Putting Purpose in Your Leadership Pipeline

Posted on Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022 at 6:17 PM    

How is it already the last week of February?! Hard to believe. That means, though, that the Spring HR Tech show is next week, and I will be sharing a keynote on March 3, 4:45 pm PT, Putting Purpose in Your Leadership Pipeline. We will be following this up with a new report.

Since I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot, I thought I’d give you a bit of the behind-the-scenes on the talk. When I began preparing, I thought the talk and report would be all about the cool ways HR was helping leaders learn, develop, and reinforce their purpose. Rest assured, there is plenty of that in the talk. However, I quickly realized that a focus on what HR can do wasn’t going to actually help leaders prioritize purpose.

Instead, after conversations with several non-HR leaders, I realized that the most significant barrier to leaders prioritizing purpose was how they perceived purpose. Many leaders see a focus on purpose as, at worst, a distraction from their business, and at best, an HR fad designed to help address “The Great Resignation.” 

The need for purpose is more fundamental than either of those things. Here are just a few stats (from Just Capital) from the talk that make this point clearly:

  • 58% of Americans believe the current form of capitalism is NOT working for average Americans
  • 51% of Americans believe companies are NOT having a positive impact on society overall
  • 47% of Americans believe companies are going in the wrong direction

Having an organizational purpose is tied closely to serving all stakeholders:

  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Suppliers
  • Communities
  • Shareholders

If leaders can effectively adopt or refine a clear purpose that enables them to serve and address the needs of all those stakeholders, they may be able to stem the tides of discontent so many feel. Organizational purpose is about making organizations work for everyone.

But how do we help leaders adjust their understanding of purpose? Well, that is what the talk is about! We have a P&L-driven way to help leaders re-think purpose, and we follow that up with some CEO-led examples from PepsiCo, EY, and The Home Depot.

I sincerely hope you join us for the talk—it’s free!—and check out our research report once it comes out. Until then, I hope you have a purposeful week.

Your Guide to DEIB Analytics

Posted on Tuesday, February 15th, 2022 at 6:20 PM    

It’s 2022. Do you know where your diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) data is?

Let’s take a step back; do you know which data you should be looking for? If yours is one of the 80% of orgs that still do not track or analyze data on discrepancies in performance, compensation, and hiring—or even if it belongs to the other 20%—this note is for you.

Track your DEIB metrics to know if you are making progress on your goals. 

There is no better time than now to get started.

The pandemic has fundamentally shifted how people approach their professional lives and seek purpose at work. 52% of employees say the pandemic has made them question the purpose of their day-to-day job, and 65% are rethinking the place work should have in their life. Businesses are faced with challenges and need to provide employees with a sense that theyare valued, and their work has an overall impact on society. One of the best ways orgs can do this is by focusing on areas of DEIB, such as helping address existing issues of fairness and equity.

But wait, you might be thinking, where do I even start? There’s so much data out there; how do I know which metrics I should be looking at?

As part of our ongoing study on DEIB and analytics, we recently released a guide on DEIB Metrics that provides:

  • A foundational understanding of the different metrics that can be used to measure and track DEIB performance, including exhaustive lists of metrics for each diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging
  • Insights on how those metrics might vary depending on your where your org is at in its DEIB and analytics journey

If you want to learn more about how orgs can lead with purpose and the role of DEIB in it, check out Stacia Garr’s upcoming HR Technology Conference keynote on March 3.

Can L&D functions lead us into the future?

Posted on Wednesday, February 9th, 2022 at 6:22 PM    

So, what many HR professionals have been fearing is maybe starting to come to pass: ByteDance, who owns the better-known TikTok, recently dissolved their Talent Development function. The entire department was let go over the holiday break in a virtual meeting.

While I find many things interesting about this move (the way they did it, the timing, etc.), the 2 things I find most interesting are their reasoning and solution.

Their reasoning

ByteDance felt that "many learning events, such as online talks of mediocre quality…that could easily be found on the internet didn't make good use of their employees' time."

An internal memo also mentioned that while employees believed these opportunities were "personally helpful," they were more of a feel-good initiative with limited and questionable value.

In short, L&D wasn't making the cut.

Their solution

ByteDance claims that developing talent is still a big priority—they just think they can do it better without a dedicated L&D function. Instead, they have looked at employee needs and distributed employee development responsibilities throughout the organization. In essence, development has become everyone's responsibility—not a particular department's.

While this move may seem extreme (and scary), I don't think this is the last time we'll see it. In fact, we are seeing hints of it in our current research about the learning methods employees use for learning: employees don't rely on courses nearly as much as L&D functions would like to believe they do, and many of the other methods they do use for development are happening on the job, as a part of the work, by other departments, and on their own—not through L&D.

Add to that the very loud discussion many orgs are having about skills, and I'm reasonably sure that the future of talent development will look wildly different from the past. Or even the present. I'm certainly not advocating jettisoning the L&D function, but I am a realist—L&D functions have to be able to lead the charge forward. If they can't, someone else will, and we'll have to follow.

L&D's DEIB Opportunity

Posted on Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022 at 6:23 PM    

In the past 2 years or so, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) has—rightly—received more attention and investment than ever before. This trend isn’t about to stop: the most recent Edelman Trust Barometer indicated that well over half of employees, investors, and consumers are all making decisions in ways that push orgs to do more on DEIB. And more anecdotally (but also interesting), many of the 2022 predictions lists that have been circulating over the past couple of months have listed DEIB as a top trend for this year.

As orgs step up their DEIB efforts, we see a huge opportunity for L&D functions to do the same. With their reach across the org, their ability to influence org culture, and their responsibility to develop employees’ skills (including DEIB skills), L&D functions have incredible potential to influence the DEIB cultures of their orgs.

But that potential is, in our experience, largely untapped. L&D functions seem to be thinking too small. They’re staying in their DEIB comfort zone: compliance-oriented DEIB training. We think L&D functions need to think more deeply, expansively, and holistically about the impact they can have on DEIB.

That’s why we’ve just introduced a new research study on DEIB and the L&D function. We want to know: What are the most impactful things L&D functions can do to help build a strong DEIB culture in their orgs?

More specifically:

  • What are forward-thinking L&D functions doing to build a DEIB culture in their orgs?
  • What changes can L&D functions make—to themselves and to the ways learning happens—to have the biggest impact on the DEIB culture in their orgs?
  • What are the major considerations that L&D functions should be taking into account if they’re just starting to expand their DEIB efforts?

This research continues a series of RedThread studies on different aspects of DEIB in the workplace, including:

We’re excited to dive in! If you’d like to learn more, we just published the premise of this research on our website. Check it out here.

The research will include a roundtable and 1 on 1 interviews—and we’d love for you to get involved. To participate in the study, please reach out to

And finally, Don Taylor, a thought leader and researcher in the UK, is conducting his annual Global Sentiment Survey to figure out what L&D folks feel is hot this year. Click on this link to participate! It’ll take less than 30 seconds.

Updates from our 2022 People Analytics Tech Study

Posted on Wednesday, January 26th, 2022 at 6:25 PM    

We recently kicked off our People Analytics Technology (PAT) study. For those unfamiliar with it, this is an annual study that we conduct to provide our readers with a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of the people analytics technology market and vendor landscape. It is one of the biggest studies that we undertake, mainly because we conduct over 45 vendor briefings, each 60-75 minutes long, within a span of 1 month (yes, you read that right), in addition to collecting data from 3 different surveys.

There are a few reasons why we're particularly excited about this study this year.

  • If our previous reports are any indicator (you can check them out hereand here), we expect the market to have grown significantly. Our vendor outreach list is already longer than it was last year (from 45 to 65 vendors), and we know that investments in work tech grew significantly in 2021.
  • With the pandemic continuing to impact work in new and different ways, we expect to see people analytics solutions applied to new use cases and vendors be more thoughtful about how the technology can be best applied to solve for current and new challenges.
  • Finally, we are revamping our PAT Tool to make it more robust. Not only will it have a new look and feel, but we will also update it on a more regular basis throughout the year so that our members will always have access to the most up-to-date information on different vendors. This includes:
    –  Solution capabilities
    –  Solution strengths and challenges solved
    –  Talent areas of focus
    –  Industries served
    –  Customer size served
    –  Customer feedback
    –  Company information

We are excited to track the new developments in this space and share our findings with you all soon! Watch this space for updates.

Our Takeaways from the Discourse on Stakeholder Capitalism

Posted on Wednesday, January 19th, 2022 at 6:35 PM    

Many of you know how much we, the RedThread organization, care about purpose and stakeholder capitalism. We published a research report on it, did a podcast season on it, and will be delivering a keynote on it at the upcoming Spring HR Tech show.

Well, purpose also happens to be in the news A LOT right now—or maybe, I have confirmation bias because I’m prepping for my session—and there are a few must-read items we want to put on our radar (below).

TL;DR: There remains a real need for orgs to serve a broader purpose in society (as shown in the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer), but some investors and business leaders are starting to push back on that notion.

My takeaway is that many leaders are uncomfortable with the idea of the purpose being their North Star (and letting everything else follow), because purpose can be somewhat squishy and hard to define. In contrast, the shareholder value is focused, clearly defined, and historically “safe.” No CEO ever got fired for chasing the shareholder value. Yet, an argument could be made that in the future, they might be, if the shareholder value is all theypursue. Therefore, a narrow focus on the shareholder value may not be as “safe” as some leaders assume. 

All of this pushback doesn’t mean business leaders should shy away from leading with purpose. It means we should instead:

  • Clarify what purpose means in our orgs and connect it to individuals more effectively.
  • Identify better metrics for measuring and communicating purpose.
  • Develop leaders to better understand and lead through purpose.

How do we do that? Well, the report and the podcast season mentioned above have some good insights—and we will be adding to those in that Spring HR Tech keynote in March.

In the meantime, these resources will help keep you keep updated:

  • 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer: This got published yesterday—and, to be honest, it is a bit of a depressing read this year. Yet, the headline is that business is still the most trusted institution, underscoring the broader importance of businesses having and delivering a clear purpose to their stakeholders.
  • Larry Fink’s 2022 Letter to CEOs: Fink is the CEO of the investment firm, Blackrock, and as such, has a strong influence on investors and the business world, more broadly. He has also been a proponent of stakeholder capitalism for years. This letter, which is still very bullish on pursuing the organizational purpose, seeks to tamp down some of the dissension surrounding stakeholder capitalism.
    Specifically, he calls out, “Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not “woke.” It is capitalism, driven by mutually beneficial relationships between you and the employees, customers, suppliers, and communities your company relies on to prosper. This is the power of capitalism.” 
  • Unilever Should Know That Purpose Isn’t Strategy: An investor named Terry Smith, who owns about 7% of Unilever, is going after the company for its focus on purpose. He likely isn’t going to succeed in dissuading CEO, Alan Jope, from the focus on the purpose, but Smith’s tirade is likely indicative of a greater undercurrent of questioning orgs having a focus on purpose. This is a good reminder of the need for balance when talking about purpose.
  • C.E.O.s Were Our Heroes, at Least According to Them: If you want a cynical take on organizational purpose, here it is. This essay is adapted from a new book, “Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World,” by Peter S. Goodman. In his view, stakeholder capitalism is merely “a means of preempting government regulation.” It’s an interesting perspective, to say the least, and reminds us to check our assumptions.

If you come across any other good articles/perspectives on organizational purpose and leadership, send them my way.

Meanwhile, stay (or get!) healthy, and take care of yourself as you begin navigating this new year.

Amid 'The Great Resignation' Panic, Remember the People

Posted on Tuesday, January 11th, 2022 at 6:38 PM    

We’re in the midst of what analysts and writers are referring to as The Great Resignation, Migration, Shuffle, Reset, Contemplation, whatever. It has caused a lot of panic and uncertainty about what we do next. Personally, it’s caused me to reflect on the times in my life when I decided to change directions. One of those times sticks out.

I started my career at Ford Motor Company, doing program management. Ours was the group that coordinated with all of the other groups to make sure that everyone played nice and an SUV actually got created. If you have ever owned a 2007 Ford Escape, you’re welcome.

I really liked my job. So I was surprised when the chief engineer, Kumar, came to my desk one day and struck up a conversation that went something like this:

Kumar: “Do you plan on making a career out of Ford?”
Me: “I don’t know. I like it but I don’t know.”
Kumar: “When I was at the same place in my career, I didn’t know either.
Then someone gave me more opportunities, and here I am. Chief
Me: “Interesting.”
Kumar: “This is my way of telling you that you’re on the same path. So if
you don’t want a career at Ford, now is the time to leave. We’re going to
offer you more opportunities and more money; and soon, it’ll be too
painful to leave. Get out now if you’re going to.”

Within 3 months, I was happily running a research project for the University of Michigan, which changed the course of my career.

As the people people in the organizations we serve, there are lots of things we need to be concerned about right now. Key roles in the org may be vacant; we may be losing critical skills we don’t want to lose; and it’s probably incredibly disruptive to offboard, and subsequently onboard, so many employees.

But in the panic, we need to remember the people. Employees are trying to be their best selves, and some have likely realized that their best selves can be realized better in a different org.

And while we’re seeing record numbers right now, the average time in companies has been decreasing for years. Maybe, it’s time to rethink how HR does its job. Maybe, we need to get better at things like upskilling and onboarding quickly. Maybe, we should be providing more opportunities for growth and development through mobility. Maybe, we should be in the business of helping employees and our orgs get the best out of each other while we’re together. Maybe, retention isn’t the right metric, or at least, not the only metric.

I’m sure my leaving Ford was disruptive, but not disastrous. They figured it out. And the fact that Kumar went against his own best interest to have a frank discussion with me about what I wanted, and encouraged me to make the best decision for my future will keep me a Ford fan for life. That and the Cobra Mustang.

3 Ideas to Learn and Grow in 2022

Posted on Wednesday, January 5th, 2022 at 6:41 PM    

Before things ramp up in 2022, I’d like to throw into the mix one more reflective, new years-y post. Looking back at 2021, I noticed 3 ideas that helped me learn and grow, and I share them with the hope that they’ll be as relevant and helpful to you as they’ve been to me.

3 Ideas to Learn and Grow in 2022 

1. Know your intrinsic value. The CEO of a startup recently told me about the time a trusted colleague of his said, “You rely too much on external validation. You need to fix that, or this startup will fail. You’ll burn out.” It was the kick in the pants he needed to make serious changes in his thinking. He shared this story with me not only because it was life-changing for him, but also because I—like him and many others—struggle with the same.
His advice: Find your internal source of value and strength. He’s religious, so he reminds himself that he’s a child of God. I’m not, so I’ve adopted a riff on Brene Brown’s phrase: “I am enough, because I am.” Focusing on my intrinsic value helps me prioritize what matters and say “no” to things that don’t.

2. (Re)connect with your “why.” My son is learning to ski. Until recently, he didn’t want to ski by himself. He wanted me to hold him between my legs (he’s 3) while skiing—it was easier and more fun. This past Sunday, though, it clicked for him that if he wants to go down the steep hills, he first has to learn to stop and turn. So, he started practicing—two whole runs down a long bunny slope, stopping every 10 feet or so, all by himself. I was amazed at his motivation and dedication when he understood that these fundamentals will lead him to his “why”—his ultimate goal of skiing fast down steep slopes.
This is a simple example, of course. At work, we’ll likely connect with higher purposes and larger goals. But I think the story illustrates the importance of knowing your “why.” If you want to dive deeper, there’s a ton of research (including from RedThread) on individual and collective purpose.

3. Set up systems to support you. There’s a book (whose title I cannot recall) that likens people to water: we take the path of least resistance. We might try to climb up a mountain for some time, but eventually, we’ll go downhill again. The book suggests that if we want to truly change our behavior long-term, we have to shape our environment such that the path of least resistance takes us where we want to go.
Thinking about new year resolutions and goals for 2022, I find it helpful to not only set goals but also build systems and processes for myself to make it easier and more likely to meet them. Maybe you will find this helpful too.

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