People Analytics Tech: Rising to the Occasion

Posted on Thursday, May 7th, 2020 at 11:02 PM    

Lately, we've witnessed the people analytics (PA) community come together rapidly to support organizations as they navigate their way through the COVID-19 crisis. Through this blog, we share the resources and tools currently being offered by the vendors to help individuals, leaders, and organizations.

While we've done our best to provide the most current updates, we know that things are moving at a very fast pace. We're all learning every day (hour?!) of new needs, so expect vendors’ approaches to evolve rapidly. We'll do our best to keep this list updated, but the best source will always be the vendors themselves.

People analytics & their resources for the pandemic

We cover the PA vendors and the resources they offer based on the categories in our 2×2 people analytics technology framework:

  • Employee coaching
  • Employee engagement / experience
  • Multisource analysis platforms
  • Organizational network analysis (ONA)
  • Learning analytics
  • Text analytics
  • Labor market analysis

At the end of this discussion, we include a corresponding text chart for each of the 7 PA tech categories to let you know Who is doing What, plus any pertinent Additional Details (see Appendix 1).

Employee coaching: Understanding what’s changed since COVID-19

Some of the themes and focus areas in this category include employee behaviors, work life balance, and empathy. We were particularly impressed by the resources being offered by Cultivate for individuals to become more self-aware. Self-awareness can be a critical strength when navigating work from home and conducting digital communications exclusively with colleagues for the first time.

Employee engagement / experience: Determining what to prioritize during the crisis

One of the major priorities for organizations during this crisis has been keeping their remote workforce engaged and ensuring a positive employee experience. Vendors have stepped up to help provide tools and resources that focus on employee listening, communications, well-being, transparency, collaboration, and productivity.

There are 3 things that stood out to us in this category:

  1. Resources and tools to help managers. As a bridge between senior leadership and employees, managers are playing critical roles in guiding, communicating, and motivating their teams during the crisis. Several vendors such as 15Five, Peakon, Glint, Limeade, Perceptyx, and Betterworks Engage (formerly Hyphen) are offering such resources.
  2. Crowdsourcing ideas. Going beyond the senior management to include the voices from employees and encourage them to share their ideas can not only drive engagement but can also help improve communications and make employees feel that they are all in this together. One of the vendors doing this actively is Medallia.
  3. Preparing to return to the workplace. Vendors such as Qualtrics and Perceptyx are offering surveys that allow organizations to understand how and when employees should return to work by assessing their confidence levels and their sentiments.

Multisource analytics platforms: Understanding the impacts of COVID-19

Vendors in this category are helping organizations integrate and manage the new data they are collecting to track the crisis, and its effect on the workforce, and to conduct advanced analyses such as “what-if” analysis and scenario planning.

Two things that stood out to us from this category were:

  1. Integrating new data and conducting advanced analytics. Overall, vendors such as CruncHR, One Model, Vemo Workforce, and PeopleInsight are working as thought partners to help businesses strengthen their data infrastructure and management, and to identify the analysis needed to support the business.
  2. Combining workforce data with COVID-19 data for holistic analysis and surfacing future projections. Visier is offering its customers the ability to compare workforce data with publicly available COVID-19 data all within their solution giving them the ability to see different peaks and future projections for the pandemic for different geographies.

Organizational network analysis (ONA): Identifying & leveraging connections during the crisis

Even before the pandemic, fostering a culture of teamwork and collaboration was among the top challenges and concerns for employers. The crisis brought on by COVID-19 has only made this challenge more pressing as organizations transitioned to remote working. Vendors whom we heard from are focused on helping organizations with issues of connectivity, isolation and overall organizational health during the crisis.

The 2 things we wanted to highlight in this category are:

  1. Combating isolation during remote work. Vendors such as Polinode are working to help their customers collect data and identify individuals through ONA that are at most risk of isolation and those that are well connected and can be leveraged for proactive outreach.
  2. Identifying the changing drivers for productivity. Vendors such as Innovisor are offering resources that can help customers understand the change in key drivers that affect productivity.

Learning analytics: Providing resources to learn during the crisis

Areas of focus under this category include providing organizations and individuals with online learning resources such as videos, guides, and activities to help them understand mental health, and cope with anxiety and isolation.

One interesting resource that we wanted to highlight in this category is the partnerships leveraged by MLevel which can make critical learning resources on well-being accessible to a wider community.

Text analytics: Understanding what employees need during COVID-19

Advanced text analytics such as multi-language semantic text understanding can be especially crucial in times of crisis to really understand the challenges employees are facing and share ideas on new ways of working. Since traditional text classification models are not enough to capture employee engagement during times of unprecedented crisis, vendor OrganizationView is working with customers to build new text classification models.

Labor market analysis: Developing a plan for the new normal

While on one hand the crisis has been particularly hard for individuals who have been let go from their roles as organizations cut back, on the other hand, are institutes and businesses who found themselves on the frontline helping with the crisis and needing to hire quickly to meet the growing need for extra work.

Labor market data has been crucial in bridging the gap between the two. Vendors such as Eightfold AI and EMSI have been leveraging this data to match people to the jobs in companies that are hiring, helping them highlight the crucial skills, and sharing the labor market data broadly to help businesses plan and prepare.

Looking ahead

As some parts of the world are starting to look toward reopening and retuning workers to the workplace, people analytics tech providers are beginning to support “return to workplace” efforts through surveys and insights to measure the level of readiness and sentiment of the workforce. Beyond technology providers, we are also hearing from consulting providers who are creating support kits and helping customers think through their new strategies.

For example, Aon recently launched a tool, the Talent Impact Modeler, that aims to help companies plan for various impacts on their talent and including furloughs, compensation planning, shift planning, and attrition and retirement. As more and more areas recover from the pandemic, we foresee a shift as people analytics technology will move from being used to help organizations react and respond to plan for and adjust to the new normal.

Thinking about the future, issues such as trust, transparency, and well-being, which have risen to the top during the crisis, will assume a more permanent place among the top objectives for organizations if they want to be better prepared in the future to face similar crises.

Additionally, the crisis forced organizations to shift their focus to identify work and tasks that are essential to keeping the business going and the skills required to get that work done. This will affect and bring about a significant shift in the thinking and how organizations approach work moving forward. We foresee organizations giving greater attention to growth and development of skills needed for work essential to the business.

People analytics is well positioned to not just support but take a lead in helping businesses achieve these objectives. Given how the vendor community has risen and come together in this time of need during the crisis, we think they will be well positioned to continue playing a crucial role in providing the necessary capabilities and tools needed to help leaders in the future.

Appendix 1: PA tech providers by category

Employee Coaching

Employee Engagement / Experience

Multi-Source Analysis Platforms

Organizational Network Analysis

Learning Analytics

Text Analytics

Labor Market Analysis

Who What Additional Details

cultivate logo-2
  • A remote working guide for managers
  • A self-awareness quiz and a work from home quiz for individuals
  • “Work From Home” Reports

The vendor recently launched a new feature for auto-sending emails to avoid emails after work hours. It works as a Google Chrome extension and allows users to schedule after-hours messages to the recipient’s next available workday and time. The vendor has also started offering “Work From Home Reports” that provide the users with a summary of their digital behaviors and how it may have changed since they started remote work, including communication patterns, frequency, and volume.

Figure 1: Employee Coaching | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Employee engagement / experience

Who What Additional Details

  • Free use of all their tools through June to help employers new to managing remote workers
  • Remote work guides and webinars

The vendor offers technology as well as learning resources on its platform such as courses, certificates, and lessons for leaders and managers to help with the transition to remote work.

  • A free emergency response survey template
  • A collection of crowdsourced ideas and information on the website
  • Virtual workshops and trainings for customers on facilitating remote meetings

The resources are categorized on the website under themes such as supporting teams, working remotely, health information, and crowdsourced ideas to allow for quick reference based on specific needs.

The resource center is updated on an ongoing basis and is comprised of blogs, webinars, articles, toolkits, and guides.

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  • Free remote work nudges for individuals
  • A Crisis Resilience Solution for leaders

The nudges contain short suggestions to help people better work from home and navigate uncertainty.
Additionally, through the Crisis Resilience Solution, the vendor aims to help leaders identify what their people are struggling with during COVID-19, boost team cohesion and trust, and offer personalized support to every employee.

  • Using their KeenCorp Index to help customers identify “at-risk” employee groups

The vendor is working to help its customers increase communication, preventing turnover and declines in performance due to anxiety.

  • A free version of their product for a limited time
  • Resources such as blogs, write ups, videos, and webinars on the website

The product is working on helping organizations improve communications. The vendor is also offering tips and advice through their blogs that can be helpful for organizations working on transparency, trust, and well-being,

  • Employee Pulse Surveys that leverage both text and video feedback
  • A collaboration platform called “Crowdcity” that allows companies to crowdsource ideas from the employees
  • Text analytics to turn employee feedback into insights

The vendor is offering a number of their tools free for a 60-day trial. In addition, the vendor is also offering blogs and webinars that share best practices and advice around employee experience.

  • A set of COVID-19 specific survey questions
  • Three months of free access to Peakon
  • A Peakon Support Hub with advice, articles, webinars, and insights

The survey questions aim to help organizations understand the overall well-being of their employees.

Insights from global data collected by the vendor reveal that while in mid-March 1.5% of all weekly employee comments globally were about the virus, a month later, 3.5% of weekly comments were about the virus.

It also shows that the proportion of global employee comments related to well-being was 51% higher in March than it was in February. Additionally, manager response and acknowledgement rates to COVID-19 related comments were far higher than average, at 7% and 15% respectively, reflecting higher engagement from managers in March.

  • A series of online webinars to facilitate information sharing
  • A COVID-19 survey to assess corporate responses free for customers
  • A ‘Managing Remote Teams’ survey to support and manage remote teams free for customers
  • A survey to support people managers
  • A healthcare survey
  • A retail survey
  • A “Return to work” survey

The vendor has made the recordings of all their webinars publicly available on their website. In addition to the several surveys, the vendor is also offering action planning guides to be used once the surveys are completed.

  • A remote work pulse survey
  • A healthcare workforce pulse survey
  • A return to work pulse survey

The vendor is currently offering all of its solutions free for all organizations. In addition to these, the vendor is also offering additional resources such as blogs, articles, and advice on their website on how to build a positive employee experience during the crisis.

  • A series of resources, blogs, articles, and best practices for the healthcare community
  • A caregiver collaborative on a weekly basis to discuss emerging and adaptive practices implemented by physicians and nurses

Press Ganey, a health-care company, acquired the employee engagement vendor SMD in December 2019. The company has numerous resources that are freely available on its website.

  • A Work from Home analysis

The vendor has been working with their customers to leverage anonymous data from productivity tools such as Slack, Office 365, and G suite to assess the impact of change on their workforce and support them. The data provides insights into the levels of employee engagement, productivity, and collaboration at the macro level.

Figure 2: Employee Engagement / Experience | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Multisource analysis platforms

Who What

Additional Details

Crunchr-logo-on-white copy
  • Launched a survey and an Open Research Initiative
  • A ‘Covid19 Fair Share Index’ for customers to see how many hypothetical active cases they have by country over time

The research, which is based on the findings from the survey, is aimed at providing insights on what employers can do to keep employee productivity and engagement up. By end of April, the research had received almost 700 respondents. Some early insights revealed that on average, 66.8% of home workers are (very) worried about the economic situation: millennials (64.8%) less than older employees (71.9%) – and women (70.7%) more than men (64.7%). Additionally, personalized interventions to help employees, instead of a one-size fits all approach, are more effective.

  • A free easy-to-use tool to track COVID-19 impacts on the organization
  • Two blog posts highlighting the critical questions around workforce that need answers

The vendor is working with customers to help them integrate new data sets containing COVID-19 tracking data, employee survey results, and work from home data in a few hours to allow reporting in a quick manner. They have created employee level dashboards to assist employees and managers in reducing leave balance hotspots.

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  • Helping customers manage and maintain up-to-date data for talent acquisition analysis, turnover analysis, retention analysis and workforce health

Vemo_logo copy
  • Reaching out to customers to share ideas and support them to use planning and analytics for good

The vendor has seen their customers increasingly leverage their scenario planning tools to conduct what-if analysis to answer questions around forecasting attrition, retirements changing, and hiring volumes. The tool is also being used by customers to understand if they have business areas that are constrained by COVID-19, how and where can they manage this by managing external and internal attrition, instead of workforce reductions, and whether they should launch any voluntary reduction of hours or leave programs. They are also working with some customers to make sure they are coding leaves of absences and voluntary turnover by COVID-19 change reasons.

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  • New capabilities to compare employee data with public COVID-19 pandemic information and make future projections
  • Weekly forums featuring people analytics practitioners, vendors, and thought leaders to share stories, ideas, and advice

The vendor is offering a whole suite of crisis management resources that include guides, demos on how to leverage their solutions during COVID-19, and alerts and advisories. It is also extending a managed COVID-19 data set for open use via GitHub which is refreshed daily to assist with employee safety, crisis management, and workforce planning scenarios.

Figure 3: Multisource Analysis Platforms | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Organizational network analysis / ONA

Who What

Additional Details

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  • Published several white papers and publications on their website

The vendor is focused on helping customers understand the effects of COVID-19 on the overall organizational health.

innovisor logo - white copy
  • A “COVID-19 Pulse Tracker” tool to help managers keep their teams connected and productive

The insights from the tracker have revealed that “team connectivity” is a key driver for productivity. The data includes responses from teams in over 20 countries based out of North America, Europe, and the Middle East and include Professional Services, IT, NGO/IGO’s, and HigherEd to Pharma and Manufacturing industries.

organalytix-logo copy
  • Working with leaders at medium to large companies to understand how to optimize their existing spans and layers to run an efficient organization while delivering strong cost savings
  • Helping companies manage their blindsides on issues related to diversity during layoffs and prevent any risk of employment lawsuits

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  • Using ONA to ensure the well-being of staff and preventing isolation
  • Addressing communication challenges, especially collaboration outside of immediate teams and with external parties

While the vendor has currently been working with active data to help discover insights for customers, they can also leverage passive data to examine similar questions, measure well-being, and analyze collaboration levels.

TrustSphere Logo copy
  • Measuring changes in collaboration and inclusive leadership (across teams/timeframes) in the new distributed workplace
  • Identifying employees at risk of ‘collaboration overload’ (employee wellbeing)
  • Network insights for strategic workforce planning in the ‘return to work’ context

The vendor is focused on ‘operationalizing’ real time passive ONA signals to help customers measure/ analyze team collaboration, inclusiveness, and customer engagement.

Figure 4: Organizational Network Analysis / ONA | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Learning analytics

Who What

Additional Details

mLevel Logo (002) copy
  • Partnership with the online learning platform,
  • Partnership with Microsoft teams to offer introduction modules on how it can be used as an educational tool
  • New course series focused on health and well-being

In addition to the partnerships and learning courses, the vendor is also providing video guides on how organizations can utilize MLevel with tools such as Slack, Teams, Skype, Zoom, and OneNote among others.

Figure 5: Learning Analytics | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Text analytics

Who What

Organization-View-logo copy
  • New text classification models to help customers ask their employees more efficiently about their challenges and needs
  • Virtual presentations and trainings focused on advanced text analytics techniques such as word embeddings

Figure 6: Text Analytics | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Labor market analysis

Who What

Additional Details


The platform, supported by McKinsey & Company, is being offered free of charge during COVID-19. The platform can also be used by organizations who have had to furlough their employees to communicate with them so they can rejoin when things are back to normal.

emsi-logo copy
  • A resume optimizer to help out-of-work individuals highlight crucial skills
  • Two job posting data dashboards for U.S and Canada
  • Free webinars, research and tools focused on labor market data, job postings, and skills

Figure 7: Labor Market Analysis | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

The Responsive Org: The Future is Now

Posted on Tuesday, March 31st, 2020 at 10:30 PM    

So, things have changed

Not to overstate it, but within the space of three weeks, our entire reality has changed – personally and professionally. We are now social distancing, homeschooling our children, and hoarding toilet paper (you know who you are). But, as people leaders, we’re also trying to figure out how to enable entire workforces to work virtually, understand markets that have changed ridiculously fast, and deal with the financial repercussions of “doing the right thing.” It’s hard. And it’s a little bit scary.

The good news (if there is good news) is that many of the professional changes we're seeing were likely inevitable: changes in technology, the global nature of business, and evolving customer and employee needs had already set us down this path. Before the crisis, some organizations had begun to peer around the corner to the future, putting in place the strategy, infrastructure, and practices to respond to changing environments quickly.

So many others, though, kept talking about the need to respond to these things in the future, expecting that they’d have time to adjust. However, thanks to COVID-19, the future is here. And it's evenly distributed1

Some organizations are recognizing the opportunity before us. In a recent webinar, HFS Research shared that 22% of their sample of 279 major enterprises indicated they were seeing emerging opportunities as a result of the crisis and are making appropriate investments (or actively responding to the situation). Only 16% said that they were hunkering down and planning to roll out cost-saving measures, and exactly 0% said that their business was in grave danger and that they were considering drastic immediate options to survive this.2

Figure 1: Changes to Business Decision-Making from COVID-19 | Source: HFS Research, 2020.

So how do you move toward a position of taking advantage of emerging opportunities? The first step is to understand what an organization that can respond quickly to change looks like.

For the last 6 months, we have been studying the idea of organizational responsiveness – or what makes organizations able to respond more quickly to their market and employees’ needs than others.

This research was originally due to publish in May 2020. However, as we've looked at the incredible efforts of organizations to respond to this new reality, we recognize that our model and some of our findings could create some coherence and provide some guidance for leaders trying to help employees right now.

What the research says

Six months of research, lots of literature reviewed, and several conversations with really smart people have provided a sound overview of what a responsive organization is, what characteristics they have, and how organizations should become more responsive. The following discussion is led by the following 4 questions.

  • What is a responsive organization?
  • What characteristics do responsive organizations have?
  • A model for responsiveness: How do I prioritize as I build a responsive organization?
  • How can I participate in the roundtables?

What is a responsive organization?

One of the most difficult parts of this study has been trying to understand and clearly articulate what a responsive organization is – defining the undefinable qualities that separate those organizations who can respond to their environments from the ones that are at their mercy. After scouring the literature and conducting a lot of interviews, we landed on the following definition for a responsive organization:

An organization that determines trends in their environment and responds to them in ways that turn possible disruption into a distinct organizational advantage.

Responsive organizations are not just those who are able to keep up with the market; they are defined by their ability to understand and use trends to move ahead of the market. Four quick examples from recent history:

  • General Motors3 – For getting rid of unprofitable parts of the business so that they can focus on mobility – not just automobiles – broadening both their market and their innovation. (An example of this responsiveness on display at this moment is their quick turn to manufacturing ventilators within their electric vehicle manufacturing plant4.)
  • Target5 – For recognizing and understanding the trend toward boutiques and creating cult brands inhouse to fight the big box store image and remain competitive.
  • Netflix6 – For continuously pivoting as they recognized trends in the marketplace – from mailed DVDSs, to streaming movies, to partnerships with networks to stream content, and ultimately to becoming an award-winning studio of their own.
  • Amazon7 – For seeing the potential in delivering items directly to one’s door versus leaving the house for them, and then creating large-scale efficiency by doing so.

In the cases of each of these organizations, they weren’t just lucky moves – they didn’t just happen into the right answer. They were able to recognize trends in the marketplace and capitalize on them. And in order to do that, they needed a people structure and philosophy that supported it.

What characteristics does a responsive organization have?

During our initial research, we searched, not just for good examples of responsive organizations, but also what those organizations have in common – the characteristics that they share. Through extensive literature reviews and many interviews, a set of characteristics emerged. Figure 2 outlines these characteristics and provides a company example of each.

Characteristic Explanation Example Company

Decentralized structure
Decentralized structures allow the organization’s various divisions and business units to react to the environments in which they find themselves instead of relying on central control to react to ‘average’ environments. W.L. Gore has long been held up as an example of decentralized structure. Traditional org charts found in most organizations are not found at Gore. Everyone has the right to talk to everyone else, providing the freedom the organization has needed to innovate in areas ranging from Gore-Tex to aerospace cable wiring assemblies.8

Team-based organization
Responsive organizations tend to leverage teams – both formal and informal – to react to internal and external conditions, and to share knowledge across the organization. Teams come together to solve problems, and then often dissolve and reform so that employees are constantly sharing what they know and applying that knowledge to solve new problems. Cisco talks of making teams the source of insight and inquiry. Cisco allows teams to self-identify – recognizing both the formal and informal teams, and then offers team leaders development resources and information about how their team is working.9

Continuous learning & development
Responsive organizations tend to prioritize (read: invest) in continuous learning and development so that their workforces can gain needed knowledge and skills for a constantly changing environment. It often moves far beyond traditional learning events and instead embraces a culture of teaching each other, exploring beyond the walls of the organization, and trying new ideas. Unilever takes continuous learning & development seriously, most recently introducing the idea of a talent network. Employees are asked to create “purpose statements” and share their skills (and desired skills) broadly. Using an ecosystem of learning, work, and people management technologies, employees become a part of the talent network – a system that finds projects that align to development goals as well as already developed skills.10

Openly shares information and data
Responsive organizations tend to be freer with information – meaning that not only do they intend to share information throughout the organization, but that they also put mechanisms into place in order to ensure that it happens. Zendesk has a policy of radical candor amongst its employees, and regularly conducts root cause analysis to help their teams dig into problems. This practice is used in the moment of error. Instead of simply identifying and commenting on incorrect code or bring it up later (after it’s been fixed, the team stops, discusses why the code is incorrect, and how it happened in the first place.
This practice creates a culture of sharing and openness and allows the organization to learn and respond together.11

Dispersed decision-making authority
Responsive organizations tend to be less hierarchical in their decision-making – allowing them to be made at lower levels, which speeds up work and helps organizations move more quickly. Ritz Carlton empowers all of their Ladies and Gentlemen (what they call their employees) to solve guest problems to the tune of $2,000, per guest, per incident.12 This move disperses decision-making authority throughout the organization, making it more able to meet the needs and desires of their guests.

Tools to help employees do their best work
Responsive organizations tend to be early intelligent experimenters of technologies that help employees excel. Some of the more recent of these technologies includes AI, natural language processing, and blockchain. Some of the experiments and implementations leaders we have spoken with are trying include:

  • AI – for surfacing the best information for learning a specific thing
  • Analytics – offering insights into personal behavior
  • Natural language processing – using tech to “listen” in meetings and provide insights to leaders to make them more effective
  • Nudges – offering timely, insightful data to improve personal interactions

Figure 2: Characteristics of Responsive Organizations | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

We think it interesting that these 6 characteristics repeatedly surfaced in our discussions and in the literature. Much has been written about them individually; however, in our work, we see them as part of a holistic system that works together.

These patterns formed the basis of the survey questions we asked. From these 6 characteristics (which, again, were based on significant qualitative research), we formed a Responsivity Index that was then used to determine which actions taken by organizations contribute significantly to their ability to be responsive.

What's the model? How do I build a responsive organization?

Once we understood what a responsive organization was and the characteristics it had, we used the data to create a model of responsiveness, as shown in Figure 3. This model represents 4 layers that build on each other to create responsive organizations.

Figure 3: A Model for Responsiveness | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Why layers instead of levels? Good question, with two answers. First, as the model shows, the layers are transparent. Organizations, looking down through the top of the model, can see the impact of the lower layers on the higher layers. For example, it is difficult for an organization to be responsive at all without baseline respect. Respect is on the bottom of this model and affects all four layers.

Second, organizations that have made it to Layer 2 still have to focus on Layer 1. While our conversations with leaders indicated that there was a good deal of “systematization” that could occur to enable lower layers, people leaders still need to pay attention to those lower layers.

Interestingly, the data shows it's difficult, if not impossible, to jump layers. For example, most organizations aspire to be the type of organization its employees and the market trusts. However, to do so, the organization must also espouse respect, distribute authority, and have a culture of transparency and growth.

As with other models of this type, the more responsive an organization is (i.e., the higher the layer it has achieved), the more likely it is to:

Figure 4: Met or Exceeded Business Goals | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Figure 5: Very Highly Engaged Employees | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Figure 6: Responds Quickly to Changes in the Marketplace to a Very Great Extent | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Figure 7: Innovates Faster Than Competitors to a Very Great Extent | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Let’s briefly review each layer.

Layer 1: Respect

Interestingly, our data and interviews suggest that good old-fashioned respect is the foundation for all organization responsiveness. While this shouldn’t be surprising, it's a bit surprising how often respect is sidelined, particularly during times of crises. We are seeing this real-time with COVID-19. As organizations pivot in-office work arrangements to work-at-home arrangements, we’ve heard horror stories about organizations (and managers) who insist on detailed schedules and task lists at the start of each day, theoretically to ensure that employees are “on task” and not wasting company time.

This is not a new problem. In a Georgetown University survey of nearly 20,000 employees worldwide, respect was rated the most important leadership behavior. At the same time, though, employees report more disrespectful and uncivil behavior each year.13

Organizations looking to be more responsive to their market absolutely need to be an organization that espouses respect: from the organization to employee, from employee to employee, and importantly, from manager to employee.

Layer 2: Distributed authority

Layer 2 happens when organizations begin to change the way their authority structures work. During the first industrial revolution (and since, actually), there was a propensity toward efficiency. It's undoubtedly more efficient to make decisions centrally and have them roll throughout the organization flawlessly.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t work anymore. With diversified portfolios, different clients, and varying needs in business units, organizations need more flexibility. Like it or not, it's often quite inefficient to wait for a central authority to make a decision on something happening around the edges of the organization.

What’s more, this centralization likely stifles both agility and innovation. In her great book, Seeing Around Corners, Rita McGrath talks about innovation happening at the “edges of the organization.” In order to react to those changes at the edge of the organization and take advantage of opportunities there, organizations necessarily need to distribute authority much more widely than most of them currently do. According to our data, distributed authority at all levels helps with collaboration, and helps to eliminate busywork or nonvalue work.

Layer 3: Transparency & growth

Layer 3 describes the way organizations share information and encourage growth. A lot has been written lately on the importance of continuous learning & development, and it's become a buzzword in the employee development space. This has been enhanced with the ever-growing reskilling discussion: at least 54% of the population will need upskilling by 2022 (WEF), and 50% of them have concrete plans in order to do so (KPMG).

And, once again, this problem has been exacerbated by the current COVID-19 situation. Organizations, who frankly should have been looking at this all along, are suddenly faced with making sure leaders can lead, employees can work remotely, they are communicating as needed, and that employees are continuing to develop new skills – all in what was once considered “nontraditional” environments (they very well may become our new traditional environments).

Responsive organizations embrace the idea of growth. Particularly, they embrace the idea of growth outside of traditional channels. These organizations do not rely on classes and elearning courses to upskill their workforce; rather, they empower them to learn by doing, to fail safely, to understand which skills may be useful to them and to the organization in the future, and to give them honest data on how they’re performing.

The propensity for growth goes hand in hand with the dedication to transparency. Lack of information is basically ignorance. If employees need the best information to make the best decisions for your company – especially if you have distributed authority, ensuring transparency is crucial to responsiveness.

Layer 4: Trust

Layer 4 is Trust. Organizations with Layer 4 responsiveness have a community mindset. They have ceased to think in terms of “us” (management) and “them” (employees) and instead begin to focus on a “we’re all in this together” attitude – one that helps employees learn from their mistakes and invests in solving problems and learning together.

Obviously, a culture of trust can only exist with the three bottom layers in place. But a culture of trust goes beyond this and encompasses a sense of community. It is no longer enough to have a traditional employee value proposition – one where employees are paid and employers are paternal. At Layer 4, organizations move into an area where purpose and meaning take on more significance.

Responsive organizations – those that espouse purpose, and meaning, and community – work as a unit – an organism that responds along the edges and communicates back to the center. All employees are aware of the mission, vision, and purpose, and all trust that the organization – and other employees – are working together for that good.

Finding More from COVID-19

Posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2020 at 11:40 PM    

The steady drumbeat of COVID-19 news is reaching ever-greater levels – so loud that it seems to be deafening out almost anything else.

It would be hard for it not to. Here in the Bay Area we have the highest concentration of identified cases in California (and the 3rd highest in the country). Gatherings of more than 250 people have been banned. In-person classes at many local universities have been cancelled. Most of us parents are just waiting for school closures. My family has made the decision to avoid most public places (and you should hear how good my kids have gotten at the ABCs as they wash their hands). In many ways, these are scary times.

Focusing on the positive

But they are also times of opportunity, and I am trying to appreciate some of the unexpected good things that have resulted from these times. I thought I’d share them, as they might help you, too.

Here are some of the things I've gotten more of since the outbreak of COVID-19:

  1. Time with my family. You should have seen the pure joy and hugs my children gave my husband when he told them he’d be working from home for at least the next two weeks. And when I told them I wouldn’t be traveling for the foreseeable future? It was the most excited screaming I’ve heard in months. Social distancing is bringing us closer together.
  2. Thinking space. The spring is conference season, which means I tend to be on the road a lot. That isn’t going to be the case this year. It’s giving me some time to do deep thought work on some new and important research we’re doing on gender and performance management, how to create a responsive organization, using people analytics to create organizations of the future, and the talent experience at purpose-driven organizations.
  3. Genuine connection. This might seem counterintuitive. But since everyone is going through this pandemic together, more of my calls start out with conversations about how people are doing, how their families are holding up, and how they are managing through the difficulties. I think we collectively need more of this, and less “business as usual.” At RedThread, we already have a culture of video calls, but this need for connection has only reinforced that tendency.
  4. Time to breathe. Since I am not on the road, I’m actively taking that time that was booked on my calendar for “travel to airport” or “flight time” and going for walks or working out. So some of that breathing is heavy breathing, but all of it is making me more healthy.
  5. Reflection. Most specifically, I’ve been asking myself, do I need to be on as many planes as I have been for the last few years? What are the tradeoffs I’ve been making in terms of my health, the environmental impact, and my family? And are they worth it? My eyes were really opened by Hacking HR’s Global Online HR Innovation and Future of Work conference last week, and specifically the power of technology like hopin. There is so much more we can do virtually if we are open to it.

COVID resources

For many of us, COVID-19 also provides an opportunity to show steady leadership in a time of instability. It is through strong leadership that we can help our teams, organizations, communities, and families manage effectively. We continue to see (and will continue to add here) resources that we think might be particularly useful to leaders during this time:

A few articles to peruse

Finally, there are obviously a lot of articles out there on COVID-19 and your most reliable data source is the CDC and your state or county department of health. However, we've also done a lot of reading on this topic and were especially struck by the high-quality data analysis and insights in these 3 articles:

Final thoughts

We hope our reflections are of some use to you as you try your best to navigate these challenging times.

One final thing – while you are looking after your physical health, don’t forget your mental health. It’s quite possible we are in for a marathon, not a sprint, with this one. Good luck and now go wash your hands. ?


Springing Forward: Thoughts on IAMPHENOM 2020

Posted on Tuesday, March 10th, 2020 at 4:00 PM    

Phenom People, a global HR technology company, recently hosted its 3rd annual talent experience conference in Philadelphia, PA. Outside the venue, there were signs of change and growth that constantly reminded me that springtime was just around the corner; trees were budding, flowers were blooming, and birds were chirping.

Inside the venue, there was a similar sense of excitement and forward movement. With its purpose “to help a billion people find the right job,” Phenom has been on an upward spiral since it was founded 9 years ago.

Our Take: Phenom Conference 2020

This year, Phenom hosted over 1,000 CHROs, talent leaders, and HR practitioners, which was double the number of attendees from last year. And its growth extends beyond the conference, with a $30 million boost from its latest venture capital round earlier this year, it recently hired around 250 employees increasing its workforce to just over 500 across the U.S., the U.K., Israel, India, and the Netherlands.

For Phenom, it all comes down to talent experience management (TXM) with a focus to simplify, personalize, and scale four types of experiences (see Figure 1):

  • CX: Candidate experience – includes touchpoints during the recruitment process
  • EX: Employee experience – facilitates access to career paths and development opportunities
  • RX: Recruiter experience – offers tools to recognize and engage potential candidates
  • MX: Manager experience – provides visibility into relevant talent information and analytics


Figure 1: Phenom’s Opening Keynote by CEO and Co-Founder, Mahe Bayireddi | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Now let’s dive more deeply into the 4 product announcements that Phenom shared at the conference:

  • Phenom Gigs
  • 1-to-1 Personalization
  • Frontline Hiring Manager
  • Phenom Scheduling

Phenom Gigs

Phenom Gigs is an internal talent marketplace (see Figure 2).


Figure 2: Phenom Gigs | Source: Phenom People, 2020.

It uses artificial intelligence (AI) to match short-term projects to internal employees. This is Phenom’s answer to the subject of skilling (also known as re-skilling or up-skilling), and of course to other large players with similar offerings. It looks like Phenom Gigs benefits both managers by suggesting a potential resource to fill a project need, and their direct reports by linking them to projects to further expand their knowledge and skills.

Phenom Gigs reminds me of some of the common themes we heard in our learning tech ecosystems study on the importance of providing employees with choices to learn and develop that focus on building relevant skills. But like in other talent marketplaces, the sophistication of its AI capabilities – and the opportunity to develop lagging skills – remains to be seen.

I am particularly excited to see that Phenom is helping organizations think differently about their talent. Phenom Gigs offers them another way to fill project needs without having to look outside the organization. It also sends a compelling message to internal employees that the organization cares about their growth and development by providing them with learning opportunities.

1-to-1 Personalization

1-to-1 Personalization provides personalized recommendations to candidates on relevant jobs, benefits, and perks based on their unique profile and interests (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Phenom’s 1-to-1 Personalization | Source: Phenom People, 2020.

Phenom calls this a “true” AI-based personalization because it delivers an individualized career site experience, which may be the first time a candidate encounters an organization’s brand. In our recent report on employee experience, we mentioned that employee experience is based on “employees’ collective perceptions of their ongoing interactions with the organization.”

Phenom recognizes that employees’ journey begins when they are candidates, which impacts their experience with the organization from the get-go. By personalizing recommendations to candidates, it gives potential future employees opportunities they may not have found or considered on their own. Like Steve Jobs used to say, “…people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” and Phenom seems to be taking this to heart.

In my opinion, this feature is not only beneficial to organizations, but to candidates as well. Most of us have searched for a job at some point in our lives, and know how cumbersome the process can be at times. So any feature that promises to ease the pain associated with searching and applying to a job, may go a long way in providing a good first impression for candidates. As customers leverage this new feature, I’m curious to find out how many candidate leads get converted to actual hires because they found the job recommendations truly personalized to their background, interests, and needs.

Frontline Hiring Manager

Frontline Hiring Manager provides recruiters and frontline hiring managers at retail or franchise locations with access to Phenom TXM (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Phenom’s Frontline Hiring Manager | Source: Phenom People, 2020.

Recruiters and frontline hiring managers can manage their own jobs, pipelines, and candidates. It also provides large organizations with a consistent brand messaging across locations. It basically streamlines the recruiting and hiring process at the local level.

This approach to empower managers aligns nicely with the tendency of forward-thinking organizations to foster a positive employee experience. I believe that granting TXM access to frontline hiring managers will enable them to make quick and efficient decisions. I can see how this particular feature can be attractive to those on the frontlines, especially in industries with a higher than average turnover rate and numerous positions to fill. It basically takes the middle-person out of the equation.

Though I wonder if frontline hiring managers may find it tedious as it is one more thing to add to their “to-do list.” So I look forward to seeing how many organizations use this feature, the overall adoption rate by frontline managers, and if there is a significant reduction in the time-to-hire of frontline workers.

Phenom Scheduling

Phenom Scheduling is a recruiter-initiated scheduling feature that is integrated with calendars and preferences (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Phenom Scheduling | Source: Phenom People, 2020.

We all know how frustrating back and forth emails can be when trying to schedule a meeting. Phenom Scheduling allows candidates to self-select available time slots to schedule interviews. It integrates with most calendar systems: Google, Outlook, Microsoft Exchange, Office 365, and iCloud.

This seems like a commonsense offering to add to recruiting software. But you may be surprised to learn how many organizations and recruiters still use a standard way of scheduling interviews, and how much time and energy they waste in the process. So what seems like a simple recruiting feature can go a long way in providing a more positive candidate experience and recruiter experience in the often long recruitment journey.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion and to wrap this up, 3 overall themes stand out from this year’s conference:

  • A focus on simple, yet meaningful features
  • An interest in scaling such features to key stakeholders during the talent acquisition process
  • A targeted effort to enable access to relevant information and empower decision-making

So with Phenom’s recent announcements, it looks like our clocks aren't the only ones springing forward.

Note: This article is based on my attendance at IAMPHENOM 2020 on March 3-5. Phenom People paid for my airplane ticket and hotel room at the event. This article represents my opinions, and no one at Phenom reviewed or approved this content.

Cornerstone buys Saba. What's in it for them?

Posted on Tuesday, February 25th, 2020 at 1:50 PM    

Judging by the number of analysts who were on the announcement call with less than ½ hour warning, the news that Cornerstone OnDemand (CSOD) was purchasing Saba for $1.4B came as a surprise to pretty much everyone. In chatting amongst ourselves (and water-coolering it with Stacey Harris), maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. Why?

Big Picture

Human capital management (HCM) markets aren’t what they used to be. Many of the big players have failed to adjust to new market conditions and gone the way of the world. And, whereas it used to be possible to count the major players on one hand, smaller, more nimble point solutions now have more power as ecosystems become more common and integrations become easier.

Not only that, CSOD made an interesting decision a few years ago to focus heavily on content, and while this has been a decent move in the short term, it's a risky long-term move – as content becomes more ubiquitous, and AI and algorithms get better at helping people curate it. And, just feeding content to employees more efficiently falls short of where the market is headed: understanding the skills a workforce has, helping them develop those skills that will help them personally and move the organization forward, and tying skills and development  to career opportunities.

In short, the acquisition makes a lot of sense to keep CSOD a viable player into the future, helping it compete – both with the ERPs that have been encroaching on the HCM space, and with the young whippersnappers that threaten the larger platform play. The Saba acquisition gives CSOD both market heft and revs its innovation engines. Let’s break it down.

Market heft

The acquisition of Saba increases CSOD’s heft in the market. Most obviously, it acts as an accelerator. Alone, Cornerstone’s ARR (annual recurring revenue) was $575M. With Saba, that number jumps to $818M. Additionally, Adam Miller, CSOD’s Founder and CEO mentions that the deal frees up cash by finding synergies in their data centers, operations, and administration.

Even more impressive is the increase in number of customers. This acquisition makes CSOD arguably the largest cloud company in the world. According to our mad scramble for data from many yearly reports:

Figure 1 Cornerstone Buys Saba

Figure 1: Total HCM Customers by Company | Source: RedThread Research, 2020. *Oracle number reflects cloud HCM in 2017. Does not include on-premises HCM implementations.

The HCM market has been experiencing a bit of fear as of late, as some of the larger ERPs have made strategic investments and acquisitions that allow them to play in the HCM space. Workday, for example, recently launched Skills Cloud, which competes directly with several talent management platforms. And it is having an effect. One leader we recently spoke to told us that he is being asked to  “make Workday work” for a learning and skills solution, instead of investing in other more specific solutions.

But, the acquisition of Saba by CSOD puts them in a position to become sort of a “super” talent management system – one that provides deep expertise in talent while still being open to partnering with the HRIS or ERP that companies are currently using. Because they are now one of, if not the biggest, cloud players, it may protect them from some of the encroachment.

Finally, acquiring Saba, who recently acquired Lumesse, a leader in talent management software in Europe, increases their global footprint, which was already sizable (with CSOD being in 25 countries currently).


We don’t think there has been a time of greater innovation in the HCM space. Ever. CSOD’s acquisition of Saba allows them to jump-start their innovation efforts in a few ways:

Data, data, data

The majority of new features and functionality in modern HCMs require a solid set of data to be valuable: who sits where, who does what, who knows what, where they want to go, what they've learned, what skills they'll need, etc. This data has the ability to help organizations vastly improve their people strategies – from who to hire, to who to develop, to how to form teams, to retention, and on and on.

The holy grail of talent management right now is successfully tying development subjects to skills and ultimately to positions – and everyone’s in a race for a viable solution – including ERPs which have not traditionally played in this space.

However, people development is easier with people development-specific data – something that ERPs likely lack; while they may claim similar functionality, specific talent management data helps tremendously in developing people. ERPs are often built on platforms focused on resource allocation and process automation – both noble causes, but maybe not the focus when developing workforces to help organizations compete.

The combined CSOD / Saba datasets of 75MM users (assuming they can quickly  figure out how to merge and use them) provides a treasure trove of data that can likely help them provide a much richer, personalized talent experience than their ERP counterparts.


Workday is an innovation machine – they spend roughly 30% of revenue on R&D efforts (if we interpreted their annual report correctly). Which is why it has been able to effectively challenge HCM providers in their own backyards. Additionally, as we mentioned above, smaller point solutions often innovate as a matter of course – through implementations and partnerships, and their continuous improvement mindset and simpler structures often make them more agile and able to pivot more quickly.

Figure 2 Cornerstone Buys Saba

Figure 2: Percent of Revenue Spent for R&D – Cornerstone vs Workday | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

CSOD spent roughly 14% of revenue on R&D activities in 2018 (slightly below average). Good engineering talent is difficult to find, and with the Saba acquisition, CSOD now has access to a much bigger pool of talent who can do more R&D. This gives them the ability to maintain Saba products as it makes sense while also borrowing that talent to upgrade CSOD and integrate the best from Saba.

Hungry mindset

Finally, and this one is probably a bit more opinion than the other areas we have covered, but one we think is important: When Saba went private in early 2015, some of us were taking odds on whether or not it would survive. But it did. Saba has not only done a fair amount of innovating since then, they’ve gotten into the habit of innovating. Granted, some of the stuff we’ve seen in the last couple of years has been a bit unconventional, but it indicates that they’re taking a fresh approach to the HCM space.

CSOD now has access to not just great engineering talent, but talent that has been approaching the market in a slightly different way. We’re excited to see what they do with it.

So to nutshell: We think this acquisition was a decent move by CSOD. We're interested to see what they do with the bigger footprint, the data, and the talent. As with any move, it all comes down to execution.

All of this leaves us with just two questions: How long will our Saba swag still be cool, and can we still hang out with Phil?

Degreed / Adepto. We like it.

Posted on Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 at 10:22 PM    

I’ve been following Degreed since it was only about 30 people big and the development team was basically squatting in borrowed space in downtown Salt Lake City. Their approach to the market was different enough to make me sit up and take notice. From the beginning, they have had a very distinct vision: to make sure that no individual – or company – becomes irrelevant due to lack of new skills.

Over the years, I’ve kept a close eye on Degreed. They've made it easy by being very frank with us analysts about their roadmap, and they’re consistently one of the most focused technology vendors I talk to. As the LXP market has grown up around them, they've managed make a name for themselves in the space while still retaining the focus and vision they started with – something I admire, particularly given the market and investor pressures they surely must face.

So I wasn’t surprised at all when they acquired Adepto. Adepto, like-minded and mission-driven, provides functionality that complements and even rounds out Degreed’s skill measurement offerings by helping organizations both see knowledge and skills of their employees and by providing additional skill information through jobs and projects details, not just courses. This acquisition gets Degreed closer to their vision.

I sat down with Chris McCarthy (CEO of Degreed) to talk about his plans for Degreed’s latest acquisition.  As always, it was a frank and enlightening discussion that clarified a lot. It also reinforced my initial reaction to this acquisition: I like it.

Degreed’s virtuous employee development cycle (our words, not theirs)

Degreed’s purchase of Adepto rounds out their ability to do 2 things: acquire more data about the employee and contractor skills, and tie that data to opportunities (jobs, gigs, projects). We think that this additional functionality has the ability to create a virtuous employee development cycle – something we haven't seen elsewhere.

Today, approximately 30-40% of employees access existing learning technologies at least once a month. This is hardly consumer grade, and it indicates passivity in learning – learning for learning’s sake, as McCarthy puts it. While learning for learning’s sake isn't a bad thing, in a world where needed skills change rapidly, employees accessing learning once every 2 months (if we’re being generous) likely doesn’t develop the skills organizations need to compete.

Dipping into learning every couple of months also doesn’t help organizations (and the tech that serves them) understand what employees are trying to learn, which makes it harder to direct them to resources and activities that will help them learn and grow.

Degreed is addressing this in a couple of ways:

User Interface: With Adepto’s functionality that ties skills to projects and jobs, the user interface is being redesigned in a way that will bring the reason for learning to the forefront. Instead of a “Netflix, eat what you want” mindset, the new interface focuses on the goals the employee may have. For example, addressing skills gaps for a job you may want; being considered for a project; or switching careers. The new design will put the employee's goal front and center, and the system will recognize it and provide help and guidance for achieving that goal.

will be one single experience for the employee; you can actually go in and define your learning goals. All of the learning content and things that can help you are in one place, personalized to you. You can measure your skills as you improve on them and represent them so that they are being surfaced for potential opportunities. They’re tied to jobs, projects and other opportunities on the basis of your skills.

Chris McCarthy

To put it succinctly, Degreed’s new interface aims to answer the question all employees have: “What’s in it for me?"

Data: A strong interface and personalized experience encourages employees to use the system, which in turn creates more data points, which in turn are fed back into the system to make it better, more personalized and more useful.

It also puts Degreed in a good position to actually become a system of record for skills data. Its acquisition of Adepto, along with the work it has been doing on integrating with other sources for skills data (HRISes, social networks, LMSes, and external content and certification providers), will make it, if it’s successful, a perpetual and virtuous cycle for collecting and using data on an organization’s skills and knowledge.

Degreed is also investing in increasing the size of their data scientist team, and improving their reporting and analytics functionality, making the data even more useful.

Degreed as a next gen talent platform

Stacia and I have been talking about learning, career, performance, even engagement, converging in the hearts and minds of people leaders. Why? It turns out that it is difficult to develop someone until you understand their career goals, how well they’re performing, and if they even want to learn and grow. While many of the talent platforms we see contain these pieces, some of them fail to provide a logical, helpful, cohesive experience, and we think the market is ripe for next generation ideas – ones that are data-driven and employee (rather than HR) focused.

With the acquisition of Adepto, Degreed moves past serving the L&D market exclusively. It has assembled the functionality to be that next generation talent platform. They have a strong LXP; they have partnered with LearnUpon to provide LMS functionality to their clients; and they have upgraded their skills measurement capabilities. If the world of HR truly is converging on itself, these pieces will allow a different kind of talent management – one that likely serves the employee and the organization better.

With the Degreed LXP, the LMS partnership , and now the skills measurement products we now have this complete skills product which is inclusive. It really is a talent product. All three of those things work tightly together, but any one of them could be the entry point into a new client that we choose to work with, which earns us the right to be able to expand the relationship with them over time.

Chris McCarthy

Frankly, I am interested to see what’s next.

Degreed as a grown-up

Despite almost 7 years in business and just over $153 million in funding, Degreed is still considered a start up by many. While funding and longevity are by no means a guarantee of future growth, Adepto helps them grow up some more. How? Two ways:

First, Adepto, based in Australia and the UK, increases their global market presence. While Degreed has done a lot to increase its global foot print (according to McCarthy, Degreed grew business outside of the US from 3-4% to over 30% in just a few years), the Adepto acquisition adds visibility, client service and technical resources on the ground to service local and global clients, a little gravitas, and maybe some new channels to tap worldwide.

Second, the Adepto acquisition moves Degreed from a single product to two products. While Degreed has experienced ridiculous growth (100% a year) in recent years, McCarthy rightly points out that that kind of growth is unsustainable without a second offering. Adepto not only provides them with a second offering, but also new entry points into the human capital tech market – something that will facilitate growth and ready them for a talent platform play (assuming I’m right).

When you add to that the care with which Degreed appears to both choose and handle its acquisitions, the company probably has legs.

We got so lucky with Pathgather, to compete against somebody so ferociously head to head and actually really like each other is kind of cool. And I give them a ton of credit. Our client retention from the Pathgather acquisition was 140% and the employee retention is pretty high, I think it's like 70%.

The reason I flew to Australia last week and back in two days is because I wanted to have one on ones with every single person in office and get to know them and tell them they could hold me personally accountable if we screw them up or don't do what we say we can do.

Chris McCarthy

Nutshelling it, we don’t think Degreed is going anywhere.

Degreed’s challenges

Despite how much I like this acquisition, I still see potential challenges. The first is that Degreed once again finds itself in a situation where they need to educate the market. Leaders don’t necessarily think in terms of virtuous employee engagement circles or skill measurement software. The fact that they are new concepts means that Degreed will need help leaders understand what it can do for them, how their organizations will need to change to accommodate them, and what line item in the HR budget should be allocated for them. They can do it; they did it for the LXP market. But I think it will be equally as challenging.

Secondly, as Degreed goes about redefining what a talent platform is and what it should do, they’ll be fighting quite a bit of momentum. Business has largely been done the same way for the last 100 years, and most technology accommodates and perpetuates those systems and processes. While we’re already seeing work being done differently, people doing the work handling their careers differently, tenure in organizations shrinking, overall careers becoming much more flexible and elongated, all of which challenges current systems, the momentum is great. We imagine that Degreed will be fighting against a pretty strong current.

Finally, this is Degreed’s second acquisition in the last 18 months and they continue to grow quickly. That’s a lot of change for an organization of this size to handle. It brings to mind potential questions about focus, differing priorities.

Despite these challenges, we like this acquisition. We think it’s good for the human technology space in general, we think it’s good for Degreed’s clients, and we also think it’s good for the future of Degreed.

We’d love to hear what you think too!

People Analytics Tech Vendors: What You Need to Know

Posted on Monday, December 30th, 2019 at 4:47 PM    

As you may have seen, we launched our report on the broader people analytics technology market. While that report is full of great information, there are still more questions that need to be answered, especially regarding the vendors, like:

  • How can we categorize vendors?
  • What are truly differentiating capabilities – and which ones are commodities?
  • Which vendors offer which capabilities?
  • What should buyers and vendors be thinking about?
  • What do we see for the future of people analytics technology?

Here’s a taste of just some of the key findings:

  1. Many vendors claim commodity features to be differentiators. For example, most vendors indicated their solution is scalable and flexible, customizable, takes little time to implement, and is easy to use. These are necessary capabilities, but they are not necessarily differentiating.
  2. Differentiating capabilities can be grouped into three categories: addressing foundational barriers to implementation and adoption; enabling new insights; and, making people analytics more human.
  3. The people analytics technology market needs a framework to understand vendor offerings. We developed a 2×2 model that categorizes vendors based on frequency of use and the data sources from which they pull, overlaying 10 types of vendors on the model. All vendors in our study are categorized on this matrix.
  4. Of the 10 types of vendors, the most represented category was employee engagement / experience, followed by multi-source analysis platforms, and organizational network analysis.

While our first part of the report focused on our finding about the people analytics technology market, our second part focuses on the vendors. These findings and the insights we share along with them will be of particular interest to two audiences: practitioners and buyers looking to understand the market, and vendors looking to differentiate themselves more effectively.

For practitioners and buyers, we have a section on vendor categories, which will allow them to familiarize themselves with the offerings in the market. For each vendor in our framework, we provide a brief description, names of a few existing customers, founding year, screenshot of their technology, and a case study (if provided by the vendors). In the appendix, we provide some more information on their primary talent areas of focus, data capabilities, and analytics capabilities.

For vendors, we provide our insights on which capabilities are truly differentiating and which are not. We also touch upon the outcomes vendors report most impact on, and which ones they should focus on instead. For example, when asked to identify the primary business, talent, and HR outcomes they impact, vendors responses reflected huge similarities, with 78% of vendors identifying efficiency as a business outcome, 82% pointing to both employee engagement and retention as a talent outcome, and 94% of vendors stating “better insights into the workforce” as a HR outcome (see Figure 1). However, we found several critical outcomes vendors could impact, but that comparatively few of them do today. We talk about those outcomes in more detail in the report.

Figure 1 People Analytics Tech Vendors What You Need To Know

Figure 1: Most Commonly Impacted Outcomes, Reported by Vendors | Source: RedThread Research, 2019.

While we introduced our 2×2 matrix and the four quadrants in the first report, we summarize it in this report and follow it up with more detailed insight into where we think vendors fall on each of the four quadrants. The result, which we share in the form of a graphic, is a product of innumerable conversations, briefings, demos, discussions, and feedback conducted with and shared by vendors, practitioners, our sponsors, and members of the RedThread team involved in this project. We know that this is just the beginning, and our thinking and approach will evolve as the conversation on people analytics technology gets richer and deeper.

We invite you to comment below or reach out to us at [email protected].

Connecting Humans – Using Technology

Posted on Monday, December 23rd, 2019 at 4:42 PM    

Will Robots Take My Job?

There is this website called “Will Robots Take My Job”. You type in your job function and it uses some solid research to tell you how likely it is that your job will be automated. It’s sorta fun. My job has about a 23% chance of being automated. Largely because it currently relies on things that only humans can do. That’ll likely change.

I happened upon this website last year as a part of a quest to understand what makes humans unique. I had read one too many articles about robots taking over the world and I decided to find out, once and for all, how likely that was.

After scouring social science literature, anthropological journals, psychology texts, and even some religious writings, I came up with a list of four things that make humans unique – or four things that robots can’t do and that other species don’t do: (you can read the full report here)

  1. Envision a different future: Humans can picture a future different than their present, determine steps to make it so, and then execute on those steps.
  2. Tell stories. Humans use stories to communicate information in a way that motivates and inspires and entertains.
  3. Collaborate. While other animals may collaborate to survive, humans collaborate longer than it is beneficial to them personally or critical for survival. Helping others is in our DNA.
  4. Use tools. Humans have perfected the art of using tools. We don’t just use them to shape our physical space; we also use them to shape our mental spaces.

It occurred to me this week that two of these four things – storytelling and collaborating – are directly related to how we connect as human beings. We connect in ways that animals don’t, and robots never will. Connections make us human. And they explain at least some of why we have been so successful as a species.

Leveraging Connection (and Tech) for Learning

L&D functions have understood the importance of connection for decades. Much of the research and literature on adult learning styles focus on learning from each other and leveraging existing knowledge – the connections if you will.

Until recently, much of this work has been done largely in the classroom; connection – particularly storytelling and collaboration – has been associated with face-to-face activities, particularly when it comes to some of the softer, more human skills (e.g., management, communication).

That said, we’re seeing the definition of “face-to-face” expand beyond the classroom and include more than formal training. We’re also seeing organizations understand how to make connections with employees through communication and personalization.


Stories provide context to the data of experience. Through stories, humans cast themselves as main characters, place themselves in predicaments, and learn from their own experiences as well as others’ successes and failures. Understanding the what, the why, and the how, gives employees context and motivates them in ways that increases the responsiveness of the organization.

In order for a story to be effective, a connection needs to be made. Whereas storytelling has existed as long as humans have walked the earth (and probably as long as our antecedents have as well), in recent years, those connections are increasingly being made with the use of technology. We’ve seen a couple of trends:

  • Standalone tools or additions to existing tools focusing on storytelling – video, animations, drip campaigns, micro-curricula, and other content-creation tools – all help L&D professionals to craft stories that have more impact.
  • Easier ways to connect more deeply. We mentioned this briefly in our last article: L&D technologies are moving past the one-way sharing of content and instead are building in true collaboration tools. Whereas employees used to have to be in the same room to take advantage of these deep connections, collaboration spaces, communication tools, structured, and unstructured paths all occur online and with teams spread across the world.
  • AI and data. Our access to data is unprecedented – we know more about our employees than ever before. AI and data make it possible to build personal stories – not generic ones, and not ones built on “personas”. We can connect with our employees on their level and meet their needs in new and more effective ways.


Thomas Suddendorf, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia, says that we have a fundamental urge to link our minds together. “This allows us to take advantage of others’ experiences, reflections, and imaginings to prudently guide our own behavior.”

We are wired to help. Ask any two-year-old that follows you around picking up things you dropped. It’s innate, and it’s incredibly human.

Helping others manifests itself in some of the ways we utilize technology. A good example of this is Wikipedia. It exists because thoughtful people with knowledge want to share it – and because thoughtful people who value that knowledge fund it. Another example is GitHub – where programmers can share code with each other. Collaboration in this case has saved countless hours and accelerated development by allowing one programmer to build on top of – instead of recreating – code.

The L&D function – and the solution providers that support it – have also made some progress when it comes to helping individuals collaborate – to help each other learn – using technology. A few interesting things we’ve seen:

  • The rise of the expertise directory. Several vendors (and some enterprising homegrown solutions) are making knowledge and skills more transparent in the organization. Some systems allow users to self-select knowledge and skills; others rely on AI and latent data to “guess” which skills an individual may have; but they all help employees collaborate by guiding them to who is likely able to help.
  • Leaders as teachers – virtually. When I was at Deloitte, I was always impressed with their ability to leverage leaders as teachers in the classroom. Tech, however, allows us to leverage leaders as teachers EVERYWHERE. Organizations can take advantage of expertise no matter where in the world it sits through new technologies built particularly for the purpose.
  • Project marketplaces. We’re seeing more organizations create opportunities for learning through the work itself. Project marketplaces allow employees to sign up for short projects that will help them to develop critical skills. The marketplace is a great example of collaboration: individuals willing to help and to learn while doing it, and leaders offering opportunities for that growth, along with some coaching and mentoring.

Likely these are not entirely new ideas – we have been talking about them for about a year. But the fact that these technologies are built to connect us, and that those connections appeal to our very humanness, and that organizations are more effective when they focus on the things that makes us human gives me hope for us. And for the robots. And for us being able to live harmoniously with them.

Modern Performance Mgmt: Lessons from the Road

Posted on Wednesday, December 11th, 2019 at 5:00 AM    

After we published The Makings of Modern Performance, we then hit the road to share our findings and learn from conversations with practitioners! After 4 interactive breakfast meetings, we came away with a few lessons. In wrapping up this project, we want to share with you the things we learned.

We're losing sight of the forest

Many organizations are hyperfocused on the tactics of performance management (PM) and have lost sight of the forest (why they do it) for the trees (how they do it). Many of the questions during our time on the road focused on identifying best practices or the “right” way to do PM and were similar to those we heard during our research (see Figure 1).

Modern Performance Management Lessons From The Road

Figure 1: Questions We Heard During Our Research | Source: RedThread Research, 2019.

While some organizations have taken a step back to see PM as a holistic approach to developing talent and improving performance, many organizations still struggle to shift their focus. Leaders need to focus on this question:

What should my organization do to improve the performance and engagement of our employees, and the ability of us all to meet our business goals?

The following are some of the key takeaways from our road trip.

The fairness waters are a bit muddy

In our roadshow events, there was general agreement that fairness in PM is important, and some of the new practices have helped make it more so (i.e., more frequent conversations to address recency bias, involving more people in performance feedback to reduce managers’ bias). However, we discussed how other practices, such as removing ratings or implementing shadow ratings, have increased some employees’ perceptions of unfairness.

Our research found that creating fair evaluation processes – and connecting compensation to them in a transparent and fair manner – is an important part of performance management. In our (well-intended) efforts to address important concerns about ratings and evaluation methods, we might have muddied the waters. Our study gives some suggestions on how to address this issue.

A closely related topic that we also discussed was pay transparency, which our research found to be critical. Interestingly, session attendees had different levels of awareness on this topic, but one thing was certain: It doesn’t make anyone particularly comfortable.

The challenge is that pay transparency is not an all-or-nothing concept, but a continuum. At one end of the spectrum, employees have no insight into compensation philosophy, structure, and outcomes. At the other end, employees and individuals external to the organization have full access to this information and data.

Implementing pay transparency is full of “what ifs,” potential benefits, and some potentially serious drawbacks. However, employees are already having discussions about their salaries and these discussions aren’t just among colleagues in the hallway. People are more open to share the details of their compensation and benefits package to just about anyone (e.g., Glassdoor). As a result, organizations need to figure out how they will address pay transparency sooner than later.

Organizations have a choice – they can be a part of these discussions, helping to craft the narrative and using the information to better address rewards and benefits, or they can ignore it and miss this opportunity.

Engagement & performance: Increasingly intertwined

While we know that, in general, PM, engagement, learning, and career management are increasingly converging, our roadshow reinforced that the first 2 have grown particularly close. Performance practices, when done well, can engage employees by providing them with a culture in which they can thrive and with the clarity they need to perform well today and tomorrow (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 Modern Performance Management Lessons From the Road

Figure 2: Three Levers of Performance | Source: RedThread Research, 2019.

To that end, organizations’ performance philosophies and practices need to be designed and executed to engage employees, in addition to helping them perform better. In the future, this likely means that organizations need a more nuanced and personalized understanding of what engages employees, and to then provide them with the insights, resources, systems, and metrics that are most relevant. This'll allow organizations to be more responsive to employees’ needs so they can do their best work.

PM is no longer about just measuring performance. It's about engaging employees – in a personalized and responsive way – in their work and enabling them to perform better as a result.

Where do we go from here?

While organizational leaders can certainly make significant and important changes to their PM approaches, we think there's a bigger question that can’t be answered just by changing performance practices:

How do leaders go about creating a more responsive organization?

This question is at the heart of another project: The Responsive Organization (read: the premise, the lit review, the report, webinar and slides, and the infographic).

In this study, we're looking at the changes the leaders should make to create an environment in which people – and the organization as a whole – can be more responsive to employees and customers. For example, we think that a more responsive organization will lead to changes in the following (at a minimum):

  • Communication channels – Individuals at lower levels will have data and information they need to react to needs “on the ground”
  • Power structures – Decision-making will be more decentralized
  • Employee development – More autonomy and continuous development will ensure that employees have the skills and knowledge they need
  • Metrics – Measurements of efficiency will begin to give way to other types of productivity metrics that focus more on innovation, agility, and responsiveness

Want to share your thinking on this topic? Feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] and we will find some time to talk! Also, if you want to talk more about performance management, we would love to hear from you.

The Other Competitor Steps in the Ring: Reflections on Workday Rising 2019

Posted on Monday, November 18th, 2019 at 11:14 PM    

Event Overview

As I wrote about in our article, "The Fight Over Employee Experience Is Finally Here," we expected the Workday team to come out swinging at their annual Workday Rising event. And, wow, did they ever.

Not only did Workday put a heavy focus on employee experience, which they're calling “People Experience” (more on that below), but they also made a wide range of other announcements, including the limited availability of Workday People Analytics, Skills Cloud, and Talent Marketplace.

Before we dive into the details below, here is my main takeaway:

Workday announced products that required them to stretch (People Analytics and Skills Cloud, in particular) at Rising 2018 and we were able to see the fruition of their efforts at Rising 2019, including some early customer stories.

Product announcements & enhancements

While we would like to see more customer testimonials – especially from end-users themselves, not just those responsible for purchasing decisions – we applaud Workday for its diligence in working toward the innovative products they promised last year.

People experience

With that said, let’s move on to some of the key announcements, starting with Workday People Experience (see Figure 1), which is a new user experience (UX). In its description, it's very similar to the new UX that SAP SuccessFactors announced recently – in that it integrates into one location conversational AI, robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning, nudges, and predictions to try to get people higher-quality information more efficiently. Workday People Experience provides information ranging from career development guidance to personalized answers to HR and payroll questions, from both within Workday and external systems.

Figure 1 The Other Competitor Steps into the Ring: Reflections on Workday Rising 2019

Figure 1: Workday’s People Experience UX | Source: Workday, 2019.

The biggest differentiator I could discern between the People Experience UX and the one announced by SAP SuccessFactors in September is that Workday seems to have more significantly embraced a critical employee experience concept: journey maps.

The value in using journey maps is that they can identify critical "moments that matter" for specific types of employees and create a standard (and scalable) way of managing (and then improving) those experiences. The result is a much more employee-centric approach to designing software.

Workday identified a number of specific journeys for different employee profiles and used them to create personalized recommendations within Workday People Experience. For example, if a parent is returning to work after welcoming a new child into their family, there are likely a specific set of steps they should go through, such as informing the insurance company, filing leave claims appropriately, etc. Similarly, if someone is recently promoted, there are specific and standardized onboarding and training tasks that need to be completed, which People Experience can recommend. This information automatically populates for those employees within Workday, making it easier for employees to find critical information.

The other addition in the area of employee experience was the announcement of a partnership between Workday and Medallia to allow for the integration of customer experience data with employee data within Workday.

There is clearly value in the integration of these two data sets (see our research on the connection between employee experience and customer experience) and think that this partnership further enables organizations to manage their customer and employee experiences in closer concert and more effectively. It also gives Workday an answer to SAP’s acquisition of Qualtrics, with Qualtrics being another major player in the customer experience space.

People analytics

Let’s move on to Workday’s People Analytics (see Figure 2), initially announced at last year’s Rising event. This solution, which integrates the 2018 acquisition, leverages that technology’s ability to identify patterns within data, process those insights using machine learning, and then highlight the most critical “stories” in natural language. The range of topics covered includes hiring, organization composition, diversity and inclusion, talent and performance, and retention and attrition. Workday People Analytics has limited availability with the Workday 33 release; at Rising, Workday announced a number of customers using it.

Figure 2 The Other Competitor Steps into the Ring: Reflections on Workday Rising 2019

Figure 2: Workday People Analytics Solution | Source: Workday, 2019.

As we have discussed in our People Analytics Technology research,

One of the areas many solutions struggle with is in telling clear and compelling stories with the data, and this is something the People Analytics solution is clearly targeting.

This should really help the HR business partners and other leaders who are less quantitatively-focused to grasp new trends quickly. That said, I didn’t get much sense from the RIsing demo of how the more quantitative folks will be able to manipulate the data. I presume the assumption is that customers will use Workday Prism to do that more sophisticated analysis – but I didn’t see an in-depth demo of how to do that at Rising, so we will have to leave that one for another post. Overall, though, this announcement represents progress for Workday on the beguiling people analytics front.

People skills

Let’s move on to Skills Cloud, which is another solution Workday announced last year and brought into production this year.

The idea is that Skills Cloud will “mine” employees’ skills by looking at employees’ job descriptions, any internal online profiles, feedback on their performance, and any other work experiences, and then infuse these skills across the entire platform, including talent planning, talent marketplace, career hub, learning, recruiting, performance enablement, compensation, and people analytics.

This information can then be used to better understand the skills within the workforce and to make more strategic decisions (see screenshot in Figure 3) via the Skills Insight analysis tool. Workday says they have more than 200 customers live on the Skills Cloud.

Figure 3 The Other Competitor Steps into the Ring: Reflections on Workday Rising 2019

Figure 3: Workday Skills Insights | Source: Workday, 2019.

As many of you know, we care deeply about skills and are planning to write several pieces of research on this topic in 2020. We love that Workday is making skills such a core part of their overall platform and see huge potential for what they are doing. That said, we have a few concerns:

  • Data quality. Many of the data sources Workday is using can be inadequate reflections of someone’s overall skills. We know that employees can change / augment their skills, but we worry that they will not, and that the skills data will not be as robust as it needs to be to make critical strategic decisions.
  • Data bias. We know from numerous studies that women and under-represented minorities tend to under-report their skills, while majority populations often over-report their skills. We worry that these types of algorithms will perpetuate biases about people’s skills (or lack thereof).

Neither of these items are show-stoppers, as Workday clearly has to start somewhere when it comes to documenting skills. However, for folks using the technology in its earliest stages, we think these 2 items are something of which to be mindful.

People management

Finally, let’s turn to the Talent Marketplace (see picture in Figure 4), which is a single location that includes internal opportunities that are matched to employees’ skills and interests. Importantly, the solution alerts employees to those opportunities, versus employees having to look for them. The idea is that employees can more easily find internal opportunities that will help them grow, and hence stay at an organization longer.


Figure 4: Workday’s Talent Marketplace | Source: Workday, 2019.

We tend to see internal marketplaces positioned as part of an organization’s learning and development strategy, where the “gigs” give employees a chance to augment their existing work with opportunities that align to their career aspirations. Interestingly, at Rising, Workday positioned Talent Marketplace as a way for organizations to compete against external organizations who could also be sharing new opportunities with an organization’s employees. So, it is not just an internal gig-work marketplace, but also an internal job board that automatically alerts employees to opportunities.

Wrap up

In the course of my conversations with other analysts, we had two questions with internal marketplaces we think have currently gone unanswered:

  • What if an employee wants to develop skills they either do not have or are currently weak on? Does the solution allow for them to indicate this, or will the algorithm only suggest things aligned with their current capabilities? And further, will this solution allow them to connect with managers who are willing to coach them, especially since they won’t be a fully committed resource?
  • Is there a way to pay people for doing this extra work? Presumably, if it is possible this work would have been given to a contractor, to whom an organization would pay to do it. If the work is going to an internal employee, is there a way to compensate them for it?

Ok, that was more than 2 questions. 🙂 We think there’s great opportunities for internal marketplaces but think there are still some details to get sorted out.

All of these announcements together create a compelling case for why Workday is the competitor to beat when it comes to creating a unified and personalized employee experience.

Many of these solutions are in limited availability, so the market has yet to tell us of the impact — hopefully we will hear that at Rising 2021. Workday is clearly pushing forward with a lot of innovations and we look forward to hearing from end-user customers on how these changes are helping them meet their people and business needs more effectively.

This article is based on my attendance at Workday Rising 2019 on October 15-16, 2019. Workday paid for my plane trip and hotel room at the event. This article represents my own opinions, and Workday did not review or approve anything I've written here today.

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