Events

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

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.

Connection

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.

Conclusion

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.

Data-savvy

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.

Circumspect

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].

 


People Analytics Technology 2022: Full Report

Posted on Tuesday, June 14th, 2022 at 4:00 AM    

Download Report[/button]

Introduction

2021 brought its own set of challenges beyond the continuation of COVID-19: a rise in job resignations, the beginning of high inflation (which is still perniciously present), and the start-stop pattern of planning for hybrid work. Now that we are fully in 2022, we continue to manage those challenges, which are exacerbated by the persistence of COVID and its variants, the war in Ukraine with its far-reaching impacts, and a rise in commodity prices. Leading a business is never easy, but the past few years have been especially volatile.

To address this volatility, leaders have turned to people analytics like never before. When workers weren’t physically present, people analytics provided insights into their needs. When organizations needed to pivot to meet changing customer needs, people analytics helped leaders identify staff with the skills and capabilities to lead those efforts. And when leaders needed to understand why employees were leaving in droves, people analytics provided insights and helped stem the tide. In short, people analytics has been a beacon of rationality and calm in a world that has had little of either during the past few years.

For these reasons, understanding the people analytics technology (PAT) market is more important than ever. These PAT tools are helping millions of leaders make better choices about their people in a time when uncertainty and confusion can cloud decision-making capabilities. Therefore, understanding what’s happening in this market—and what needs to come next—are critical to leaders’ abilities to manage the next phase of volatility and uncertainty yet to come.

Figure 1: Methodology for People Analytics Tech Study 2022 | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

This PAT study is our third and builds on the rich knowledge we’ve built up—as well as the feedback our readers have provided to us—over the last few years. As you see in Figure 1, our study relies on 2 vendor surveys, 1 customer survey, and hour-long briefings / demos with most participating vendors.

This study is designed to roll up our insights on the market broadly and provide information on the specific categories within it. For more about specific vendors, check out our People Analytics Tech tool, which vendors can update on a 24/7 basis.

As always, we aim to help you better understand the PAT market and, thus, enable you to make better people decisions with the help of technology. We are grateful to all the vendors and customers who participated in our study—and without whom this report wouldn’t be possible.

After reading this study, if you have further questions, then please reach out to us at [email protected].

Key findings

  1. Employee engagement and experience continue to be the biggest vendor category. Of the 58 vendors in our survey, a large percentage (42%) fall into the employee engagement and experience category—making it the biggest vendor area within our PAT study. It was also the dominating category in 2020, albeit with a smaller percentage of vendors (34%).
  2. 2021 saw the biggest market growth, along with high levels of investment. Based on our calculations, the PAT market size is $3 billion, with a growth rate of 53% for 2020–2021 and a 5-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 80%. Among the vendors, 47% reported receiving investment funding in 2021.
  3. Prices for large customers have gone up. More vendors (34%) are now charging $500,000—$1,000,000 in subscription fees for companies with more than 50,000 employees, as compared with only 23% of vendors in 2020. Conversely, fewer vendors now serve smaller companies than in 2020.
  4. Vendors help customers by focusing on attrition and wellbeing. The vast majority of vendors (73%) reported attrition as a primary talent area of focus in 2021—with almost half also focused on wellbeing, an increase of 14% since 2020.
  5. Use cases are shifting over time, but vendors might be slow in responding. The shift in use cases comes as people analytics practitioners (PAPs) export data out of vendors’ systems for additional analysis in other tools, while non-PAP users increasingly rely on data for business decisions and adopt it Vendors should focus on non-PAP users to ensure continued usage.
  6. Data ethics and privacy are a priority for most vendors. More than 80% of vendors work with their customers to ensure compliance with different legal requirements in different regions and countries. Additionally, more than 70% design guidelines and policies—and align stakeholders around data collection, access, and sharing of insights.
  7. Customers are less satisfied than before, but vendors have high expectations for the future. Average customer Net Promoter Scores® (NPS) for vendors fell to 58 in 2022, as compared with 67 in 2021. Yet, 55% of vendors anticipate more than 30% growth for 2022.

Market trends

Employee engagement & experience continue to dominate the solution market

The largest vendor category (at 42%) in our study continues to be the employee engagement / experience / voice category. This is similar to our 2020 study in which 34% of vendors fell into this category—making it the most dominant (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Vendor Solution Categories, 2021 vs. 2020*† | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

We didn’t find this surprising for a few reasons:

  • Employee engagement / experience has become a top priority for organizations over the past 2 years. As we see in Figure 3, when we asked customers about the top challenges they’re trying to solve for, both employee engagement and experience were among the top 5.
  • The employee engagement / experience software market has traditionally been a busy space with growing potential. According to one source, the total investment made into this market in 2021 was more than $200 million and the total addressable market (TAM) for employee engagement solutions in 2022 is $77 billion. As surveying capabilities became a common commodity in the space, many vendors upped their game by adding measurement and analytics capabilities—thus moving into the people analytics space.

The percentage breakdown for the remaining categories remains similar to what we saw in 2020—suggesting that vendors are both continuing to focus on their areas of expertise and, as our data show later in this report, doubling down on differentiating themselves within their submarkets.

Figure 3: Top 5 Customer Challenges | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Real-World Threads

Foundry drives employee engagement by using a PAT solution

Foundry, a U.K.-based company that develops creative software for the digital design, media, and entertainment industries, faced a challenge—it lacked a safe space for employees to provide feedback.

In March 2020, Foundry embarked on its first-ever employment engagement survey using a PAT solution that focused on employee engagement.

The results showed that learning and development was one of the biggest areas of concern among employees. For example, more than half of those questioned (54%) agreed that good career opportunities existed for them at Foundry, while only 55% said they had access to the learning and development needed to do their jobs well.

Because of the insights from the data, the company was able to launch a series of efforts aimed at improving employee engagement. For example, the company revamped its internal movement policy with a fair application process to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity in applying for any role.

It also put in place a mentoring plan that grew from an initial 20 pairings of mentors and mentees to 50 within the space of 12 months, along with the creation of Foundry Guilds—knowledge-sharing groups that bring together people with similar interests to talk about best practices and challenges.

As a result of its efforts, Foundry’s overall engagement score increased by 11% between the March 2020 and April 2021 surveys.

2021: The biggest market size yet with significant investment

The PAT market grew at an unprecedented rate in 2021. We calculated the market size at more than $3 billion for 2021 (see Figure 4). Overall, the market grew at the following rates:

  • 53% growth rate for 2020—2021
  • 80% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) for the past 5 years

Figure 4: PAT Market Size & Growth, 2016–2021* | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

For those who read our 2020 research, you may notice that we’ve updated the revenue numbers for 2017—2020. This is because we have several new participants in our study and a number of older participants provided us with updated figures for previous years.

Vendors indicated that growth has been driven by both new and established customers which expanded their user base beyond people analytics practitioners (PAPs).

Growth’s also been partially driven by significant investments in the space. As Figure 5 shows, almost half of the vendors participating in our study received funding in 2021. Additionally, about one-third of vendors reported undergoing a merger, an acquisition, or some type of ownership change. This isn’t surprising as we know record investments ($30.8 billion by some estimates) had been made in work technologies in 2021.

Figure 5: Measuring How Growth Occurred in the PAT Market for 2021 | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Vendors are charging more & moving away from serving smaller companies

When we compare subscription fees vendors charged in 2021 with those of 2020, we observe (see Figure 6):

  • Vendors charge more for very large In 2020, 23% of vendors charged subscription fees in the range of $500,000—$1,000,000 for companies with more than 50,000 employees. In 2021, this increased to 34%.
  • Fewer vendors serve small and midsize A larger percentage of vendors no longer serve companies with fewer than 10,000 employees,:
    • 21% of vendors don’t serve small companies with less than 1,000 employees, as compared with 13% in 2020
    • 13% don’t serve midsize companies with 1,000—10,000 employees, as compared with 5% in 2020
    • Only 8% of vendors offer a low subscription fee of less than $50,000, as compared with 23% in 2020
    • 63% of vendors charge a higher ongoing subscription fee of $50,000—$100,000 for midsize companies, as compared with 43% in 2020

Figure 6: PAT Subscription Fee Range, 2021 vs. 2020* | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

While the pandemic made people analytics a must-have for larger companies with enough resources, it’s possible that this also resulted in smaller companies putting their investments in PAT on the backburner since they likely had fewer resources to spare.

“ tool itself is totally effective, there might be 2 challenges: one is the pricing, and the other is consultancy required to effectively translate .”

—Large telecommunications company for an employee network and communications solution

2021 necessitated different approaches

Similar to 2020, vendors quickly responded to customer needs last year. The pandemic, growing resignation rates, and a shift from remote to hybrid work required leaders to seek insights–based on real-time data and from multiple sources–to make the best informed decisions.

Our data reveal that vendors responded to these needs. As with previous years, in 2021 vendors demonstrated a much clearer understanding of their own strengths and the characteristics that set them apart in the market.

As we see in Figure 7, in 2021 vendors differentiated themselves based on their data integration, collection, and engineering capabilities—as well as ease of use—as compared with 2020.

Figure 7: Changes in Primary PAT Capabilities | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Customers appreciated this. When asked about the strengths of the PAT solution they utilize, customers cited ease of use and data integration capabilities among the top 3 (see Figure 8). Additionally, many customers also listed advanced analytics as a top strength. This is likely because multisource analysis platform solutions—that offer predictive analytics, machine learning (ML), and artificial intelligence (AI)—received a significant number of customer feedback responses.

Figure 8: PAT Vendors’ Top 3 Strengths, According to Customers | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

“Extremely knowledgeable team and focused feature set. Solves a massive integration problem that would be impossible otherwise.”

—Small real estate company for an employee engagement / experience / voice solution

Data ethics & privacy are a priority for most vendors, but only some are focused on education

When it comes to data ethics, security, and privacy, the majority of vendors take the lead in collaborating with their customers. As we see in Figure 9, more than 80% of vendors

comply with the different legal requirements in different regions and countries. (This does, of course, make us wonder what the other 17% are doing, but we will take that up with them separately!) Companies increasingly look to their technology partners to understand how policies differ across regions as well as their potential implications.

Figure 9: PAT Vendors’ Role in Data Ethics & Privacy* | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

In addition, we also see that many vendors are working closely with their customers to design guidelines and policies, and align stakeholders around data collection, access, and sharing of insights.

The one area in which we see only some vendors taking the lead is education. Our data indicate that about half of vendors reported working with their customers to educate the broader organization on data ethics and privacy. This is a bit surprising and seems counterproductive to their other efforts in the area.

Without helping their customers gain an understanding of the complexities and legal challenges surrounding issues of data ethics, vendors may find it hard to align different stakeholders and move ahead with their work. It’s possible that vendors still see this as a job for the legal teams. However, as adoption of these tools scales across organizations, we hope to see more vendors envisioning this as an integral part of their role.

Use cases are shifting over time

Over the course of our conversations, we began to see that how organizations use PAT is changing, depending on the organization’s level of people analytics sophistication and the type(s) of users. Figure 10 is a simplified depiction of how organizations currently use these technologies.

  • Phase 1. PAPs use vendor tools for understanding a specific HR area (e.g., engagement), integrating data from other HR data sources (e.g., HRIS), and presenting it in dashboards; senior leaders begin to leverage dashboards.
  • Phase 2. PAPs use vendor tools to integrate a broader set of people-related data and some operational data, and provide a continuous stream of data; other leaders increasingly use these more robust dashboards and insights.
  • Phase 3. PAPs use vendor tools to export the integrated data, to add it to a data lake or run additional analyses on tools of their choice, such as Tableau and Power BI; leaders broadly adopt the dashboards and other capabilities to answer business questions.

As shown in Figure 10, once PAPs move to Phase 3, the level of usage of the tool declines for them. Importantly, though, this is when the tools can achieve broader scalability via adoption by business, HR, and people leaders—if the tools target those non-PAP audiences. Unfortunately, most don’t.

Figure 10: A Shift in Use Cases for PAT Solutions | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

“Adding users is a bit cumbersome and, depending on the end-user, they may have some difficulty with understanding the complexity if there are a lot of dashboards / reports.”

—Small healthcare company for an employee engagement / experience / voice solution

Overall, customers aren’t as happy as before, but multisource analysis platforms are a bright spot

We saw a dip in customer satisfaction levels for 2021 when compared with 2020. Specifically, we saw a decline in NPS® from 67 in 2020 to 58 in 2021 (see Figure 11). This NPS is based on 21 vendors with 5 or more customer responses.

Figure 11: Average Customer NPS Score* | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

A few potential reasons for the decline in NPS include:

  • Some vendors may not be doing enough to cater to the needs of non-PA leaders, resulting in a poor experience for them (see the first quote below)
  • The pandemic made everything urgent, which shortened the required timeline from deployment to insight: this may have been challenging for many vendors (see the second quote below)
  • With an increasingly crowded market space and rapid growth, theres growing competition, along with customers’ high expectations of vendors to provide unique and differentiating capabilities (see the third quote below)

Given that employee engagement / experience / voice and multisource analysis platforms (MSAPs) are the 2 biggest categories in our study, we analyzed those categories specifically to see if their customer NPS scores varied from the average. As you can see in Figure 12, on average, the multisource analysis platforms received an NPS score of 64, while vendors in the employee engagement / experience / voice category received an average NPS of 58, suggesting that customers are happier with MSAPs, as compared with other vendors.

Figure 12: Average Customer NPS Score for Multisource Analysis & Employee Engagement / Experience / Voice Platforms | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

“The concept and idea is good, the analytics is good—but the content and features are not attractive for users.”

—Large technology company for an employee engagement / experience solution

 

“Flexibility is good for what you can build / do in the application. But for strategic workforce planning, it needs to be more robust and aligned to the overall WFP process if it wants to be a successful player in this competitive market.”

—Small healthcare company for an employee engagement / experience / voice solution

 

“They do not deliver the roadmap and are way behind what the competition can offer.”

—Large technology company for an employee engagement / experience solution

Vendors have high expectations for 2022 & made business changes to meet them

Vendors expect to see continued growth in the future. Specifically, for 2022 (see Figure 13):

  • All vendors expect growth of at least 6% or more
  • More than half of vendors expect growth greater than 31%

Figure 13: Growth Expected by Vendors in 2022* | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Our briefings revealed that vendors expect this growth to be driven by a few factors. Specifically, customers are:

  • Using people analytics to implement and manage hybrid work
  • Exhibiting a growing emphasis on using data and metrics for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB)
  • Preparing for more SEC reporting requirements around human capital metrics

The optimism is perhaps also driven by business changes made by vendors to meet customer needs. Vendors reported that they (see Figure 14):

  • Adjusted their products, roadmap, and / or marketing strategy to meet the needs of the changing 2022 environment
  • Are offering greater technical and admin support, as well as resources, to customers as part of their subscription
  • Changed their sales and pricing models

Figure 14: Business Changes Made by Vendors for 2022 | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Our briefings also revealed that vendors are actively engaging with the wider customer community to understand emerging issues, and creatively working to help customers solve them—through better data capabilities, partnerships, and expansion into other talent areas. As customers face more nuanced challenges while navigating the complexities of hybrid work, we expect to see more vendors make such business changes.

Vendor capabilities

Vendors are helping solve current challenges

Vendors are actively working on solving the pressing challenges that organizations face today, such as (see Figure 15):

  • Managing employee engagement and experience. Similar to 2020, the top challenge is issues around employee engagement and experience.
  • Enabling action through insights. Companies need help identifying insights that can drive action, prioritizing efforts, and finding areas of need. Several vendors reported this as a primary challenge they’re helping to resolve.
  • Providing insights across areas. Companies need contextual insights to make better decisions―which means pulling in data from many different sources to get a holistic picture. Vendors are increasingly helping customers gain such insights.
  • Designing a data-based HR strategy. Several vendors report helping customers design an HR strategy based on data—linking talent and HR decisions to business outcomes, and identifying objective KPIs to track and measure.
  • Advanced workforce planning. The pandemic recast strategic workforce planning as a priority for companies. Additionally, the conversation around skills has accelerated, making workforce planning a top area of focus.

Figure 15: Top 5 Customer Challenges That Vendor Solutions Help Address | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Real-World Threads

C.H. Robinson uses PAT to design return-to-office policies
When the pandemic struck in early 2020, C.H. Robinson, a large transportation and logistics company, knew it needed to bring employees into the conversation. The company leveraged its employee engagement and experience solution to deploy pulse surveys in June 2020 and spring 2021 to measure employee sentiment about returning to work. The data collected from the surveys helped design the company’s plan for supporting new post-pandemic ways of working.

The data revealed that employees had mixed emotions about returning to the office. While about 50% of employees were comfortable with the idea, others were concerned about work-life balance and safety. Employees favored staggered scheduling, physical distancing, and frequent cleaning. The company decided to do a deeper dive into restructuring the post-pandemic work experience.

As a result of the data and feedback collected from employees, the Return to Office team partnered with executive leadership to develop a flexibility model using employee work personas—in-office, 2 hybrid groups, and remote workers. The goal was to ensure that all groups had the support and clarity they needed around how and where each group works.

The company also worked to create:

  • An Employee Experience Journey Map as a guide for understanding the emotional journey for both employees and managers
  • A more robust communication change management plan, targeting different messages to different personas

It also built resources for managers to have a reference for interacting with each of the different employee personas.

Vendors focused on areas of top priority

In addition to asking vendors about the primary challenges they’re helping to resolve, we also asked about the top areas of talent management on which their solutions are focused.

As we see in Figure 16, most vendors (73%) reported attrition and employee engagement as their primary areas of focus. Interestingly, attrition wasn’t even featured among the top 5 areas of primary focus for 2020. This increased attention isn’t surprising, though, when we consider that conversations around the “Great Resignation” dominated a good part of 2021.

Figure 16: Primary Talent Areas of Focus by Vendor Solutions, 2022 vs. 2020* | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Another unsurprising, but worth acknowledging, finding—almost half of the vendor solutions in our study now focus on employee wellbeing. The number of vendor solutions focusing on this area grew significantly from 34% in 2020 to 48% in 2021. This growth is primarily driven by the increase in vendors that focus on employee engagement and experience.

As companies continued with remote working in 2021, tracking and managing employee wellbeing has become an integral part of the employee experience. In this new era of growing focus on mental and physical health at work, it’s great to see vendors offer capabilities that allow customers to identify, solve for, and facilitate conversations around burnout, collaboration overload, and isolation.

Real-World Threads

CAPLAN corporation leverages PAT to understand attrition
CAPLAN corporation is an information technology and services company based out of Minato, Tokyo, Japan. The company faced a major hurdle in identifying the reasons for employee turnover as HR had no visibility into people data collected across the employee lifecycle. As a result, significant people decisions were being made solely based on intuition.

Leaders hypothesized that newer workforce members (those with the company for less than 3 years) quit the company at a higher rate. Additionally, they believed that issues with lack of transfers between merged entities within the company might be one of the reasons for the turnover.

Because the company lacked a PAT tool to help visualize the historical data on its employees’ career paths, leaders had no concrete way of testing the hypothesis.

The company decided to leverage a multisource analysis platform to help with the challenge. Connecting employee attributes data revealed that CAPLAN’s hypotheses around newer workforce leaving the company wasn’t true. In fact, the attrition rate for high-tenure employees was higher than that of newer employees. This helped the company realize that it needed to focus on cultivating the careers of the more tenured workforce.

Further, the company discovered that almost no personnel transfers existed between its merged companies. This confirmed for leaders that the company wasn’t functioning as a cohesive unit. By leveraging the PAT solution, CAPLAN found clarity and alignment on wider organizational issues that needed to be addressed to improve its people strategy and processes.

Vendors make it easier to connect data

One of the most positive findings from this year’s study is that vendors are making it easier for customers to pull data from different sources and technologies. As we mentioned earlier, customers also see this as a top strength of PAT solutions.

We expected to see the majority of vendors continue to use traditional methods, such as CSV or flat-file upload, to connect data with a few exceptions. Instead, we were pleasantly surprised to see that a large number of vendors have built API integrations, connectors, or some other designed integrations to pull continuous data from different systems.

As we see in Figure 17, almost 50% of vendors have designed integrations to connect data from HRIS systems. While CSV continues to be the method of choice for vendors integrating sales, CRM, and employee survey data, several vendors have built APIs for cloud-based technologies and learning systems. Particularly interesting, we found that more vendors have built APIs to integrate data from work technologies, such as email, Slack, and MS Office365, than use a flat-file upload. This makes sense, given the structure and continuous nature of the data.

Figure 17: Most Common Technologies With Which PAT Solutions Integrate | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Additionally, almost half of the vendors offer capabilities to integrate existing employee data with other internal and external sources (see Figure 18). As companies look to connect more and more data for better contextual insights, we expect to see these capabilities become tablestakes in the future.

Figure 18: Percentage of PAT Vendors That Integrate Internal & External Data | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

“Insightful data, good user experience, seamless integration with IT.”

—SMB technology company for an employee engagement / experience / voice solution

Vendors may not be responding quickly enough to changes with end-users

The vast majority of vendors (93%) continue to focus on PAPs as their primary end-user (see Figure 19). Additionally, when compared with previous years, there’s a decline in usage frequency by all other groups except people managers.

Figure 19: Current End-Users, 2019 vs. 2020 vs. 2021* | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

This growing gap is indicative of what we heard during our vendor briefings and found in our surveys. Vendors now understand the value propositions their solutions can provide for different users—but they’re not doing enough to attract greater usage from non-PAP users.

We heard from numerous vendors about their efforts to design user experiences around a specific set of users and provide them with targeted capabilities. However, given the significant gap in usage between PAPs and all other users, clearly vendors need to do more. For example, vendors should consider:

  • Surfacing relevant insights for HR and HRBP users that tie in directly with business priorities—benchmarking those against other business units and making it easy to share those insights more broadly
  • Giving tool access to employees, so they can see insights based on data collected about them and compare their own historical performance with that of other teams

For years vendors have said they would expand their end-user focus: We’re still waiting

In our first study in January 2019, we asked vendors the extent to which different users were current users and the extent to which those users would use the solution in 3 years’ time.

Well, now it’s nearly 3 years later. When we compare vendors’ predictions from 2019 about usage rates at the end of 2021 with the actual rates from the end of 2021, it’s a bit dismal (see Figure 20):

  • Business & C-suite leaders. The estimate from 3 years ago was 72%; actual usage is 51%
  • People managers. The estimate from 3 years ago was 81%; actual usage is 56%
  • Employees. The estimate from 3 years ago was 54%; actual usage is 23%

Figure 20: Current End-Users, 2021 vs. 2019 | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Here’s the really depressing part: All of those actual usage percentages for 2021 are lower than the actual usage numbers given in 2019.

With the near stagnant levels of usage by non-PA leaders and the shifting use cases we discussed earlier, vendors could face a real challenge if they don’t start providing value to non-PA leaders and thereby increase their usage.

C-suite leaders & employees are the most infrequent users of PAT insights

Current tool usage by non-PAPs has been stagnant for the past 3 years. This can be partially explained by the low frequency with which these groups use insights from their people analytics solutions.

In our survey, we asked vendors to tell us about the frequency of different users receiving and using the insights from their solutions, even if they don’t access the solution themselves. As we see in Figure 21, PAPs are at the top, with more than 60% of vendors reporting that PAPs receive insights from their solution on a daily or weekly basis. Given the critical role that people analytics can play for C-suite and business leaders, it’s surprising to see that only one-third of all vendor solutions provide these user groups with continuous insights. Even more depressing is the fact that only 19% of vendor solutions do this for employees.

Figure 21: Percentage of Vendors Indicating User Groups Receive Insights on a Daily or Weekly Basis | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

As we’ve previously highlighted in our research, insights from people analytics can be crucial for driving the CEO’s agenda and making data-driven people decisions. The pandemic has made this all the more urgent and necessary. Similarly, the pandemic has changed the way employees feel about work. In a recent survey, 50% of employees agreed that the pandemic changed the expectations they have of their employers—one of which is their employer provides them with more control over their work. Sharing insights and data with employees is one way companies can do that.

“ has enabled us to transform to a data-driven HR organization. Not only the HR division makes use of it, it enables line managers unfamiliar with both data and HR to understand and incentivize, to look into their people data through a simple and beautiful UI/UX.”

—SMB media and entertainment company for a multisource analysis platform

Vendors need to offer more targeted capabilities for non-HR users

As we indicated earlier, the near constant level of usage by non-PA leaders could be due to the fact that vendors aren’t providing enough value to other user groups. One way vendors can do this is by providing targeted capabilities that help non-PA leaders use the tools for their own specific purposes. This includes providing them with insights that are relevant for them and are also based on their team data, as well as recommending actions suited to their roles and levels. Some vendors are doing this, but more needs to be done.

As we see in Figure 22, when it comes to non-HR users such as people managers, a little more than half of vendors report providing them with recommendations for relevant analyses. While this is certainly more than the number of vendors doing this for PAPs (34%), it’s not enough—people managers need more support and guidance when it comes to analytics.

Figure 22: Vendor Capabilities Offered by Vendor Solutions, HR Users vs. Non-HR Users* | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

If the aim of people analytics is to drive decision-making by putting the right insights in the hands of the right people at the right time, then the majority of vendors are falling behind.

For non-technical users such as people managers who need to take action based on data, a tool that helps them to prioritize based on business needs is critical. Similarly, although 70% of vendor solutions provide customized insights to business and C-suite leaders, there’s certainly room for growth.

Real-World Threads

Uber puts people analytics in the hands of its people leaders
People data housed in different places and systems made it hard for Uber, a large mobility as a service company, to quickly conduct analyses on its workforce across the entire organization—and put needed insights in the hands of its leaders. Answering simple questions around headcount, for example, was often a challenge as no processes were in place to do such analysis on a repeatable and scalable manner.

The company decided to work with a vendor whose solution would allow comprehensive information on its people to be delivered to business leaders through an attractive and intuitive interface.

Uber wanted to empower all business leaders, not just HR leaders, with data and analytics. The company pursued a self-service model that enables users, rather than having a large analytics team do customized analyses with specialized tools and raw data.

The vendor helped design an “Uber People Dashboard” based on a previously used design that was tested with a group of users. The idea was to fast-track 80% of the solution, then iterate to get to a 95% solution by co-developing improvements.

Weekly feedback gathered from users showed that different user groups had very different needs. For example, leaders with small teams didn’t value analysis of headcount or past attrition as much as leaders with 200—300 employees. However, both types of leaders were interested in predictive analytics.

Uber rolled out its new people analytics solution to a broad group of business and HR users over a few quarters. Among business and HR users, more than 50% actively use the solution.

Understanding the PAT market: Our 2×2 matrix

A crowded marketplace

We continue to use our matrix approach to classifying the PAT market, for which we compare 2 aspects of solutions’ capabilities—usage frequency and data sources. (See Appendix 1 for more details; note that a firm’s placement up and to the right in the matrix is not necessarily better.)

The number of logos on our matrix (see Figure 23) has almost doubled since our first PAT study in 2019. A few things caught our attention this year:

  • The majority of new vendor participants have survey capabilities. In particular, we’ve seen a crowding of vendors in the 2 quadrants to the right of the Y axis, indicating a greater focus on more continuous analysis driven by employee listening.
  • More vendors are integrating data than before. We’ve observed the addition of vendors above the X axis, meaning a larger number of vendors are:
    • Pulling disparate internal organizational data (e.g., sales, CRM, learning data, etc.) as well as external data (e.g., labor market data)
    • Combining active data collected directly from employees with passive data, such as metadata or data from collaboration tools (e.g., Slack, MS Teams, etc.)

Figure 23: People Analytics Tech Market Solution Matrix | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

(For information on individual vendors, see our People Analytics Tech vendor tool: https://redthreadresearch.com/pat-tool/)

Understanding the market

While the 2×2 matrix is helpful to understand market changes, it’s not necessarily as helpful as it could be to identify the vendors you need to do certain types of analysis. We have, therefore, for the first time with this research, also grouped vendors according to 4 categories of actions that they help practitioners perform (see Figure 24):

  • Plan. Vendors grouped under this category primarily concentrate on helping customers with strategic planning around their current and future workforce, based on internal organizational data and external labor market data. The subcategories within the plan category include:
    • Workforce planning
    • Labor market analysis
  • Manage. In this category, vendors focus on helping customers manage their existing talent by connecting different HR processes under one system. Currently, only one subcategory exists within this area:
    • HCM / HRIS
  • Discover. These vendors help customers discover and identify insights around their existing talent by connecting disparate data sources from HR, as well as non-HR systems. The subcategories include:
    • Multisource analysis platforms
    • Employee networks and communication
  • Engage & learn. Vendors in this category help customers understand their employees—and, thus, engage and develop them by bringing together data collected directly from employees, as well as data from systems in which they work. Subcategories are:
    • Employee engagement / experience / voice
    • Learning analytics

Figure 24: PAT Vendor Solution Categories | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Plan: Workforce planning

As shown in Figure 25, workforce planning technologies integrate data from a range of sources and are used often (depending on the organization’s current talent needs), but not continuously.

Specifically, workforce planning technology can:

  • Enable planning and finance professionals to identify the supply and demand of talent, and plan for current and future talent needs
  • Integrate internal HR data to identify needs with external labor market data to provide insights on workforce supply
  • Provide insights around internal mobility and skills identification

The workforce planning technology market tends to be hot when the talent market is at its extremes—either growing quickly (as we’ve seen for the last 18 months) or contracting rapidly (as we may see soon). It’s during extreme times of change—specifically the need to rapidly acquire talent or to determine which talent must be kept in times of layoffs—that leaders turn to the insights provided by workforce planning.

Figure 25: Workforce Planning Technologies | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

That said, strategic workforce planning works best when it’s done on a regular basis. It takes consistent effort to understand specific talent markets, plan and execute talent strategies, measure change, and then make adjustments. One-off projects don’t fully leverage the power of strategic workforce planning. As data become easier to integrate, our expectation is that strategic workforce planning will be used more consistently within organizations.

“Increased collaboration and accountability (more people involved), increased availability of insights (faster analysis and planning), increased accuracy of workforce needed and its cost.”

—Small professional services company for a workforce planning solution

Plan: Labor market analysis

As shown in Figure 26, labor market analysis technologies integrate data and are used frequently, especially in hot talent markets. In particular, these technologies:

  • Collect and analyze external talent market data (e.g., from the S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but also from LinkedIn and job boards) to help organizations with their current and future hiring needs
  • Help companies understand compensation trends
  • Provide insights into the types of talent that competitors are hiring and in which geographies

Figure 26: Labor Market Analysis Technologies | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

We’re starting to see a focus on skills data by these vendors—a growing trend that’s being driven by the necessity to understand current skills and plan for needed future skills. As a result, we’re seeing labor market analysis platforms collate skills information for organizations from labor market data, such as job vacancy posts, to identify “in-demand” skills and general trends.

Also, we see more partnerships and integrations between labor market analysis platforms and other vendors, particularly those that integrate many data sources. For example:

  • Visier, a multisource analysis platform, partners with EMSI, a labor market analysis vendor, to help customers with job classification and insights on
  • Claro (recently acquired by WilsonHCG) feeds benchmarking data via a widget to another multisource analysis platform, eqtble, to provide customers with insights on the labor market next to their talent metrics.

This is a smart move as it not only allows vendors to leverage more data for better contextual insights, but also makes it easy for users to access more information in one place.

Manage: HCM / HRIS

As shown in Figure 27, HCM / HRIS analysis technologies are less uniform in their distribution on the matrix than are other categories due to how they’re used. Specifically, these technologies:

  • Provide analytics capabilities embedded as part of their HCM / HRIS solution
  • Target HR practitioners as their primary users
  • Cover many talent areas, including candidate selection, attrition, performance, DEIB, compensation / total rewards, and succession planning
  • Conduct analyses based on data primarily collected by the HCM system with capabilities to integrate additional data

A major benefit for customers that use the people analytics technologies offered by their HCM / HRIS systems is that they’re able to access all their data and analyses within one place. Further, they’re often also able to action decisions made as a result of analyses (i.e., increasing the compensation of certain people, approving promotions, or allocating budget for compensation increases). Also, fewer data security and privacy risks exist in this case as all data resides in one system.

The technologies in Figure 27 are leaders in the HCM space and have, in recent years, added people analytics capabilities as part of their solution offerings. For example:

  • ADP offers the ability for customers to integrate external data, as well as employee survey data, and provides insights geared toward front-line managers delivered via their mobile application
  • Workday HCM is able to integrate insights from its Workday Skills Cloud for customers, along with analyzing data from its HCM and financial systems

Figure 27: HCM / HRIS Platforms | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

“So far, the solution has reduced manual tracking of many items. It has a very comprehensive amount of data collection for HR.”

—Small government / military organization for an HCM / HRIS solution

Discover: Multisource analysis platforms

As shown in Figure 28, multisource analysis platforms (MSAPs) tend to be used very frequently and integrate data from other systems. In some cases, MSAPs also create that data.

Specifically, these solutions can:

  • Integrate and analyze data from HR and other operational systems, and distribute insights at appropriate levels of security throughout the organization
  • Provide insights to people analytics and HR leaders—and, increasingly, to business leaders and managers
  • Offer data architecture capabilities along with a data warehouse for storage
  • Offer insights on the skills and behaviors being exhibited in organizations

Figure 28: Multisource Analysis Platforms | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

By bringing together disparate data, MSAPs can create a single, integrated source of data truth that can then be used to answer critical questions about what’s happening with the workforce. Our research shows that effectively using integrated people analytics data can help impact businesses in terms of millions and sometimes billions of dollars. These significant business outcomes are typically the result of people analytics teams working to help answer strategic business questions, with the support of the CHRO and senior business leaders, who make the final decisions.

Yet, the people analytics team is only so big in any organization. By putting data into the hands of more business leaders, managers, and employees, organizations could enable more people to make better, data-backed decisions about people—and, thus, better enable those organizations (and people!) to thrive. This represents a critical future direction for MSAPs.

“It truly democratizes data in a self-service manner across the enterprise and enables people insights to be accessed at scale.”

—Large healthcare company for a multisource analysis platform

Discover: Employee networks & communications

As shown in Figure 29, vendors in this subcategory are mainly used on a continuous basis and can be both data creators as well as integrators. Specifically, the solutions in this space:

  • Collect passive data (from collaboration tools, emails, calendars, ) and / or active data (from surveys, forms, etc.) on employee networks to understand the relationships and collaborative behaviors among them
  • Target people managers, PAPs, and employees as users
  • Provide insights around DEIB, burnout, collaboration patterns and overload, isolation, and wellbeing
  • Offer some of the highest levels of security around data access and privacy due to the nature of data collected

These vendors offer what are commonly referred to as organizational network analysis (ONA) tools. Readers should notice that only one vendor is in the bottom left quadrant of Figure 29, Innovisor. Based on our last briefing with the vendor in 2019, it’s the only one in this subcategory that solely focuses on creating data by collecting information from employees via surveys. All other vendors in this space collect active as well as passive data (data from work technology and collaboration tools), and integrate the 2 data types to provide insights around employee networks.

Figure 29: Employee Networks & Communications Platforms | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

ONA has become especially useful for organizations looking to understand how employee networks have changed over the last 2 years. We know that connections which are important for collaboration and innovation deteriorated with virtual work environments during the pandemic. We expect to see a continued focus on these tools in a hybrid work world as well.

Engage & learn: Learning analysis

As shown in Figure 30, learning analysis platforms tend to be used with different levels of frequency, depending on the vendor and its customers. These technologies can:

  • Provide customers with insights around employee learning, knowledge, and skills
  • Collect data from systems and tools that employees use to learn or work, such as multimodal learning resources (e.g., formal, informal, and on-the-job learning), and employee behavior and performance data
  • Help admins understand utilization and cost implications of different platforms

Figure 30: Learning Analysis Technologies | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

The learning analysis category is sparse because these technologies are still a bit of a niche offering. Many learning organizations are not very mature at using analytics, continuing to rely on Kirkpatrick Level 1 “smile” sheets or rudimentary analysis run in Excel. Further, learning analytics aren’t often within the purview of people analytics practitioners, so PAPs haven’t necessarily been a potential buyer of these technologies.

All that said, there’s clearly a need for learning analysis technologies. For example, as we think about the big push toward understanding skills, a critical part of “upskilling” is in understanding which learning experiences actually drive the acquisition of critical skills sets and the timeline on which those are acquired. Further, as organizations are analyzing how learning happens with hybrid work, they’ll need more sophisticated tools to measure effectiveness. Learning analysis platforms have the potential to provide this type of insights.

Engage & learn: Employee engagement / experience / voice

Representing 42% of the vendors in this year’s survey, employee engagement / experience / voice platforms create data and, in some instances, integrate data from other systems (see Figure 31). They tend to be used very frequently by organizations. Specifically, they can:

  • Help companies track and manage employee engagement, experience, and voice
  • Collect active data from employees via engagement surveys, pulse surveys, and / or feedback forms
  • Collect and integrate passive data from collaboration tools (such as Slack, MS Teams, emails, calendars, )
  • Integrate HR data with non-HR data, such as information from sales and CRMs

The employee engagement / experience / voice category has experienced some of the most significant growth during the pandemic. It’s also seen some of the greatest market activity in the last few years—with Workday purchasing Peakon, Perceptyx purchasing Waggl and Cultivate, and Visier purchasing Yva.ai.

Figure 31: Employee Engagement / Experience / Voice Platforms* | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

*Yva was acquired by Visier during the compilation of this report. Although it’s featured under “Engage & Learn” in this report, moving forward it’ll be covered in the “Discover” category.

We expect to see employee engagement / experience / voice vendors continuing to augment their survey data (which measure perceptions) with passive “objective” data (that reflects what’s actually happening). This passive data will almost certainly come from collaboration analytics tools—which use the metadata from work tools such as Slack, MS Teams, emails, and calendars, to understand how people work together. Therefore, we also expect to see some action with other vendors in this space, such as Glickon, Network Perspective, RSquared, Swoop Analytics, and Worklytics.

"They are great to work with and the tool works for what we need it for, but still would like the experience side and the engagement side to talk to each other.”

—Large healthcare company for employee engagement and experience solution

Final thoughts

What’s next for the PAT market?

We foresee a few trends for this tech market in the near future.

  • More use of collaboration and digital exhaust. The market is clearly headed in this direction—the recent acquisition of Yva.ai by Visier is an indicator of this. Employers increasingly want to understand how their people work and collaborate, especially in a hybrid world of work. The combination of passive data with active data can help leaders better understand how work gets done.
  • Widgetization of one technology into another. As more and more vendors partner with each other, they look for ways to make it easy for customers to access the different insights. We’re starting to see this with vendors integrating their tools into other software, similar to embedding a We expect to see more vendors adopt this approach to provide customers with greater contextual insights.
  • More partnerships between vendors. We’re already seeing a large number of PAT vendors from different categories partner with each other to provider a broader set of capabilities to their customers. For example:
    • Visier has partnerships in place with Medallia and EMSI
    • Medallia has a partnership with Humanyze

We expect to see such partnerships become more commonplace as organizations adopt hybrid work models, and require new and different types of data to understand and manage their workforce.

Wrapping up

People analytics continues to be a guiding light for many in these turbulent times. Findings from our research show that the PAT market continues to gain momentum and grow stronger. Even though our data revealed lower customer satisfaction scores than we’ve seen in the past, we’re optimistic about the market, and believe in its ability to help lead organizations by separating fact from fiction and myth.

Our vendor briefings and conversations with practitioners further strengthen our belief that the market is moving in the right direction when it comes to solving the toughest challenges faced by its customers, such as:

  • Integrating disparate data
  • Managing employee wellbeing and attrition
  • Understanding skills
  • Providing advanced analytics capabilities to answer workforce-related questions

Vendors are highly optimistic about the future and anticipate more growth moving forward. There’s certainly a growing appetite to work with people data within organizations. We look forward to continuing to watch this market and how it evolves in the coming months, and reporting these changes to you next year.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Summary of methodology

This study is a culmination of 5 months of qualitative and quantitative research (see Figure 32).

Figure 32: Methodology for People Analytics Tech Study 2022 | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

We kicked off our People Analytics Technology study early in 2022—and did a few things differently this year. For example, vendors were required to complete 2 surveys, Vendor and Market, in order to participate in the study (instead of 1 robust survey as in the past). A couple of reasons for this include:

  • Having 2 separate surveys allowed us to capture information and compartmentalize it between market trends and vendor trends more While the majority of findings from the Market survey are included in this report, the information from the Vendor survey are shared in our updated PAT tool.
  • Going forward, our Vendor survey will remain live 24/7—allowing vendors to update us about changes to their solutions as and when they happen, without waiting a full year. The Market survey will be conducted annually.

Similar to previous years, we conducted 60-minute live briefings with 40 vendors and reviewed recorded briefings for 3 of them (vendors had the option of providing prerecorded briefing videos if they preferred). The briefings took place from January to April 2022.

In addition, we also conducted a customer survey. Customers were asked to:

  • Share the challenges they’re using the solution to solve
  • Give feedback on the vendor’s strengths and areas of improvement
  • Determine a customer Net Promoter Score® (NPS) for their vendor

Vendors were also asked to share case studies, representative screenshots of their technologies, and logos with us.

Each vendor was required to receive a minimum of 5 customer reviews to be included in our study, with no limit on how many reviews they could receive. We received 5 or more customer reviews for 21 vendors as of the end of March 2022.

A total of 43 vendors completed our surveys. In addition, publicly available data for 15 vendors were included in the dataset, bringing the total n to 58.

2×2 matrix

Once our qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis were complete, we revisited the 2×2 matrix that we introduced in our 2019 report. Our matrix compares 2 aspects of vendors’ capabilities—usage frequency and data sources. This approach allows us to identify some points of differentiation and categorize vendors in different, meaningful segments.

Understanding the X-axis

Starting with the X-axis (see Figure 33), we range from solutions that users tend to use / access on a frequent basis (e.g., quarterly, bimonthly, or monthly) on the left side of the matrix to solutions that are used on a continuous / always-on basis (e.g., biweekly, weekly, or daily) on the right. Please note: We’re specifically thinking about how frequently users tend to utilize the solution, not the frequency with which it’s updated or can give insights. We focused on user frequency because it allows us to understand, from a practitioner’s perspective, how frequently a solution tends to be used— which can help us understand how and by whom it’s used.

Figure 33: Details of the X Axis from the People Analytics Technology Market Solution Matrix | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

For example, the solutions on the left side of the model tend to be used to consistently check in on specific areas of interest. These are leveraged by HR, people analytics, and other business leaders who are looking to make strategic talent decisions.

As we move toward the right, we see solutions that both provide analysis for strategic, organizational decision-making, and inform users about themselves or their team. Many of these solutions’ typical primary users are people analytics or HR—but the vendors have expanded (or are in the process of expanding) their user groups to include senior leaders, managers, and employees.

On the far-right side of the graphic are solutions that both tend to be used more continuously, which lend themselves to more operational (nonstrategic) adjustments, and alert individuals about their own or their team’s behavior. Obviously, when this type of data is pulled together and analyzed longitudinally, it could inform strategic decision-making as well. These vendors tend to focus more on providing greater accessibility to data and sharing insights directly with employees in the form of nudges, individual reports and dashboards, and notifications.

Understanding the Y-axis

On the Y-axis, we classify solutions as follows—from whether vendors collect (via any method) and “create” the data themselves, as shown at the bottom of the graphic, to whether they integrate the data from other sources (e.g., government data, other third-party solutions, or other internal technologies), shown at the top of the graphic. Note that almost every vendor in our study pulls data from the HR information system (HRIS) for basic demographics, hierarchy, location, and other facts, so we don’t “count” integration with HRIS as one of the integrations on this axis.

Figure 34 indicates how the scale changes. At the bottom of the model, we have solutions that “create” data primarily by collecting it directly from employees (i.e., engagement, onboarding, exit surveys, etc.). Moving up the axis, we add in solutions that collect data as well as integrate other data captured on employees, such as wellbeing or performance management data, via their own tools.

Figure 34: Details of the Y Axis from the People Analytics Technology Market Solution Matrix | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Moving up further (closer to the X-axis), we have solutions that still capture data but also integrate a wide range of data sources (e.g., 360-feedback data, financial / business outcome data, work productivity data like email or Slack / MS Teams, and customer experience data).

Finally, toward the top third of the Y-axis, we have solutions that primarily integrate data from others. Unlike those on the bottom, the majority of these solutions don’t offer the capability to collect data. A number of them work in tandem with those lower down on the matrix as part of the bigger people analytics technology ecosystem.

When we put all of this together, we end up with 4 different quadrants with distinct characteristics (see Figure 35):

  • Accumulated analytics. Vendors in this quadrant rank high in their ability to provide users with a longitudinal view of data, including insights that enable strategic talent decisions. Data tend to be aggregated and integrated from several sources, including external data. The insights from these vendors can be used by teams on a frequent basis to track specific areas of interest.
  • Snapshot analytics. Vendors in this quadrant are data collectors and provide insights that are reviewed for strategic talent decisions on an event-driven basis. These vendors are primarily focused on active data collection, though they may also have some newly introduced data integration capabilities.
  • Targeted analytics. This quadrant includes vendors that focus on a specific talent area (e.g., engagement / experience, performance management, wellness). They collect data directly from employees—enabling both quicker deployment and adoption, and access to insights and analysis by multiple teams on a very frequent or continuous basis. Several of them push insights directly to employees to promote faster action.
  • Guiding analytics. This quadrant includes vendors that integrate data from several different sources and which are used very frequently to continuously. This combination of elements enables users to frequently access deep and broad information that can guide strategic organizational decisions, operational decisions, and individual’s decisions about themselves or their team. Our mental model for solutions in this section is like a guided missile—they can give insights that can change the trajectory quickly.

Figure 35: People Analytics Technology Market Solution Matrix | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

It’s important to note that none of these quadrants is superior to the others. In fact, there’s likely a place for all of them in an organization’s people analytics technology ecosystem. However, by putting technologies into these boxes, we can start to think about what that ecosystem might look like and how organizations might begin to build them.

Appendix 2: Vendor demographics

This year, a total of 43 solutions participated in our study. We included publicly available information for an additional 15 vendors, bringing the total to 58. The demographic breakdown of survey participants by year founded, number of employees, and HQ location is shown in Figures 36–38.

Figure 36: Vendor Founding Year, 2022 | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Figure 37: Vendor HQ Locations, 2022 | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Figure 38: Number of Employees for Vendors, 2022 | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Appendix 3: Customer demographics

We received a total of 128 customer responses. The demographic breakdown for the customer respondents by industry, roles, and number of employees is shown in Figures 39–41.

Figure 39: Customer Respondent Industries, 2022* | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Figure 40: Role / Job Functions of Customer Respondents, 2022 | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Figure 41: Number of Employees for Customers, 2022 | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

 


Less DEIB training, more learning equity

Posted on Tuesday, May 24th, 2022 at 5:52 AM    

L&D's DEIB commitments are growing

As we head further from the catalytic events of summer 2020, it’s heartening to see that organizations are continuing to ramp up efforts on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). For example, the Association for Talent Development (ATD) reported that 39% of organizations have introduced DEIB programs in the past 2 years. And organizations appear committed to continuing this trend: A study by Traliant and WBR Insights reported that 79% of organizations planned to allocate more budget and / or resources to DEIB in 2022 compared to 2021.

Like their broader organizations, L&D functions are doing more to foster DEIB. LinkedIn Learning’s 2 most recent annual workplace learning reports (2022 and 2021) indicate that L&D functions plan to deploy more DEIB programs in 2022 compared to 2021. In addition, more L&D functions said they own or share responsibility for DEIB efforts in their organizations (Figure 1).

L&D commitments to DEIB efforts | Sources: LinkedIn Learning Workplace Learning Reports, 2021 and 2022

Figure 1: L&D commitments to DEIB efforts  |  Sources: LinkedIn Learning Workplace Learning Reports, 2021 and 2022

These growing commitments make a lot of sense: L&D functions should be more involved in DEIB efforts. With their broad and cross-functional reach and their ability to influence expectations for the ways people work and interact with one another, L&D functions are uniquely positioned to drive the kind of deep and widespread culture change that DEIB requires. As Emma Birchall, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Ericsson, put it:

You can’t overstate the importance of L&D in DEIB. L&D is the part of the organization that translates the business strategy into signals to individuals and teams about how they execute on the strategy.

Moreover, improving DEIB is (or should be) an enterprise effort. In our experience, DEIB efforts that are seen as 1 group’s job face an uphill battle. DEIB culture change isn’t something that can be achieved if only 1 team, no matter how dedicated and capable, is committed to it.

As L&D functions continue to become more deeply embedded in their organizations’ DEIB efforts, partnering with teams across the organization—especially DEIB teams—will be key. We touch on this idea of partnership throughout this paper.

3 reasons L&D isn’t more effective on improving DEIB (yet)

Despite the growing sense that L&D functions can and should do more to improve the DEIB cultures in their organizations, many are not contributing as effectively as they could. We see 3 reasons for this:

  1. Lack of organizational DEIB policy / guidance. Many of the leaders we talked to said they were waiting for an organizational DEIB strategy to be developed before they started incorporating DEIB into employee development experiences.
  2. Defaulting to training. In many organizations, it’s assumed that training is all L&D functions do (or should do). This can lead to an over-focus on DEIB training as a strategy for effecting change. There’s a good deal of research indicating that one-off, compliance-focused diversity training alone does not improve DEIB in organizations. The article “Why Diversity Programs Fail,” by F. Dobbin and A. Kalev, gives a good overview of why this may be.
  3. L&D’s own blind spots. In the learning survey that we conducted in December 2021, about 75% of L&D respondents were white (Figure 2). This lack of diversity may make it difficult for L&D functions to recognize their own biases. For example, in our survey, 50% of L&D pros who identified as white said their L&D function proactively applies a DEIB lens to learning opportunities. Only 36% of those who did not identify as white agreed with the same statement.
RedThread learning survey L&D respondents by race / ethnicity (n=288) | Source: RedThread Research, 2021

Figure 2: RedThread learning survey L&D respondents by race / ethnicity (n=288) | Source: RedThread Research, 2021. See appendix for survey methodology and respondent demographics.

Jeffrey M., Senior Manager for Organizational & Leadership Development at a commercial space company, articulated the challenges associated with a lack of diversity within L&D functions in this way:

If you don’t have like me, or someone Latino or Asian on the team, then there’s a certain lack of diversity of thought that’s built into the development opportunities that are offered.

Fortunately, these challenges aren’t insurmountable. There’s a lot that L&D functions can do—starting now—to more effectively drive DEIB cultures in their organizations. That’s the focus of this study.

Focus on learning equity

In our lit review on DEIB & learning, we identified 4 main areas L&D functions consider when approaching DEIB (Figure 3):

  1. Delivering DEIB training. L&D functions deliver training on topics like unconscious bias, with a focus on making the training more effective and “stickier."
  2. Making all training more DEIB. L&D functions adapt the language, visuals, physical and virtual spaces, etc., for all trainings to make them more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
  3. Developing employees’ DEIB skills. L&D functions identify the skills that will drive a DEIB culture in their organizations and focus on enabling employees to develop those key skills.
  4. Focusing on learning equity. L&D functions take a systemic approach to DEIB in employee development. They make the systems and processes of employee development more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
L&D functions consider 4 approaches for their DEIB efforts

Figure 3: 4 ways L&D can improve DEIB in their organizations | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Our research focused on this 4th approach: learning equity. We chose this focus largely because much has been written on the first 3 approaches, but learning equity is a relatively new concept for organizations. This systemic approach was described by Kate Shaw, Director of Learning at Airbnb:

DEIB has to be not just a piece of what you do, but woven throughout everything you do.

In addition, there’s a correlation between a systemic focus on DEIB and high performance. In our learning survey, 61% of L&D pros in high-performing organizations said their L&D function proactively applies a DEIB lens to employee development, versus 36% of L&D pros in the rest of our dataset.

3 elements of learning equity

Our research indicates that organizations are making development opportunities more diverse, equitable, and inclusive by paying attention to 3 specific aspects of employee development (Figure 4):

Learning equity depends on 3 aspects of employee development: discovery, access, and participation

Figure 4: The 3 elements of learning equity | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

  • Discovery is how employees find out about development opportunities. Employees use a range of formal and informal methods to get information about the opportunities available to them
  • Access is which employees can take advantage of a development opportunity if they want to. Employees’ access to many development opportunities is determined by the organization, often based on an employee’s role, skills, job function, job level, or management status.
  • Participation refers to which employees actually participate in the development opportunities they have access to.

L&D functions should assess Discovery, Access, and Participation in their organizations to identify where systems and processes may be inequitable or hamper diversity and inclusivity. With a more nuanced understanding of where the gaps are, they can take more targeted actions to close those gaps and improve learning equity.

Discovery

Discovery is a critical component of learning, as it’s what connects employees to the opportunities they need. Some of the ways employees discover opportunities to learn and grow include:

  • Informational emails from the organization
  • Newsletters
  • Assigned or required training
  • Searching / browsing on the internet, intranet, LMS, LXP, or other learning platform
  • Automated recommendations from learning systems
  • Recommendations from senior leaders, managers, peers, or colleagues

Even when several of these methods are available to employees, some groups of people face consistent and systemic barriers to discovering opportunities.

For example, many L&D functions rely on email to share info about development opportunities. But if a large portion of the workforce doesn’t have an email address or can’t easily check their work email regularly, then defaulting to email isn’t an equitable or inclusive method for Discovery. As one roundtable participant put it:

It's inequitable if L&D sends an email about a development opportunity and 30% of your workforce doesn't use email.

We also know—for example, through research we did on DEIB skills—that information about opportunities often flows through informal channels. Some opportunities, like job rotations or special assignments, are open only to those who know about them.

Interestingly, our research found that high-performing organizations make opportunities more transparent (Figure 5). About 81% of employees in high-performing organizations reported their organizations are transparent about the development opportunities that are available, compared to 61% of employees in other organizations.

High-performing organizations make development opportunities more transparent. 81% of respondents vs 61% of respondents agree.

Figure 5: Respondents who agree their organization is transparent about the development opportunities available to employees, to a significant or very great extent, by business performance (n=1521) | Source: RedThread Research, 2021.

L&D functions can make employee development more equitable and inclusive by making all opportunities explicit and transparent to everyone. With this transparency, employees can find and take advantage of the learning that’s right for them.

Making Discovery more equitable and inclusive

This research uncovered a number of challenges associated with Discovery, as well as some effective ways that L&D functions are addressing those challenges.

Challenge 1: Organizations make access to opportunities too narrow

Historically, organizations make development opportunities available only to employees with an immediate or obvious need. In general, this choice applies not just to costly opportunities, but even to the ones that are free or inexpensive.

This narrow focus limits Discovery: Employees are told only about the opportunities that the organization feels they need, rather than having the choice, freedom, and equity to determine their own career path.

Action: Increase transparency about what’s available

To the extent possible, L&D functions can make Discovery more equitable and inclusive by becoming much more transparent about all the development opportunities that are available.

For example, they might:

  • Remove limitations based on role, function, seniority, etc. from what’s visible / searchable in the LMS or LXP
  • Review any matching or recommendation algorithms to ensure they’re equitable and inclusive
  • Communicate directly with employees rather than relying on managers to disseminate information about opportunities
  • If there are different newsletters or email distribution lists for different target audiences, publish those lists and allow employees to opt into them
  • Implement a talent marketplace to make projects, gigs, rotations, jobs, mentoring opportunities, etc. more explicit and discoverable by anyone in the organization. This doesn’t necessarily mean implementing a new tech tool: It can be done in a low-tech / low-cost way with spreadsheets, or it can be an add-on to existing learning or HR systems

Making opportunities visible to everyone, even if not everyone gets Access to them, at least enables employees to see more options—to envision different paths they might pursue.

Challenge 2: Different groups of employees use different methods to discover opportunities

Part of what drives inequities in Discovery is the simple fact that not everyone accesses information in the same way.

In our research, we saw some of the largest and most consistent differences in Discovery between frontline and not-frontline workers. Frontline employees often experience challenges using some of the most common methods that L&D functions rely on to share information about opportunities (e.g., email).

Action: Tailor Discovery method by employee group

Leaders said they put a lot of effort into understanding how different groups of employees discover info about development opportunities. Two specific ideas for uncovering these differences are:

  • Experiment with different channels. Do some A/B testing. Try putting the same message in different communications channels (e.g., email, chat, intranet, etc.). Track open rates and clicks by employee group and by channel to find out who’s accessing the message where. Reach out to the IT team for information from systems the L&D function can’t pull data from.
  • Ask for feedback. Many learning leaders said they value their relationships with Employee Resource Group (ERG) leaders and DEIB team members in part because these individuals can provide insight into how certain employee groups find information about development opportunities.

Mike Murphy, Director of Inclusion and Community Programs at CFA Institute, talked about the importance of having data to identify obstacles to Discovery:

Let’s say I've reached the entire 70-person marketing team but only 12 of the huge IT team. You have to have the data and then ask: What was the obstacle? What's keeping me from getting that message to all the places they are?

With a more nuanced understanding of how different groups of employees acquire information about development opportunities, L&D functions can adjust their efforts to utilize the channels that target audiences rely on the most.

Action: Cast a wide communications net

Another approach is for L&D functions to communicate more, and more widely. Many leaders talked about the need to overcommunicate. They suggested:

  • Repeat messaging multiple times in multiple channels
  • Leverage influencers in the organization—such as ERG leaders—to get the word out about development opportunities
  • Don’t assume tech is best: Think broadly about all the communications channels available. Sometimes paper flyers in a break room are most effective

Leaders emphasized the importance of trying multiple ways of sharing info about development opportunities to increase the chances that all employees will find what they need.

Challenge 3: Some employees have more time and ability to find opportunities

To be sure, employees have a responsibility for their own learning—and part of that responsibility is finding relevant development opportunities.

However, it’s also true that employees’ ability to find opportunities can differ based on the strength of their networks, how much time they can spend looking for opportunities on the clock, their position within the organization, their location, their tech capabilities, and more. Some employees are more privileged in their ability to Discover opportunities than others.

Action: Make Discovery easier for all

L&D functions can make Discovery more equitable and inclusive by making it more automatic and embedded in employees’ work. Some specific ideas include:

  • Embed information about opportunities into the places employees do their work—such as chat, browsers, intranet homepages, point of sale systems, time clock systems, etc.
  • Incorporate information about opportunities into processes that all employees go through, such as performance and development conversations, onboarding, required / compliance training, or open enrollment for benefits. All these events offer touchpoints where employees could potentially share information about their skills and interests and receive information about opportunities.
  • Use tech to match employees with opportunities based on their skills, abilities, experiences, and desires. The recommendation engines in many learning tech systems, especially LXPs, are intended to surface relevant opportunities for employees.

One company makes Discovery easier by asking employees, as part of their regular development planning process, to identify and write down the skills they’d like to work on. This information is fed into the LXP so that it can make recommendations based on those skills.

Real-World Thread: Making Discovery a 2-Way Street

Ericsson, a multinational networking and telecommunications company, has over 100,000 employees around the world. Unsurprisingly, these employees have very different development needs and goals.

To address the challenge of enabling such a varied population to discover development opportunities, Ericsson is taking the burden of Discovery off the employee’s shoulders as much as possible.

To do this, the company is implementing a skills-based learning tech ecosystem that will match employees with opportunities based on their skills signature.

CLO Vidya Krishnan described:

The ecosystem should be intelligent enough that you don’t have to find the opportunities. They find you. It’s a 2-way street.

The skills signature will comprehensively and holistically describe not only what an employee can do now, but what they want to do in the future. This will allow matching algorithms to surface highly relevant opportunities to employees of all kinds.

Access

Access to employee development refers to who can take advantage of a development opportunity if they want to. Access is determined by things like:

  • Nominations for select programs
  • Logins / permissions to view / consume certain courses in an LMS or LXP
  • Manager approval to participate in development opportunities
  • Technology (access to computer, tablet, mobile, good internet, etc.)
  • Technical capability / tech savvy
  • Cost (particularly the ability to pay for opportunities that are then reimbursed)
  • Time zone
  • Language

In the past few years, some organizations have been working to make Access more inclusive. For example, RedThread's research on coaching found they’re offering coaching in various forms to more employees. They’re also opening courses to more participants (which, in many cases, became possible as in-person courses were put online during the pandemic) or removing restrictions on inexpensive or free content.

Valarie Williams-Foy, Organizational & Staff Development Lead at the University of London, described how the university opens Access to all employees:

We were founded on the value of access, as we were the first university in the UK to allow women. We allow anyone to register for any development opportunity.

In high-performing organizations, more respondents agree that employees have equal Access to development opportunities (compared to employees in other organizations). Figure 6 illustrates this difference: In high-performing organizations, 84% of employees agree employees have equal Access, compared to 58% of employees in other organizations.

High-performing organizations offer more equal Access to development opportunities.

Figure 6: Respondents who report people in their organization have equal access to development opportunities, to a significant or very great extent, by business performance (n=1521) | Source: RedThread Research, 2021.

Of the 3 aspects of learning equity, Access is the one with the biggest power differential between employees and organizations. No matter how hard some employees try, they may not be given Access to certain opportunities. This means it’s especially incumbent on organizations to ensure the Access they do provide is as equitable and inclusive as possible.

Making Access more equitable and inclusive

L&D functions are taking targeted actions to address 3 challenges associated with making Access to development opportunities more equitable and inclusive.

Challenge 1: The way skills / abilities are defined, prioritized, and measured may cause Access to be inequitable

In many organizations, there are assumptions and implicit biases that influence how skills and abilities are defined for various tasks and roles. If these assumptions are not reviewed, identified, and addressed, then the criteria used to measure skills and match employees with opportunities may be inherently inequitable.

Action: Make decisions about Access transparent and equitable

As with many DEIB efforts, simply bringing transparency to decisions can help improve equity around who gets Access to development opportunities. To make decisions more transparent, L&D functions can do the following:

  • Establish and publicize standardized criteria for any nomination-based opportunities. Criteria can be based on, for example, employees’ current and needed skills, tenure / experience, and career desires. Leaders in this research noted that it’s important to review nominations to ensure they adhere to the criteria.
  • Review and revise any underlying or foundational documentation—for example, skills or competency definitions—that might inform decisions about Access to development. This effort can ensure the inputs to decisions about Access are themselves as unbiased and inclusive as possible. It’s likely that some of this documentation lives outside the L&D function, so partnering with other functions is critical here.
  • Consider removing human decisions altogether. It’s possible to implement tools or matching processes that can automatically give employees Access to content and opportunities. For example, some internship, apprenticeship, and rotational schemes simply assign people to teams or projects, rather than managers selecting people for their teams.

We particularly like the idea of removing human decisions where possible. In our experience, automatic matches (rather than manager selection) can add more diversity of thought to a team—since nobody is selected for “fit”—and are often more successful than managers or employees might expect.

Challenge 2: Legacy systems, processes, and assumptions can make Access inequitable

Most organizations have legacy systems and processes like HiPo nomination schemes or manager approvals for many opportunities that might limit Access for certain people.

In some cases, for example, managers are reluctant to approve employees’ requests to participate in development opportunities. Often this reluctance is driven by a belief that their teams won’t be able to meet targets if they spend work time learning—or, if the opportunity is a rotation or gig, a fear of losing the employee down the line. In other cases, employees aren’t given Access to courses because the courses aren’t deemed relevant to their work or their career path.

All these legacy systems create potential biases in Access that prevent certain employees from benefitting from some (often highly valuable) development opportunities.

Action: Track Access metrics and step in when something isn’t right

L&D functions can make some of these legacy systems more equitable and inclusive largely by shining a spotlight on who has Access to what, so that inequities become more obvious. To do this, L&D functions can track Access metrics, identify gaps, and step in when something doesn’t look right.

For example, one leader shared that for a HiPo program he ran, he noticed only 9% of nominees were women—when women made up 38% of the target audience for the program. He used this data to get buy-in to rewrite the nomination criteria for the program. The number of women nominees rose shortly thereafter.

Other leaders shared similar stories and emphasized that they couldn’t have intervened or made changes without data. They track access metrics such as:

  • Nomination numbers for select programs / opportunities
  • Amount spent per employee on development
  • Number of employees with access to mentor or sponsorship programs
  • Number of employees who have regular career conversations with their managers

These metrics can be sliced and analyzed by categories like frontline status, gender identity, age, seniority, job level, or race / ethnicity (in some countries). Which data cuts are most important will depend on which employee groups are underrepresented in your organization.

Challenge 3: Logistical and operational barriers can make Access inequitable

Logistical and operational factors like timing, language, tech, and cost can all be barriers to Access. For some employees, particularly those on the front line, it can be difficult to Access development opportunities while on the clock. For others, being in the “wrong” time zone or speaking the “wrong” language might prevent them from accessing development opportunities.

When it comes to online and remote learning, tech access is a big issue for some organizations. Some employees may not have the right device(s) or a strong enough internet connection. Some may not be able to afford better internet if they’re working from home, for example.

And affordability is an issue not only for employees but for companies: It can be expensive for organizations to open up access to more employees.

Action: Collaborate to identify and address common barriers to Access

L&D functions should identify and eliminate as many common barriers to Access as possible. In many cases, this means working with leadership, IT, HR, and other teams to make changes.

To address the time challenge, one approach is to try formats or methods that do not require employees to step away from their work for extended periods of time. Some leaders are experimenting with microlearning, for example, so that employees can access development in short snippets. To address some of the other challenges, L&D functions might:

  • Provide devices to all employees
  • Offer learning stipends and / or prepay for outside opportunities rather than providing reimbursement
  • Offer learning methods that allow for flexible schedules
  • Allow local teams to tailor or translate language
  • Offer events at times that work globally, or multiple access times
  • Open opportunities that have little or no marginal cost per employee to all employees, whether or not the opportunities are directly related to their role

These logistical and operational barriers were cited again and again in the course of this research—yet they may not be entirely within the L&D function’s control to fix. In these cases, having strong relationships with other functions can help pay for and provision some of the solutions suggested here.

Real-World Thread: Tracking Access metrics to improve learning equity

South Africa is 1 of a handful of countries with strict reporting requirements on companies’ training spend. Organizations are required to track and report how much they spend to train different groups of employees. These reports prompt companies to show that they have provided equal training opportunities to all employees.

At one major bank in South Africa, the head of learning solutions points out that this reporting isn’t just a check-the-box exercise. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s good for business because it helps increase the quality of all employees at the bank.

The bank tracks Access metrics like how much money is invested in training people from disadvantaged groups. Reports are broken down by job grade, race, gender, and disability status. The reporting requirements have been tightened in recent years to prevent companies from favoring training spend on certain job levels. These tighter requirements complicate the reporting, but ensure a fair distribution of investment across employees at all levels in the organization. Now, reporting targets are set by job grade and job band to drive equity in investment.

Each year, the company spends a percentage of payroll to develop a certain band of employees, with the goal of developing a strong, diverse pipeline of employees moving into job bands and job functions that currently have less representation.

Participation

Participation refers to which and how many employees actually take advantage of the development opportunities available to them. Our past research found that employees participate in employee development by doing 6 things:

  • Planning their development and careers
  • Discovering opportunities (as discussed above)
  • Consuming learning content and experiences
  • Experimenting with knowledge and skills
  • Connecting with others for learning
  • Performing better on the job, and learning while doing it

Participation in development opportunities encompasses all 6 of these behaviors, and there’s a wide variety of methods that employees can use to engage in them. The research we did on learning methods found 66 learning methods, and we’re sure there are more.

High-performing organizations enable more Participation in employee development (Figure 7). For this discussion of learning equity, we broke down our survey respondents’ answers by age, frontline status, gender identity, and race / ethnicity. Across all groups, more employees in high-performing organizations reported their organizations enable them to participate in these 6 employee development behaviors, compared to employees in other organizations. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.

High-performing organizations enable more Participation by all employee groups

Figure 7: Respondents who agree their organization enables them to engage in each learning behavior, to a significant or very great extent, by business performance (n=1530). Similar percentages were found when we looked at these 6 behaviors by employee group. | Source: RedThread Research, 2021.

Still, we know that Participation in most organizations isn’t as equitable or inclusive as it could be: Most organizations have groups of employees who aren’t participating in development as much as they could or should. The challenge for L&D functions is to find those groups of people, figure out why they’re not participating, and fix what’s causing those inequities.

Making Participation more equitable and inclusive

We discovered 3 primary challenges associated with Participation, as well as targeted actions that L&D functions can take to address those challenges.

Challenge 1: L&D functions need better insights on Participation

To make Participation as diverse, equitable, and inclusive as possible, L&D functions must understand where the inequities in Participation in their organizations are and what’s driving those differences.

Data is critical to gaining that understanding with some level of detail and nuance. Without data, actions might be well-intentioned and seem reasonable, but potentially lead in the wrong direction.

Action: Analyze Participation data to identify and address inequities

Data about Participation tends to be more readily available than data about Discovery or Access. Most L&D functions track Participation rates: “butts in seats” is one of L&D’s most well-established metrics. If demographic data is available, L&D functions can use it to slice and dice their Participation data to see where there are differences, and to understand who’s taking advantage of which opportunities.

L&D functions can analyze available data to answer questions about Participation such as:

  • How do Participation rates vary by gender, ethnicity, age, frontline status, or other demographics that matter to our organization?
  • What differences in Participation show up if we look at various intersectional identities?
  • Are different groups of employees participating in different types of opportunities—for example, required training vs. stretch or rotational assignments? Who and why?
  • Are some groups of employees spending more time on development opportunities than others? Who and why?
  • Do some groups of employees participate in a greater range of development opportunities than others? Who and why?
  • Do some groups of employees have stronger connections to more senior or more influential people in the organization who can help them grow? Who and why?

Tania Tiippana, an OD consultant working with a multinational manufacturing company, emphasized the importance of gathering data from all employee groups:

I asked, “Do we have data about how things are working in South Korea? In Poland?” We didn’t. So we did a global needs analysis and tracked participation by gender, location, and so on to find the gaps.

Although the answers to the above questions won’t make Participation more diverse, equitable, and inclusive by themselves, they can help L&D functions prioritize and decide where to take action.

Challenge 2: Messaging about opportunities may exclude certain employee groups

The language and visuals used to market development opportunities matter a lot—they’re often what makes the first impression about an opportunity to an employee. If employees perceive that an opportunity is not inclusive of “people like me,” they may choose not to participate.

Many L&D functions are discovering the various ways their organization’s messaging about opportunities isn’t inclusive, from gendered language to images that only show people of particular ages or ethnicities.

Action: Ensure messaging is DEIB

L&D functions appreciate that messaging should be inclusive and applicable to a broad base of employees. We heard of many efforts in L&D functions to broaden the language they used to describe opportunities, particularly ensuring that the language and visuals represented their organization’s employee population. Specifically, L&D functions were:

  • Including broad representation of different genders, ages, races / ethnicities, and worker types (manufacturing, office, retail, etc.) in visuals and language, aligned with the demographics of their workforce
  • Ensuring language does not exclude certain groups of employees—for example, using highly competitive language or analogies that only certain people understand (such as sports metaphors)
  • Implementing processes to regularly review all messaging through a DEIB lens

A number of leaders recommended partnering with the DEIB team to assess how inclusive the messaging for development opportunities is. Many DEIB teams offer fairness audits. They can review messaging and outreach strategies, and make recommendations for improvements.

Challenge 3: Some opportunities aren’t designed inclusively

Sometimes an opportunity might be inequitable or exclusive because it’s not well-designed for certain groups of people. Participant demographics can also be a source of exclusion. If there are no members of underrepresented groups participating in the opportunity—or in the roles an employee might attain through a particular development path—employees considering the opportunity might be less likely to start down that path.

Action: Incorporate diverse perspectives when developing opportunities

One of our favorite insights from this research is that no matter how much we think through something, it's likely to be biased if only a few people are doing the thinking.

Leaders advised doing one simple thing to reduce this bias: Bring more people into the process. There are 2 main ways to do this:

  1. Add perspectives to the L&D function itself. There are lots of ways to bring in new perspectives: permanent hires, special projects, rotations, gigs, internships, apprenticeships, and more. One leader advocated for recruiting people from underrepresented groups to L&D early in their careers, so that there’s a pipeline of more diverse L&D thinkers and leaders into the future.
  2. Ask for feedback. Many, many leaders talked about how they solicit feedback from lots of people in their organizations. They ask for input from ERG leaders, the DEIB team, and focus groups / interviews of employees who are representative of the organization’s employee population.

Based on these diverse perspectives, L&D functions can make changes to things like the format of an opportunity, who participates, or even what opportunities are offered.

Action: Get intentional about demographics

Demographics matter for Participation. But they matter in different ways for different opportunities. Sometimes it makes sense to intentionally build diversity into the participant pool of an opportunity, so that no matter who looks at the opportunity they see someone participating who looks like them. Other times there’s a need to craft development opportunities solely for members of specific underrepresented groups.

The common thread is intentionality. Leaving demographics to chance is where bias and inequity can creep in. This intentionality can also help ensure there is a pipeline of employees from underrepresented groups ready to move into more senior / more visible positions, so that employees coming after can picture themselves on similar paths.

Real-World Thread: Building diverse cohorts

A multinational aerospace corporation has an L&D function that is strongly committed to ensuring diversity within the cohorts that participate in their leadership development programs. There are 3 levels of programs for aspiring, new, and current leaders.

The L&D function believes that if everyone in a cohort looks and thinks the same way, they’re going to get less value from the program. So they scrutinize the demographics of each cohort and ensure each one has diverse representation.

Kevin B., a former DEIB leader at this company and participant in the new leader program, believes that the value he got from the program derived largely from his interactions with other participants. He reflected:

If you have a homogeneous, cookie cutter class, you’re not going to learn a lot. In my cohort, I made tremendous friends with a couple of guys from the UK. I even had someone from the Saudi royal family in my class, which was amazing.

Kevin noted that in some cases it can be helpful to do the opposite—to bring together members from 1 underrepresented group. But in general and for most topics, he believes diverse cohorts learn better from one another.

Wrapping Up

We’ve come away from this research convinced that improving learning equity is one of the best ways L&D functions can contribute to the DEIB efforts in their organizations. Figure 8 summarizes the challenges associated with the 3 elements of learning equity (Discovery, Access, and Participation) and some actions L&D functions can take to address each challenge.

Figure 8: Summary of challenges and actions for the 3 elements of learning equity | Source: RedThread Research, 2022.

Looking forward, we expect L&D functions will continue to make strides to improve DEIB in their organizations—and we think those strides should be focused on learning equity. We hope the ideas in this paper have given L&D functions some concrete ideas about the steps they can take to move their organizations toward employee development that is more diverse, equitable, and inclusive for all.

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