps skills to content to enable smarter content curation and recommendations.

My take: Skills tech is the way to go

Skills tech is a smart, necessary investment. Organizations are moving toward skills-based ways of planning and organizing work. It's great that Cornerstone isn't just supporting those efforts as an add-on thing, but moving toward skills as the fundamental way they're knitting together their offerings.

A tidbit that I'm excited about: Using work systems to infer skills! Skills recommendations will be partly based on inferences about employees' skills made from data in work systems (e.g., Salesforce, Asana, Jira, etc.). Few other vendors use data from work systems to infer employees' skills. It's hard to do. But the payoff can be high. Data in work systems are a great source of information about what employees can do, right now, as part of their jobs. This is a possible competitive edge for Cornerstone.

My big question is:

  • What will the execution look like? With skills tech, the devil is in the details. I'm curious how good the skills inference will be. How well will it ingest 3rd-party taxonomies? How deeply will skills be embedded into the other offerings? And so on.

Possible game-changer: A "non-jealous," open tech architecture

3 years ago, Cornerstone was one of the hardest vendors to integrate with. They fought hard to own all the things.

Now, they're saying: "We're not jealous!" (Figure 3).

Cornerstone is going to play nicely with other vendors
Cornerstone announced a new commitment to making integration with other vendors seamless.

Figure 3: Cornerstone's new "non-jealous, open architecture" approach | Cornerstone, 2022

In his keynote address, CEO Himanshu Palsule put it this way:

As much as we want to be the walled garden, best-of-breed talent solution, customers have other solutions in their ecosystem. So we have to integrate better than anyone else. — Himanshu Palsule, CEO, Cornerstone

Cornerstone is committing to playing nicely with all vendors, particularly regarding integrations. Their Extensible Integration Hub will include out-of-the-box integrations with major vendors like Udemy, LinkedIn, Teams, Slack, Salesforce, Workday, and so on–and they'll add more vendors over time. They also said they'll make it easy for customers to build self-service integrations with vendors if there isn't an out-of-the-box connection.

The features highlighted during the analyst day were:

  • Seamless SSO
  • Self-service integrations
  • APIs
  • Webhooks
  • Event streaming

In addition, Cornerstone is opening its skills graph to the public on what they're calling a "Skills Playground." Anyone will be able to play around with the data they have. And in the future, they're hoping the Skills Playground will become an open-source community that uses input from community members to update the skills graph.

My take: I love this change!

This move to a non-jealous, open approach is a big change for Cornerstone. I'm thrilled about it! The ethos of sharing information and being "better together" (another common phrase at the conference) is fantastic.

And this move is timely. It follows a broader trend that we're seeing. Vendors recognize that no one vendor can do everything modern organizations need their HR or learning tech to do. So they're thinking about how to contribute value as one part of a larger ecosystem. This could be a game-changer for Cornerstone. This open approach may help Cornerstone cement itself as a value-adding component of customers' tech ecosystems, rather than a gatekeeper that must be worked around.

My questions are:

  • Will integrations be as easy as advertised? I applaud the commitment to easy integration. But it seems like integration is always harder than planned. I'm curious to see if Cornerstone can make their integration hub as easy to use as they're envisioning.
  • Will the open skills graph pay off? Cornerstone isn't opening up its skills graph for purely altruistic reasons. They're hoping it'll be a way to expand and improve their dataset as well as a source of new business. That seems like a sound approach, but I'm waiting to see if it pays off.

The unknowns: New leadership and a big vision

Cornerstone's leadership team is impressive and energized. And they have a big vision for the New Cornerstone. They assured us that everything they announced at the conference was, at the least, in beta. They said these improvements will be rolled out for a general audience in the next 12-18 months.

The biggest promise was the Talent Experience Platform and all its pieces:

  • Learning experience platform (LXP)
  • Opportunity marketplace
  • Skills studio and skills playground
  • Content studio (skills-enabled content curation)
  • Learning and performance management
  • Extensible integration hub

In addition, they announced:

  • More support for user-generated content, including advanced analytics & reporting
  • Capability models that set global standards for job titles and levels
  • Adding skills to check-ins and performance reviews
  • Manager tools to analyze team skills
  • Continuing improvements to support customers' compliance / regulatory requirements, business rules, and processes
  • Aggregated insights (across Cornerstone products) for admins
  • Position management functionality to support planning, succession, and compliance tracking
  • Enhanced compliance controls
  • Video transcription, search, and recording in-browser
  • A dashboard designer feature
  • Better documentation for developers

That is a long list, and I'm sure there's something I missed.

In addition, many senior leaders–notably CEO Himanshu Palsule and CPO Karthik Suri–are new. Figure 4 shows the entire leadership team.

Cornerstone's leadership team is relatively new
The Cornerstone leadership team is new and diverse, with a big vision.

Figure 4: Cornerstone leadership team | Cornerstone, 2022

Himanshu is 10 months in office, Karthik less than 50 days as of this writing. Neither comes from the HR or learning space–which, as you know, has its own idiosyncrasies and bugaboos. Toya has been with the company for 9 years, but the Chief Customer Officer role is brand-new.

My take: I can't wait to see what's next

Cornerstone’s newly-formed leadership team has promised a lot. There's a lot to be proven.

Which isn't a bad thing at all. I love the big vision, the energy, and the direction.

It simply means some time needs to pass to give the team a chance to execute the vision.

My questions are:

  • Will the outside perspectives help? The CEO and CPO’s relative inexperience with HR and learning tech could be great if they bring new perspectives that move the business forward. Or it could be a problem, if they fall into traps they may have avoided with more experience in the space. I hope it's the former.
  • Is 12-18 months enough? The Cornerstone team has a lot on their plates. They said many pieces are in place to execute everything promised. Maybe the 12-18 month timeframe is doable. I can't wait to see how things shape up.

Final thoughts

It was a pleasure to meet so many interesting, dedicated people at Convergence 2022. The event lived up to its promise of "limitless inspiration." (On that note, the 2 keynote speakers–Amy Poehler and Mae Jemison–were fantastic.) I look forward to seeing what happens over the coming 12-18 months and hope to see everyone next year.

Visier Buys a French Skills Mapping Platform, Boostrs

Posted on Monday, October 24th, 2022 at 12:13 PM    

This morning, Visier announced it acquired the assets of Boostrs, a Paris-based skills mapping vendor.

At the 30,000 foot level, Visier is getting into the skills tech space because it wants to combine skills data with the other employee-specific data it collects and analyzes for customers. This will allow Visier to provide skills benchmarking and greater levels of insight into what is happening with individuals within the organization.

This event is notable because it marks the first acquisition of a skills mapping technology (a nascent space) by another people analytics tech vendor. It speaks both to the broad importance of skills in our space and to Visier's specific strategy. This blog will cover both.

Why skills?

In case you've been living under a rock (it's ok, I do, too – after all, I still haven't seen Ted Lasso), you may wonder why skills are such a hot topic these days.

The reason is that skills allow organizations to quantify work more granularly and thus be able to do things like:

  • Better determine the skills needed for specific roles and better gauge the qualifications of an individual to fill those roles
  • Identify transferable skills across roles and organizations – making mobility more than a pipe dream and a solution to the many talent shortages organizations face.
  • Rethink roles by determining which skills could be combined to create new or eliminate old roles.
  • Create more flexibility and mobility – in traditional roles (moving from one role to another) and things like talent or opportunity marketplaces and gig work.

This list isn't everything skills can do, but it shows how a skills mindset can change how organizations function and work gets done. The promise of skills is creating great enthusiasm in our space right now.

Yet, skills is hard…

However, it turns out that once you dig into the whole skills topic, you find it is actually quite hard to:

  1. Identify all the skills of employees in your organization
  2. Organize the skills in a way that is flexible and continues to take into account new skills continuously
  3. Align skills to existing capabilities and jobs
  4. Integrate skills into existing talent practices and tech systems
  5. Do this for all of the organization
  6. Get everyone to use them

Hence, we’ve seen the rise of skills mapping vendors, such as Boostrs, Janzz, and TechWolf, which are designed to help with items 1-4 in the list above. (If you want more info on the skills tech market, you can read all about it in our recent report, available to members or via a free 7-day trial).

Why did Visier buy a skills mapping vendor?

Visier is what we call a “multi-source analysis platform” (MSAP). This means it connects data from existing HR (e.g., HRIS, LMS / LXP, TM) and other operational (e.g., sales or customer data) systems. It then enables robust analysis and distribution of those data. (If you need more background on Visier, you can get it from our blog on their last acquisition.)

So why did Visier buy a skills mapping vendor? There are a few reasons:

  1. Visier needed some sort of skills solution. Given the “hotness” of skills outlined above, pretty much everyone needs to be able to demonstrate how their solution supports skills. This is even the case in the people analytics tech space, where our bread and butter is analyzing people data that matters – and that is exactly what skills data are. Visier lacked a dedicated skills capability to date, and this acquisition gives them foundational skills infrastructure from which to build.
  2. Visier needed people who KNOW how to do skills. As mentioned above, skills work is hard: the tech is cutting edge, the devil really is in the details, the underlying graph technology is complicated, and HR use cases / applications aren't quite as easy to implement as you might hope. It takes time to find people and build tech that can do this. However, the market is moving really fast on this topic. It is far more efficient for Visier to buy this capability than build or borrow it.
  3. Visier wanted its own skills framework. There are so many skills ontologies and taxonomies out there right now that it will make your heads spin. At some point, though, we predict it will settle down, and folks will begin to adopt each others' frameworks, resulting in just 3-5 big ones. As a vendor, you want others to adopt your skills framework, as that means you can structure the data and approach in a way that is best suited to your technology. By buying a skills mapping vendor, Visier gets into this race – and as one of the largest MSAPs, they have a good chance of getting their approach to be one of the few that is widely adopted in 5-10 years’ time.

What is Boostrs?

Founded in 2017, Boostrs is an API-first technology that can extract any type of free or unstructured text from any type of document (e.g., Microsoft Word, PDF), such as training content / course descriptions, job offers / descriptions, titles, or resumes. The primary use cases for its technology to date have been skills mapping, matching, and job insights.

  1. Mapping: They have a skills repository of over 5,000 jobs and 13,000 skills, normalized across specialties, and includes complete job details (such as alternative job titles, and job and skill descriptions). They also have historically enabled customers to convert text content into normalized skills and categories automatically.
  2. Matching: They can match users with job opportunities based on skills, identify skills gaps, and identify appropriate learning paths.
  3. Job insights: They can share information on the evolution of jobs within a given organization (e.g., which ones are getting more automated), determine jobs that are harder to hire for, and determine which jobs are emerging in an organization.

To date, the technology has been focused on using skills to help with:

  • Learning: Creating accurate and customized learning paths
  • Recruitment: Matching candidates and job opportunities, pre-screening candidates, and generating candidate-shortlists
  • HRMS: Integrating standardized job families and relevant skills data to improve data quality and insight

Why did Visier buy Boostrs?

From the press-release, Visier states the following:

“The Boostrs technology enables Visier to provide broader and deeper insights and benchmarks for skills across the talent lifecycle, including key areas in:

  • Recruiting & Retention: Recruit for skills that lead to quality hires, and retain those hires through custom career and learning paths through a focused internal talent mobility strategy.
  • Learning and Development: L&D programs designed to upskill and reskill, with succession planning and promotion readiness.
  • Compensation: Clear benchmarks for skills and job level compensation, extending beyond job titles and offering clearer insights into skills based compensation planning.”

Yes, yes, but why, specifically, Boostrs?

This is all well and good, but it is worth asking why specifically Boostrs, versus some other skills mapping vendor? Here’s why we think they did it:

  1. Skills data are sensitive and buying a European provider is a good idea. Skills data encapsulate a person's current skills and future hopes (if you are capturing the skills they want to develop). And so, it is sensitive data, subject to scrutiny. Vendors need to be aware of all the data-protection limitations (yes, GDPR, but also the new California Privacy Rights Act, which goes into effect in January). As a European vendor, Boostrs is well-versed in this dance of data and privacy and will likely help Visier navigate this situation.
  2. More European presence can help bolster Visier’s expansion efforts. Visier has grown quickly over the last few years. It currently has a London sales-focused office and a Berlin-based development office. The acquisition of the Boostrs team (10 engineering and data scientist employees) in Paris will give them another toe-hold in Europe. Given that Visier’s biggest European competitor, Crunchr, is now pushing into the US, it seems appropriate that Visier push more into Europe.
  3. API-first, HR tech-integration-focused vendor. Boostrs is an API-first vendor, meaning it has no front-end for users. It also has seen other HR vendors as primary customers for a long time. Therefore, it is a perfect solution to buy and “tuck-in” to Visier’s existing data capture, mapping, and analysis capabilities. It’s important to note that the solution will no longer be sold independently, so it will only be available via Visier.

What concerns us?

As always, this all sounds super rosy on paper, but we always have to think about the concerns with an acquisition. Here’s what we’re thinking at the moment:

  • The Boostrs skills repository isn’t that big. According to its website, the Boostrs’ skills repository has 5,000 job titles and 13,000 skills. When we compare that to other skills repositories at other vendors, it is obvious that this is far smaller than many others. Now, quantity does NOT mean quality – so it is important to avoid over-indexing on this point. However, it is still worth noting, as it implies that Visier will have a lot of work to build up significant skills benchmarking capability, which is one of its primary goals.
  • The technology focuses on documents, not systems. We understand that Boostrs can imbibe information from any document (e.g., Word doc or PDF), but not go into existing systems (e.g, HRIS, CRM) and extrapolate or infer skills from those locations. This significantly limits the number of sources from which one can identify skills data. It also means that Boostrs isn’t doing anything to really identify proficiency levels, which will become increasingly important. It may be that Visier already has tech that can (or can be configured to) gather this information (maybe from its acquisition?), but this seems like a limitation Visier will have to overcome.
  • Data privacy and ethics. It wouldn’t be a RedThread blog about a people analytics tech acquisition if we didn’t write about the importance of data privacy and ethics. As vendors bring together more and more data about people, it is critical that leaders make compassionate, thoughtful, ethical decisions about how those data are used. While people analytics leaders in companies may be the critical gatekeepers on these decisions, we very strongly believe vendors have an important role to play in setting norms and making design decisions about how these data will be used. Visier will continue to have an important role to play here.

Where might Visier go with this next?

We foresee a few places where Visier might go next after this acquisition (and the one of, earlier this year). These include:

  • Labor Market Intelligence (LMI). LMI (existing players = Lightcast, Talent Neuron, etc.) is generally used to understand specific changes in the labor market, such as where within Texas there are concentrations of software developers and their annual compensation, that feeds talent acquisition and strategic workforce planning decisions. However, we are starting to see LMI be inserted into other talent management decisions, such as to inform decisions around investing in developing talent vs. trying to bring in new talent from the open market and compensation adjustments based on skills in the market. Given the breadth of information Visier will now have on employees, we could see it expanding more into LMI benchmarking in the future.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS).According to Microsoft, PaaS “is a complete development and deployment environment in the cloud, with resources that enable you to deliver everything from simple cloud-based apps to sophisticated, cloud-enabled enterprise applications. You purchase the resources you need from a cloud service provider on a pay-as-you-go basis and access them over a secure Internet connection.” With its increasingly large benchmarking data set – now to include skills – we could see Visier moving in more of a PaaS direction to make a lot of these data available to a broader set of customers. It’s worth noting that Visier has some of this capability today, but a PaaS play would be a more significant offering.

Wrapping up

Visier clearly needed a skills-focused solution, and this acquisition gives them that and opens up some additional doors to more sophisticated benchmarking in the future. It also removes some potential technical headaches of leveraging someone else's skills ontology or taxonomy as their foundational skills framework. We have a few concerns about the technology itself, but those may be mostly related to its maturity, which will now evolve substantially. We see this as a solid strategic move and look forward to continuing to learn more.

P.S. If you care about skills, we have a lot of resources on them (below). We will also publish a new report on designing a skills strategy in the next few weeks. You can check out our existing resources below:

Working (2 jobs) 9 to 5

Posted on Friday, October 14th, 2022 at 10:58 AM    

Today, news broke that Equifax mined records it collects from 2.5 million companies to fire dozens of employees for working 2 jobs. They dubbed the probe "Operation Home Alone." This is troubling to us on at least 2 fronts:

First, while it may not be illegal, it definitely feels….icky. It also sends a very strong, maybe unintended, message to employees and to customers. Employees will likely be less willing to share information voluntarily and will also likely be more paranoid about Big Brother watching them. And if I were a customer, I'd be even warier than I was after the data breach in 2017.

Second, this crackdown on employees who are working more than one job seems to be addressing the wrong problem. The problem is not that employees are working 2 jobs. The problem is that organizations are not engaging employees enough or paying them enough to garner their full attention.

Also, if performance objectives are clear, employees are meeting those objectives, and there is no conflict of interest (i.e., working for a competitor, etc.), does it really matter if employees work more than one job? Companies shouldn't own employees.

I would love your thoughts.

Skills reports and new platforms

Posted on Wednesday, September 28th, 2022 at 4:20 PM    

Last week, we published our Skills Tech Report! It was the culmination of months of research that included a survey and live briefings / demos with over 45 vendors, and I couldn't be more excited to share our findings.

Skills tech is technology that collects and organizes data about employees' skills. We estimate that this market is roughly $1.2B and growing. Ninety percent of the vendors in the study offer skills tracking functionality (the biggest of all functionalities).

Not surprisingly, the skills tech market is as varied (and confusing) as the skills movement itself. We had a heck of a time categorizing tech in a way that could help leaders make better decisions. But we did it! We found that most vendors can be plotted on a 2X2 matrix – using these 2 factors:

  1. How skills are organized (more flexibly or with more structure) and
  2. How employees' skills are identified (primarily by people or by tech)

The report discusses each quadrant, including the pros and cons, strengths and challenges, and how each is best suited for certain use cases.

Skills Tech

Please check out the report and let us know what you think! We always appreciate feedback and insights from our RedThread community. And a huge thank you to all the vendors who participated in this study. Your continued support makes our work possible! 

Connection and Performance Management in the Hybrid World

Posted on Wednesday, August 24th, 2022 at 1:51 PM    

Hi RedThread Fam,

If you've been reading the industry literature recently, you've probably seen one or several pieces on the role of connections and relationships at work. You can add this newsletter to that list. A couple of months ago, we published our report on performance (PM) for hybrid work. Based on data collected in 2021, it was one of the more fascinating studies we have done on PM for a couple of reasons:

  • It allowed us to compare 3 sets of data collected in 2019 (pre-covid), early 2020 (beginning of the pandemic), and pandemic peak (summer / fall 2021)
  • Culture and capability of managers continue to be important factors for driving performance, although companies need to think more broadly and target a broader range of practices under each.

But the biggest reason we were excited about the study was that we saw connection emerge as a critical factor that impacts PM for the first time. When combined with culture and capability of managers in organizations, employees were 4 times more likely to give their employer a positive NPS score and 1.6 times more likely to report high engagement.

There has been a growing focus on the importance of connection-building during the past 2 years (we just launched a study on it as well). One of the reasons it has come under the spotlight is because genuine relationships within a company can help create a workforce that's generally more satisfied and less stressed. Another reason is the loneliness experienced by remote workers, which could impact engagement and performance. Finally, the loss of networks and relationships outside one's group or team could make collaboration a challenge.

How do leaders build a connection? One way is through check-ins. Our research shows that daily check-ins increased by 8% from 2019 to 2021, while monthly structured conversations increased by 10% from 2019 to 2021.

This makes sense. As companies shifted to more continuous goal-setting approaches, they needed frequent conversations between managers and employees. Also, leaders fearing that employees might feel cut off from company culture likely made a greater effort to engage employees through regular check-ins. Additionally, as managers lacked previous levels of visibility into an employee's work—it resulted in managers speaking with their team more regularly. Finally, the informal means used before the pandemic to provide "in-the-moment" feedback to employees disappeared—leading managers to set more frequent conversations.

While a step in the right direction, our study revealed a greater desire for conversations among employees. Seventy percent of employees want more daily or weekly check-ins than they're having with their managers.

We believe that building and managing connections will continue to be important for PM—if not more so—as hybrid work becomes a reality for many. This is why we recently launched our new PM survey. Our goal is to find out which practices organizations are doubling down on or letting go of in the hybrid work world. And like everything we do, we want you to be a part of it.

There are 3 ways we seek your participation:

  1. Take our survey before August 29. We will donate $20 to American Red Cross's Disaster Relief Fund for every response completed!
  1. Join our roundtable on September 8 for a highly collaborative discussion.
  1. Let us interview you. Reach out to me at [email protected].

We look forward to your participation!

Building a DEIB <> People Analytics Partnership

Posted on Thursday, August 18th, 2022 at 6:22 PM    

Hi RedThread Fam,

In the summer and fall of 2020, companies made big promises to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) in their organizations. At the time, one of our first questions was how organizations would show the progress made on those commitments. While DEIB metrics—measurements designed to understand DEIB—are the obvious answer, how to select, collect, use, and maintain those metrics isn’t so clear.

Thus, our research initiative on DEIB metrics and people analytics (PA) was born. The first article in this series, “DEIB Analytics: A Guide to Why & How to Get Started,” provides leaders with a plan for how to begin using DEIB metrics and analytics. The second article, “DEIB Metrics: An Essential Guide,” provides definitions of what DEIB metrics are and how they can be used.

Today, we are publishing the Building a DEIB-Analytics Partnership, the 3rd in the series, focusing on how DEIB and people analytics leaders should partner to identify, measure, maintain, and distribute those DEIB metrics.

Why write an article on this DEIB–PA partnership? For many, many reasons.

One of the biggest reasons is that the way that DEIB and PA leaders partnered has changed substantially in recent years. PA is increasingly at the center of DEIB metrics efforts as organizations ensure that they have consistent data sets, analysis approaches, and contexts across the board. However, PA leaders shouldn’t do this work without the support of DEIB leaders—since DEIB brings an essential level of theory, nuance, and context to the data. As one of our interviewees, Hallie Bregman, mentioned:

“People Analytics leaders can help answer questions that DEIB leaders didn’t even know how to ask.” 

Yet, it isn’t always intuitive for DEIB and PA leaders to work together in practice. First, many DEIB and PA leaders have historically come from different perspectives, such as social justice for the former and math or statistics for the latter.

Second, many DEIB and PA leaders’ individual responsibilities often have very different orientations. Many DEIB leaders, for example, are charged with creating community and connection—and taking a data-driven approach may not be prominent on your radar. By contrast, PA leaders primarily focus on data and measurement; your only experience with DEIB may be through their participation in DEIB-related initiatives.

Third, DEIB and PA leaders’ reporting relationships are often very different. This can result in a poor alignment of priorities and little insight into each other’s work, especially if either DEIB or PA is outside the HR reporting structure.

Finally, the data used by DEIB in the past hasn’t necessarily been the same as that used by PA—making it more difficult to create alignment on even simple reporting.

This new article can help DEIB and PA leaders better understand each other—and help you create a partnership that will enable you to succeed. We identify 3 components of an effective partnership in this article, outline the responsibilities of DEIB and PA leaders and provide specific examples of how to make this relationship more effective. We also provide a series of exhaustive checklists in the appendix to help you get started.

We look forward to hearing your feedback on this latest study!

Building Bridges with Skills

Posted on Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 at 12:49 PM    

One of my favorite trips was to a place called Ronda, Spain. Ronda is a city that resides on 2 cliffs, connected by a bridge. The bridge, built in 1793, connects the older part of town, La Ciudad, with the newer part of town, El Mercadillo.

In the years before 1793, I can imagine the townspeople, all living in the old part of the city, saying something like, “Dude, we need more space, but we live on a cliff. What should we do?” And then they decided that, even though it would be tough and take some time, they needed space to grow. So they built a beautiful and functional bridge over to the other cliff.

Ronda, Spain

Why am I sharing this? Because you should all go, but also because Ronda is a perfect metaphor for where most organizations are in their skills journey. Many organizations realize that they need to grow; they also understand that what got them here won’t get them there. New ground will be required. And how do you get from the old to the new? You gotta build a bridge.

Our current skills study focuses on that bridge – the things that organizations consider as they start (or continue) their skills journey. It builds on 3 podcast seasons, in which we were lucky enough to have candid conversations with more than 20 leaders about their approach to skills: the how, the challenges, advice they had, what they expected to get out of it – even the tech they’re using.

We expect the final report to publish in early October. So far, we’ve written and published both a Premise and a Readout from our roundtable. Next week, we’ll also publish a Lit Review – a summary of the 50 articles we reviewed, along with a complete list of them so you all can delve as deep as you want.

We’ve also assembled a small but scrappy group of leaders to act as our sounding board. They’ll get a first view of the model and major findings and tell us where we might be wrong. They’re there to keep us honest and grounded.  If you’d like to join this group, please let me know.

We Want You to Guide Our Research Agenda

Posted on Tuesday, August 2nd, 2022 at 11:32 AM    

Here at RedThread, we fully embrace feedback. It is an integral part of our internal culture. In our weekly team meeting, we have a dedicated space on the agenda for positive feedback and shout-outs to colleagues for something positive they did or contributed. Not just that, we hold another weekly meeting specifically for everyone to bring what they're working on and get feedback from the team. It has been instrumental in how we collaborate. Suffice it to say, we have built feedback into how we do our work at RedThread. It's also something we value from you all, who read and interact with our research.

As we work to finalize our agenda for the second half of the year and produce truly valuable research we would love your feedback on what we should be focusing on.

Recently, both of RedThread's co-founders, Dani Johnson and Stacia Sherman Garr put out polls to answer two questions:

  • Which research topic would help you most in your work?
  • What research topics should we focus on in the next 6-9 months?

We're considering a variety of topics, including Learning Analytics, Understanding Critical Talent, and DEIB Employee Experience, to name a few.

Respond to Dani's poll here.

Respond to Stacia's poll here.

Please let us know what you think!

Can Skills Run the World (of Work)?

Posted on Tuesday, July 26th, 2022 at 5:25 PM    

As we move into the second part of 2022, we're embarking on some new research. Last week we announced Rethinking Connection at Work, and this week, we have another topic coming at you: Skills.

We've been focusing on skills for a while:

It's safe to say we've waded quite far into studying skills, but we know there is more to learn. Enter stage left: our new skills study.

Can Skills Run the World (of Work)? Read the premise.

One of the largest changes we've seen during the pandemic is the acceleration of skills. Orgs have started to realize the benefits of quantifying work at a much more granular level. In this study, we will use conversations we've had with leaders who have begun down the path toward skills to understand how orgs can get started to prepare for a change to skills and sidestep hurdles along the way.

The full report will be published this fall, but if you're itching to learn more now and participate in our research join our roundtable this Thursday! You'll have the opportunity to hear from other leaders and practitioners about what their orgs are doing around skills, and share your experiences with us.

Rethinking Connection at Work

Posted on Tuesday, July 19th, 2022 at 3:53 PM    

As in many companies, RedThread’s work is somewhat cyclical. In the last 2 months, we’ve wrapped up a number of studies and are excited to start announcing the topics we’ll be focusing on in the near future.

So, what’s new? 

Connection—or, in many cases, reconnection.

In the past few years, professional networks have shrunk dramatically. Many people feel less connected to their colleagues and organizations. This is a problem because connection at work is critical to employee engagement, sense of belonging, well-being, and performance. Lack of human connection at work is bad for people and bad for business.

We want to know how organizations and leaders can most effectively address this “connection crisis.” That’s why—today!—we’re launching both a research study and a podcast on connection at work.

Check out the first podcast episode and the research premise. Bonus: get early access to an additional episode!

If you’d like to participate in the roundtable or interviews for with this research, please reach out to me at [email protected].

And in case you missed them, here are the reports we’ve released recently for our members:

RedThread Research is an active HRCI provider