Road Report: Oracle Spring Analyst Event 2023

Posted on Wednesday, May 24th, 2023 at 9:13 AM    

A few weeks ago, I attended the Oracle Applications and Industry Analyst Summit in Redwood Shores, CA (blissfully less than 30 minutes from home). This blog summarizes what I think you all would most like to know from the event, but the high-level summary is below:


  • Oracle attributes its growth to new customer acquisition versus a land-and-expand approach from other parts of their business
  • Oracle has embarked on significant UX, speed, and responsivity investments that make the product look and feel more consumer-grade
  • Oracle is taking a pragmatic and relatively conservative approach to generative AI

New customer acquisition driving growth

Previous Oracle metrics have indicated strong growth and the Oracle team indicated that much of this growth is coming from new customer acquisition (versus a land-and-expand approach from other parts of their business). The session was dotted with examples of customers that transitioned from both SAP and Workday (an interesting contrast from the Workday session in March, where customers’ previous HCM providers went unmentioned). The team also mentioned that a lot of their growth is coming from EMEA and Latin America.

Oracle’s broad messaging around why they are achieving that growth came down to three key points:

  • Everything customers need
  • Innovation that matters
  • Committed to customers’ success

On the first point, Oracle shared a summary image of its portfolio of applications and infrastructure (see Figure 1). I’m sharing it here since I haven’t previously written about Oracle for our ThreadHeads, and some of you may be unfamiliar with the full breadth of Oracle’s offerings.

Figure 1: Oracle’s portfolio of applications and infrastructure | Source: Oracle, 2023.

When asked specifically why they are winning, the team stated they have “clear, non-arguable product and service differentiation.” Specifically, they called out:

  • The pace of innovation and adoption
  • Oracle ME elevating employee experience
  • Mobile-responsive front-end
  • “A complete, fully connected candidate journey”
  • “Intelligent” automation
  • Personalization without customization
  • “Native, mature HR HelpDesk and case management”
  • Natively developed payroll options, scale, and ability to handle complexity

Further, the team called out that they have invested in the following within Oracle HCM Cloud:

  • Strategic integrator (SI) and independent software vendor (ISV) partner ecosystem expansion
  • Global payroll
  • App and platform extensibility
  • Near-zero planned quarterly maintenance downtime
  • Employee experience
  • A modern platform, including improved security, performance, availability
  • Redwood UX experience
  • AI/ML and Generative AI

In addition, as many of you may know, Oracle has a very strong industry focus, and they featured many stories from the following industries:

  • Healthcare
  • Financial services
  • Communications and professional services
  • Consumer packaged goods and groceries
  • Gaming, hospitality, and quick-serve
  • Industrial manufacturing and logistics

Finally, the Oracle team talked a lot about customer success, indicating their “reference-ability and advocacy are at an all-time high.” They also specifically called out their customer community and the conversion of customer ideas to product, adding that roughly 80% of their roadmap is sourced through customer collaboration (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Summary of Oracle’s Cloud Customer Connect Community | Source: Oracle, 2023.

My take

Oracle’s primary message is that they are gaining net-new customers and this is a result of greater customer satisfaction. This is interesting, in that Oracle’s strength over the years has not necessarily been customer satisfaction. Oracle is investing in accelerating time to value for customers and providing more resources for them through templates, learning resource centers, and a strong customer community. At the summit, we didn’t see any meaningful numbers such as NPS, though they did have a few happy customers there to speak to us. Given that this is the first Oracle I’ve attended in a long time, I will look forward to future opportunities to better understand and assess customer satisfaction.

UX, Speed, and Responsivity Investments

Oracle has significantly invested in its Redwood design and development system. This is designed to be a modern UX, which the team characterizes as a “collective reinvention of how Oracle customers interact with technology and consume information.” The components of this design system are listed in Figure 3. Oracle indicated that within 9-12 months they will have completed their comprehensive UX upgrade.

Figure 3: Summary of Oracle’s Redwood Design System | Source: Oracle, 2023.

Examples of the new UX are in Figure 4 and samples of the new Redwood pages and flows are in Figure 5.

Figure 4: Examples of the new Redwood UX in Oracle HCM | Source: Oracle, 2023.

Figure 5: Sample New Redwood Pages & Flows | Source: Oracle, 2023.

A consistent theme throughout the discussion on product improvements was product responsivity, availability, and speed. For example:

  • Greater responsiveness: With the new UX, Oracle now is leveraging single page applications, meaning there is a micro-application built within a single web page. This makes it highly performant and stable, and results in a more seamless and responsive experience for users.
  • Accelerated performance: The team mentioned their speed is 30% faster than previously. This also extends to search (see Figure 6).
  • Improved availability: The team stated they now currently have a 99.9% SLA for uptime. The team specifically called out that their 90th percentile downtime is just 2 hours per quarter. This contrasts with 5-6 years ago when that number was estimated at around 16-17 hours on average, and 24 hours for large customers. It also contrasts favorably to the planned downtime of other major vendors in this area who today require 4 or more hours each week. Expect Oracle to have the average downtime cut to 20 minutes per quarter next year.

Figure 6: Summary of Improvements in Oracle Search | Source: Oracle, 2023.

My take

Most of these improvements are designed to reduce friction in the Oracle user experience. This is a good thing, especially as it relates to consumer-grade UX, speed, and responsivity. Users expect this as table stakes from their Work Tech software and Oracle is making sure it will be present moving forward.

The most notable improvement comes from the improved downtime numbers, which are expected to further improve. Downtime is something most users don’t see unless it meaningfully impacts their day-to-day. Oracle is investing to make sure it doesn’t.

All that said, based on what I saw, it doesn't appear investments are pushing the needle on innovation. As far as I can tell, none of this is going to change how work is done or dramatically simplify it. In the future, I hope to see more from Oracle on this front.

A pragmatic and conservative approach to generative AI

Oracle is taking a highly pragmatic and conservative approach to generative AI. As shown in Figure 7, they see a relatively small overlap between the problems that AI is currently good at solving and those that businesses need to solve today.

Figure 7: Schematic of the overlap between generative AI capabilities and business problems | Source: Oracle, 2023.

The Oracle team’s plan for evolving the use of generative AI is shown in Figure 8. As you can see, their initial focus is on assisted authoring, summarization, and suggestions.

Figure 8: Schematic of how Oracle sees the evolution of generative AI use cases in applications | Source: Oracle, 2023.

The Oracle team sees a virtuous cycle from combining generative AI and existing AI, as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9: How Oracle sees generative AI and existing AI working together | Source: Oracle, 2023.

The team plans to continue to invest in their product’s AI competencies by focusing on the below areas:

Figure 10: Summary of Oracle’s AI capabilities focus, now and next | Source: Oracle, 2023.

Finally, Oracle articulated its “radically practical approach to AI” as the following:

  • Allow user and use cases to determine technology
  • Start with a baseline, simple model; iterate
  • Assess potential negative impact and implement guardrails
  • Build features for specific use cases; leverage for general AI services
  • Validate with real-world data and users in collaboration with customers

My take

Of all the recent analyst briefings I have attended, Oracle was one of the most conservative when it comes to generative and next-gen AI, as particularly illustrated by Figure 7.

While I am always for practicality, this seems like a time to dream, not to allow existing users (who do not understand the tech nearly as well as Oracle’s technologists, I would wager) to drive the discussion on what they should do. To be clear, I am not one to encourage anyone to chase bright and shiny objects – but I am one to encourage people to fundamentally rethink existing work and processes in an effort to simplify and improve. I’d like to see Oracle doing more of that.

One thing I did appreciate, though, was Oracle’s awareness of the need to earn customer trust when it comes to new LLM capabilities and training on traceable data. I’d like to see Oracle be more clear on what these two things mean for them and how we will see them show up to support ethical AI efforts.

Final takeaways

I was pleased to spend time with Oracle’s executives and look forward to additional deep dives on products that are of particular interest to our ThreadHeads, such as their learning and performance products. I am also looking forward to opportunities to get to know more of Oracle’s customers and to better understand the value they get from their Oracle implementations.

Update: Workday AI and ML Innovation Summit 2023

Posted on Wednesday, March 29th, 2023 at 2:06 PM    

In early March, I attended Workday’s annual Innovation Summit, rebranded to be the AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning) Innovation Summit, at Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito, CA (Twitter hashtag: #WDAYSUMMIT). Between the event and Workday’s recent announcements of FY23 results and executive changes, here is the TL;DR of this event:

  • Delivering strong growth: At last year’s summit, Workday stated they would attain 20% YOY growth until they hit $10 billion in revenue. True to its word, Workday hit total 2023 revenue of $6.22 billion, representing 21% YOY growth, with subscription revenues up 22.5%. As part of this, Workday surpassed the 10,000-customer mark and added new HCM customers such as Allstate, Mercedes Benz, and Cracker Barrel. Workday also focused more on the retail industry (and thus frontline workers), with more than 50% of retail organizations in the Fortune 500 selecting Workday.
  • Doubling down on AI and ML: Beginning in 2014, Workday began investing in its AI and ML capabilities, and those investments are increasingly coming to fruition. Throughout the last few years, Workday has woven those capabilities throughout its platform, so AI and ML are used naturally throughout its applications (as opposed to being layered on top). This shows up notably in Workday’s Skills Cloud, as well as many of its other solutions, such as Recruiting, Workforce Optimization and Scheduling, VNDLY, and other applications. This focus on innovation will undoubtedly continue, as Sayan Chakraborty, who is an expert in AI and also leads the Product and Technology Organization, was recently announced as co-president.
  • Changing leadership and evolving approaches: An unspoken theme of the Summit was the changing leadership and approach at Workday. Right before Christmas 2022, Workday announced the appointment of Carl Eschenbach to Co-CEOEschenbach, a 5-year member of Workday’s Board, was a partner at VC-firm Sequoia Capital and an operator at VMWare. Workday has also brought on other external executives in the last ~6 months, such as Angelique de Vries as President of EMEA (from Salesforce) and Rani Johnson as CIO (from Cloud Software Group). Executive changes always make you ask, “why?”. Our hypothesis is that these changes reflect a belief that Workday’s leadership and approach need to change to achieve its audacious growth goals.

Delivering on strong growth

Despite the economic uncertainty of 2022, Workday delivered on the promise of rapid growth. As mentioned above, Workday delivered strong growth of 21% revenue improvement in FY23 (which ended January 2023), which was only 1 percentage point lower than its FY22 growth of 22%. The YOY customer numbers are shown in Figure 1:

Figure 1: Workday’s YOY Customer Numbers | Source: Workday, 2023.

Last year, Workday stated that they would achieve their growth objectives via 4 approaches:

  • Increase customer wallet share
  • Win the Office of the CFO with an industry approach
  • Grow internationally
  • Move into the medium enterprise (500-3,500)

At this year’s Summit, which did not go into Workday’s strategy with as much depth as last year, the themes had evolved a bit to the following:

  • Strengthen CIO relationships: While the overall goal may be to increase wallet share (e.g., extending from Finance to HR), the way Workday thinks it will get there is largely via strengthening its relationship with the CIO. While Workday’s leadership team mentioned this focus last year, it now seems to be a bigger point for them. Bringing on Eschenbach, with his extensive experience working with CIOs, will certainly help Workday here. Eschenbach specifically called out the need to simplify the packaging and pricing of the CFO and CHRO products, so CIOs can make the decision to go holistically for the full-package solution. Pete Schlampp, Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Marketing Officer, also called out that last year’s Workday Rising event had 44% of its attendees from the office of the CIO.
  • Focus on specific industries: Workday is heavily focusing on industries in both HR and Finance. We particularly heard about it for retail, healthcare, and other industries involving frontline workers.
  • Grow internationally: The hiring of de Vries in EMEA signals the seriousness with which Workday is taking international growth. We were told that Workday’s international customers currently represent 25% of customers and 50% of future opportunities. However, we didn’t hear much about how Workday is going to capitalize on those opportunities at this event.
  • Simplify for medium-sized enterprises (500-3,500 employees): We heard quite a bit about this from both Bhusri and Eschenbach and how they need to make it easier for smaller businesses to buy Workday for both the oCFO and oCHRO. Other leaders mentioned the need for simplification, too. Specifically, David Somers, Group GM, Product – Office of the CHRO, mentioned that they now have many mature SKUs and will pivot to aligning packages to how customers think about purchasing them.

Doubling down on AI and ML

By renaming the Innovation Summit to the “AI and ML Innovation Summit,” it is clear this is where Workday is staking its claim. Reinforcing Workday’s knowledge in this space, Chakraborty gave a primer on the history of generative AI (see Figure 2) and why it has taken the world by storm since #ChatGPT was released last November.

Figure 2: Where did Generative AI Come From? | Source: Workday, 2023.

Chakraborty explained that, in a nutshell, the ability of these large language models to analyze and thus predict text comes from the breakthrough of being able to do parallel processing of data, which allows for exponentially more parameters to be analyzed at the same time (see Figure 3). This change is happening so rapidly that this chart was only a week old when Chakraborty presented it, yet it was already out of date. It is even more out of date now.

Figure 3: Generative AI Acceleration | Source: Workday, 2023.

Chakraborty then summarized the strengths of Generative AI in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Generative AI and What it’s Good At | Source: Workday, 2023.

Workday then outlined how it approaches machine learning (see Figure 5), with Figures 6 and 7 explaining its data management and federated learning approaches (these two slides are relatively self-explanatory, so I won’t go into them further).

Figure 5: How Workday Approaches ML | Source: Workday, 2023.

Figure 6: Workday ML: Focus on Data | Source: Workday, 2023.

Figure 7: Workday ML: Focus on Federated ML at Scale | Source: Workday, 2023.

The other two concepts, “platform approach” and “auto ML,” require some additional explanation. In Figure 8, Workday asserts that most vendors are overlaying machine learning capabilities on top of their data store (happening within the “Feature Engineering” column, in the Figure), which is then generating a data model which is then translated into various features (recommendations, anomalies, or content).

Figure 8: Workday’s explanation of other vendors’ ML| Source: Workday, 2023.

By contrast, in Figure 9, Workday is saying they have machine learning built into their data platform – or where they store and process data (in the first column). This then allows them to develop models faster, which can then be manipulated in more ways and with greater flexibility. As a result, Workday is saying they can get to new features and use cases faster and manipulate or change those features and use cases more easily.

Figure 9: Workday’s explanation of its ML | Source: Workday, 2023.

The example Workday shared of how this looks in real life is in Figure 10, which is their Skills Cloud platform. Here, you can see they use ML within the data platform to infer and validate skills. These data are then represented within their platform, so they can be manipulated into features, such as reports, and capabilities (search, match, and recommend).

Figure 10: Workday’s explanation of how ML works in the Skills Cloud Platform | Source: Workday, 2023.

While the above is a useful example of ML in action already at Workday, you may, like many of us, be wondering what Workday will now be able to do with generative AI Well, that’s a little hard to explain because I can’t go into the specific examples Chakraborty shared with us on how Workday plans to use generative AI within its applications (under NDA).

However, one can imagine what they might be. In fact, for fun, I asked ChatGPT how it can be used within HR (see Figure 11), and it gives you a decent foundation from which to extrapolate how Workday (or any HR Tech vendor) might use ChatGPT to helps its customers.

Figure 11: ChatGPT’s response to prompt, “How might HR technology companies use ChatGPT to help their HR customers?”, asked on March 22, 2023 | Source: OpenAI, 2023.

One example we can share from the Summit is in Figure 12, which is a generative AI concept prototype for identifying skills from a series of existing documents.

Figure 12: Generative AI Concept Prototype| Source: Workday, 2023.

Chakraborty then spent some time walking us through some of the key challenges with generative AI:

  • Bad results and lack of explainability
  • Bad actors (DAN, IP, Security)
  • Cost (Financial, society, environment)

The intention of this blog isn’t to go into all of these challenges (but if you want a couple of resources on them, read this and this), but instead to highlight that Workday is thinking about and working to address them. While this might seem like an obvious and important point, it isn’t the case with every vendor to whom we’ve spoken. Some are such generative AI cheerleaders that it seems hard for them to adequately assess the limitations and risks associated with it.

As far as Workday, they specifically called out the following approaches to addressing AI and ML-related concerns at the Summit:

  • Trustworthy AI: Workday has an AI and ML Trust program that specifically addresses how we deliver AI and ML with a laser focus on AI and ML ethics and customer trust, and an eye toward emerging AI and ML regulation globally. It provides governance in defining roles, responsibilities, standards, processes, and procedures for the development and ongoing management of AI and ML capabilities in Workday.
  • Transparency and Explainability: Workday is the only major cloud HCM and Financial Management provider that provides transparency into how AI and ML models are designed and function, and customers have control over whether their data is used to train our models. We follow Explainable AI and ML principles to help customers understand how our models are intended to function, what data is used in their build and how it is used, what outcomes to expect, how the models were trained and tested, and how they were tested for bias.”

Changing leadership, evolving approaches

As mentioned in the summary above, an unspoken theme of the summit was the change in leadership and approaches at Workday.

Let’s start at the top. Right before Christmas 2022, Workday announced the immediate and unexplained resignation of former co-CEO Chano Fernandez. At the Summit, the only explanation we got was when Aneel said, “Love Chano, but he wasn’t going to be it.”

So, who will it be? Apparently, it is Carl Eschenbach, a 5-year member of Workday’s Board, who was selected to be Bhusri’s Co-CEO. Eschenbach was a partner at VC-firm Sequoia Capital (serving on the Boards of Snowflake and Zoom) and an operator at VMWare, where he was president, COO, acting CFO, and a number of other roles across his 14 year-tenure.

Figure 13: Pete Schlampp, Aneel Bhusri, and Carl Eschenbach| Source: Holger Mueller, via Twitter, 2023.

Further, Workday announced, “Aneel and the Board expect that Carl will assume sole CEO responsibilities and Aneel will assume a full-time role as executive chair and will remain as chair of the Board of Directors.” Assuming this happens, this will be the first time Workday will have been run by a non-founder and a single CEO. And it will be run by someone from outside the HR Tech industry.

There was no explicit reason given as to why this change will be made, but if I had to guess, it was that Workday realizes the old adage, “what got us here won’t get us there.” Specifically, Bhusri called out that he’s had a good run, “We’ve gone from $0 to $6 billion in revenue and a $50 million market cap. But I’ve been making it up. I’ve had a mentor, but it isn’t the same as having done it before.” Clearly, Eschenbach has done this before.

Further, it looks like Workday needs some help figuring out how to scale more efficiently. For example, while Workday did deliver on its promise of 20% YOY growth – it came at a high cost. Literally. According to its 10-K, Workday’s GAAP / Non-GAAP operating expenses in costs of subscription increased 27% and 29% respectively. The key here, of course, is that the cost percentage increases (27%/29%) are outstripping the growth rate (21%).

Throughout Workday’s 10-K, it mentions that these increases in costs were “primarily related to increases in expenses due to higher headcount, a return to travel and in-person events, the workforce realignment, the rollout of the performance-based cash bonus program, an acceleration of share-based compensation expense caused by modifying the vesting dates of all unvested RSUs from the 15th to the 5th of each month, and other growth investments made across the business.” Obviously, some of those are (or should be!) non-recurring costs. However, it all speaks to a need to figure out how to be more efficient while still growing at 20%+ growth.

So how might Workday do this moving forward? While we didn’t get a lot of time with Eschenbach, a couple of his statements during the Co-CEO talk stood out to me:

  • "We are a consolidator here at Workday. We have all these tools – we are going to focus on best of suite." Eschenbach feels customers want to consolidate and that one of the primary ways to get there is via a focus on the CIO, especially in mid-market organizations. Workday is going to simplify its packaging and pricing approaches to make it easier for the CIO buyer to buy the entire Workday platform. This approach is likely a part of how Eschenbach intends to drive efficiencies.
  • “Innovation means more than tech innovation. It also means M&A and go-to-market innovation.” Eschenbach talked quite a bit about Workday’s partners, and how through them they can adjust their go-to-market approach. A specific example he gave was that Workday customers can now buy Workday from AWS, using their AWS budget dollars to pay for Workday. Another example was to accelerate co-innovation with Workday Extend, which is where Workday’s partners can build their own apps on its platform. They also mentioned an intention to give more of their services business to partners, and to ask them to form joint plans to drive growth.

Finally, on this subject of leadership changes, here are a few other executive changes / shifts to mention:

A few other notable comments from the Summit

There are always a few notable comments that prick my ears, but don’t fully make the headlines. Here are the ones from this year:

  • ESG is a taboo word. Last year, Bhusri talked a lot about purpose and the importance of stakeholder capitalism. This year, he said “CEOs don’t want to talk about ESG.” This aligns with some of the reporting we heard out of Davos this year, and given that both Bhusri and Eschenbach were there, it is likely they picked up on that message there. Similarly, I was surprised there was no mention of the VIBE (Valuing Inclusion Belonging and Equity) index this year.
  • Workday is “just a data processor.” As some of you may have heard, a lawsuit against Workday alleges its “artificial intelligence systems and screening tools disqualify applicants who are Black, disabled, or over the age of 40 at a disproportionate rate.” While Workday obviously couldn’t comment directly on the lawsuit (though they have in other forums stated they believe it is without merit), Bhusri did mention several times that “Workday is just a data processor, processing customers’ data.” I have no insight into the details of this lawsuit, but it does raise the question of the respective level of responsibility tech companies and their customers have when it comes to bias in decision-making (this is part of why we are researching people analytics ethics right now!).

Wrapping up

We know this is a ton of content – but we also know that Workday is well-primed to execute on its goals ahead and is a very important vendor for many of our ThreadHeads. Therefore, we wanted to give you a full download of what we learned and saw. Further, there was a lot of other content shared, so if you have any specific additional questions, please email us at [email protected] and we will get back to you.

Learning Methods Tool

Posted on Friday, October 7th, 2022 at 12:06 PM    

Learning Methods Tool

This tool displays different learning methods and how much employees rely on them. Methods are organized according to RedThread's employee development framework. To learn more about choosing learning methods that fit read the associated report, Choosing Learning Methods that "Fit" Your Org.

Explore the tool by:

  • Filtering by demographics to see percentage of respondents rely on methods by data cut.
  • Clicking the circular arrow to clear filters and start over.
  • Hovering over any field to see a definition of that term.

Skills: The Linchpin to the Future of Work

Posted on Monday, August 8th, 2022 at 6:41 PM    

In our most recent roundtable, we brought together leaders and practitioners from various industries and organizations to understand their experiences with using skills, including what they've learned and what they're still trying to figure out.

Key takeaways

We centered our conversation around 4 topics: Use cases, Systems, Adoption, and Culture. Below are 4 key takeaways and quotes that reflect essential themes for how participants and their organizations think about and use skills.

Measuring skill proficiency allows leaders to gain insight into their organization

Measuring skill proficiency allows organizations to understand their workforce and make informed decisions. Participants talked both about using skills to define job levels and move employees around the organization. Many kept coming back to the idea that getting clear on employees’ proficiency is critical to applying skills in their organization.

One leader described how they measure proficiencies to understand what people know and determine where they can grow. Others talked about how they’re thinking about the purpose of skills first and measuring skill proficiencies second.

"Skills for development is a tough nut to crack – we need to tie to proficiency levels – this allows us to be more future focus vs. only thinking about the mobility piece." – Roundtable Participant

When using tech to identify and assess skills, build in opportunities for human observation

One major piece of advice we heard in our roundtable was to layer in opportunities for human observation when using tech systems to assess and identify skills. Participants called out the need for balance between the insights gained from tech and the insights gained from human interactions and conversations.

Many mentioned that there is a big difference between someone self-identifying that they have a skill and seeing how it is being applied. Human observation provides a level of oversight in verifying skills that systems may not be able to provide.

"As we put systems in place, HR/leader role is changing, and so are the conversations around skills. It becomes, "Hey, you learned this skill, and you assess yourself at X level; tell me about it; what does that proficiency mean to you?" It puts more weight on people than in the past, making it a much more collaborative conversation." – Roundtable Participant

Organizations are balancing 2 perspectives on skills: the enterprise and the individual

Many participants described how their organizations are balancing enterprise and individual perspectives on skills. Organizations may see skills as a way to enable quicker decisions on succession plans, career mobility, and even who to hire. Individuals may see skills as a concrete way to develop their careers in a particular direction. The challenge is trying to find common ground between these 2 needs.

"The organization is defining skills for a specific role, which is different maybe from me as an individual choosing, defining, and deciding where I want to go and how to grow. There is a question of how you harmonize both of those together." – Roundtable Participant

Managers are in a unique position to impact whether employees use skills

Often, managers are the key driver of employees adopting and using skills successfully. For example, participants talked about how managers should help employees make time for new skills to be used and developed, provide opportunities to use new skills, and have open conversations about how employees would like to develop. To do this successfully, there may be a need for manager training and education about skills.

"Managers are communication linchpins (around skills)." – Roundtable Participant

A special thanks

Thank you to all who participated and shared their experiences. We welcome your suggestions, thoughts, and feedback at [email protected].



Roundtable Readout- Roe vs. Wade: What now for organizations?

Posted on Thursday, July 7th, 2022 at 11:44 AM    

On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe vs. Wade ruling, leaving many companies scrambling. In response, we convened a roundtable of leaders on June 30 to discuss these challenges and identify possible solutions.

Specifically, we discussed 3 questions:

  • How organizations are communicating about Roe vs. Wade, both internally and externally
  • How organizations can support those affected by this reversal
  • What are some of the broader implications for talent attraction, retention, and employee experience

Key takeaways

There is a general sense of fear resulting in a slow or lack of response from organizations on the issue

Companies had been quick and vocal about expressing their support for social issues in the recent past, such as the Black Lives Matter (#BLM) movement. Yet, many have stayed silent on this issue both internally and externally due to a few reasons:

  • While some groups and individuals expect their employers to take a stand on the issue, others prefer to avoid political discussions at work.
  • Many companies have offices across the globe. Taking a stand on a U.S.-based issue that does not impact large parts of the organization has deterred many leaders from speaking out publicly.
  • Many leaders are afraid of expressing a personal view or explicitly showing support or dissent for the ruling. Instead, they are limiting their response to acknowledging differing beliefs.

However, there is also a general fear of repercussions from staying silent on the issue. Employees have an increased level of expectations from their employers to take a stand, mainly because many organizations have been vocal about political issues in the recent past.

Many companies are focusing on the healthcare aspect of the issue

Many companies, unwilling to take a political stance on the topic, are using language that promotes healthcare access for employees to show their support. Because the overturn of the ruling changed laws overnight in some states, many HR leaders are not clear on the current benefits available to employees and how they will change in the future. Participants mentioned the lack of communication from their insurance companies, making it hard for organizations to share information with employees resulting in confusion and fear.

Some companies are finding other ways of helping their employees, such as:

  • Expanding benefits to include travel expense coverage
  • Communicating that the health and safety of their employees is their top priority
  • Working with their benefits provider to ensure that all employees, regardless of location, have access to the healthcare they need

Some are also providing mental health and wellbeing support by:

  • Encouraging conversations led by employee or business resource groups (E / BRGs) with guidelines on how to start a conversation on the topic, and set expectations around sharing, listening, and respecting each other
  • Opening up forums and town halls for communications with leadership
  • Promoting employee assistance programs (EAPs) for emotional support, including crisis lines offered to employees in need
  • Bringing in external facilitators to guide discussion and hold courageous conversations without repercussions

Privacy is a concern, but many are not thinking about it

There are serious legal implications that could emerge from the data collected on employees, but few companies are thinking about it or addressing it right now. Data tracking on employees who request medical support could lead to privacy concerns around access and usage. Similarly, reimbursements for travel expenses that require disclosure of travel purposes could also result in privacy challenges.

One of the ways companies can prevent such challenges is by using a third-party administrator for travel reimbursements or stipends which would ensure privacy for employees. Additionally, companies can restrict access to sensitive data such as biometrics. Finally, some organizations are revisiting their paid time off (PTO) policies to remove the distinction between sick time and PTOs and help afford employees privacy when applying for a leave without disclosing the specific reasons.

It’s too soon to know the broader impact on organizations

Participants agreed that while there will certainly be some implications for organizations based on how they approach this issue, it is too early to tell whether they will be long-term and significant. Over time, companies could find themselves asking questions such as:

  • Is this impacting the experience different populations have within the company?
  • Is talent attraction impacted because of it?
  • Has it impacted our attrition in the long term?
  • Do we see this affecting our brand?

Organizations are aware that any communications regarding the overturn will affect their company culture over time.

Thank you to all who participated and shared their experiences. We welcome your suggestions, thoughts, and feedback at [email protected].

Quick Summary: Performance Management for Hybrid Work

Posted on Tuesday, July 5th, 2022 at 10:39 AM    

As organizations move toward hybrid work, they need to ensure that employees can perform as effectively as possible and managers can support them fairly. To do this, leaders must make sure performance management works for all in this new hybrid work world.

There are 3 levers that are critical for today’s performance: Culture, Capability of managers, and Connection.

This infographic highlights key findings from our report: Performance Management for Hybrid Work. Read the full report to find out why the "3Cs" are critical for performance management and what are the specific practices under each lever that organizations should focus on.

Click on the individual images below for an expanded view. As always, we'd love your feedback at [email protected].



Performance Management for Hybrid Work

Posted on Tuesday, June 28th, 2022 at 2:36 PM    

Download this report[/button]

Many of us are beginning to return to the office (RTO). Who could have imagined it would take more than 2 years? What an experience we've lived through. So, it's safe to say none of us are the same as when those first shelter-in-place orders were announced in early 2020.

For one thing, we've collectively lived through a grand experiment in remote working. And, as it should be with any experiment, we've learned a lot. For example, we've seen that:

  • Certain work can get done better in distributed environments than in the office
  • Not all work needs to be done synchronously
  • Through improvements in technology and process, we can work in new and often more effective ways
  • People can be much more self-directed and effective than many had imagined

We've also been reminded of just how much humans are social creatures. This has been reinforced by situations where in-person work interactions truly allow us to flourish. After 2-plus long years, there’s an incredible attraction to be together again with our teams—to create together, rejoice in being alive together—in a physical workplace.

Now’s the time for us to move to the next phase of the experiment—hybrid working. As we enter this period, the question becomes,

How can we keep the goodness of both situations—distributed (remote) and in-person work—while enabling our people and organizations to perform effectively?

While we have many components to do this, one area that many organizations are overlooking is performance management.

In this report, we focus on a few things:

  • The critical levers for performance management (PM) and how they've evolved thus far since the start of the pandemic
  • Why those specific levers are especially critical to hybrid work
  • How to audit your organization's current practices and get started

This research is based on a number of different studies we've done over the years on PM, as well as the results of our 2021 survey of employees and HR leaders on performance management. See the appendices for the nitty-gritty methodology. This report gives you the data, insights, and practical suggestions you need to prepare your organization for this next grand experiment.

Performance management: Critical to the hybrid work experiment

PM is always important—it:

  • Touches every employee in the organization
  • Provides clarity on goals, objectives, and performance
  • Influences incentives

While important, PM is far from perfect—its limitations and potential biases have been documented by many.

Unfortunately, many biases will likely be exacerbated in a hybrid work setting (see Figure 1). For example, managers may be susceptible to proximity bias when assessing performance if some employees are in the office more than others. To potentially overcome these biases, employees may begin to come into the office more often, even if it’s not where they get their best work done.

There are several PM biases that can be exacerbated in remote work

Figure 1: Common performance management biases & their potential impact on remote workers. Source: RedThread Research 2022.

To ensure that employees can perform as effectively as possible—and managers can support them fairly—leaders need to make sure PM works for all in this new hybrid work world.

While this might feel a bit daunting (or not even be on your radar at all), let us assure you this is possible. After all, we've just been through a global pandemic and have learned some important lessons that we can apply to the future. Not only that, our RedThread data show that some organizations and managers have already adjusted their practices to better suit a hybrid work environment. So, your organization may already be further ahead than you know.

Introducing the new 3C model

While a wide range of practices can be considered essential when desiging performance management for hybrid work, the question, of course, becomes:

Which practices and behaviors matter most?

When we first conducted this study in 2019, we introduced a model that organizations needed to focus on most to drive PM. The model was comprised of 3 levers:

  • Culture. Promotes the values and norms of the organization to drive organizational performance and engagement
  • Capability of managers. Plays a role in creating the right environment to drive individual performance
  • Clarity. Enables individuals to understand their contribution—in the present and the future—to drive engagement

Our latest research provides an updated model of 3 levers that organizations need to focus on when it comes to PM in current times. As readers can notice in Figure 2, some elements of the old model remain important, while others have evolved.

There is a 3C model that organizations should focus on for PM in hybrid work

Figure 2: The 3C model for modern performance management. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

The 3 levers that organizations should focus on in a hybrid world are:

Culture. A culture that clearly promotes the organization's values and prioritizes people became an even bigger priority for leaders during the crises of the past 2 years. As companies look to implement new ways of working once again, they need to maintain their efforts to reinforce a high-performance culture. This lever has evolved in 2 important ways when compared with the 2019 version:

  1. Culture now includes the new subfactor of “clarity” (that was its own separate lever in 2019). A high-performing culture must now provide employees with clarity around their goals and performance.
  2. Another subfactor from our 2019 model, “future-focus,” is now renamed “fostering growth.” Organizations need to provide opportunities that help employees grow in their current roles and no longer view development as future-oriented.

Capability of managers. Few others have played a more impactful role in employee experience and performance during the pandemic than managers. Leaders will continue to rely on managers for their culture-building efforts and to empower employees to perform effectively in the future.

Connection. This is a new lever that organizations need to focus on. The pandemic and subsequent changes in work made the annual performance conversations obsolete for many. Several of these companies increased employee check-ins during the pandemic, which resulted in improved levels of engagement for many. Moving forward, enabling connections between employees, their managers, and the broader organization will be essential to employee performance.

Beyond our data, real-world stories also reflect the criticality of culture, capability of managers, and connections. Over the past few years, several companies have revisited their PM processes to understand what’s working and what needs changing—to ensure continued performance and career development.

A culture of continuous feedback and check-ins, along with clarity and alignment around expectations, are welcomed and encouraged widely. The latest example comes from Google, which recently did away with its biannual performance reviews. The new approach, Googler Reviews and Development (GRAD), involves feedback and check-ins throughout the year, twice-a-year promotions, investments in internal mobility, and once-a-year formal performance reviews.

Why should organizations use the 3C model?

Focusing on the 3Cs positively impacts several talent and business outcomes that leaders care about. Our findings revealed that companies—which focus on culture, capability of managers, and connection—are more likely to have:

  • High engagement. Organizations that focus on the 3Cs are 1.6 times more likely to have high engagement. We know that employee engagement impacts retention, productivity, turnover, and employee health. It became a top priority for leaders during the pandemic—and continues to be critical as companies figure out their next chapter around planning work.
  • Met business goals. Companies that focused on the 3 levers were 1.5 times more likely to have met their business goals in 2021. The pandemic has made it challenging for companies to set business objectives and even more difficult to achieve them as the instability continues. For companies looking not just to survive—but to be successful during such times—and instill confidence in their stakeholders, it’s critical to meet their business goals.
  • High NPS scores. Organizations that focus on culture, connection, and capability of managers are 4 times more likely to receive a positive NPS from their employees. The rise of the “Great Resignation” has focused companies on improving employee loyalty. Similar to employee engagement, NPS data give organizations a general sense of how employees feel—meaning a low score, especially during a crisis, can be terrible news.
  • High manager effectiveness. Companies that score high on culture, connection, and capability of managers are 3 times more likely to have employees who rate their managers as effective. Managers impact an employee’s engagement to a great extent. Managers also play a central role in their employees’ development and career journeys—making it imperative that managers possess the capabilities required to enable effective performance.

The 3 levers in our model (see Figure 3) can impact one, a few, or all of the critical outcomes mentioned above. For example, our data show that organizations should focus on building manager capabilities if they want to drive higher engagement, NPS, and manager effectiveness, in addition to meeting their current business goals. Organizations should consider connection-building if they only want to impact manager effectiveness.

Depending on which outcomes organizations want to drive, they should focus on 1, 2, or all 3 levers. In Figure 3, we look at each of these levers and the outcomes they influence.

There are several talent and business outcomes that are positively impacted by the 3C model

Figure 3: Outcomes impacted by each lever of the 3C model. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

In the following sections, we take a deeper dive into each of these 3 levers, discuss why they’re important, and look at how some PM practices should change to better fit the hybrid world of work.


Culture is the shared assumptions, values, and behaviors that determine how people do things within a company which helps them and organizations thrive. When redesigning PM, organizations should look at how each of these—assumptions, values, and behaviors—impact current practices.

In this section, we take a closer look at culture:

  • What it is and why it matters
  • Role of culture
  • Highest priority practices to change

What it is & why it matters

When we looked at the importance of culture as a lever, we found that it significantly impacts all the talent and business outcomes that organizations care about. As we see in Figure 4, organizations that focus on culture experience significant positive results with NPS, manager effectiveness, past business performance, and employee engagement.

The Culture lever has a positive impact on NPS, manager effectiveness, business goals, and employee engagement

Figure 4: Impact of culture lever on individual & organizational outcomes. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Additionally, in comparing 2021 data with 2019, we notice that culture's impact on employee engagement has grown significantly. In 2019, we found that organizations which did well in creating a high-performing culture were 32% more likely to experience high employee engagement. In 2021, this likelihood nearly doubled to 63% (see Figure 5).


Organizations with a focus on culture, experience high employee engagement

Figure 5: Likelihood of high employee engagement in organizations focusing on culture, 2019 vs. 2021. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Role of culture

While culture is extremely important, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what aspects of culture matter most for PM. Our 2019 research revealed 3 cultural elements⎯feedback, fairness, and future-focus⎯that organizations needed to focus on to drive performance. However, organizations must now rethink culture for hybrid work—and our new model reflects this change. To build a high-performing culture for a hybrid world of work, organizations must continue to do what they’re already doing—and provide employees with focus and clarity around their goals. (See Figure 6)

There are 4 aspects within the culture lever that organizations should focus on

Figure 6: Aspects of the culture lever from the 3C model for modern performance management. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

A few things to note about the culture lever in 2021 when compared with 2019:

1. Clarity, an independent lever in 2019, is now a critical aspect of the culture lever. Culture took on new meaning during the pandemic. With remote work, companies have had to:

  • Become explicit about the work that needs to be done
  • Show how it ties to the company’s overall mission and goals
  • Provide employees with the support and resources to do it

This means that organizations can’t rely on individual managers' varying capabilities and enthusiasm to provide clear goals and feedback. Instead, organizations must have a cultural competency around clear goals and feedback—so that, if employees don’t get what they need, then they’re empowered to ask for it. As such, our analysis revealed that “clarity” is now a part of organizational culture.

2. Growth continues to be an important part of culture, but is no longer solely future-oriented. As mentioned earlier, we renamed the subfactor “future-focus” from our 2019 model to “fostering growth.” In 2021, we saw a new urgency overtake upskilling and continuous L&D (as they apply to PM) as employees encountered both complex and mundane challenges that they hadn’t faced before the pandemic. For this reason, we no longer see growth and development in the performance context as being about preparing for the future, but rather as essential to executing the job today.

As organizations look to put in place practices and processes for hybrid work, they must consider these 4 areas under culture—feedback, fairness, fostering growth, and focus and clarity—as guiding lights for driving performance.

We know there’s a greater likelihood of new and existing biases creeping up in a work setting in which some portion of the workforce is remote. Organizations that are rethinking their culture should intentionally design and implement practices that address these biases. Specifically—by promoting a culture of fairness and trust—organizations can avoid halo / horn bias, whereby good or bad traits can dominate perceptions. Similarly—by encouraging feedback and emphasizing clarity—organizations can make sure that managers receive constant information and feedback on employee performance, thereby avoiding proximity, primacy, and centrality biases.

For example, Salesforce implemented “Flex Team Agreements” after receiving feedback from employees that they needed greater flexibility. These agreements are broken down into 3 levels—office-flexible, home-based, and office-based—and help provide clarity to employees on what's most important for them, including how many days a week they come into the office and what kind of work they’ll continue to do at home.

Teams can also decide how they communicate and what behaviors are most important to them. For instance, the Employee Success team agreed to “no meeting Fridays” and monthly wellbeing days. The team also prioritizes in-person meetings twice a year, volunteer days, and end-of-quarter celebrations to keep everyone feeling connected.

Similarly, IBM was able to build trust and psychological safety by replacing a system of once-a-year performance conversations with a culture of continuous feedback. Based on input from employees, the company put in place a new performance development process called “Checkpoint”—where feedback is self-driven and centered around providing a more holistic evaluation of employees.

To ensure strategy alignment across departments, offices, and countries, 5 key dimensions—or core values—were created:

  • Business results
  • Client success
  • Innovation
  • Skills
  • Responsibility to others

In addition, IBM partnered with a PM technology solution to have one platform for check-ins, feedback requests, and goal-setting. The company has been able to move past traditional questions like, “Did you accomplish your yearly objectives?” to questions like, “How are we performing? What are the skills needed? How does this impact my career?”

Highest priority practices to change

So, what are the specific practices that lead to a high-performing culture? Depending on the outcomes that leaders want to influence, our data revealed specific practices which are important.

Figure 7 breaks down the specific culture practices used by high-performing organizations. While there are certainly more practices which organizations can adopt, we include only those that have a significant impact on outcomes.

There are specific practices under the culture lever that drive talent and business outcomes

Figure 7: Practices that positively impact talent & business outcomes, culture lever. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Real-World Threads

Patagonia redesigns performance management with a focus on culture

When Patagonia decided to redesign its PM process, leaders wanted to make sure that the changes aligned with the company's strong culture of being a place at which people were proud to work. The existing PM approach was traditional top-down and rigid—whereas the company’s culture was more bottom-up, open, collaborative, and heavy on authenticity.

The company decided on 3 design principles to guide its reinvention of performance at Patagonia—more dynamic, more democratized, and more data. To make it dynamic, the company put in place 3 new performance tools:

  • Quarterly stretch goals
  • Quarterly check-in conversations
  • Continuous crowdsourced feedback

Each tool (stretch goals, check-ins, and feedback) was built to allow employees to drive the process, while managers provide support and help them improve. Managers took on the roles of guide, coach, and advocate on behalf of their employees. To enable more data usage, the company integrated digital tools that collect data on the frequency of feedback, and networks of people giving and receiving feedback.

Employees still meet with their managers in the first month of the new fiscal year and set a few high-level, yearly targets—but they avoid getting too detailed about them (see Figure 8). After that, employees begin using the 3 optional (but highly recommended) performance tools.

In the first month of each new quarter, employees write 3–5 quarterly stretch goals. Then they ask for feedback from their peers and managers using digital tools. In the first month of a new quarter, they use the digital platform to fill out a check-in form that guides them through self-reflection questions. Finally, they schedule a 30- to 60-minute check-in meeting with their manager.

Patagonia adopted a regenerative approach to their performance management

Figure 8: Patagonia’s regenerative performance approach. Source: People + Strategy Journal, SHRM, 2017.

By applying this "regenerative performance" approach, the company has created an ongoing cycle that supports continuous growth and performance improvement year over year.

Capability of managers

Given the spotlight on managers during the pandemic, it comes as no surprise that capability of managers continues to be a crucial lever for driving performance management.

In this section, we take a closer look at this lever:

  • What it is and why it matters
  • Role of capability of managers
  • Highest priority practices to change

What it is & why it matters

Organizations are increasingly relying on managers to:

Our data (see Figure 9) reveal that organizations, which focused on building manager capabilities, were highly rated by their employees on NPS, manager effectiveness, engagement, and the likelihood of meeting business goals in 2021.

The capability of managers lever has a positive impact on talent and business outcomes

Figure 9: Impact of capability of managers lever on individual & organizational outcomes. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Role of the capability of managers

Managers play a central role in making hybrid work successful. Similar to conditions during the pandemic—shifting priorities, work practices, and differing experiences of employees—require organizations to rely on managers to lead effectively. This is especially true as companies think about making sure the new working conditions are fair and equitable for everyone.

Findings from our data indicate the evolving nature of the manager’s role in today’s work environment. As we see in Figure 10, in addition to providing coaching, exhibiting candor, and clearing barriers for employees⎯as it was important for them to do in 2019⎯managers must also now exhibit confidence and care.

There are 5 aspects of capability of managers that organizations should focus on

Figure 10: Aspects of the capability of managers lever from the 3C model for modern performance management. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

The addition of confidence and care for managers’ capabilities isn’t surprising for a few reasons:

  • Having confidence in employees and trusting them are fundamental elements for a thriving work environment, especially in times of crisis and upheaval. Our Responsive Manager study revealed that—among the behaviors adopted by managers in organizations that are highly responsive to disruptions—trust and showing respect toward employees greatly impact enabling effectiveness. For example, the computing company NVIDIA exhibits confidence and trust in its employees with its “the project is the boss” philosophy. This approach leaves it up to the employees (and their schedules) to decide when work is completed, as long as the project is finished as expected.
  • Care, a practice that has become extremely important over the past 2 years, is now seen as foundational to a manager’s role. Managers need to be supportive, flexible, and inclusive to help employees feel a sense of stability and empowerment, along with feeling valued, during a time of crisis. For example, one of Microsoft's steps to be successful at hybrid work is to encourage managers to care for employees’ unique needs in and outside of work, and their career aspirations and goals. “Care” is part of the company’s manager framework that was introduced a few years ago and on which the company continues to lean heavily.

Organizations must double-down and invest even more in manager capabilities as they move toward hybrid work environments for a few reasons:

  • Preventing biases. Managers—who fail to recognize work that lacks a direct line of sight (between the manager and employee) and continue to promote those they physically see in the office—will inadvertently exacerbate the common PM biases in a hybrid work setting.
  • Managing split teams. Hybrid work means teams with employees who might have different work schedules and days when they come into the office versus working from home. This means taking into account the different needs and challenges that can arise unexpectedly and on short notice. Companies need managers who are able to effectively solve these challenges while displaying consideration and care.
  • Overseeing employee wellbeing. According to one study, 56% of employees report improvements to their mental health as a result of the hybrid work environment—and managers played an important role in that during the pandemic. As companies set long-term policies around hybrid work, they need managers to be responsible for leading this charge.

Highest priority practices to change

So, where should organizations focus? Our data revealed specific practices and behaviors that managers should look to adopt.

In Figure 11, we list them along with the specific talent and business outcomes they impact. While organizations can adopt several other practices, we include here only those that have a significant effect on the outcomes.

There are specific practices under manager capabilities that drive talent and business outcomes

Figure 11: Practices that positively impact talent & business outcomes, capability of managers lever. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Real-World Threads

Zillow equips managers to better support their teams

In order to better assist their managers during the pandemic, Zillow, an online real-estate company, set up cohorts of managers across the organization. The purpose of the cohorts was to allow managers to engage in rotating 1:1 conversations with their peers to troubleshoot their current managerial challenges.

These conversations offered safe opportunities to engage in vulnerable conversations that focused on how managers can commit to specific actions to support the wellbeing of their team. Managers were able to practice empathy with their peers, ask specific questions to understand their challenges, and articulate their own circumstances in response to probes.

As a result, the conversations offered managers the opportunity to fail in a safe space and be better prepared to help their employees. This also promoted a coaching culture within the company, with managers offering each other ideas and advice outside of structured times.

Clarus Commerce consistently reinforces trust & confidence in its employees

The philosophy at Clarus Commerce, a small advertising and marketing company, resembles that of a winning sports team. The leadership works to:

  • Hire good people
  • Train them through practice and preparation
  • Coach teammates to back up each other
  • Learn from their mistakes
  • Accept wins and losses together

Once the new hires are ready, leadership lets the players play.

Once play begins, or the new hires have proven they’re capable of tackling projects on their own, managers will only step in a limited number of times. The field of play at Clarus is set by goals and budgets. Within these boundaries, it’s up to the workers to execute. This empowerment enables the company to move quickly according to conditions on the ground and diligently to meet changing customer needs.


Much has been said about the importance of connection-building during the past 2 years. As such, we weren’t surprised (although excited!) to see it emerge as a lever in our new model.

In this section, we take a closer look at the connection lever:

  • What it is and why it matters
  • Role of connection
  • Highest priority practices to change

What it is & why it matters

Connection surfaced as a modern PM lever for a few reasons:

  • Genuine relationships within a company can help to create a workforce that’s generally more satisfied and less stressed
  • Research shows that a top challenge among remote workers is loneliness—add to that ambiguity over expectations and goals due to a lack of frequent conversations—and it’s a sure-shot recipe for a disengaged and unproductive workforce
  • Bonding connections (within-group interactions) and bridging connections (across-group interactions) that are important for collaboration and innovation deteriorated from the virtual work environment during the pandemic—organizations need to be intentional about rebuilding these connections to drive growth

One of the primary ways that leaders build a connection with their employees is through check-ins. Our research shows that the frequency of daily check-ins increased by 8% from 2019 to 2021, while that of monthly structured conversations increased by 10% from 2019 to 2021 (Figure 12).

The frequency of check-ins and conversations increased in 2021 compared to 2019

Figure 12: Frequency of daily check-ins & monthly conversations, 2019 vs. 2021. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

These increases in conversations (connections) occurred for the following reasons:

  • Organizations shifted to more continuous goal-setting approaches that required frequent conversations between managers and employees
  • Leaders feared that employees might feel cut off from company culture—resulting in a greater effort to engage employees through frequent check-ins
  • Managers lacked previous levels of visibility into an employee’s work—resulting in managers speaking with their team on a more regular basis
  • The informal means used before the pandemic to provide “in-the-moment" feedback to employees disappeared—leading managers to set more frequent conversations

As many organizations implement policies that require the workforce to return to the office for some portion of the week, it’ll be tempting for managers to let go of these habits—this would be unwise.

Our findings reveal that 70% of employees want more daily or weekly check-ins than they’re having with their managers. Although low as compared with other levers, connection has a significant positive impact on manager effectiveness (see Figure 13).

Organizations with ineffective managers could end up losing critical talent. While the impact isn’t necessarily high, we believe it’s just as important because of how it impacts other PM levers for a few reasons:

  1. Companies need to foster connections through regular and frequent conversations. This is especially critical to empowering managers to build trust and show candor with their employees. This can have a positive impact on the capability of manager lever, too.
  2. A culture of feedback and clarity requires frequent conversations. Quick check-ins are a great way for managers to give “in-the-moment feedback,” and clarify employee goals and expectations. This can have a significant impact on the culture lever as well.
The connection lever has a positive impact on talent and business outcomes

Figure 13: Impact of connection lever on organizational outcomes. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Role of connection

We believe that building and managing connections will continue to be important—if not more so—as hybrid work becomes a reality for many. A few reasons for this include:

  • Addressing the “fear of missing out” (FOMO). Employees who continue to work entirely from home or for some portion of the week might experience anxiety due to the fear of missing critical information or being left out of important decisions. Frequent check-ins with their managers can provide opportunities for employees to discuss and address such concerns, as well as alleviate their sense of FOMO.
  • Staying connected. Employees need to feel connected with their workplace and a part of the company culture—which can be challenging to maintain in a hybrid work environment. Connections built through informal check-ins can assuage some of the fears and feelings of being disconnected.
  • Avoiding bias and discrimination. Because remote work offers a better experience for women and people of color, they’re more likely to prefer working from home than others. Organizations must provide and promote opportunities for frequent conversations between employees and managers in a hybrid workplace setting to avoid proximity bias from creeping in. Regular conversations can help address concerns, provide the necessary support, and ensure they’re not forgotten or passed over for development opportunities.

Figure 14 provides an overview of this third lever in our PM model.

There are 2 aspects of connection that organizations should focus on

Figure 14: Aspects of the connection lever from the 3C model for modern performance management. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Highest priority practices to change

As we mentioned earlier, connection's impact on organizational outcomes is low as compared with other PM levers. However, organizations mustn’t ignore this lever for a few reasons:

  • Employees want more conversations. Our survey findings show that about 70% of employees want more daily or weekly check-ins than they currently have
  • Companies need connections to drive the other levers. Those wanting to implement a culture of clarity, feedback, and coaching will find it hard to succeed without implementing processes that encourage frequent conversations and communications between managers and employees

So, what are the specific practices on which organizations focus? Our data reveal one practice that organizations should look to adopt¾quick check-ins. In Figure 15, we outline the practice and the outcome it impacts.

There are specific practices under connection lever that drive talent and business outcomes

Figure 15: Practices that positively impact talent & business outcomes, connection lever. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Real-World Threads

Spotlight adopts more frequent conversations between employees & managers

Before COVID-19, Spotlight, an analyst relations firm, had a PM process in place that consisted of employees and managers having development conversations on an annual or biannual basis. Once the pandemic hit and employees shifted to a remote work environment, a clear need surfaced for more frequent development conversations. Company leaders received feedback from employees asking for more frequent conversations and 1:1s with their managers.

As a result of this feedback, the company:

  • Executed focus groups to understand the specific pain points around its current performance management process as experienced by managers and direct reports
  • Researched practices instituted by other companies to address similar pain points
  • Leveraged technology to make the process easier and execute the changes

Because of these steps, Spotlight was able to redesign its PM process—so it’s now comprised of practices, such as providing continuous feedback, weekly check-ins, and monthly 1:1s with managers.

Early results from these efforts show that employees generally report a more positive experience with their managers. The company has seen an increase in employee scores on questions around employee relationships with their managers, their levels of trust toward them, and development investment from them.

UCHealth makes conversations an integral part of its PM process

UCHealth’s mission is to improve lives through learning, healing, discovery, and human connection. The healthcare system of hospitals and facilities wants everyone who connects with the organization to have a positive experience, thus making UCHealth an attractive employer in a tight marketplace. The company believes that relationships are the most potent and essential lever which leaders can pull to influence behaviors, align employees’ work, and inspire the workforce.

Over 2 years, the company collected data to understand its Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and found 2 things that mattered most to employees and for retention:

  • Personal, instead of transactional, relationships
  • Opportunity for growth

Unfortunately, the existing PM process eroded the company’s EVP as it didn’t help employees focus on growth, improve performance, or build connections with leaders. Instead, it focused on:

  • Evaluating performance to provide ratings for merit-based pay increases and bonuses
  • Giving feedback on past performance
  • Satisfying regulatory and legal requirements and internal processes

After collecting feedback and data through conversations and forums, the organization decided to revamp its PM process. The overall objective was to design a process that:

  • Supports retention
  • Encourages relationships rather than being transactional
  • Helps grow and move talent
  • Provides a forum for comparative rating for merit-based raises
  • Aligns with UCHealth’s overall objectives and mission

In 2019, the Organizational Development and Learning Services team revamped the process to reduce the administrative burden. The following year, it decided to formally shift the focus of performance reviews from evaluation to “Career Conversations” around professional development. “Career Conversations” drive inspiring discussions between employees and their managers about the employee’s performance, growth, and opportunities at UCHealth. They’re mandated for everyone and framed around 3 core sections for all leaders and employees.

Managers begin by asking employees if they’re willing to take on extra and challenging work. Starting with this section allows the organization to focus the bulk of the conversation on discussing growth and career development. Questions in this section are not rated, and encourage useful dialogue between employees and managers. The following 2 sections cover discussions around whether the employee is getting their current job right and if they are a good teammate. The organization evaluates these sections on a 5-point rating scale.

Overall, the new process provides equal opportunity to all employees to manage their development, while simultaneously fulfilling the need for comparative ratings to inform the annual merit pay increase and bonuses.

UCHealth emphasizes that leaders go beyond transactional relationships, and build deep and meaningful connections with employees. It also invests in helping leaders build interpersonal skills—and holds them accountable for meaningful conversations with employees throughout the year through “Career Conversations”, stay interviews, and other informal check-ins.

Because of the critical role that managers play in the new process, the organization:

  • Helps managers improve their interpersonal skills by building deep connections and relationships
  • Provides resources, such as formalized learning opportunities and courses, to help leaders hold conversations
  • Provides opportunities to role-play different scenarios to help leaders prepare for difficult conversations

“The challenge of the next decade for organizations will be to figure out how to create a space where individuals can feel heard, aligned, and part of something bigger while still getting the work done.”

Matthew Gosney, Vice President of Organizational Development and Learning Services

By designing a PM process that puts an onus on building connections and holding meaningful conversations around growth and development, UCHealth is actively working on addressing this challenge and fulfilling its overall mission.

And the results are proof that these efforts are working. The organization improved its internal promotion rate significantly from 37% to 67% over the last 5 years, with considerable improvement over the previous 2 years. The organization is on track to achieve what it sees as the ideal mix of internal versus external hiring.

A secondary benefit of these efforts is improved representation in the company’s talent pipeline. The organization improved its Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) representation in its talent pipeline by 40% in the last 2 years. It also tracks performance metrics around ratings and promotions on the backend, and analyzes them by demographic data to identify biases and discrimination.

What now? Getting started

Now that we know which practices and areas impact performance management, how can organizations get started on applying these across the organization? Different companies have different needs, which means they might focus more on some areas and practices versus others.

One thing is certain—performance management as we know it no longer works.

Companies that redesigned their PM processes in the recent past already see the benefits of doing so. According to our data, in organizations with redesigned PM processes (within the last 2 years), 56% of employees believe their evaluation process is fair and consistent, as compared with only 36% of employees in organizations that haven’t redesigned their PM processes (see Figure 16).

Employees in organizations with redesigned PM perceive the evaluation process to be fair and consistent

Figure 16: Employee perceptions of the fairness & consistency of their performance evaluation, by organizations with / without a recently redesigned PM process. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

So, what should organizations do? In Figure 17, we outline the 5 steps organizations can take to kick-start their modern PM journey.

There are 5 steps organizations can take when starting their modern PM journey

Figure 17: 5 steps to kick-start modern performance management journey. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Step 1: Identify what matters most

While most organizations will agree that engagement, NPS, meeting business goals, and manager effectiveness are all important outcomes they want to drive—each company will differ in which of these outcomes matters the most, given where their individual business is today. This is why the first step to redesigning your PM process should be identifying the outcome you want to impact most.

Our research shows that engagement is one of the primary reasons organizations conduct performance management—and this has changed significantly over the past 2 years. As shown in Figure 18, almost 45% of organizations reportedly managed performance to engage employees in 2021, as compared with only 26% in 2019.

More organizations manage performance to engage employees in 2021 compared to 2019

Figure 18: Percentage of organizations that manage performance to engage employees, 2019 vs. 2021. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

You can better identify your priority areas by:

  • Clarifying your organization’s philosophy for PM—specifically answering the following questions:
    • What are we hoping to achieve by managing performance?
    • How does that tie to our organization’s overall values and purpose?
  • Pinpointing the desired state or the specific outcomes your organization needs to achieve
  • Specifying what the success of PM practices should look like and how it can be measured

For example, a U.K.-based IT consulting company with a history of acquiring many companies follows a very clear philosophy when it comes to performance management. The company conducts PM to help employees understand:

  • Where they currently stand
  • Where the company needs them to be
  • How they can get there

Even though the company made changes to its practices around manager check-ins and goals over the past 2 years due to the pandemic, the overall purpose of managing performance didn’t change.

Step 2: Determine gaps in the current approach & with the 3C model

The next step is to take inventory of the existing practices within the organization, identify the ones that map to the areas you want to impact, and identify the gaps.

Voice gap” is the difference between how much voice and input workers feel they ought to have versus how much they actually have¾that exists between workers and leadership when it comes to topics that impact them in the workplace. Employees want to participate in decision-making around policies and practices that affect them, such as performance management. Therefore 2 of the most important things for organizations to do in this step are to collect feedback and be open to discussions.

Organizations can execute this in several ways. Figure 19 offers a few steps that we’ve outlined.

There are certain practices that organizations can use to audit their current PM approach

Figure 19: Practices to audit your current performance management approach. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

For example, Old Mutual Wealth decided to set a customer-centric strategy to ensure the company meets its business goals and recovers from the financial crisis. The company realized that it needed to leverage performance management to bring the new strategy to life. Leadership identified organization-wide, customer-first behaviors that were incorporated into employee performance reviews, manager feedback systems, and an all-employee survey.

The changes spawned a new culture throughout the organization in which everyone took responsibility for their decisions—starting with the CEO, who clearly said that nobody would be blamed for giving him bad news. Within 12 months, 90% of the firm’s U.K. and European insurance books were replaced by new products aligned with the board’s vision. And Old Mutual’s share price more than doubled in 5 years.

Step 3: Ideate & brainstorm solutions

Once the gaps are identified, you may find it tempting to start work on adding in the missing practices needed to drive performance and to weed out the ones that go against the desired state.

We recommend against doing this—in favor of taking some time to be sure you understand the root cause and gain others’ input before moving forward. Specifically, organizations can take these actions at this stage:

  • Identify root causes of the reasons for the gaps in performance practices
  • Brainstorm potential approaches to address the root causes
  • Test out assumptions on what the implications of those potential approaches would be
  • Consider different variations of practices that could potentially work
  • Conduct research to understand practices adopted by others with similar challenges
  • Do a technology audit to understand how it’s currently used and identify any opportunities for leveraging it more effectively

When it comes to technology, many organizations look to fix a process with technology—but remember: If you simply automate a bad process, then you’re enabling the organization to do bad things faster. Technology should help managers and leaders have better conversations, and provide timely feedback—instead of turning these into tasks for managers to check off their lists. As pointed out by a leader during our research, if managers don’t understand their role in enabling performance and conversations, and giving feedback, then no amount or kind of technology will matter.

Once covered, these steps should make it easy for your organization to narrow down the areas to focus on, allowing it to quickly identify the specific practices needed. Practices for different outcomes should be coordinated and should reinforce each other.

For example, Behavioral Learning Center Inc., a healthcare organization, improved employee engagement and enabled manager effectiveness by adopting a culture of feedback and clarity. New practices adopted by the organization allowed managers to assess and provide continuous feedback to their employees flexibly and frictionlessly.

Managers can also complete evaluations and on-field assessments using smartphone apps, along with initiating feedback as soon as a project is complete. After implementing the tool for real-time feedback, the company witnessed a marked increase in employee engagement, with a decrease of 30% in voluntary turnover.

Step 4: Socialize & refine focus areas

Once the practices and outcomes are identified, the next step is to get feedback. Organizations must continue to refine the focus areas by soliciting feedback on what is and isn’t working. Again, organizations should seek input from employees and managers about their pain points with the new process and the challenges they face.

For example, when an IT consulting company decided in early 2022 to change its performance appraisal process and the role managers play, the company made sure it had support and buy-in from executive leadership. The affirmation from the top helped socialize and communicate the importance of the changes to the other leaders.

The company also refined its focus areas by coaching less tenured managers to ensure they have the necessary skills to lead their teams. In addition to providing training and courses for them, the company looked toward the more experienced and senior managers to support these efforts.

Another essential element to sharing information and continued refinement is using data and insights to track and identify areas of improvement. In 2019, Infosys began using analytics to drive manager enablement in the company.

The company designed “MaQ” (Manager Quotient), a tool to empower the manager community to meet their current and future challenges in a personalized way. The end objective was to make MaQ the one-stop shop for all managers—to find out how they’re doing as managers, as well as chart and track their L&D paths to improve their managerial styles.

Within 12 months, more than 51% of its people managers were using MaQ to either view their assessments or learn small nuggets on managerial effectiveness.

Step 5: Communicate & manage change

Communication must start at the top and be reinforced at every level. Organizations should use different channels on hand to socialize the message around those practices and behaviors that need to be changed. These messages must clearly explain why this is important, and how they align with the business objectives and priorities. The communications should cover 3 core areas (see Figure 20).

Organizations should think about the why, what, and how when communicating PM changes

Figure 20: Communicating performance management changes. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Many organizations see the PM designing process as once and done. If the past 2 years have taught us anything, it’s that you can never be entirely prepared for what comes next. With hybrid work as the preferred option for many, organizations will constantly have to be vigilant and monitor those areas that will define their next steps.

To that end, we encourage organizations to focus on how they can continue to make PM relevant for the future—and enable employees to perform to the best of their abilities in a constantly changing environment. This means organizations need to put in place a plan to ensure which practices and processes are revisited and reviewed regularly. Decisions to revisit or reform PM practices can be driven by several factors, such as response to a crisis, declining employee productivity and engagement levels, or a change in leadership.

At a minimum, organizations must always keep a check on the “employee pulse” to understand the value they’re getting from the existing processes. By making sure they’re checking with employees and regularly collecting their feedback, organizations can determine which areas they’ll potentially need to focus on and the steps that can help them get there.


With rising consumer prices, talks of an impending recession, a national baby formula shortage in the U.S., and mass shootings, the first half of 2022 has been rocky for many of us, to say the least. The pandemic has blurred the lines between personal and professional, and there’s little evidence of things returning to how they were 2 years ago. Companies looking to retain and develop their talent will likely find themselves pressed to do more to help employees address challenges. One such thing that companies can do is build a PM process that is fair, transparent, and free of bias.

By focusing on culture, building manager capabilities, and encouraging connections, organizations can better engage employees and improve manager effectiveness while meeting their business goals. Organizations should proactively plan and integrate these practices when designing performance management for hybrid work.

Given the ongoing and upcoming changes surrounding the workplace and hybrid working, many organizations will likely revisit their existing PM practices. Whether they listen to their employees and implement processes that ultimately help them develop and perform their best remains to be seen.

Learning methods: which do your employees use?

Posted on Wednesday, June 22nd, 2022 at 11:51 AM    

Organizations can help employees develop new skills in all kinds of ways. Which ones do employees rely on? We looked at 49 different learning methods to find out.

When choosing learning methods, L&D should consider their audience and the methods their employees use. But the audience isn't the only consideration, there are 3 more: business needs, culture, and available resources.

In our final report, Choosing learning methods that 'fit' your org, we describe how L&D functions can use 4 considerations when choosing learning methods that fit.

Click on the image below for an expanded view. As always, we'd love your feedback at [email protected].

Choosing learning methods that “fit” your org

Posted on Tuesday, June 14th, 2022 at 2:09 PM    

The goal is fit

In times of crisis and uncertainty, organizations tend to default to what they know best.

At the height of the pandemic, for example, more than one L&D leader asked me the best way to get all of their classroom training online. While we have accepted for years that learning happens all the time in all the places, one little global pandemic threw L&D back into classroom mindset.

In the process of climbing out of the pandemic, however, a lot of people practices got better. And that is particularly true of learning and development. Managers got better at giving feedback; L&D got better at offering existing resources; and tech made it easier to personalize learning for employees more broadly.

The list of options organizations recognizes for developing employees is long. We know because we classified them all last fall in our study: Next Gen Learning Methods: What to use, how to choose, and when to cut them loose. And while knowing the universe of tools available is helpful, it can also be overwhelming. As Elizabeth Robinson, VP of Talent Engagement and Development at Healthcare Consultancy Group said:

It's the idea of using methods in a more integrated fashion. It's choosing the right method for the right purpose.

Our most recent study is aimed directly at that problem. It isn’t enough to know what’s available. L&D leaders must also know how to choose learning methods that fit their organization. What do we mean by fit? We mean:

• How well does it fit the business need?

• How well does it fit the culture?

• How well does it fit the audience?

• How well does it fit the available resources?

Including data from an extensive survey, interviews, and roundtables, our latest study hopefully helps leaders to determine how well methods “fit” with their goals and constraints.

There are 4 things to consider when choosing learning methods that fit your organization.

Figure 1: 4 considerations when choosing fit-for-org learning methods. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

A note: Throughout this report, you’ll see references to learning culture or high learning culture index or a strong learning culture. This measure is an average of 6 questions we asked survey participants:

To what extent are these statements true in your organization?

1. Enables me to plan my career.

2. Enables me to find development opportunities.

3. Enables me to access content and opportunities to grow my skills.

4. Enables me to experiment with new knowledge and skills.

5. Enables me to connect with others for learning.

6. Enables me to perform better in my current role.

The average of these 6 questions gives us a good indication of how well organizations are building a learning culture. Our research explores how well those organizations with strong learning cultures compare to the rest of the population.

Fit the business need

Choose based on how well a learning method fits your business need

To put it succinctly, learning methods should fit a particular business challenge. Over the past few years, the role of L&D functions has been elevated, as senior leaders have asked them to lead reskilling, mobility, and in some cases DEIB initiatives. More L&D pros are also being asked to participate in workforce planning and talent mobility discussions. As a result, we have seen a shift in L&D’s mindset: from caring mostly about how the employee will engage (which is still important) to a more balanced approach that also carefully considers the business need.

We saw this different mindset in our interviews and at our roundtable. Gina Mouch, Senior Training Specialist at the University of Michigan, got right to the point when asked how her organization chooses learning methods:

It really depends on the business goal.

We also saw this mindset reflected in the cold, hard data. Figure 2 shows us that 80% of L&D pros in organizations with a high learning culture index consider the business challenge to a significant extent when determining which methods they should invest in. That is a whopping 34 percentage points more than their peers in other organizations.

L&D pros, in high learning cultures, significantly rely on business needs when identifying development methods

Figure 2: % L&D pros, in high learning cultures, significantly rely on business challenge criteria when identifying development methods compared to L&D pros in other organizations, n=162. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Just as interestingly, while their peers in other organizations listed cost as the number 1 way to choose a learning method, organizations with a high learning culture index listed cost as 4th, after business challenge, implementation, and procurement.

While some organizations are already doing this, it bears repeating: start with the business reason for any employee development initiative. As Chris Casement, previously Managing Consultant for System-Wide Learning and Innovation at Sutter Health said:

The reason we implemented that mentoring program was tied to a business reason.

Measure how well a learning method fits by looking at business results—not smile sheets

While implementing methods that align with business goals is key, investing in methods that meet those goals is equally important.

When L&D pros were asked how L&D understands the methods that are most valuable to employees, again, those with high learning culture indexes relied more heavily on all the approaches we asked about more than their peers in other organizations.

L&D pros consider business results when choosing the most valuable methods.

Figure 3: % L&D pros, in high learning cultures, use certain approaches to understand what methods are most valuable to employees, compared to everyone else, n=162. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Of note: the number 1 way L&D pros in high learning index organizations determine what is valuable is how well a method meets business needs. Usage data and evaluations follow closely.

L&D functions with strong learning cultures are measuring their learning methods against business results and keeping an eye on how valuable (or frequently used) those methods are to their employees.

Other organizations are still highly reliant on evaluations (their number 1 answer), followed by anecdotal feedback.

The sheer difference in reliance on these methods is jarring: 42 percentage points for business results and 26 percentage points for usage data.

This indicates that those organizations with strong learning cultures are listening more—not just with their ears, but with data—to understand what learning methods are important and valuable.

Real World Thread – Learning methods that meet a business need

L&D functions hold more ownership over big workforce development initiatives that allow them to respond to business challenges. At Healthcare Consultancy Group, Elizabeth Robinson, EVP of Talent Development, is an influential L&D leader who recognized the organizational need to upskill her workforce.

To do this, she and her team began using skills assessments. These assessments are intended to measure an employee’s skills around each of the organization’s core competencies. Based on the results, L&D then helps employees to craft intentional learning pathways to address any skill gaps.

For example, they currently have a research-based profiler that looks at eight different skills needed for innovation, one of the organization’s core competencies. Based on the results, L&D assists the employee by mapping out various learning and development activities. The goal is to build the employee’s innovation skills in a pathway that’s customized to them. Elizabeth was able to meet the business challenge by maintaining a sharp understanding of the organization’s current state and creating a solution using learning methods that aligned with its needs.

Fit the culture

Balance methods that support all learning behaviors

Culture is often defined as “the way we do things around here.” Implicit in that definition is “doing” things. Learning cultures, then, are defined by learning or development behaviors employees demonstrate.

Enter RedThread’s Employee Development Framework. This framework describes the behaviors organizations should encourage and enable for a strong learning culture. Figure 4 shows these 6 behaviors and the learning methods that align with them.

66 learning methods categorized into 6 behaviors within Employee Development Framework.

Figure 4: Learning methods in Employee Development Framework. Source: RedThread Research, 2021

When choosing learning methods, organizations should understand what their options are, and which behaviors the methods are likely to encourage or enable.

The goal is not to invest in all methods, but to identify methods within each behavior that work within the confines of the organization.

As such, learning functions should understand

  • The extent of the learning methods they are providing or enabling
  • The alignment of those learning methods to the behaviors they’re trying to encourage
  • The effect those learning methods are having in promoting that behavior

An easy way to think about it may be to visualize all the methods associated with all of the employee development behaviors as the entire universe. Organizations should be looking for the constellation that works best for their organization.

Strongly consider the methods that matter more to learning culture

Much to our surprise, our research revealed a number of learning methods impact learning culture more than the rest.

While learning methods are only a portion of how a learning culture is enabled, they do play a role. In fact, when we statistically analyzed the 49 methods, we collected data on to determine what (if any) effect they had on learning culture, a model emerged that identified 13 learning methods.

There are 13 methods that support a strong learning culture, organizations should invest in these.

Figure 5: 13 methods for a strong learning culture and the behaviors they support, n=1532. Source: RedThread Research, 2022

Together, these 13 learning methods explain 23% of learning culture. Figure 5 describes these methods and categorizes them by the learning culture behavior they support.

While that number may not seem huge, it is significant. Organizations can account for 23% of their culture by implementing and supporting these 13 methods.

Organizations should consider how they are utilizing and enabling these methods. Organizations can ask themselves:

  • To what extent are these methods available to employees?
  • How well does our organization enable these methods?
  • What role can L&D play in ensuring their availability?
  • How do these methods integrate with others offered?
  • How well do these methods integrate with the organizational culture?
  • How do these methods connect employees to each other?

Experiment to find methods that fit your culture

Choosing the right learning methods for a given organization is often about experimentation. There are no hard and fast rules on what will work best within a given culture, so L&D functions often find themselves using trial and error to determine which ones are best.

Interestingly, our data showed that organizations with high learning culture indexes are experimenting more than other organizations (Figure 6). That is, they aren’t putting all their eggs into a single metaphorical learning method basket.

L&D pros in high-learning cultures who experiment with new methods to a significant extent.

Figure 6: % of L&D pros in high-learning cultures who experiment with new methods to a significant extent, n=91. Source: RedThread Research, 2022

Chris Casement, previous Managing Consultant for System Wide Learning and Innovation at Sutter Health, saw this to be true within his organization:

What the pandemic enabled us to do is jump ahead about 4 years on some pioneering experiments and push the envelope on how we engage people through different mediums.

In our conversations with leaders, we found that L&D functions approach the alignment of methods to culture a bit differently than other organizations. These high learning culture organizations tend to be more:

Flexible and agile

Organizations that experiment more tend to adopt flexible and agile mindsets and systems, allowing them to quickly adjust when it becomes apparent that changes need to be made to the methods they have chosen.


Learning leaders in organizations where experimentation is prevalent are more apt to use data for decision-making. More of them tend to run controlled experiments, use A/B testing, and examine usage data to determine if learning methods are working.


L&D functions that experiment tend to be more circumspect, meaning that they are less likely to fall in love with a solution and implement it with brute force. They tend to take a wider view of learning methods, determining if and how they fit and sunsetting them if they don’t.

It also turns out that organizations with high learning culture indexes also just use more methods than everyone else. On average, those in high learning cultures support 21 methods compared to everyone else, who support an average of just 10 methods (Figure 7).

High learning culture support more methods compared to everyone else.

Figure 7: Number of learning methods supported in high-learning cultures vs everyone else, n=1533. Source: RedThread Research, 2022

Elizabeth Robinson, VP of Talent Engagement and Development at Healthcare Consultancy Group, expressed her support for this sentiment:

We're using most methods, but we want to make sure that we are pushing ourselves on how we use those methods, strategically and creatively.

While we’re certainly not preaching quantity over quality, we are finding that experimentation and using more methods go hand in hand. Organizations that consistently experiment spend their energy identifying the best methods for their broad employee base.

Don’t forget human connection

We’re at a point in history where human connection really matters. Before the pandemic, many learning strategies (and the tech that supported them) focused on self-service learning—the Netflix of learning, as some people called it—and the ability to both scale and personalize development opportunities with tech.

We’re seeing the pendulum swing, however. Spending 2 years alone in our home offices has taken its toll, and organizations are now actively seeking ways to bring humans together. This effort is particularly important as organizations navigate their way through hybrid and remote work.

The desire to connect is also manifesting in employee development, and came through loud and clear in our roundtable and interviews for this study.

A talent development leader working at a large manufacturing organization we spoke to recognizes the role L&D functions can play in connecting people:

Because so many are now faced with all these ripple effects of what's happening, one of our priorities is to create more opportunities for learning that connects people.

Given this desire for connection and the role L&D can play, leaders are carefully considering the methods they’re investing in and deliberately choosing those that bring people together.

We found that over half of the 49 methods we investigated involve at least 1 other human for learning to take place. (Peer or manager feedback, for example, requires personal connection, whereas something like internet does not.)

Over half of the learning methods we identified involve a high level of human touch.

Figure 8: Methods and their usage, by high, medium, and low human touch, n=1532. Source: RedThread Research, 2022

We think human connection is an important variable, both because many organizations desire to reconnect, and because human interaction introduces other challenges to consider: lift on the organization (which we’ll talk about in a minute), variability to the learning experience, and additional systems and processes. Elizabeth Robinson, VP of Talent Engagement and Development at Healthcare Consultancy Group puts it this way:

Yes, having more connection in terms of communities of practice and mentoring and coaching to further support development—it's a really important thing for us right now.

As organizations identify the methods to invest in they should consider the level of human touch for each, and its ultimate cost and benefit.

Use methods that fit people into other methods

One of the oldest new ideas in L&D is that of blended learning. For decades, L&D teams have been identifying ways to use several methods together to teach courses or concepts. This seems to have become even more important since the pandemic.

Figure 9 shows learning methods that have strong correlations: the darker the square on the chart, the more likely it is that the organization offers both types of learning methods (row and column).

Connect methods correlate more with more methods than any other behavior.

Figure 9: Correlation matrix of learning methods representing correlations greater than 0.5. Source: RedThread Research, 2022

Interestingly, the Connect behavior correlated more with other methods than any other behavior. It had both high and numerous correlations with learning methods within its Connect category as well as with other behaviors.

Leaders we spoke to backed this up. Christel Londt, Last Mile Capability Manager, said,

started to move away from traditional e-learning because people just don't retain the knowledge. Now we combine e-learning with discussion forums and role-playing—we want people to build a community to share their learning and experiences with one another.

In our roundtable, leaders spoke of particular methods they are using to add a human element, including

  • Remote classes with an attached lab or cohort aspect
  • Coaching as part of leadership development
  • Manager involvement in employee development initiatives
  • Communities of practice with a mentoring aspect

This research backs what we’ve known for ages: people learn from people. But we’re seeing new iterations as some of these methods become both more measurable, digitally enabled, and integrated with the work itself. We’re excited to see what comes next.

Real World Thread – A mentoring program to ignite connection

Employees want to learn by connecting with those inside and outside their organization.

Chris Casement, who used to be a Managing Consultant responsible for system-wide learning and training at Sutter Health, saw the desire to learn via connections. In response, his team supported a variety of hybrid programs, including a new-grad mentorship program for incoming nurses at Sutter Health.

Being in the healthcare industry for many years, Chris knows about the impact of high turnover and burnout rates on nurses. Post pandemic, it's even more critical to support new nursing graduates as they transition into a new job and signal to nurses looking for a job that they won’t be alone here, they’ll be developed and supported.

By the end of this mentoring program's first year, the number of mentors increased from 3 to 25. Chris attributed much of the program's success to how it was built, delivered, and enabled by human connections.

Fit the audience

Consider overall preferences in your organization

While some methods can be tied specifically to a stronger learning culture, the appropriateness or fit for many of them depend on the target audience. To this end, L&D functions should consider their audience, its needs, and its preferences as they round out their offerings. Christel Londt, Last Mile Capability Manager said:

We analyze the needs of our target audience, understand their requirements, which helps us determine what will work best for them.

It should also be noted that the methods that fall under the Discover behavior aren’t actually used for learning per se, but rather for finding opportunities for learning. After much debate, we left them blended in with the other methods, as we feel that discovery of development opportunities is key to a strong learning culture.

Top 25 methods most relied on by all employees

Figure 10: Top 25 overall methods, n=1609. Source: RedThread Research, 2022

A few high-level observations about the entire audience—all job levels, locations, business sizes, and industries—before we dive into different sub cuts:

  • All but 1 of the top 25 methods tie to all of the behaviors of a strong learning culture. None of the methods in the Top 25 are tied to Experiment behavior. This isn’t surprising, but it is slightly disappointing.
  • All the methods in the Discover behavior made this list, except for Automated Recommendations. Employees rely heavily on these methods to identify opportunities for learning.
  • Most learning behaviors have an outlier method– one that is relied upon significantly more than the rest.

While this data and these observations can be useful to L&D functions, the data becomes even more interesting when we looked at different cuts.

Because learning cultures are nuanced, we compared reliance on learning methods across different groups. Our data showed some subtle and some not so subtle differences that are worth considering when choosing what to invest in. We explore these subsequently.

Use methods that fit the management level

Not too surprisingly, employees at different leadership levels rely on different learning methods (Figure 11). This was particularly true of the senior leaders who participated in our study.

Senior leaders rely on different methods compared to managers and individual contributors.

Figure 11: Comparison between senior leaders, managers, and individual contributors, n=1609. Source: RedThread Research, 2022

Many L&D functions (and leadership development functions) intuitively take some of these differences into account. As employees move up the proverbial leadership ladder, some things change. For example,

  • Senior leaders likely don’t have the same leadership support that others lower in the organization might (because they may be near the top).
  • Senior leaders often have responsibility for strategy and sensing—both of which are often supported better with external resources (professional networks, videos, articles).
  • Senior leaders leverage relationships and connection to get work done, and apparently to learn as well. They are more likely to leverage social and professional networks, peer feedback, and customer feedback.

Methods for individual contributors—and to a large extent, managers—tend to be the ones that help them perform in their roles (manager feedback, formal reviews, peer feedback). These employees also rely more on methods that are provided directly by the organization.

Choose methods that fit org size and maturity

This likely goes without saying: organizations should focus on methods appropriate for their size. It might be unreasonable, for example, for a 20-person organization to create all kinds of custom e-learning.

Interestingly, though, the methods employees relied on didn’t differ much between large organizations and small organizations.

In fact, most statistically significant differences could be tied to the maturity of the people processes in the organization. In other words, employees appear to rely on whatever they have access to.

For example, in Figure 12, goal setting is relied on more within midsize and large organizations. This seems consistent with the fact that by the time an organization reaches midsize, goal-setting systems are usually in place. For small organizations, goal setting is not relied on as much because that method is not standardized yet.

Larger organizations rely on methods that reflect their maturity.

Figure 12: Top methods relied on in large organizations compared to reliance in methods in midsize and and small organizations (significant differences only), N=1609.

This gives us a small hint not just about the methods employees would prefer and rely on, but also the methods that organizations are offering.

Figure 12 clearly shows that large and even midsize organizations are apt to have more systems and processes in place that aid in employee development.

This is interesting on 2 fronts. First, L&D functions in many midsize and large organizations fail to recognize the value of these systems for employee development and may be able to leverage them more. Second, small organizations default to courses for developing their employees (we even made this mistake in our tiny company).

In cases where a full-blown L&D function is not an option, organizations can leverage these other systems, likely already in place, to ensure that employees continue to develop.

Preach what you practice

When we compare how L&D pros learn to how others learn, we see some fairly large differences. We included this nugget just for L&D pros because it highlights a few important points.

First, L&D pros may not be practicing what they preach. Although as a function, they have historically focused on more traditional ways of developing employees, we don’t see any of those methods in their top 10 list. Instead, they are utilizing internet, articles, and professional networks to learn.

L&D pros don't rely much on formal learning for their own development

Figure 13: Top 10 learning methods relied upon by L&D pros, compared to everyone else, n=214 (L&D pros), n=1609 (everyone else). Source: RedThread Research, 2022

From our interviews, we know L&D pros have long been wanting to move away from courses and have started to move in that direction. The knowledge that they aren’t relying on courses much themselves could be a catalyst for change.

Second, we again see the evidence of human connection in this data: 63% of L&D pros significantly rely on professional networks for development, significantly higher than their peers in other functions (by 27 percentage points). They also rely on social networks and peer feedback more than their peers. The takeaway: If it’s important for them, they should be enabling it for others, as well.

Finally, L&D pros have an obvious bent toward learning: of the 49 methods we gathered data on, L&D pros utilize 46 of them at a greater rate than their peers. It’s hardly surprising that they would tend in this direction: it’s their vocation.

So? L&D pros could consider a bias toward learning a potential blind spot, acknowledging that learning may not come as easily or naturally to all employees. Utilizing methods that integrate development into the work itself (like enabling manager and peer feedback) can alleviate some of this bias.

Real World Thread – Choosing the right method for the organization’s size

Organizations should choose learning methods that align to their size and maturity. Larger-sized organizations usually have more institutionalized employee development processes and systems due to the maturity of their organization.

Gina Mouch, a Senior Training Specialist on the Michigan Dining team at the University of Michigan (UofM), understands this concept well. She is one of almost 40,000 employees working at UofM, a university that’s also been around since the 1800s. For employee development in particular, processes for learning and growing staff are not only part of the culture, but they are entrenched into the employee development system.

As a training specialist for over 3 years on the Dining team, Gina relies on standardized processes put in place for employee development. For example, skills assessments are used consistently in the hiring process for Dining staff. It is essential that Gina and her team understand right away where someone needs to upskill and where they are proficient. This helps to drive the development efforts and training content for her staff.

Even now, Gina and her team are looking for ways to further leverage this current process in place to personalize learning for incoming staff as well as start to understand how the focus on skills can add to the value proposition in the hiring process.

Fit your resources

Don't forget low or no cost methods

Like other functions, L&D departments likely undergo a budget approval process toward the end of the fiscal year.

During that process, methods are considered: which ones they will continue to support, which ones they can afford to invest in, and which ones they may have to sunset. Cold hard cash—the cash that shows up on the L&D balance sheet—is a big factor. As one talent leader at a large manufacturing organization said:

Our end goal is to have skill-based career planning, but for budget reasons we've had to postpone that. Now we're trying to use what we have—our LXP—to help people record their goals and skills.

Often, however, L&D functions fail to consider alternatives to expensive methods. Figure 15 classifies the 49 learning methods we have data on into low, medium, and high cost (cost being money out of pocket that shows up on the L&D function’s balance sheet). Each method also shows the percentage of respondents who identified that method as being relied upon significantly.

Interestingly, slightly more than half of the learning methods that employees rely on are low or no cost to the L&D function.

Cost-conscious L&D functions should look for ways to encourage and enable the use of these learning methods, which are less expensive but still meet employees’ needs.

Many learning methods are low or no cost to an organization.

Figure 15: Methods and their usage, by high, medium, and low cost, n=1532. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

For example, Goal Setting and Manager Feedback have high usage, 46% and 52% respectively, and incur low out-of-pocket costs to the L&D function (and in most cases, the organization as a whole).

L&D can partner with other functions across the organization, to provide guidance, reminders, feedback, and data to encourage employees to utilize these methods.

One other observation: Some of the most expensive learning methods are not the ones employees rely upon the most. Granted, this could be because fewer organizations offer them due to their cost, but it may also indicate investments that could be redeployed into more effective options.

L&D should also take time to understand how valuable these learning methods are to their employees before doubling down on them.

Take into account organizational lift

When considering potential learning methods, one of the factors that is often overlooked (or at least not quantified) is the amount of lift on the organization. We define organizational lift as the effort exerted by the organization (IT, PR, managers, leadership, etc.) to implement and support the employee development method.

Interestingly, L&D pros in organizations with a high learning culture index do pay attention to organizational lift. In fact, 61% of L&D pros in high-learning culture organizations significantly consider implementation when determining learning methods, compared to 40% of L&D pros in other organizations. There are 3 reasons it’s important to consider organizational lift.

Investigation may prompt a different method

Often, once L&D functions understand the organizational lift required by a given method, they reconsider the method altogether. Figure 14 classifies the 49 methods we examined into high, medium, and low lift. It also shows the percentage of respondents who rely on the method significantly.

Considering lift can help L&D functions find fit-to-org solutions that still meet employees’ needs.

Think through whom L&D needs to collaborate with to implement a method

Our roundtable and interviews told us that L&D leaders actively collaborate with their peers in other functions to identify the changes to culture, tech, leadership, and communication necessary for getting a learning method off the ground.

In situations where L&D doesn’t own the method outright, their focus should be on, first, accounting for it in a development method, and second, on helping the owner make it more effective and efficient—through processes, necessary aids or guides, skill development, or knowledge.

What shows up on the balance sheet rarely explains the total cost to the organization

Considering organizational lift helps L&D functions identify all costs associated with a given method. Those costs may appear as time, effort, and resources. For example, IDPs (individual development plans) are used broadly and require a fairly large organizational lift. Collecting data about or from IDPs may require extra effort on the part of L&D. Employees and managers will spend time putting them into place and tracking against them. In some cases, software needs to be implemented, maintained, and integrated.

Most organizations utilize IDPs, but they often don’t consider the full lift it requires to get them done. Organizations understand that they’re valuable and would probably do them anyway. But when L&D functions properly take into account the full scope of the lift, they can identify ways to simplify processes, provide tools, and increase communication to make sure they are more effective.

Methods and their usage vary in terms of how much effort or lift is needed by the organization to implement it.

Figure 14: Methods and their usage, by high, medium, and low organizational lift, n=1532. Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Real World Thread – Using cost-effective methods for development

L&D teams have always needed to be mindful of cost when choosing learning methods, and this was especially true during the pandemic when profits were uncertain.

For one large organization in New Zealand, the operational demand within the business exploded at the height of the pandemic. They needed additional resources but were under resource constraints. The learning and development team had to quickly and cost-effectively upskill a large part of the organization to support the new demand.

The team decided to create and distribute standard operating procedures, checklists, and job aids to those transitioning to operational roles. These learning methods enabled employees to learn while on the job and fulfilled low-cost criteria. Even the learning and development team had to shift to working as operational staff and saw first-hand the usefulness of the resources they had distributed.

Learning methods that allow workers to learn while doing their jobs have been adopted by other teams across the company as a cost-effective learning strategy.

Wrap up

More than anything, this research has given us empathy for the position of today’s L&D leaders. The decisions they’re facing, coupled with the expectations placed on them, are putting them under a load of pressure.

Choosing the right learning methods may be a small piece of their overall responsibilities, but it’s a balancing act: not all methods work in all situations, and not all methods stay valid in an organization or for a specific function long-term. And the post-pandemic work environment is likely to continue to shift for some time in the future, making learning needs even more fluid.

The good news is that there are choices—lots of them. This body of research has identified 66 methods that contribute to employee development, and provides data on 49 of those methods.

Another piece of good news is that with that data, L&D leaders can be more confident about their choices. No organization needs to consider all the methods. The L&D leader’s role is to consider the universe of methods and choose the constellation that fits best.

And, as a reminder, by fit we mean:

  • How well does it fit the business need?
  • How well does it fit the culture?
  • How well does it fit the audience?
  • How well does it fit the available resources?

We strongly encourage you to complement this study with our previous study on learning methods: Next Gen Learning Methods: What to Use, How to Choose, and When to Let Them Go. If you still have questions, please reach out. We love to learn from you.

Note: for Appendices, including study demographics, research methodology, and contributors please download the PDF report.

Small organizations = less than 100 employees. Midsize organizations = 101-1,000 employees. Large organizations = 1,001 employees and above.


9 Obstacles to Learning Equity

Posted on Tuesday, June 14th, 2022 at 6:27 AM    

9 common and systemic obstacles make it harder for some employees to find, access, and participate in development opportunities.

L&D functions can reduce or remove these obstacles to make employee development more equitable and inclusive–ensuring more employees have the skills they (and their organizations) will need in the future.

This infographic summarizes key findings from our research report, Less DEIB Training, More Learning EquityClick on the image below for an expanded view.

As always, we'd love your feedback at [email protected].


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