05 October 2021

Workplace Stories Season 2, Integrating Inclusion: Data AND Stories

Dani Johnson
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst
Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

TL;DR

  • This is the 6th episode of our podcast: Integrating Inclusion, Season 2 of Workplace Stories.
  • In this episode, Stacia Garr of RedThread Research and Chris Pirie of the Learning Futures Group connect with Phil Willburn, Vice President and Head of People Analytics & Insights at Workday.
  • Integrating Workday’s VIBE Index—Valuing Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity for all: data or insights don’t really come to life without a relevant story that surrounds it.
  • “We’ve become incredibly specific and personalized with the content we provide to our employees, to our leaders and managers, based on the data that they’re saying, …. And that personalization, I believe, has made the Learning more relevant and actionable.”
  • Diversity data transparency reports, Diversity quarterly snapshots, Diversity planning projects … Oh my!
  • How do we ensure our workforce has the right skills to meet the business? How do we ensure Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity for all employees? And how do we attract diverse talent?
  • A special thanks to our sponsor, Workday, for its support of this season!

Listen

Guest

Phil Willburn, Head of People Analytics & Insights at Workday

DETAILS

“Honestly, in order to make this a reality I believe HR needs more technologists and analytics professionals as a whole.” Now you might expect a RedThread-head to come out with a sentence like that, but in fact, it’s from our awesome guest this week, Phil Willburn, Vice President and Head of People Analytics & Insights at the HR-tech firm Workday. But Phil also believes—as you’ll hear in this fascinating chat between Stacia, Chris and Phil—that data, while absolutely the key ingredient to making DEIB real, isn’t the only thing you need to make the cake come out right: you also need to be able to tell a compelling story and be able to listen to the stories of others. Maybe listen, really, for the first time ever.  But, as Phil reminds us so well in this episode of ‘Integrating Inclusion,’ you do have to start.

Resources

  • Phil’s LinkedIn profile is here, and his employer, Workday, the sponsor of this Season of ‘Integrating Inclusion,’ is here.
  • Central to our conversation is the pioneering work that Phil’s boss, Carin Taylor, Workday’s Chief Diversity Officer, and the rest of his people analytics team have been carrying out at the organization to build what you will hear in the episode called the Workday VIBE Index, which strives to create insight and summarize the parity across Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging inside the company.
  • Check out the 90-minute masterclass on Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging analytics Phil conducted with us recently: here is the link to the on-demand version of the chat, part of the Workday Navigator Series (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Analytics: Where to start and how to accelerate your journey).
  • Find out more about our Workplace Stories podcast helpmate and facilitator Chris Pirie and his work here.
  • Catch up on our previous Season of ‘Workplace Stories,’ all about The Skills Obsession, here.

Webinar

Workday will also host an exclusive live webinar at the end of this season. When you can meet the team (Dani, Stacia, and Chris) and join in a conversation about the future of DEIB in the workplace. You can register for the webinar and access exclusive Season content, including transcripts, at redthreadresearch.com/podcast.

Partner

We're also thrilled to be partnering with Chris Pirie, CEO of Learning Futures Group and voice of the Learning Is the New Working podcast. Check them both out.

Season Sponsor

We'd like to thank the people at Workday for the exclusive sponsorship of this second Season of 'Workplace Stories.' Today, the world is changing faster than ever, and you can meet those changing needs with Workday; it’s one agile system that enables you to grow and engage a more inclusive workforce—it’s your financial, HR, and planning system for a changing world.

As we start to tell the Workplace Stories we think matter, we hope you follow ‘Workplace Stories from RedThread Research’ on your podcast hub of choice—and it wouldn't hurt to give us a 5-star review and share a favorite episode with a friend, as we start to tell more and more of the Workplace Stories that we think matter.

TRANSCRIPT

Five Key Quotes:

I think the hardest thing that our team, and people analytics in general, struggles with is that there is so much data right now. These technology systems and employee interactions with them generate so much data that we do a lot of research and there's a lot of insights; and I believe people are overwhelmed.

I think that this space tries to get too fancy: let's do the coolest, sexiest thing that we can on here and it's going to wow people. And you know what, if you don't have the basics and the table stakes, it doesn't matter how cool you get. So here's the table stakes: you need to have a clear idea of hiring promotions, attrition, Belonging in leadership over time, across your relevant intersections of Diversity, and understand the drivers of each one of those. That’s table stakes.

Data both grants us the ability to tell amazing stories, but also reigns us in when we're starting to go awry.

I think Learning is the mechanism; we just gotta be careful about the outcome we’re really measuring—we could be measuring clicks or connections to that Learning with no outcome of skill growth and improvement.

All we ever got from making this available is, ‘Thank you; I’ve been asking for this for a while. I know we have our annual report, but the fact that I'm here and you're representing my lived experience, I can see where we're at. Thank you for doing this.’

Stacia Garr:

Welcome to Workplace Stories, hosted by RedThread Research, where we look for the ‘red thread’ connecting humans, ideas, stories, and data defining the near future of people and work practices.

My name is Stacia Garr, and I'm the co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread Research, along with Dani Johnson, who is also co-founder and principal analyst at RedThread, and Chris Pirie of the Learning Futures Group. We're excited to welcome you to our podcast Season: this episode is part of our second Season called ‘Integrating Inclusion,’ in which we investigate your role in the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging journey that we believe is a critical force in shaping the future of work.

We talk to leaders, thinkers, writers, and practitioners about the current state of the art in DEIB, and we focus specifically on what people analytics, Learning, leadership, and business leaders can do to move the conversation forward—and why DEIB is everybody's business.

Chris Pirie:

We'd like to thank the people at Workday for their exclusive sponsorship of this second Season of Workplace Stories. Today, the world is changing faster than ever, and you can meet those changing needs with Workday; it’s one agile system that enables you to grow and engage a more inclusive workforce—it’s your financial, HR and planning system for a changing world. You can find out more information about the Workday Diversity Engagement, Inclusion and Belonging solutions at workday.com/deib.

Workday will also host an exclusive live webinar at the end of this season when you can meet the team—Dani, Stacia, and myself—and join in a conversation about the future of DEIB in the workplace. You can register for the webinar and access exclusive Season content, including transcripts, at redthreadresearch.com/podcast. Thanks again to the team at Workday for their sponsorship.

If you like what you hear, please follow Workplace Stories by RedThread Research on your podcast hub of choice—and it wouldn't hurt to give us a 5-star review and share a favorite episode with a friend, as we start to tell more and more of the Workplace Stories that we think matter.

Stacia Garr:

In today's episode, we talk to Phil Willburn, who is Vice President, People Analytics at Workday. Phil has a unique perspective, given his cross-training as both a practitioner of leadership and organizational effectiveness and as a deeply research-oriented people analytics leader. In addition, Phil is relatively far along in his journey of focusing on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging through an analytics lens—meaning he has perspective on where to start and what is possible.

In this conversation, we talk to Phil about Workday's VIBE strategy, which stands for Valuing Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity, and the people analytics team's role in bringing it to life. Phil shares how he started supporting the VIBE strategy and the moment when he realized he couldn't just be a supporter of the strategy, but that he had to actually own it, and how that realization fundamentally changed his approach.

One of the things I love most about this episode is that Phil provides specific examples of insights his team has created, and how they help drive transparency, accountability, and action across the organization. After listening to Phil, you will know the table stakes DEIB metrics your organization needs; you’ll understand some of the sophisticated DEIB questions and the associated analysis your organization could be using, and you'll have a peek into the future of DEIB analytics. Ultimately you will come away with a new appreciation of what it means to integrate Inclusion into your organization’s people analytics practices.

Chris Pirie:

Okay. So Phil: welcome to Workplace Stories—thanks so much for your time and for sharing your insights with our audience today. We’re really happy to have you.

Phil Willburn:

Thanks for having me on Chris (and Stacia!).

Chris Pirie:

We're going to start with a few quick questions to scope out and introduce your work practice to our listeners, and then we'll go a little bit deeper into your area of expertise. So we'll start with some fairly rapid-fire questions, if that's okay with you?

Phil Willburn:

Sounds great; looking forward to it.

Chris Pirie:

So can you give us a quick overview of Workday, its mission and purpose?

Phil Willburn:

Workday is a leading provider of enterprise cloud applications for Finance and Human Resources, helping our customers adapt and thrive in a changing world. Just for context of the scope, our applications for financial management, human resources, planning, spin management, and analytics have been adopted by thousands of organizations around the world, across many industries from medium-sized businesses to more than 50% of the Fortune 500 companies.

Chris Pirie:

What about you, Phil? How did you end up at Workday, and how long have you been there?

Phil Willburn:

So I've been here about four years, four-plus years ago. Actually, a funny story. I was recruited by somebody who you also did a podcast with: Greg Pryor. He called me about six years ago and he says, “Hey Phil, you want to join this company where we’re transforming the use of human capital technology in elevating the employee experience?” And I didn't know what Workday was at the time, I’m like, what are you talking about? I don't understand you, and I said, “I don't know, Greg, maybe not so good timing.” And as soon as I said that and he went away, I thought to myself, there's an opportunity here, so I started to do research and I was like, Workday is a cool, fantastic transformational company. Fortunately, he called me a year later and said, “Hey, Phil, what about this time?” And I said, “Okay, yes, I'm ready, Greg!” So I've had two roles. The first role is in leading all of succession and leadership, and the second role was kind of building people analytics from scratch.

Chris Pirie:

So I'm already getting the picture of a guy who's patient and likes a lot of data before he makes his decisions, but gets there in the end, so you're very revealing! Can you tell me about the kind of work that you do, including your job title, but let's go a little bit deeper than that?

Phil Willburn:

So I am the head of people analytics. And the way we define that and our team's mission is simply we help Workday make better people decisions; that’s as simple as what we go. Now how we do that can be a little bit complex and we provide value in I would say, three unique ways: the first way is we do deep research on the problems and discover root causes or drivers about what's going on for our employees and our ecosystem; the second is then we translate those findings into actionable and digestible insights, where we build analytic products and solutions to reach the audience to influence their decisions. And the last thing we do is we communicate and enable our partners to use these insights to drive actions.

Chris Pirie:

So it's a little bit shoemaker's children as well, isn’t it? Does your work product ever end up as part of the Workday offering?

Phil Willburn:

Very good question!

Chris Pirie:

Sorry, I went off-piste already!

Phil Willburn:

No, it's funny you say that because we've had two opportunities where things that we directly worked on people analytics did influence a product. And one of those is our people analytics, the product which is a storytelling engine; we acquired a company that does storytelling through natural language generation, and our team had been working on stories that are relevant to people analytics, and so we came together and worked with that product team to help them launch that product. And then the second one—and I think we'll get into this a little later—is the VIBE index: the VIBE index was a partnership between Carin Taylor, our Chief Diversity Officer, and our people analytics team to really help create insight and summarize the parity across Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging at Workday.

And then Workday was like, wow, this thing is pretty cool; wouldn’t our customers love to have it? And we're like, we didn't build this for the customers, but then Product grabbed a hold of it and it's a whole other story. That's what's cool about being at Workday in this role is like the work we do does influence product, which influence our thousands of customers. I just don't know if you get that in almost any other place.

Stacia Garr:

So I think what's particularly interesting about that is it's an incredibly clear example of how the culture, the mission, the values, the operating model, really, of an organization can then ultimately end up in the hands of customers. I mean, we see that with technology, through the story you just said, but I think that in so many other organizations, it happens maybe just not quite as directly. So if you have importance around Inclusion or around Diversity, and that influences how people think about the work they do and how they interact with each other, then that will eventually end up in how they interact with customers. So it really, in some ways underscores how important it is for an organization to have its values and priorities right, because of all the downstream effects it creates.

Phil Willburn:

I would agree with you, and it is, I would say our first and second value is employees first and then customers. So if our employees are getting value and they're seeing the impact, we are also saying, Hey, this really should impact our customers as well. So there is this direct line between being clear on your purpose and values, and the cascading implications of that work.

Chris Pirie:

Now we've already gone into some really big themes around corporate purpose and, and D&I, and it is just going to be great. What I wanted to just kind of tee up: what are the big problems? What's the top of your to-do list and your function’s to-do list today? ‘Cause there's a lot going on in the workplace, right?

Phil Willburn:

I think, ultimately, we're in the business of solving business problems that have a people lens on it. And if you think about that, that includes all sorts of things like, how do we keep teams productive and engaged: which teams are productive and engaged: how do we attract the best talent and reward them so they feel they can grow their careers here. How do we ensure our workforce has the right skills to meet the business? How do we ensure Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity for all employees? And how do we attract diverse talent?

Those are just a sampling of questions that we address on a continuous basis to kind of drive those business outcomes from an employee perspective.

Chris Pirie:

And then last for me is as we get through this introductory section: I always like to ask the question, what's the hardest thing that you're wrestling with right now?

Phil Willburn:

I think the hardest thing that our team wrestles with—and if I can extend this people analytics in general—is that there is so much data right now. These technology systems and employees’ interactions with them generate so much data, and we do a lot of research and there's a lot of insights and I believe people are overwhelmed with insights. If you would have asked me this question a year ago, I would have said the biggest issue is scalability. But it's not scalability. We've become crystal clear on our team; it's usability: how do our insights become usable and relevant?

And so we kind of flipped the head: when insights are usable and relevant, they actually drive and influence decisions and outcomes. And this field, and people analytics in particular, suffers—maybe that's not the right term—from a lot of smart people, quants/analytics people, and the confusion comes to communicating that data and what to do with it and so forth like that. So we flipped it backwards; we are 100% focused on usability and relevance, and we bring whatever science we can to that. But at the end of the day, if people don't change their behavior and make a different decision, you're not having the impact you need to have.

Chris Pirie:

Maybe this brings us back round to storytelling, which I'm really curious about, but Stacia, I'm going to hand it over to you.

Stacia Garr:

Phil, one of the things we love to help folks understand at the beginning is what the forces are that are at work on your business and how does that relate to your DEIB strategy. So can you tell us a little bit about that for us?

Phil Willburn:

There's been a multi-year strategy at Workday on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, but I would say there's been three major shifts over the last three years, and I'll give you an example of these shifts. The first, our chief Diversity officer, came in maybe three plus years ago now, and she brought with her a strategy called VIBE, which is Valuing Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity for all. And this was a big shift and I believe this shift is happening in the B and D space, that while representation really matters, and we are focused on Diversity, a focus on Diversity without Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity won't allow organizations to make real progress. And so that was one fundamental shift that came in.

Another force that happened for us is this idea of goal-setting versus goal-getting. And I'll just give you a quick minor story: I had done some work with coaches at the us Olympic training center, and they brought this idea to me that there is a difference between the athletes who set goals four years in the future and say, I want to go to the Olympics versus the athletes who say, who get after that goal every day and getting after that goal required data and feedback. And so this shift happened is like, we've always had companies set Diversity goals for decades, but there has been a lack of real goal-getting because there hasn't been that feedback and data there.

Stacia Garr:

So it's kind of the difference between an aspiration and you doing some work towards it, but you don't really know how you're doing versus, by next week I'm going to be at this point. And by next year, I'll be at this point. In four years from now, I've planned it all the way out, and I know how I'll get there.

Phil Willburn:

And ultimately it's a perspective of motivation. If you have a four-year goal—and by the way, shifting demographics and representations in organizations takes time—how do you stay motivated every day, every week, every month, every quarter? And without that continuous focus on goal, getting feedback on data and where you make progress, you lose sight of that.

And then the last one—and you guys are well aware of this—is the big social justice movement that was sparked last summer with the killing of George Floyd. We saw the anti Asian-American and Pacific Islander hate crimes creeping up that was happening, and to me I believe this really had employees start to ask many more questions from organizations that they were aware of, but weren't engaged at this level. Like, what is our VIBE strategy? Where are our Diversity goals? How much progress are we making? How do I know we're making progress? And that level of employee engagement, I believe, was a real awakening around this and has accelerated the focus on making real progress.

Stacia Garr:

Yeah. I think that awareness and accountability component is so huge in what we're seeing. I think you did a nice job of kind of talking about how where that started, but obviously over the last period, we've really seen that be a bigger issue and more important. I mentioned a few moments ago the connection between organizational values, mission and purpose and how that can then be connected to DEIB. But obviously, culture is a big part of all of this, so can you talk about how your overall culture impacts your approach?

Phil Willburn:

Yeah, culture is a really interesting topic for us; I believe our leaders really embody our culture, and the tone is set from the top and that has helped us to make and focus on making real progress. We have a Diversity suite, we have a very strong commitment to Diversity, it’s very visible, and it's really hard to make progress without that visibility. I'll just give you an example. Women hold 34% of our senior leadership positions at Workday, and when we benchmark our peers in the tech space, that's 10% higher than almost all of our peers. And so we've done a really good job of focusing on growing this here—but I also think there is an impact of culture when it comes to the locations that you have your employees, the demographics that they're in, and the industry that you're in. So for example, we are in tech: we have a large amount of people in the Bay Area; historically, in tech, we have not been good about attracting and bringing in Black and Latin X employees in the space. So we have been proactive, and have set goals around hiring, grooming, and developing our Black and Latinx employees; we know this is a gap because of the industry and the area that we're in. At the same time, we have a large demographic of our Asian employees, which we have to focus on to continue to provide equitable opportunities for their growth and development. And these are a couple of the lenses that you have to apply when you think about how culture impacts Diversity and Inclusion. And of course globalization: we are a global company, and so localizing what Diversity means in that country is pretty critical. So it's not only commitment from your leadership, which I think is a huge thing, it’s also demographics, locations, globalization play a big role in whether or not you make progress in this area.

Chris Pirie:

How do you think about it, this may be a little bit off, but when I think about data and I think about analytics: it's binary, it's black and white, it's clear, it’s graphs, it's shards, it's numbers. And when I think about culture: it's messy, it's people and feelings and storytelling, as we mentioned before. How does your craft take into account culture? Is that a fair question?

Phil Willburn:

Love it, Chris. I love it. All right. I mean, I think culture is difficult to pin down. And I think as storytellers yourself, culture is really passed down in the stories of the organization. However, you can get, I would say, risks or warning signs, because I think the negative outcome of culture is employees are not engaged, or they don't believe in the mission of your company or Workday, or they don't believe you're open and inclusive of diverse employees.

So while I won't claim to quantify culture for you, Chris, I will say that data is an indication as to whether or not culture is having some kind of positive, uplifting impact or a kind of negative impact. Take autonomy, for example: autonomy is a clear measure about whether or not you have opportunities to decide on your work. And we see in the data when people's perception of autonomy goes down, their ability to do incremental work or be productive longer goes down. And so is that a cultural aspect? I don't know, right? But that certainly is an indication something is going on there that you can see in the data.

Chris Pirie:

And do you think people in your profession with your background, with your team, are focused on perhaps how you present your data and how you move from insight to actionable things? Are you Learning to be storytellers, for example?

Phil Willburn:

I hope so. Is what I would say. I hope so. I don't think data or insights really come to life without a relevant story that surrounds it. And by the way, people are not as inspired by data as I am personally.

Chris Pirie:

Some people on this call are! [All laugh]

Phil Willburn:

You know what, our leaders want a compelling story that inspires them and they feel like they can take action if data supports that. And so often my job is working with other leaders to support the kind of story or are in sometimes mythbust a little bit, the truths that are out there. And it's a good story supported by data that always causes action. So we have to work hand in hand.

Stacia Garr:

I would just add, since Chris got that slight dig at me; we have a whole podcast to tell stories. I mean, come on!

Chris Pirie:

Quants and poets here.

Stacia Garr:

Yes! But I would just say that—and I'm feeling this right now, cause we're doing some analysis on a study on DEIB and skills—the data, I think, both grants us the ability to tell amazing stories, but also reins us in when we're starting to go awry. Like Phil just mentioned that we can use it to bust myths, but also to check ourselves: so like for instance, not to totally give this aay, cause we're not fully done with this analysis, but on this DEIB skills thing, there's a negative correlation between, or a negative relationship I should say, between some skills that we would all say are really important to DEIB and the DEIB index that we have.

And I have to tell you, I have run the data four different ways, ‘cause I'm like, no, this cannot be the case. And you know, we've got over a thousand people who took the survey—it’s the case. And so I'm finding myself like today being reminded of how the data keeps me in check in telling the right stories and making sure that I'm not following my own assumptions all the time.

Chris Pirie:

Fair point.

Stacia Garr:

Let’s talk about who you work with, Phil: you’re in people analytics, and sometimes people think, okay, people analytics is just kind of off in the back doing their thing, but we both know that's not the case—people analytics works with a lot of folks, particularly when it comes to DEIB. So can you tell us about who you partner with, and how you work with them?

Phil Willburn:

Yeah, I think on the topic of stories, it's funny that we have this internal battle now between quants and poets—and I don't know who is who between you, Chris and Stacia if you want to battle that out! But I have two particular stories to highlight: we do partner with a lot of people, but I want to talk specifically about the partnership with our Chief Diversity Officer. And this story goes like the beginning of Carin and I's relationship. She came in, brought in the VIBE strategy that I talked about earlier, Valuing Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity for all; we started the conversation. So I said, Carin, what does this mean? Does this mean I have to measure Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity for all employees? And she goes, Yes, Phil. That is what I mean.

And I go, oh, okay. So I go off, and I come back and I get to where I was like, okay, here's Inclusion, Belonging, and sort of measures of Equity across our employees. And then she says, Phil, are you considering our diverse intersections, the intersections between gender, race, et cetera? And I go, oh, okay—that’s interesting, let me come back.

And I come back to her and she goes, you know, and it was what I'm trying to highlight is not her strategy and then people actually just do whatever, but a dialogue that happened where we were exploring ideas to get clear about where we were at at Workday, and where the real progress we needed to make. And it was that kind of exploration where we partnered with each other that really made a difference, so I think the lesson learned there for people analytics people is we need to partner and treat our Belonging-Diversity owners as peers in order to help solve that problem. And that's one area that I think is so essential.

That's my first story here: if you allow me, I have one more story on this topic, sorry, I’d be the storyteller as the analytics person, but you know Chris did say, Hey, do you guys actually tell stories? All right, Chris, I'm, I'm trying to prove you wrong right here on this podcast.

Chris Pirie:

I love it!

Phil Willburn:

The second story was about how this is essential, not only for a partnership perspective, but it requires a shift in our mindset. And it goes like this: I was about to present some of the findings that Carin and I have been working on at Workday Rising two years ago when we still did in-person sessions. And I was going through a practice run, and I had people there to critique me and improve my presentation.

What I found myself doing is I went over it and when I started to get some advice from a peer, and then one of our veteran hires from our veterans program came in here and he goes Phil, I just, just had one comment. I was like, yeah, go ahead. He says, the whole time you were doing your presentation, you were talking about Carin's vision and what the Belonging-Diversity team is doing and what you are doing for them, and this is what Carin is driving for here. He says, “Diversity is not just the owner of the Belonging-Diversity team or Carin; we all need to own this and Phil, you’re not owning this.” And I'm like, oh, dang. Talk bout being called out.

And it was a little bit shocking—and to be honest, I was hesitant to feel like I owned it, but it was that moment that I said, that is one of the issues that's going on is that, while we feel like we partner and support it, we don't feel like we own it. And I vowed to say people analytics is going to own this mission as much as anybody else at Workday. And that's what we've done; and I think because we now have this ownership mindset, we've been driving some strategy stuff related to this, and that's really helped us make the progress we have made.

Stacia Garr:

What a courageous and insightful piece of feedback from that person.

Phil Willburn:

Yes, it was. Especially, you know, there's a power dynamic, you know, as an individual contributor; but it also speaks to the culture of openness and feedback that we have here. And I tell you, I felt embarrassed to be honest that it was so obvious to somebody else that I wasn't owning this, that I needed to own this. And so I was like, you're right; I do need to own this.

And I think sometimes when we're supporting efforts, especially in Belonging and Diversity, you think I can do this for you and I can do this for them, when really our leaders are saying, this it's our mission and we need to own this. And so I'm owning it from my perspective. I don't own everything, but that's what we have. So this idea of partnering actually translated into ownership.

Stacia Garr:

I know that's really important. So back to this analysis I was doing earlier today; actually, what we're seeing so far is really the differentiator in these organizations that have the strong DEIB cultures. This is not just that people are necessarily listening or empathetic—it's that they own it, they have some skin in the game. They have the courage to make those comments; they have the willingness to challenge the status quo to ask the questions, and I think that is the fundamental difference on whether you're a senior leader, an individual, or a manager in an organization.

Chris Pirie:

Hmm.

Stacia Garr:

Maybe shift gears a little bit; I want to talk a little bit about some of the specific DEIB questions you all are trying to answer. Can you talk about that broadly, as well as your role really in answering those questions?

Phil Willburn:

Specific questions. We are always looking at the outcomes of the major, I would say, HR or people processes. So questions around hiring: are we hiring enough diverse candidates? Are they getting through the process? Are they getting stuck in sourcing or screening or interviews, and what's the partnership between the interview manager and the handoff with the recruiter? We are trying to answer questions around promotions, like specifically, how do we ensure our diverse hires are making it through and having a successful career path, right?

And we're trying to focus on that and we bring a data lens. For example, in promotions, we found the biggest predictor to any promotion is time in position. So what we're finding is if you don't spend time in position, the likelihood of promotion goes down dramatically. And so instead of focusing on, well, look at the promotion panels and review panels and like the calibration or performance, let's look at ensuring we have the right talent having enough experience in that position to set them up for success.

We also look at attrition: we have clear indicators on what's going on related to attrition. Are we having disproportionate leaves in one group or another group? And then again, back to the root cause: what is the main factor? For example, we know from a pulse survey, we were doing called Best Workday Survey—we are doing a pulse survey now, but we're on a econ platform—that the number one factor for indicator that somebody leaves is, is we had the survey item called My Manager Actively Models Workday's values. And when that started to go down, that was a trigger that they would leave in: amazing! Like we are not, when an organization is not or a manager is not living the values, people get frustrated, right, and they leave there. And so we're looking at that, and then always looking at leadership roles and succession planning. So those are the big outcomes that we're trying to drive, and then we try to dig deep on the root causes of each one of them.

Stacia Garr:

Talk to us, then, a little bit more because those wonderful high level, local-type areas that you're focused on. Can you talk to us a little bit more about the types of DEIB analytics? You and I have talked about this over the years—you know, how your approach to some of this has evolved over time? So can you talk to us like when you were getting started, what was table stakes for you all to do, and then what are some of the more sophisticated approaches or some sophisticated questions, maybe even, that you're trying to answer now?

Phil Willburn:

I like that because I think that this space tries to get too fancy. It's like, let's do the coolest, sexiest thing that we can on here and it's going to wow people—and you know what, if you don't have the basics and the table stakes, it doesn't matter how cool you get, right? So here's the table stakes: you need to have a clear idea of hiring, promotions, attrition, Belonging in leadership over time, across your relevant intersections of Diversity, and understand the drivers of each one of those. That’s table stakes.

Stacia Garr:

And when you say ‘drivers'—because not everybody on here is a people analytics person—can you explain what that means?

Phil Willburn:

Yeah, it's one of the major contributors to promotions, right, and I brought that example up. We know certainly performance, certainly calibration, certainly connections, but we know when we looked at this and we did a big analysis of all the major factors, it's time and position. So getting that person the right connections, giving them a mentor, getting them Learning, you think, oh, okay, all those are positive to promoting diverse leaders or even leaders in the pipeline, and we say, it doesn't matter if that person changes roles or moves to another organization or switches to a team—if you cannot keep them locked in to build that excellence in their skills in that position, they're not going to get promoted.

Stacia Garr:

What I love about this is it shows one why this is so important for this type of work to be done in people analytics, because we've had this situation for years where unfortunately, people analytics hasn't owned this, and you've had this in Diversity group may be sitting over here, right. And in those folks may have done great work on the data that they have, and they may have said, okay, well, you know, the primary factors, to use your example are, you know, people aren't connected enough, they’re not, you know, they're not getting development, all those things that you mentioned. And to your point, that's not to say those things are bad, but when we actually understand the data and we look at the data holistically, you can see while those things are good, the real driver here is time in seat.

And I think this just underscores why it's important to have this in people analytics, and why it's important for people analytics to bring their superpower of this is what we see across the broader organization and then how we should interpret it in this unique situation.

Chris Pirie:

But then if I can, as the novice in all this: what I think about is symptom versus cause? Maybe the practice of people having to spend a certain amount of time in a role before getting promoted; maybe that is a blocker to Diversity. Maybe if we change that practice and we accelerated promotions, for example, what do you think about symptom versus cause, or is that not your responsibility? Is that for leaders to think through?

Phil Willburn:

Chris, I just said I’m owning stuff now, all right? So yes, it's part of my responsibility! I was wondering if you were going to test me. So if you get to the root cause with the data you have, I would say time in position is one of the quote unquote leading indicators from all the factors, then you actually have a strategic choice, which you didn't have before: do we accept this as it is? Or do we change the practice around that? However, without knowing in pinpointing the major quote-unquote, determining factor, you can't then have a choice. You're doing something, let's give some extra Learning, let's mentor them, let's build the connections, which all contribute. However, the one practice you would need to decide to shift or not if you like, we'll have the biggest leverage, it's this one practice.

Chris Pirie:

So now we have, you know, our opportunity to experiment, run experiments, and see what happens if we tweak that.

Phil Willburn:

Exactly. And I'll give you another example, Chris, just to show you that we're owning this, right? And I'm jumping ahead here, I know: succession, right? Succession is something that all organizations do. We do at Workday, and many of them overline Diversity in succession pools to grow, and a common practice is to have these succession levels ready in one year, ready in two years, ready in three plus years. And what we are finding is that, for some reason, more diverse candidates were in the quote-unquote, ready in two years than they were ready in one year already. And what we did is we looked at the data, so we actually have a leadership capabilities assessment, which looks at whether or not this person would be successful if they're promoted one to two levels above the rank, and we saw no connection between the succession buckets and people's belief in their leadership capabilities.

And so now we have this frivolous categorization that has just grown up in HR and the way you've configured stuff that's not really relevant. And so, the action you then take is say, let's create a pool of ready-now leaders and ready-future leaders. And let's distinguish this; maybe they're ready in 18 months or two years now, the capability says they can be promoted one to two levels and by the way, that really increased Diversity from a Diversity pool. And that's just questioning the kind of configurations you have—but if you don't triangulate that data, it's hard to then point to that one thing and we can do this across a number of our practices and that's what we should be doing and that should be owned… Well, it should feel like it's owned by people analytics, because we're trying to support our broader strategy around VIBE and Diversity.

Chris Pirie:

It's a brilliant example; I mean, I've lived that conversation so many times in leadership roles in my work, and good leaders would always probe that kind of, Why do you think they're not ready for two years, three years? Like how come all your diverse candidates or that can be kicked down the road? And if you have data to bring, to bear that, we can just help people get over their sort of their learned behaviors, I guess.

Phil Willburn:

Yeah, and Chris you bring up a good point: the Learning organization and the talent organization has a huge role in succession and, and there needs to be some kind of centralization. And this is the role we'd played is like, okay, we're going to take a Diversity lens on the leadership capabilities assessment and succession, triangulate those to see what we have. And in that triangulation across many kinds of, I would say HR COEs often didn't happen without somebody kind of central looking across there. And so that’s where I think where the breakthrough is, and that's why owning this from a people analytics perspective is so essential to this type of work.

Chris Pirie:

I love it, I love it.

Stacia Garr:

You just mentioned Learning, so I'm going to jump in on one of Chris's favorite subjects: we often see Learning and analytics together a lot less than we see some of these other areas, as you mentioned. Can you talk to us a little bit about how you see the role of analytics and program design evaluation, and, and how we can look at that through a DEIB lens?

Phil Willburn:

Oh, Stacia, I knew you're going to ask this on Learning. Okay, I’m not going to answer your question directly and you guys can probe, but let me answer your question related to content that I think is relevant to people and the way analytics can happen. So one of the things we've learned in our journey as we've intersected, for example, Belonging data, is the idea of whether or not people feel like they can bring their best selves to work at Workday. And we intersect that across the intersection of Diversity, for example, gender and US ethnicity, generation, and locations around the world. And we did see a particular, I would say, surprise when we look at Belonging for our Asian female population: our other employees felt slightly less like they belonged than the other employees, especially compared to male Asians and other demographics in organizations.

So we thought, okay, this is something we need to look at, unpack and address it. We did a number of qualitative focus groups and so forth like that, and one of the areas that we needed to invest in was demonstrating growth and skill opportunities for this population. What we ended up doing is curating for those people whose sense of Belonging wasn't quite as strong, specific awareness around the growth opportunities that were available in what we call a ‘Workday journey’. And in that case, a population who was looking for growth and skills, because they were asked for it and we see the implications to Belonging, we curated something very specifically for them. And I would say this journey and bringing awareness amongst a few other things, actually, we started to see an increase in the sense of Belonging for this particular group. So I don't know how this relates to exactly ‘evaluate the impact of Learning’ and so forth like that; I just know we've become incredibly specific and personalized with the content we provide to our employees, to our leaders and managers, based on the data that they're saying, I want more insight on this, I need to grow my skills here. I need to feel more connected here. And that personalization, I believe, has made the Learning more relevant and actionable.

Chris Pirie:

I think it's great. And I think that you’re very frustrated in the Learning community about the lack of maturity around how data gets used; you’ve pointed to one really critical area, and that is like really smartly targeting the programs that you have, that the people who, who need it and who want it. Not a lot of that goes on; I think generally an immaturity around how data is used in the Learning function that tends to be focused a little bit on consumption and qualitative feedback, which may be table stakes but doesn’t really get at the business outcome that we're trying to drive. And so I think we like to see data being used to measure the business outcome that's the result of a training intervention or a Learning intervention rather than focusing on the sort of qualitative experience, which seems to be the traditional way to go. Does that make sense?

Phil Willburn:

Exactly. And that's where the alignment needs to happen. There is maturity in these that happened, but it's not like those capabilities aren't there, right? If you're going to say this, if you’re Workday, you have Learning, you have all the capabilities you need, right? You have Workday Learning—and by the way, they intersect with all the data about the people’ cause it's all in that one platform—it’s not the fact that it's possible and the technology is there. Honestly, I believe HR needs more technologists and analytics professionals as a whole in order to make this a reality.

Stacia Garr:

Maybe pause it and you don't have to answer this directly, but that was a wonderful example of a specific situation that was caused by a problem you all identified, right? Like we have this issue with Belonging, but one of the things we've been talking about is just simple access, right? Like, are people accessing Learning at the same rate, one population compared to a majority population? And if we go back to our table stakes discussion earlier, I would suggest that that probably is the table stakes in Learning—like just the basic intersectional in a Diversity and intersectional analysis of who's accessing what, who has to have access to which opportunities and are they equitably distributed across the organization. And so broadly we're not seeing that happen.

Phil Willburn:

Yeah, that’s a good point. Would I think—maybe I'm going to be controversial—would I think Learning is the outcome? I don't know if Learning is the outcome. Do I think the equitable opportunities to grow your skills is an outcome? I think that's more of an outcome. Would I think growth opportunities to take on new gigs or jobs as an outcome? I would think more of that's an outcome. I think Learning is the mechanism; we just gotta be careful about the outcome we’re really measuring. We could be measuring clicks or connections to that Learning with no outcome of skill growth and improvement.

Stacia Garr:

I completely agree. And so, I mean, just back to Chris's point, you know, the idea that a simple number of hours of Learning per employee is a pretty meaningless metric. So part of where this is coming from is there was a great example from AT&T from a number of years ago where they did some really good work to show employees, these are the types of roles that are growing within the organization and these are the types that are declining. And if you want to move into these roles that are growing, here's Learning opportunities to help you get there, which lots of folks, including when I was at Bersin and we wrote about it, were like this great case study.

But then what ended up happening is, they started to analyze who was accessing that Learning to get to that better career opportunity, and you can probably guess who it was: it was certainly people who were in the majority population, it wasn't people who were in minority populations who may be single moms who had to work two jobs et cetera, because they didn't have time outside of the hours they were paid to work to develop and to gain those capabilities. So is our ultimate outcome measure probably internal mobility to these new roles: yes. Is Learning a way that that was intended to happen and could we have maybe identified that this mobility wasn't going to happen if we measured that interim variable sooner? I would think so.

Phil Willburn:

That's spot on. It reminds me of what we experienced during the pandemic, where those people are leaving the workforce from like a caregiver's perspective. When we look at men and women caregivers who maybe have equal balance, we see far more women caregivers leaving workplaces during pandemic, so it's a capacity problem. It is also this kind of workload and equitable problem. And so if the connection between Learning, and I would say, you should be looking at skills and Learning is if that is the driver of that skill growth—yeah, that’s even more of a root cause of do they have the autonomy and the time and the leadership support to make that happen. Which you can get, by the way, by looking at autonomy as a driver for engagement, if you're seeing those big differences or workload as a driver for engagement. If you've seen those big differences, you're largely probably seen impacts to Learning, skills, growth, et cetera.

Chris Pirie:

You might also want to look at those managers who were not living the company values, and apply some training in context to that target audience.

Phil Willburn:

Yeah! You know, our interventions in HR are quite soft generally, but yes, they definitely have high standards, and it's well known to live the values, and you can see how impactful that is when you do. And when you have a, I would say a signal that strong, you don't need that data; you need to tell stories about your values and how you live those values and that kind of reinforces it.

Stacia Garr:

Well, one of the things we've talked about before, Phil, is how you create that accountability to drive this action. Can you share with folks a little bit about that—the insights that you provide to employees, to managers, to senior leaders, in how you make that accessible?

Phil Willburn:

I feel responsible for two particular things, and it does relate to accountability. The first one is alignment: if the leadership system or the organization isn't aligned with the goals, the aspirational goals of the organization and what we're trying to achieve, it's really hard to hold somebody accountable. And you can drive alignment with data—that’s the magic that I've figured out! If you bring up data and you say, are we aligned to this, yes or no, or do we need to model it a different way? And you can get general agreements on that, and once you do, once you kind of align with that, that the way to hold, I would say, ourselves accountable is to build it in the way that a leader runs her business. When a leader runs their business through us, looking at their hiring rate and whether or not they're going to read through a headcount goals, they're always looking at the turnover to make sure they're not having a lot of attrition we've seen in organizations in the US and globally have been experiencing recently.

But then if you start to layer in the intersection and the goals around Diversity, hiring and retention of your critical intersections, that's exactly what we've done. And we've put it right alongside the data that a leader makes decisions on their business. A couple of very specific practical things: one, we have something, what we call the Diversity quarterly snapshot, which is for our business leaders; we use prism analytics to aggregate this data up, and it shows diverse intersections that we've configured in Workday that we're measuring around our goals, a quarterly view of all the progress that they make. Every single leader knows exactly where they stand; you can't make progress unless people know where they stand and they know the gaps they have.

So you do that every quarter, so it's constant, right? That's one lens. But we also make it transparent and available to our employees. We've configured a report in Workday, a Diversity data transparency report; you can run this report, any employee in the entire company, and look at our current status for Diversity. And when you're giving that data to employees and you're holding your leaders accountable, everybody's on the same page, right? So here's where we need to make progress. And those are two examples of many of the other examples. Like we have a Diversity planning project in adaptive planning where we model out many of our Diversity goals so we can look at a high hiring scenario or a high attrition scenario and model that out, so forth like that. So we embed it into the way we do business and make it transparent in an aggregate form and so we can hold ourselves accountable from that perspective.

Stacia Garr:

I think the transparency element of this is what has been the most remarkable for me from talking to a lot of organizations. Can you speak just real quickly about the security element of that or, or the data privacy element? ‘Cause I imagine a lot of folks listening are like, woah, like that's going to everyone—hold the phone, what is happening here?

Phil Willburn:

Yeah. When you talk about partners, this is where your legal partner is really important because they're all about helping you avoid risk. But here's what I'm going to say is, you know, their job is to make sure you're not doing undue risks. We're fortunate enough that the legal review in connection with us around security is that they don't want people to feel like they're called out, like it's personalized. And so you do have to have this level of dissertion when it comes to aggregations. Some companies say you can't aggregate information up on 10 employees or three employees and it depends, or you have to have not only 10 employees in this, but you have to have at least minimum 10 people who leave, so you couldn't mask that.

And the great thing is we've been able to aggregate it up in a way that our employees feel secure and confidential, that’s not going to be called out and provides a lot more transparency. And what I would say to that is like, oh, it's going to cause all of this issues that's raising up, and all we ever got from making this available is, ‘Thank you; I’ve been asking for this for a while. I know we have our annual report, but the fact that I'm here and you're representing my lived experience, I can see where we're at. Thank you for doing this.’

To be honest, I was so surprised at how many times that report was run by our employees. I thought we would make it available. We have a cool infographic; employees tune out HR corporate stuff all the time. I don't if they’re going to look at that. It's run so many times. I was like, dang, people are actually going to this and they are interested in it. And that's what I mean by employees are really getting engaged in this topic, and employees are one of the best ways to hold the system accountable. And if you can activate and enlighten the employees about where you're at, they're going to be your best advocates.

Chris Pirie:

I think that's a fantastic point, because we always think about culture coming top down, and certainly leaders play a strong role in culture, but it also comes from everybody, right? From, I don't even want to say bottom up, but just from everybody bringing their values to work and living them. How do you think about the future of all this, Phil? What do you wish we could do? And where do you think progress is going to come in the next few years?

Phil Willburn:

You know, we're all in this podcast for a reason, right? We're all at the intersection between HR and technology, so it's no surprise that I'm going to say I think in the future, a lot of this work is going to be automation and elevation of the more sophisticated stuff in technology.

And I can give you an example: we have this really great product at Workday people analytics, which is a news or storyteller. So it reads the news and tells the story of what happened. And so in traditional organizations, you would have an analyst who looks at this intersection, that intersection in this geography and this supervisory organization with this job, family filter and so forth like that. This product looks at all of these data points, hundreds of millions of data points, and looks at all of the intersections and then says, here's the most relevant Diversity story that's happened this month: we see a spike in attrition here. We see a gap in the leadership here. We see that women in management here, we see that the major drivers of this is in our generation population for our P3 software development engineers.

And that has automated the kind of slicing and the analysts have been doing for decades. Now, it's not going to tell you business leader, you have to create all these programs around here, but it does what a machine does best: it gives you the trends, right? It gives you the predictions. It's not really a prediction, but it gives you the trends, and then you, as a human being, use judgment to say, oh, this was related to this effort or related to a reorg, or we're already doing this and I'm going to pin this story and save this story. And what that allows us is our business partners, our leaders, to do what they do best, which is around judgment, and our machines do what they do best, which is providing insight from all these slices.

That’s capabilities today. Now we need that wider adopted and people to be using it. But that's today, that’s not even the future; the future is going to be that 10X, right? It's going to be those stories with sentiment data, so it's not only where the biggest gaps happen—oh, we see a big shift in this particular country of women in management leaving. And when we look at their exit survey results to say it's mostly for personal reasons, and we look at their sentiment prior to when they left, we can see that their workload quadrupled, right? That's the future. That's not even the long-term future, Chris—that's the short-term future right now.

Chris Pirie:

A lot of the technology is there now.

Phil Willburn:

The technology is there now. Now what is missing is—let me go back to the very beginning—is this ability to succinctly and clearly tell that story in a usable and relevant way to drive action. And I think that's where it's really hard; that’s what the whole work is iterating on is to make it usable and relevant.

Chris Pirie:

When the robots can tell stories well, then we're really in trouble, I think! But a very good glimpse into the future. A couple of last questions, Phil, and I know we're pushed on time here, but how can people connect with you and your work?

Phil Willburn:

To follow me on LinkedIn: my profile, I do mention a number of things. If you want to see some really great deep dive insights on this, you can check out, Stacia and I did this, a 90-minute masterclass on Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Belonging analytics. So check that out. It was very fun. You can reach out to me again on LinkedIn for that.

Chris Pirie:

Great. And then we ask everybody on our podcasts, why do you do the work that you do?

Phil Willburn:

Oh, geez, man: you just took it to a whole ‘nother level. You're not even going to ask me why I do the work that I do. I find it deeply gratifying to bring my passions together with something I truly believe in; the passions around insights and analysis around storytelling with an outcome I really truly believe in, which is that our technology is making a brighter ‘work day’ for all. And so even as geeky, it's funny as that sounds like, oh, it's just HR technology or finance technology, yes; but it has the potential, and we've shown it to really check these assumptions and ideas that people have and just cascade it through in an automated way. And that's what I do. I love my work and a culture that allows you to be creative, innovative, and drive real value—I mean, that's awesome, right? How can you go wrong with that?

Chris Pirie:

Well, that's really apparent, Phil, from the conversation we just had! It is really fantastic to meet you, and I know Stacia and you've done a lot of work together, but I really, really appreciate you sharing your insights today, and let's keep the conversation going.

[Phil Willburn & Stacia Garr: Thank you.]

Stacia Garr:

Thanks for listening to the Workplace Stories podcast, brought to you by RedThread Research. Share your thoughts or ideas for guests and topics by sending an email to hello@redthreadresearch.com, and consider sharing your favorite episode with a friend or colleague.

Chris Pirie:

If you'd like to know more about RedThread’s research, including the latest studies on the skills and analytics that organizations need to foster a more inclusive workplace, then check out our website at redthreadresearch.com, where you can also sign up to actually participate in our research projects. It's a great way to share your opinions and your experience about everything from DEIB to people analytics, from Learning and skills to performance management and leadership—and you’ll also meet and exchange ideas with other leaders in the industry.

We'd like to thank the people at Workday for their exclusive sponsorship of this second Season of Workplace Stories. Today, the world is changing faster than ever, and you can meet those changing needs with Workday; it’s one agile system that enables you to grow and engage a more inclusive workforce—it’s your financial, HR, and planning system for a changing world. You can find out more information about the Workday Diversity, Engagement, Inclusion and Belonging solutions at workday.com/deib.

Workday will also host an exclusive live webinar at the end of this season when you can meet the team—Dani, Stacia, and myself—and join in a conversation about the future of DEIB in the workplace. You can register for the webinar and access exclusive Season content, including transcripts, at redthreadresearch.com/podcast. Thanks again to the team at Workday for their sponsorship.

If you like what you hear, please follow Workplace Stories by RedThread Research on your podcast hub of choice—and it wouldn't hurt to give us a 5-star review and share a favorite episode with a friend, as we start to tell more and more of the Workplace Stories that we think matter.

Written by

Dani Johnson

Dani is Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research. She has spent the majority of her career writing about, conducting research in, and consulting on human capital practices and technology. Her ideas can be found in publications such as Wall Street Journal, CLO Magazine, HR Magazine, and Employment Relations. Dani holds an MBA and an MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering from BYU.

Stacia Garr Redthread Research
Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

Stacia is a Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research and focuses on employee engagement/experience, leadership, DE&I, people analytics, and HR technology. A frequent speaker and writer, her work has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal as well as in numerous HR trade publications. She has been listed as a Top 100 influencer in HR Technology and in D&I. Stacia has an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.

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