Workplace Stories Podcast
At RedThread, we love our data, but we know that what you remember is stories. So we spend time listening to thinkers, writers, leaders, and practitioners as they tell their stories about what works in the workplace, what they’ve learned, and what they hope to see in the future. We hope you find it inspirational, motivational, and a touch irreverent.
Latest EpisodeListen to "Leveraging Generative AI to Efficiently Utilize Skills Data: McKinsey & Company’s Yelena Mammadova, Ed.D" on Spreaker. Subscribe:
I find these conversations refreshing because they’re not filled with industry buzzwords…Such a welcome addition to my podcast list because I don’t find quality insights like this easily!
10/10 would recommend
Sana F. L.
This is an amazing podcast! It’s insightful and cutting-edge thinking. I would recommend to anyone interested in DEIB, skills, people analytics, and L&D to give it a listen.
Fresh and insightful
If there is one podcast you listen to in human capital research space, make it this one…Such a great resource to keep pace with the industry. Highly recommend!
Such a wealth of knowledge!
What makes this show a true standout is the quality of guests, the stories they share, and the actionable tactics they bring to the table!
The Skills Odyssey III
Welcome to Season 10 of “Workplace Stories” “The Skills Odyssey III” In this season, we dive again into the world of skills and how they’re shaping the workplace.
The world of skills is evolving rapidly, thanks to advances in technology and data. Skills are no longer just a theoretical discussion; they’re becoming a practical reality for organizations everywhere.
In this season, we’re structuring our conversations around the six elements of a successful skill strategy, namely, scope and purpose, partnerships, culture, architecture, data, and technology. Our guests will share their experiences and insights, offering practical guidance for HR professionals and organizations.
Join us as we uncover the ever-evolving world of skills, as the Odyssey continues.
On this episode, we chat with both CEO Brian Hackett of The Learning Forum and CEO Brian Richardson of Richardson Consulting. In this in-the-weeds discussion, we learn from both Brians’ breadth of experience to hear what it takes for businesses to bring skill building to the forefront.
On episode two, we chat with Head of Talent Management, Megan Bickle. Megan shares her experience building a skills-based organization as the Global Talent Management and Organizational Development Leader at GE Digital. Listen to hear why she thinks that job architecture is essential to becoming a skills-based organization.
Listen as we chat with Shannon Custard—the Global Competence Development Manager at Ingka Group. In this conversation, Shannon shares more about the process of transitioning to a skills-based organization, why the Ingka Group believes it’s important, and the impact it’s making on their frontline population.
Yelena Mammadova, Ed.D, the Associate Director of Learning at McKinsey, focuses on accelerating talent development through a unique approach. She discusses the integration of generative AI into their skills initiatives, using it to effectively gather and utilize skills data. Discover more about their innovative use of AI in this conversation.
This season, we’re talking frontline workers. As you may know, frontline workers can have an outsized influence the success of organizations. We count on them to create solid, quality products. They are often the first – and sometimes the only – interface our customers have with our brand. And, as we well know, they were essential to keeping both organizations and society moving during the Pandemic.
Right now, the majority of the conversation around the frontline focuses on how workers can be better supported – the assumption being that they’re supported poorly now. If you read the research, a lot of people practices are broken, and organizations are on the hook to fix them.
There’s truth in that – but is that the whole story?
We think the conversation is a little more nuanced, and that’s what we’ll uncover in this season. We’ll talk to leaders about the unique challenges that frontline workers face as well as changes they’re making to empower them. But we’ll also discuss the good things happening on the frontline and how organizations can adapt those practices more broadly.
On this episode, we chat with Peter Tulumello, Director of Learning and Development at Sobeys, Canada’s largest grocery store. Listen in to hear the kind of solutions Peter and the rest of the team at Sobeys came up with to engage their employee population and go beyond training to become a learning organization.
Making Managing Manageable
Welcome to our eighth season of Workplace Stories. Over the past seven seasons, you have heard from thinkers, leaders, and practitioners about the myriad ways to support organizations and improve the workplace.
In this season, we’re focusing on making managing manageable. Organizations face steep challenges in the current climate. They need to cut costs, enable teams to deliver results effectively, and keep employees engaged and satisfied in a tight labor market with a looming recession ahead.
Managers play a key role in responding to societal megatrends. That’s why organizations need to support and rely on managers both individually and systemically.
Join us as we uncover what it actually means to be a manager in 2023!
Clint Kofford, the Vice President of Talent with National Veterinary Associates, has a unique perspective on what it means to be a leader in today’s changing landscape. With extensive experience in numerous multinational companies, Clint is a thought leader in this space. He has fascinating viewpoints that caused us both to stop and think and even changed our minds about certain issues. Press play to hear what they are and to see if his views might broaden your perspective.
Mary brings years of experience to Morningstar and on this episode of Workplace Stories, she explains how the manager and employee experiences are tied together. As you listen, you’ll be fascinated by the way that Morningstar conducted research to identify and define concrete sentiments that would improve the employee experience.
In this conversation, we speak to Sara Reed, Vice President of People and Talent at Western Governors University. We discuss what struck her about what senior leadership is doing to support managers within her organization, how building connection and community actually helps to support accountability, and why it is important to analyze the reasons that people choose to lead.
On this episode of Workplace Stories, Affirm’s Feedback and Development Lead, Kaitlyn Mathews, describes how her organization uses its data to drive changes within the company. Kaitlyn also touches on their delivery systems, the HR relationship with managers, using tech to strategize, and how she uses her role to help others realize their capabilities.
In this episode of Workplace Stories we talked to Moderna’s Noah Rabinowitz and Nkiruka Ogbuchiekwe. We explore ways that managers and other leaders can question conventionality by recognizing and thinking through false dichotomies. Listen in to hear how Moderna is building its systems by putting its company culture first and by constantly questioning traditional ways of doing things.
This inspiring conversation with Paula Matthews from AAFP is a fantastic way to wrap up our Making Managing Manageable series. Listen in to hear what AAFP is doing to implement a new management framework. You’ll discover their four outcomes on four different levels and how they are intentionally designing this framework to work in the present climate.
Employee Experience (R)evolution
Employee experience is one of the most ubiquitous – and ambiguous — terms in our industry today. While people talked about it a lot before the pandemic, the rise of distributed and hybrid work has changed how people are thinking and talking about employee experience. We want to more clearly understand those shifts, and get to the bottom of if they are performative, provisional, or permanent.
Join us for an exciting and groundbreaking set of discussions!
For Vice President of Learning and Leadership at Walmart Brandon Carson, the systems we put in place ARE the employee experience. And if we want to change that, we need to help not just the cognitive worker, but that often-neglected other constituency in the EX debate—their physical worker equivalents.
Phil Willburn—our Season Sponsor Workday’s Vice President, People Analytics—makes a very welcome second appearance on ‘Workplace Stories,’ where he shares genuinely useful EX best practice. Does he have the definitive answer to our question, Evolution or Revolution? Listen to decide.
Workday is a leading provider of enterprise cloud applications for finance and human resources, helping customers adapt and thrive in a changing world. Workday applications for financial management, human resources, planning, spend management, and analytics have been adopted by thousands of organizations around the world and across industries—from medium-sized businesses to more than 50% of the Fortune 500. For more information about Workday, visit workday.com.
The Great Reconnection
In Season 6, we explore the Great Reconnection – addressing the fundamental need of workers who are coming back to the office. Leaders have an opportunity to reconnect workers to their colleagues, their customers, and the very purpose of the organization itself.
Specifically, we dive into the role of managers and how they can bring more humanity and to their role. We explore the role of colleagues in enabling greater connection. And we talk about the role of data and technology of reconnecting employees. Don’t miss an episode. Subscribe!
We start our new S6 of Workplace Stories with an overview of the theme of the Season, how it links to the previous five, then talk to Liz Wiseman, CEO of the Wiseman Group and author of New York Times bestseller about how leaders can build connections to and between people, and more broadly to the organization, ‘Multipliers.’ As we hear, Liz’s purpose is to make work better for everyone by creating organizations where great leaders multiply intelligence, rather than draining it from the organization. What inspires Liz is working with and watching senior leaders to learn what good leadership looks like, and how anyone can be a smart leader that doesn’t shut down smarts of others. We then hear her views on how at present, many organizations are in the process of trying to recover from a period of enormous disconnection. Now, in a world of Hybrid and Remote Working, what must leaders do to build and facilitate connection? This is essential in creating a sense of purpose and community, both in and out of the organization, and to help leaders need to provide context for people’s work. For Liz, this has to be about explaining what the impact of work is, and how it connects with wider purpose, as without this, people can’t feel a sense of fulfilment in their work. She also shares her view on how people don’t want to be managed in general, they want to be led. Rather than doing a job, leaders are people who see what needs to be done. This is important in the context of the Great Resignation – employees must feel connected and a sense of purpose even if removed from their workplace and work friends. Finally, she offers practical ways to start The Great Reconnection.
For our second conversation about The Great Reconnection, we sat down with Matt Gosney, Vice President, Organizational Development at UCHealth, a major Denver-based healthcare provider that’s grown rapidly in the past few years. To make that growth work, the organization has been consciously doing as much as it can to enable connection and growth. We wanted to know more, so got Matt on to hear why connection and growth are now seen as critical to UC Health’s employment value proposition, and also a significantly contributor to recruiting and retention. We also talk about how some of UC Health’s previous talent processes, especially performance management, weren’t really helping on the connection part, and what Matt and his team did about it. A powerful new concept that’s proving really helpful is supporting managers to have what UCHealth calls ‘career conversations’ with every single employee has unleashed a tidal wave of connection, engagement, and contribution. An unintended but very welcome consequences of that work have been a dramatic improvement in talent pipeline diversity and a more organic (and thus, successful) approach to DEIB. We conclude with a story about lifetime-long transferrable skills that nearly wraps one of our most fun yet also thoughtful conversations for a while. The one key quote? “Connection is a baseline antecedent to progress and delivery of results.” Sounds bang on to us.
Based out of San Francisco, Airtable is a fast-growing software product company with a mission to democratize software creation. It says it’s doing that by enabling anyone to build the tools that meet their needs, but is that focus on openness and collaboration talk or walk?
In this next debate on how to make reconnecting real, we find out from a great conversation with the company’s Global Talent Development Leader, Jessica Amortegui, who has a lot to say about walking the walk—from the way her company is really taking on the problem of connection at the individual, human level, but also how to better facilitate connecting with others on a one-on-one, team, and entire organizational level.
Even more interestingly; that happens on both the virtual (90% of her fellow ‘Airtablets’ joined during the pandemic) but also on the physical level—and as you’ll also hear, gets instantiated with well-thought-out and battle-tested role tools and exercises, which we’re delighted to say some of which Jess has shared with listeners. She also has some very useful things to say about the demonstrable value of all this even the most results-focused managers and connection ‘skeptics’ find persuasive.
Finally, we loved her persuading us about the importance of connection in the flow of one’s day-to-day work—making connecting not some special thing that you do in parallel but can be structured to be part of any meeting if you want it to be. All in all, so many great soundbites—but if you want just one, how about, “The thing I would love to switch about our workplaces is how many of us end the day exhausted and feeling de-energized. Why does it have to be that way?” Abso-tootle!
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Adventures in Hybrid Work
We all know hybrid work is here. The question is, how can it be a forcing mechanism to enable better work and happier lives?
We know one thing: hybrid work is much more than a policy—it’s a different way of thinking about how work gets done. Going hybrid doesn’t just define when people come into the office (or not). At its best, hybrid work opens up opportunities to rethink antiquated systems and deploy new approaches that take advantage of different ways of thinking about work, technology, and human interactions. Some of the specific elements of this new approach include a focus on skills, intentional network design, crafted collaboration, and thoughtfully designed and deployed technology.
In this season, we’ll be talking to people who are at the forefront of thinking about hybrid work in these new ways—academics and researchers, as well as leaders from employee development, performance management, DEIB, and other people functions. We’re particularly interested in their changes to leadership behaviors, technology, performance management practices, employee engagement efforts, learning, and employee development that have enabled and accelerated the shift to hybrid. And we’ll examine the impact of hybrid work on frontline workers, DEIB, and retention efforts. Tune in!
We’ve completed one sort of Odyssey (at least for now). Now, it’s time for an Adventure. That’s the message from our customary opening new Workplace Stories from RedThread Research Season scene-setter this week, where the guys reveal that our next set of engagements and learning from experts and practitioners in the world of HR and the future of work is the current supernova-hot topic of Hybrid Work.
If you really are just out of your COVID bunker, we refer, of course, to the idea of how we might re-orient ourselves to a workplace where employee expectations about ‘presenteeism’ have changed a lot… whether they have that much really for employers, well—let’s see. Also covered: how RedThread’s working with its team and clients to make our own changes to support Hybrid.
To set us up, a review of how powerful employees are right now on their side of their see-saw (for how long), some Intriguing guest names get dropped, starting with this week’s co-dropping Episode 1, well-known HR Scholar and author John Boudreau, how this Season links surprisingly quickly with previous Workplace Stories surveys, and expected recurrent themes like the role both human diversity tech will play in all this as it unfolds.
There’s even a gag or two (you’re going to love the one about printers), all putting us in the perfect mindset for the John episode deep Hybrid Work conceptual dive. Warning: the episode contains shocking information about certification. Still not sure Chris has recovered.
Is it time to retire the concept of a job? Is it holding us all back—especially if we really want to make Hybrid Work a success? That’s a new, and we think highly useful, concept from today’s guest, author, academic and futurist John Boudreau. In the episode, John tells us how we want to move away from thinking about work as one job and job holder at a time and one degree at a time, to a system that allows the parts to freely connect, so tasks and projects can connect to atomized or deconstructed worker capabilities like Skills, which can be gained through an atomized set of things like experiences, partial degrees or credentials. John—a well-known HR scholar who’s Professor Emeritus of Management and Organization and a Senior Research Scientist with the Center for Effective Organizations at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California—says his thinking here is that we’ve been using the wrong unit of analysis in ‘the job,’ and that a new operating system of work is needed that should be instead be based on deconstructed elements of a role in terms of tasks rather than being based primarily on the job as the atomic unit of HR analysis. As you’re about to find, this is all set forth in his new book with fellow researcher Ravin Jesuthasan, Work Without Jobs, whose top concepts we try and explore, like what it might be like to ‘melt’ a job down to see what it’s made of and who could do bits of it instead, as well as a very new way of thinking about ice cubes. We’re so honored John agreed to be our lead-off guest for the Season, as we think it identifies many key themes and frees up some real opportunities for fresh Hybrid Work thinking we’ll all find useful. Just be careful you don’t melt while listening.
Today, we hear from an HR leader at the absolute heart of the Hybrid evolution, Dawn Klinghoffer, Vice President of the HR Business Insights team at Microsoft. Dawn’s really helping set the agenda of what gets called in the show the ‘Pandora’s Box’ of workplace change the pandemic is sparking–which she sees, not as a source of trouble and confusion, as in the Greek myth, but as a way to get energy, meaning and empowerment placed at the center of every employee’s experience. Pandora-like, though, the changes Dawn wants to see can spark fear and disruption–fears which she discusses frankly and openly, and which she also so brilliantly encapsulated in a recent landmark HBR piece. We also hear about her fresh thinking on people analytics, data, and the employee-manager relationship, as well as practical tips on making Hybrid start working in your environment. To us—and, we think, by the end of this 56-plus minutes—Dawn’s work here is a great example of HR is really for: to help us all be the best humans we can be. Worth your time.
If there’s one word that sums up this week’s episode, it’s conscious listening. Yes, that’s two. But it’s actually the on-ramp to the real word we mean, and which is fast emerging as the theme of this Season 5 of Workplace Stories as it evolves: intentionality. That’s because our guest–RJ Milnor, Global Head of People Analytics and Chief People Data Officer at Uber–says it was conscious listening and thinking by he and his team about the WHY of his company was asking people to work for them, as opposed to where, that helped him craft a working Hybrid Work policy that works. Which, of course, is also another way of describing being intentional about RTO. We love RJ’s deep-thinking approach to these big questions–his commitment to listening to the people he’s trying to help, his rigor around tools and data, his willingness to experiment and flex. And we think you will too–plus get some clues about how to start the road to unlocking the Hybrid Work puzzle box from today. Hint: get conscious listening… and then get intentional.
This week’s guest is Michael Arena, who brings the unique perspective of leading talent development and management for not just major New Economy global brands like Amazon Web Services, but also stalwart Old Economy blue chips like General Motors and Bank of America. Along the way, he’s also done serious research and training in network analysis and the power of social science to truly understand what’s happening with today’s corporations. That combination of frontline management and crisis response and a lens for viewing all our recent challenges in people practices, gives him, we’d argue, the right to be heard on what he thinks is really happening out there for both individuals (and especially a voice often left out of the Future of Work conversation, the leader) and teams as we progress through what he jokes is both, Dickens-wise, ‘the best and the worst’ times to be in work right now. If you’re still sceptical, a few minutes on his evidence of bridging and bonding social capital and its impact on the Hybrid Workspace we’re seeing evolve around us will change your mind: and we say that as Data ‘Til I Die! converts. Social capital is a tool, we predict, that you’ll soon be using as much as Michael is in his new role in Connected Commons.
In February last year, this week’s guest, Phil Rhodes, Head of Learning & Leadership Development at WM–which you may now better as Waste Management, and who are the very helpful people who handled your garbage all the way through Lockdown—was not long in post when his suggestion of a coaching program was met with the observation, ‘Phil, trash companies don’t do coaching.’ Well, maybe they should all start, as the first rollout got a 96% approval rating with either ‘life-changing’ or ‘valuable’ level ratings. And as you’ll discover on this episode, mentoring and coaching, at multiple levels, for both truck driver and regional manager, emerged as a transformational tool for the company. Was it just a way to get through the pandemic, or perhaps the key way Hybrid can be made to land for everyone? We’ll make you listen to the episode to get the answer—but you’ll not hate us for that, as along the way you’ll get so much great insight on everything from the history of Southern Africa to new ways of thinking about effective frontline worker support. Warning: no, they didn’t train new folks how to drive the big vehicles online. At least… tune in to find out more!
In this, our final episode for the Adventures in Hybrid Work Season, we end strong with a great sit-down with people analytics innovator and Head of Talent Analytics & Transformation at Panasonic USA, Lydia Wu. It’s the right last conversation for now on this important topic, we think, as Lydia gives us so much frontline reporting on the key issues we’ve identified in our conversations, like the importance of data and really listening to what your workforce actually wants in terms of return to office instead of what you think they want, which we’ve heard from others—but also topics we maybe didn’t get so much on, like the importance of the DEIB factor in Hybrid, and what we should be doing for managers in all this, not just the main employee base. The fact that Panasonic—which really isn’t just ‘the microwave people’—has such a wide spread of job roles, both desked and deskless, is also really important to think about. It all matters—and as Dani says in the episode, maybe it’s time to stop saying ‘Hybrid Work,’ because now it’s all now just… what Work is?
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The Skills Odyssey II
The world is STILL atwitter with the skills conversation—one that started before the pandemic, but was undoubtedly accelerated by it. Orgs are more interested than ever in understanding what skills their employees have, which skills they need, and how those skills can deliver results.
In our last podcast season, Skills Odyssey, we spoke with several leaders who had already jumped into the skills fray with both feet. The level of optimism surrounding skills and the strategies these orgs are adopting, left us both surprised and thrilled.
So in Skills Odyssey II, we plan to continue this journey of exploration. We’ll be talking to leaders in employee development, performance, people analytics, and DEIB who have adapted a skills mindset and have begun to implement changes based on it. We’ll learn why they’ve embarked, how they’re starting, and what they hope to accomplish, and the successes they’ve been having. More importantly, we’ll dive into the challenges they’ve faced along the way and seek practical, tried-and-tested ways to overcome those challenges. Have you been working on a Skills strategy for your own org? Come, learn with us.
Well… we’re still not home. The fabled Ithaca of Skills nirvana is still somewhere in the distance. This journey we’re on—this Skills Odyssey—continues. But we still are getting help on the voyage from Dani, Stacia and Chris Pirie from The Learning Futures Group, who are going to share another set of conversations with metaphorical sailors, explorers and other mythical characters also trying to work out how to avoid the workplace Sirens, tired Cyclops ideas and unhelpful Circe tech that might not help us. This week, dive in yourself to get set up with what the trio of plucky HR and workplace practice thinkers see as the main themes of this, our second look at all things Skills as sponsored (again! Thank you!) by our friends as Visier and Degreed. We also get a catch-up on how RedThread as a business is building capability and acquiring momentum, as well as reflections on previous ‘Workplace Stories’ seasons. Delightfully, we also get some terrific business and life development book recommendations from all three. It’ll be nice to have some reading matter down here below deck.
“We really just almost assume that, self-evidently, Skills matter–and then went to try to build a Skills library. It is only then that we start to think… what for?” Talk for any length of time with this week’s ‘Skills Odyssey II’ guest, Sun Life’s Robert (Rob) Carlyle, and these kind of zingers just keep on coming through… along with solid thinking about why doing anything with Skills that isn’t ‘wholesale’ (think, ‘big’) and at scale is a waste of everyone’s time, why it really doesn’t matter if you want to say ‘competency’ versus ‘Skill,’ and many others. You get all this in this week’s in-depth conversation with a real Skills practitioner striving at enterprise level, as well as, heck, a book report on Homer as Tarantino and what the Odyssey actually can teach us all about careers and acquiring knowledge. Don’t say we never spoil you.
This week, it’s all about numbers, scale, and achievement. In terms of numbers, how about a Skills-based, AI-enhanced framework that is keeping 250,000 employees happy and appropriately paid? And which saves the company an estimated $100m per year, money avoided by avoiding expensive churn and not paying beyond market rate—even for scare capability? And as for the achievement, the spotlight in this episode is on Anshul Sheopuri, Vice President & CTO, Data & AI At ‘IBM Workforce,’ Big Blue’s immense global HR function, where he’s led the work on using Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and lots of data to improve hiring, compensation and even DEIB policies across the company. So important is this idea of ‘Skills-for-pay’ and ‘Skills as currency’ that he sees it as a ‘silver thread’ unifying people processes and practices… which of course we soon correct to a ‘red thread’! We’ve been looking to meet with Anshul for a long while, and we’re glad we hung on in there, as this is an excellent conversation with a true subject matter expert who’s using tech to really make a bunch of positive change for his colleagues. A really interesting piece of best practice you could start looking at right away is using employee digital footprint to see what their Skills really are. Sadly, Stacia never got the AI help with tonight’s dinner she thought she’d get, but hey—you can’t have it all.
We came off this recording session thinking, Have we just literally seen the future of work? A world where how Skills has become the core to everything, and instead of performance management, we do performance enablement? And where the employee is the one that triggers the conversation, and salary is never just based on what I did last year but for the future of what I can do for you? And where the very praxis of making stuff is not about one company’s team coming together, but many actors and partners and even ‘employees,’ but in a very different sense of what that means now? You can tell we’re feeling it; you might even say we’ve been drinking some of the heady wines Odysseus plied the monstrous Cyclops with to enable he and his companions to escape its clutches. But like proper Greek heroes, we never let these spirits overpower us. Instead, we want to focus on the insights and best practice of what today’s guest, Guillermo Miranda, Digital Transformation Executive and CLO at Boeing, tells us about the future. A future that he and his team are building right now… and which, charmingly, perfectly, and hard-nosed business fittingly, involves cake decorators. We always knew we needed them: boy, how little we knew.
Manisha Singh is a leading voice in everything from HR technology to people analytics, AI ethics to doing practical work on the future of work. And as someone who built what may well have been one of the very first ever talent marketplaces during her years at global energy equipment giant Schneider Electric, she’s also got incredible street cred for any Skills discussion. If that wasn’t enough, her years moving through the HR ranks at places like Tata and AXA would also mark her out as someone worth a conversation with… but now she’s capping all of her achievements so far with impressive work at British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology brand AstraZeneca. Where, among other things, she is quietly working away on doing her bit to design ‘a future that loves us all.’ A brilliant phrase, for sure. But what’s great about Manisha, who we’ve been wanting to compare Skills Odyssey notes with for soooo long, is that’s not just epic, Homeric poetry: she’s actually doing the steering and the navigating. Oh, and just for good measure, you’ll also hear why she thinks Skills could be the way we solve The Great Resignation. Oh yeah.
Deloitte is different. It’s different for, of course, its unique approach to solving customer problems, as well as its sheer size and scale. But in the context of a Skills Odyssey, it’s also pretty unique for having a) an ‘agency’ structure that makes it peculiarly receptive to new ways of organizing around Skills, and b) an openness to try new things. It’s also full, of course, of very smart people… we’d know, as both Stacia and Dani are alumni! But today’s guest, Chief Learning Officer of Deloitte’s US operation, Eric Dingler, isn’t interested in the past. In fact, he’s pretty critical about what Deloitte (and the rest of us in L&D) didn’t get right historically (“a talent/career model-level role hasn’t allowed us to be as agile as we need to be and enable our organization to be as agile”) around career development. Instead, he’s very, very much about the future. In our discussion, you’ll see that for yourself as we cover a wide range of topics, from what it’s like to be in the CLO cockpit for a 145,000 person end of a half million-strong people organization, the central importance of agility as the lens Deloitte wants to see things through going forward, the role of data and analytics—even how he knows what L&D does really can touch so many people, making a better world for us all. We’re really glad we spoke to this fellow Skills Odyssey voyager; we suspect you will be, too.
Something’s happened to this week’s guest, Meredith Wellard. And it’s actually something quite wonderful; you can hear it in her voice, animating and energizing her. It’s a mix of excitement at possibility–and almost relief that a lot of checks she’s been trying to cash all her years in HR, L&D and talent management can finally be honored. Her secret? It’s the immediate impact on her organization, Deutsche Post DHL Group (she’s an Australian living and working in Bonn, Germany), she’s getting from a new machine learning and data analytics-powered approach to Skills. She and her team—as you’ll learn over the sound of Homer’s ‘wine-dark sea’ and your oars ,as you race ahead on this leg of our almost-concluded Skills Odyssey—have used that tech to create a unique career marketplace. You’ll soon know why she wants to call it that instead of a ‘Skills’ one) that will eventually be the friendly, automated, and incredibly well-informed training and new job (or even new career path) digital assistant for all of its half million global workforce. No wonder she’s inspired: and we think you soon will be as well.
In the Ancient Greece of Homeric times and mores, the concept of gifting, or gift-friendship, ξενία (‘xenia’) was central. Assuming your fellow Greeks would observe xenia allowed you to travel in the hope you’d be good for food and shelter for the night from strangers on your Odyssey; in exchange, travelers would leave a parting gift in thanks. At many points in The Odyssey, we see xenia in action, like when Eumaeus the Swineherd shows it to the disguised Odysseus, noting guests always come under the protection of Zeus. Well, we’ve reached the end of our own Skills Odyssey here, and so we thought it appropriate to give you, our fellow travellers, some xenia back: and it’s in the delightful shape of this bonus episode with our great final conversation with a CLO making experiments and achieving early results with a new approach to Skills, GE Healthcare’s very honest and informed David Sperl. It’s a conversation that covers his use of machine learning and analytics—again, underlining how key these practices are now in serious HR—as well as how dealing with challenges like replacing a zoo of older HR IT with one new global replacement just as is his division is being divested by its parent. He does a great job sharing learnings and best practice; it’s a bit of xenia in its own right—as Dani says in the episode, “That’s one of the things that I really like about HR: if once you solve the problem, you can share that with other people, because it’s going to work different in their organizations anyway.” And as she goes on to say, in this Odyssey we’ve seen tons of people being very honest and transparent with us about what they’re doing—which is xenia all of us can treasure. Please also note we have yet another gift to close the Season, though, which you will hear about right at the beginning. Now it’s time to head back to shore–but we’ll be back very soon with more things to inform, help and challenge you.
Degreed is the upskilling platform that connects learning to opportunities. We integrate everything people use to learn and build their careers—skill insights, LMSs, courses, videos, articles, and projects—and match everyone to growth opportunities that fit their unique skills, roles, and goals.
Visier is the recognized leader in people analytics and workforce planning. With Visier, organizations can answer questions that shape business strategy, provide the impetus for taking action, and drive better business outcomes through workforce optimization. Visier has 11,000 customers in 75 countries, including enterprises like Adobe, BASF, Electronic Arts, McKesson, Uber, and more.
The Skills Odyssey
The world is atwitter with the skills conversation, one that was started before, but accelerated by, the pandemic. Organizations are more interested than ever in understanding what skills their employees have, which skills they need, and how those skills can help deliver results.
Organizations we speak with about skills generally fall into 2 buckets: either they’re paralyzed and unsure how to even begin, or they have jumped in with both feet and are figuring it out as they go. This season focuses on the latter group.
We called this season the Skills Odyssey because the skills journey isn’t dissimilar to that of Odysseus; there is a lot of wandering, some perils, and some tests, but the trip is worth it, and ultimately leads somewhere worthwhile.
In this season, we’ll be talking to leaders in employee development, performance, people analytics, and DEIB who are just starting the skills journey. We explore why they’ve embarked, how they’re starting, and what they hope to accomplish.
Find out the approaches they’re taking the challenges they’re encountering, and the success, or potential success, they are having.
For ten tough years, the king of Ithaca tried to find his way back home from the war–and along the way, he had quite a few obstacles to face down. The good news is he got there in the end: and in a similar way, we think many HR practitioners out there also feel they are on a long journey, full of perils and set-backs and detours, but driven by a similar mission to get ‘home,’ when it comes to really making Skills a tractable thing for their organization’s own ‘Odyssey’ into the future. Hence the driving design principle for this, our third season of Workplace Stories, and the second dive we’ve taken into the wine-dark sea of Skills: that we can help our fellow voyagers by sharing the stories of adventurers, explorers and ambitious navigators just a few leagues ahead of us all in the water. To set sail, in this boat-side chat between Red Thread’s chief petty officers Stacia and Dani and our faithful Ship’s Carpenter Chris, we dip our figurative oars in the Mediterranean and set some possible destinations. Listen, at least Odysseus’ faithful dog Argos recognized him, even if no-one else did, when he finally got home; we are sure there’s a great pooch ready to jump on your lap when you make it, too. And her name’s Success.
Is today’s guest the epitome of a people analytics scholar practitioner? Well, let’s do the math: relevant PhD? Check. Six years figuring out how to interest Silicon Valley engineers to come work for an industrial firm by drawing up a whole new company-wide Skills matrix that actually reflected what needed to be done? Check. And working in academic contexts persuading quants that while data and machine learning are great, it’s those human skills that will actually help them most—as well as (and how awesome is this!), working out how to use data to build a more just world? Check! We’re so happy to finally get self-styled People Data Enthusiast Heather Whiteman on the show, now she’s at last fully unpacked in her new Seattle base (we tried for the first Skills season): and it was for sure worth the wait, as we get not just detail on practical ways to make Skills frameworks deliver, but also the message that people analytics aren’t to predict the future—they’re to change it. Monkey psychology’s loss definitely our gain, then.
In L&D, we talk a lot about creating the conditions for learning: isn’t that kind of definitional about what we do? Well, maybe we need to tear up the rule book and start thinking a bit harder about what that means in a much more digital, much more automating, much more diverse, and much more unstable world than maybe we all got comfortable with. That’s certainly our read on what Vidya Krishnan, one of RedThread’s favorite learning thinkers and practitioners, is doing over at Scandinavian telco giant Ericsson. And, you’ll be relieved to learn, while Skills is absolutely the key she’s using to unlock some big doors there, marked things like ‘Future’ and ‘Becoming Your Own Career CEO,’ and data the rocket fuel, she says, maybe like you do, that it’s a journey she’s on… maybe, indeed, an Odyssey. But it’s one we can all start, she reassures us in this, one of our best conversations for a long time. Oh, one last thing: you might be wanting pizza near the end. Don’t worry, you can tell the boss it’s for Skills research.
Today’s guest, Mike Groesser, is not just a VP at his employer, Fidelity Investments. He’s also something called a Learning Squad Leader—terminology that may clue at least some of you that we’re dealing with an organization that’s embraced Agile pretty hard. But this isn’t a conversation about that interesting development methodology. It’s actually one (with many rewarding twists and turns) more about the main topic of the Season: Skills—and more specifically, what it looks like when you decide to pay its people more if they can prove they’ve built them, what that looks like at ground level, and most intriguingly, if they build in a non-linear fashion or not. Mike’s an excellent guest, deeply passionate but also very honest about what he’s seeing; definitely one for both the Skills thinker and the Skills practitioner. So: you.
Setting up this week’s conversation, Dani promises that this one’s a “must-listen for anyone who’s trying to figure out how to make Skills work in their organization.” Bold claim? Not when you realize we’re talking about what a 200,000 person, multi-billion-dollar financial services leader is trying to do with Skills both operationally–and with the help of tech from HR system market leaders like Degreed and Workday. That’s the project as far as our guest, Christopher Funk, Senior Vice President – Talent and Performance Management Platforms over at Citi, is concerned, for sure. It’s a very honest, very detailed, and very open conversation from someone already a way across the seas of The Skills Odyssey; we invite you guys to decide if all that really does make it a “must-listen.” As Dani also says, we’ve all been in too many conversations where 45 minutes is spent arguing over if Skills are a skill or a competency or a capability or a trait or a characteristic; Mike’s got a useful answer for that one, too. So overall, we’re pretty sure Mike cashes the check.
“How you are able, as an organization, to reconfigure resources like Skills and have the ability to allocate the right talents in your organization at the right time– I think it’s also a competitive advantage.” So says our guest this week, Patrick Coolen, Global Head of People Analytics, HR intelligence & Organizational Design, and we don’t think many people would disagree with him. But how to allocate? Based in Amsterdam, Patrick is leading the charge on Skills at ABN AMRO, a large Dutch-headquartered bank, to do just that—make Skills a competitive resource for his enterprise—so he has some ideas and experience to share on what he and his team see as the answer. The result is one of our most interesting traveller’s tales so far on the Skills Odyssey, encompassing everything from pragmatics on how to start with people analytics, the usefulness of Emsi data, a good deal of Dutch common sense and a rather beguiling metaphor on, er, soup. Trust us: you’re going to go with it!
A lot of people we talk to are hesitant about starting their Skills Odyssey. They’ve got a good reason: they feel there’s just too much ocean out there between them and getting to the good place of Ithaca/success. But if you don’t start somewhere, you won’t get anywhere, so you kind of have to dive in. That’s the view, at least, from our guest today, Tim Dickinson, Global Head of Learning Systems & Innovation at European life sciences firm Novartis, a global healthcare company based in Switzerland that provides solutions to address the evolving needs of patients worldwide—and which, fascinatingly, has made ‘Curiosity’ a core corporate value. A key clue on how to do that jumping: decide if you want to focus on ‘Skills’ in general or the ones the organization sees as critical right now. As Tim says himself, his job is all about improving learning and improve knowledge sharing through technology, and then driving that knowledge-sharing and Skills-building throughout the organization. Don’t know about you, but that sounds like a job we’d really want: and we think you do, too.
Degreed is the upskilling platform that connects learning to opportunities. We integrate everything people use to learn and build their careers—skill insights, LMSs, courses, videos, articles, and projects—and match everyone to growth opportunities that fit their unique skills, roles, and goals.
Visier is the recognized leader in people analytics and workforce planning. With Visier, organizations can answer questions that shape business strategy, provide the impetus for taking action, and drive better business outcomes through workforce optimization. Visier has 11,000 customers in 75 countries, including enterprises like Adobe, BASF, Electronic Arts, McKesson, Uber, and more.
While diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) have long been important topics, the social justice movements of the summer of 2020 catapulted this topic to the top of board and CEO agendas. Organizations are realizing that hiring a Chief Diversity Officer is only the beginning of addressing DEIB; they also need to make meaningful, systemic change.
Research tells us that the most effective way to drive change is through an integrated approach to DEIB – where a DEIB lens is applied to all aspects of talent practices. Leaders ahead of the game are looking at how to integrate DEIB and talent management, learning, leadership development, people analytics and more.
In this season, we talk to thinkers, academics, and practitioners who are at the intersection of DEIB and other talent practices. Specifically, we speak with experts working on integrating DEIB in:
- Talent management
- Learning and skills
- Leadership development and careers
- People analytics
Some of the questions we’ll focus on include:
- How are talent leaders in different functions collaborating with DEIB leaders to drive change?
- What new practices are leaders using to make their workplaces more inclusive?
- How are organizations measuring and monitoring their progress and what results are they seeing?
- How might this focus on DEIB better prepare organizations for the future?
Are we kidding ourselves when it comes to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB)? There’s been a LOT of talk about it, after all: is it being matched by any real action? Is the action that’s happening even being driven by leadership, or is it somehow something we’re getting ground-level folks to do, kind of for free, along with everything else we need off them in the COVID crisis? Are there any numbers, what do they tell us—and are they any good? What does DEIB success look like… and what can I do to move the needle here? These are good, maybe even critical questions, for society in 2021. But we don’t know the answers—which is why we’re inviting you to come along with us on a journey to find them together. Welcome to Season 2 of ‘Workplace Stories’ from RedThread Research, which we have entitled, with some optimism, perhaps, ‘Integrating Inclusion:’ a series of conversations on this core HR and HR tech issue. And like Season 1, along the way we think we’re going to be hearing maybe just one or two stories from people on the DEIB front line that will inspire, inform and energize you, too, including from amazing guests like PTC’s Hallie Bregman and S&P Global’s Rachel Fichter. Because DEIB really is everyone’s problem—and everyone’s job.
We love data, and we think it needs to be at the heart of all HR, especially in DEIB. But like this week’s guest, global talent strategy and analytics leader Hallie Bregman, we also know that data really only comes alive if it is part of a narrative. “I’m not going to give you data,” Hallie tells her colleagues at major Boston-based IT firm, PTC. “I am totally driven by data, I eat, sleep and breathe it all day long. But I’m going to tell you a story, and then I’m going to help you build a strategy around that story.” Such a smart way to put it—and this is one smart lady with so much to say that’s useful about DEIB, people analytics, ONA, NLP and so much more. We knew Hallie would be a hugely important contributor to this first official episode of the new Season of ‘Workplace Stories;’ hope you agree—and find a way to use her insights to make your own DEIB ‘story’ a success too.
Are there three sets of people in Inclusion: the folks doing the ground-level work on DEIB, maybe the researchers way off in the academic stratosphere, and then the people actually affected by these issues on a day-to-day level in the workplace? If so, could we simplify this and remove a layer? If you think that’s a good idea, then listen today to someone who is doing all she can to fuse the first two roles there—Rachel Fichter, a PhD who also works for a Wall St financial analytics firm, S&P Global… but who sees herself in a fascinating new kind of role in HR and analytics: DEIB scholar-practitioner, helping her firm Integrate Inclusion while also diving into the literature on Belonging in the Columbia U stacks. So: quite a woman. And quite a DEIB thinker. You’re going to like this Workplace Story.
Sometimes you feel you’re in the eye of the hurricane: so much is happening in terms of our wider society in terms of changing expectations, changing ways of working, changing life choices. Add the potentially explosive compound called ‘Diversity’ into all this, and it can start to feel a little hot in here. But, advises this week’s special guest and DEIB and L&D expert practitioner Jesse Jackson, CLO for JPMorgan Chase with a special focus on the Wall St’s giant’s consumer community banking business: when it comes to getting DEIB right, it’s not heat you want: it’s light. This is a really fascinating chance to find out from a person deep in the midst of all the changes we’re talking about, but also deep in a blue-chip financial services firm that always has to see things in terms of achievable ROI. We’ll let you decide if you agree that’s what Jesse’s achieving: us, we’re hunkering down in the place where it’s always the most interesting… that hurricane’s eye. Because that’s where change happens.
What if the ways you’re trying to measure the ground-level impact of all your DEIB work in your workplace environment are incomplete? That’s the possibly concerning warning from academic and author Professor Rob Cross–our guest this week, and the co-author this Summer of what we believe to be a highly important intervention that flags the importance of ONA, organizational network analysis, for any serious attempt to understand what the team feels and does day-to-day. But we got a lot more from our dialog than that, insightful as it was. We also hear some interesting findings about the growing strain on us all from the natural human desire to be helpful, which Rob warns translates into insane workloads. We must do something about this and design our work better to accommodate it, he believes, as collaboration is addictive, something we need to acknowledge—as well as figure out how the people, of all backgrounds, who are thriving are negotiating our new world of microstresses and DEIB opportunity. Heady stuff: you’re going to want to turn off Twitter for this one.
What’s it feel like when your identity is all about promoting Belonging and a global pandemic comes along that for a time completely wipes out your market, forcing you to lay off hundreds of valued colleagues? Perhaps more importantly: how do you navigate that crisis in a way that’s faithful to your purpose and DEIB commitments? The answer we hear today: with some vulnerability, authenticity, courage, transparency, compassion, empathy—and a dash of curiosity. Welcome to the world of Airbnb’s Director of Learning, Kate Shaw, who shares with us some fascinating insights into how DEIB’s being made to not just work but thrive at her company. Kate’s one of our favorite people, and we think she’ll soon be yours, too: after all, she’s someone fully dedicated to a mission of making work better for everybody. And if that isn’t what you need to make Belonging work… what would?
“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 it’s in fact from our awesome guest this week, Phil Willburn, Vice President, People Analytics, at HR tech firm Workday. But Phil also believes, as you’ll hear in this fascinating three-way 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.
This series on Skills is being sponsored by Workday. A special thanks to them!
Today the world is changing faster than ever. Meet changing business needs with Workday; it’s one agile system that enables you to grow and engage a more inclusive workforce. Workday is a finance, HR, and planning system for a changing world.
The Skills Obsession
It seems like everywhere we look, people are talking about skills. Upskilling. Reskilling. Skill gaps. Skills data. In short, there seems to be a skills obsession.
In this podcast season, we talked to thinkers, writers, leaders, and practitioners about the current state of thinking on why and how we are managing skills at the people and organizational level. We specifically cover topics such as:
- What are organizations’ overall purpose in focusing on skills, both now and in the future? What are they actually doing, and what is their aspiration?
- How are organizations identifying, quantifying, and communicating about skills?
- How are employees being involved in the identification, validation, and upkeep of skills? To what extent do employees “own” skills?
- What are the different roles of technology in understanding, quantifying, and maintaining skills?
“What I introduce [my students] to are the kinds of skills that allow them to navigate ambiguity.” If that seems like urgently-needed capability you or your team to have you’re in luck, as you’re about to find out a whole lot more about why you’d need such a thing… and why you won’t find it, alas, in today’s conventional curriculum (including corporate L&D). In the first full episode of our new RedThread podcast—our deep dive into what we’re calling capitalism’s focus on ‘The Skills Obsession’—we meet passionate educator, innovator and bestselling author Lisa Kay Solomon. Designer in Residence at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (‘the d.school’) at Stanford University, Lisa presents in her dialog with Stacia, Dani and Chris something of a masterclass in what thinking about the future actually needs to consist of—and how that feeds into her conviction that, “learning is the currency of possibility.”
“When software releases went from Microsoft releasing once every other year to releasing 16 times a week, you know, like all that started to happen; our ability to keep up with the world around us really started to decline.” Whatever else he is (and he is many good things), Guild Education’s Matthew Daniel is genuinely passionate about skills. Scrub that: he’s agonized about them—and he’s even more agonized about the trouble we’re storing up for ourselves as a society around them. As we find out in our hour together, he fears we’re wasting a lot of time and missing a lot of opportunity chasing the wrong metrics about them, ignoring vast swathes of the ones our workforces (especially our frontline teams) have. But his agony does lead to positivity, and we think you’ll agree with him when he says the original purpose that got so many of us into L&D will help us win through.
Dr Madhura Chakrabarti is one of our favorite HR thinkers and doers, so we jumped at the chance to hear of the genuinely pioneering work she’s doing for the 29,000 people who work for her employer Syngenta, a leading Swiss-headquartered science-based agtech company that helps millions of farmers round the world grow safe and nutritious food, while taking care of the planet. Despite COVID, in early December Madhura and her small L&D team launched an innovative cross-company skills framework supported by a new learning platform implementation. This episode is a great chance to hear about the real practical challenges of creating such a framework and how hard it can be to find the right partner to help, as well as the importance of people analytics in general: you’re really going to hear from the HR data and skills coal face here. Making this experience even better: Madhura’s charm, professionalism and fierce intellect. Truly, some great Workplace Stories this week!
“I think that in the future, what will be really necessary in terms of skills are people that talk different languages of skills… talking different languages of different skill sets will be something really, really important.” Why is it significant that become more expert seems so fused with speaking restricted languages? And what does it mean to have ‘intentionality’ about skills? How do you start to really understand the skills needs of an organization you join in COVID? This week, these and many other thorny but critical issues get exposed via our debate with long-time friend and highly accomplished CLO and talent leader Nuno Gonçalves, who is now starting to do at global confectionary, food and pet care giant Mars what he did at European life sciences player UCB: implement a cross-company, future-focused skills strategy. It’s an excellent conversation with a truly passionate learning ninja who’s thought deeply about these problems; we think you’re going to love it.
For some reason, we don’t listen enough to what our peers in the non-profit world can tell us about skills. But when a practitioner there says something like, “We see anybody joining us as an empty vessel: a bit like in Men in Black, someone wipes your brain out at Reception, you come through and then we up-skill you. That means we forget you come with a commodity of a vast array of skills; that’s why we hired you, that’s why you’re supporting us—all of those things that we so much want, but we don’t have a way of actually capturing that and supporting that as a network,” we think a lot of ears will prick up in corporate L&D! If you agree, check out this deep dive into everything from skills frameworks (their seductions and their perils) to credentialling with Satnam Sagoo. Satnam works at British Red Cross, where she’s accountable for developing and delivering the organization’s learning and organisation development strategy—creating an L&D offer that meets the need of all 5,000 permanent staff but also what can be at times of crisis 100,000 temporary and external volunteers. Is this the most heart-felt of all our looks at The Skills Obsession? We’ll leave you to judge—it certainly moved (and inspired) all of us.
“I think we have to help organizations get out of the way and let people unleash and unlock their capabilities in ways that does not require the organization to be at the center.” Sounds pretty optimistic? No surprise as whatever else he is, our guest this week, Greg Pryor, is an optimist—and we are too, given the power of the examples and the strength of the conviction he gave us in this hour of debate over the future of HR. Greg, People & Performance Evangelist at Workday, a tech firm that is shaking up the world of enterprise software and which we’re grateful to have as sponsor of this whole Workplace Stories first season, shares many fascinating insights into what he sees as a totally new age for human capital management that the pandemic has tipped us all into. These cover the gamut from bleeding-edge academic research on the future of work to the life lessons kids are teaching their parents out of playing Fortnite, and keep Stacia and fellow interviewer Chris engaged and often delighted. It’s a great conversation: use it to level up your thinking about skills. We certainly did.
Truism 1: McDonald’s employs a lot of people. Truism 2: it doesn’t care that much about those people, so long as they flip the burgers OK, right? That second one is totally wrong, as we find out in our great conversation with the giant company’s former CLO, the very engaging Rob Lauber. In fact, with its pioneering Archways Program, thousands of entry-level staff get amazing on-the-job training, but also money and support for up-skilling—upskilling that the corporation is perfectly OK with them using to move on, often to full-time education or valuable social careers like healthcare. Even more interesting: for every $1 put in the Archways Program, McDonald’s directly benefits $3 back. Skills and what they mean (including some refreshing scepticism from Rob about what the robots really will take off us) has been Rob’s own ‘obsession’ over a storied career, so tune in for more on running training at mass scale—including some fascinating advise on what CLOs can do now, today, in terms of available company data. It’s enough to make you hungry.
What actually happens when your boss tells you one day he’d like you to teach a few people new digital skills… say, 25 million or so? You’re going to find out this week, because that really did happen to our great guest, Microsoft Global General Manager, Talent and Learning Experiences and Workforce of the Future Karen Kocher, who is leading the huge-scale Microsoft-LinkedIn global Skills Initiative. But important as that large-scale L&D experiment is, it’s far from all Karen wanted to talk to us about; think of the Skills program as an appetiser for a Learning and Skills banquet that includes life/career and pay advise, as well as useful notes on credentialing and what transitioning to a ‘learn-it-all’ culture entails at company street level. Quite a woman. Quite a conversation. And quite a Workplace Story.
This series on Skills is being sponsored by Workday. A special thanks to them!
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 re-skill your workforce. Workday is a financial, HR and planning system for a changing world.
Back in August 2019, the Business Roundtable—an association of chief executive officers of America’s leading companies—said that the Purpose of American business was no longer to maximise shareholder value but to instead promote an economy that ‘serves all Americans.’
“CEOs work to generate profits and return value to shareholders, but the best-run companies do more,” stated one Roundtable member, Tricia Griffith, President and CEO of Progressive Corporation. “They put the customer first and invest in their employees and communities. In the end, it’s the most promising way to build long-term value.”
A lot has happened since then, as we all know, but multiple events over the first few months of lockdown seems to bear out the idea that Purpose really has become front of mind for many corporations right now.
So we decided to find out more—and in this special new Season on the podcast, that’s what we’ll be doing: answering (if we can) the key question, Is Purpose Working?
Back in August 2019, the Business Roundtable—an association of chief executive officers of America’s leading companies—said that the Purpose of American business was no longer to maximise shareholder value but to instead promote an economy that ‘serves all Americans.’ “CEOs work to generate profits and return value to shareholders, but the best-run companies do more,” stated one Roundtable member, Tricia Griffith, President and CEO of Progressive Corporation. “They put the customer first and invest in their employees and communities. In the end, it’s the most promising way to build long-term value.” A lot’s happened since then, as we all know, but multiple events over the first few months of Lockdown seems to bear out the idea that Purpose really has become front of mind for many corporations right now. So we decided to find out more—and in this special new Season on the podcast, that’s what we’ll be doing: answering (if we can) the key question, Is Purpose Working? We’re joined on our journey by the super-smart ladies of RedThread Research, who have kicked off an in-depth, on-going probe into Purpose in parallel to our show. And even better, we’re being supported by a great ed tech firm equally interested in finding out an answer, too—NovoEd. Global enterprises rely on its collaborative online learning platform to build high-value capabilities that result in real impact, with its customers working to deliver powerful, engaging learning that activates deep skill development, from leadership to design thinking and digital transformation, as well as driving measurable business outcomes. It’s also well worth knowing that the Season culminates in a live online gated experience where I will be debate all the Learnings from the Season with RedThread, and you will be able to debate with us the implications and ask your questions and get your comments heard. Secure your free place at that today, over at www.novoed.com/purpose… then listen in to this scene setter, where I and Lead ‘Threadhead’ Stacia Sherman Garr set some goals and identify core Purpose topics, such as: why ‘Why we do what we do’ seems to be the best definition of Purpose we’ve found
why ‘cause’ isn’t the same as Purpose; why HR needs to get more involved when it comes to Purpose; some hints on some of the amazing writers, thinkers, venture capitalists and stakeholders coming on the Season; why are people coming together to work? the need to look at all the axes Purpose affects—leadership, people and systems; a new concept: the stake-giver; a quick progress report on RedThread’s ongoing Purpose research exercise; what Purpose in a Pandemic looks like; and much more.
In 2013, Big Four consulting firm Ernst & Young, a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and consulting services, rebranded as ‘EY.’ What maybe few of us picked up on at the time was that part of that rebrand made an explicit Purpose statement front and center: ‘Building a better working world.’ But in this, our latest ‘Is Purpose Working?’ season in collaboration with RedThread Research sponsored by edtech leader NovoEd, that was actually a hugely important internal cultural shift and pivot for the company: “By everyone knowing our purpose statement, it creates a golden thread–so no matter where you are in the world, what culture you have, whether you’re a new employee or a tenured employee, what service line you’re in and what work you do you come to work to do every day, we are all connected by the fact that we are all building a better working world.” Join us, then, for a deep-dive into why this global service leader adopted Purpose and how it’s helping, as well as the critical role it sees L&D in that pivot, framed as a key role in helping people become performers, colleagues, leaders—and people. Helping us understand are two excellent speakers, Tal Goldhamer, Partner and Chief Learning Officer – Americas, EY, and his colleague Jeff Stier, EY Americas Consulting Purpose & Vision Realized Leader. As ever, our investigation is aided and sharpened up by the participation of RedThread, this time Stacia flying solo: and it’s a genuinely fascinating and at times moving and personal exploration, featuring a 6th Century CE Anglo-Saxon poem, as well as: EY’s in the unique position to bring the power of a large firm to support our people on their personal journey of discovering their individual talent that they develop for themselves, their teams, their clients, their communities, and for the world; details of how EY individuals have found Purpose through internal, L&D-led, Purpose programs; an intriguing new concept in our Purpose journey—the idea of nested Purpose; why the guys believe that personal purpose and personal vision and organizational purpose are part of what gives daily meaning to the work that you do daily; how, if you want to be an organization that claims to be purpose- and vision-led, you need to be led by leaders who themselves are purpose- and vision-led—which means developing a platform and program around personal purpose and vision; and so much more.
Purpose has become more and more a key concept for modern organizations: type ‘Purpose in American business’ into Google, and you’ll get 1,740,000,000 responses, for example. But how real is it? Is it the same as CSR, or giving corporate money to a good cause? And, crucially, what’s its connection—if any—to L&D? On this special new Season on the podcast, we’re attempting to answer these and other questions about Purpose under the rubric, ‘Is Purpose Working?’ As you may know by now, we’re doing this with the help of RedThread Research and with the welcome support of an ed tech firm equally interested in finding out an answer, too—NovoEd, a developer of a collaborative online learning platform that builds high-value capabilities that result in real impact. In this second conversation in our researches, I am delighted to be joined by RedThread principal analyst Stacia Garr. Stacia proves invaluable in us both teasing out insight from someone who just might be the foremost expert on the science of purpose and fulfillment at work: consultant, VC, social entrepreneur and Seattle-based Purpose influencer Aaron Hurst. In 2014, his book ‘The Purpose Economy’ brought widespread attention to the concept of Purpose and its importance for our lives today (for me especially). Now CEO and co-founder of Imperative, a platform that connects and supports employees as peer career coaches, Aaron describes how his new venture enables video-based peer coaching conversations across organizations that drive mindset and behavior changes that increase leadership abilities, productivity, and fulfillment. It’s work that caps his famous stint as the founder of pro bono volunteer channel The Taproot Foundation, which connects talented people with non-profits—and, we hear, connects him and one of the other people on the podcast! Finally, a reminder that all this ‘Is Purpose Working?’ work is set to peak in a live, online gated experience where Dani, Stacia and I will debate all the Learnings from Season 7 that have come through, with inputs including today’s great discussion with Aaron. Be assured you will also be able to debate with us and get your question asked—but to get your questions in nice and early, lock-in your free place at the webinar over at the special NovoEd microsite supporting the project, www.novoed.com/purpose. Now let’s go, and be sure to stick around for a quick three-way debate on what Aaron told us at the end. So now, let’s hear from someone you might style the Father of Purpose, debating such key milestones of his career and thinking as: how he ended up in Seattle after ‘something of a nomadic career;’ why the non-profit world he started working in frustrated him—and what he did about it; why Taproot was just a vitamin, not real nutrition; why he wrote ‘The Purpose Economy’ and how he’s convinced we’re in a whole new economic era fuelled by ‘meaning;’ what last year’s Business Roundtable commitment to Purpose did for a lot of CEOs; and much more.
Wall St might not be the most obvious place to find a company with Purpose. But when we meet someone like today’s Season 7 ‘Is Purpose Working?’ podcast guest, and they say things like, “If purpose is an articulation of the reason for existence, we end up articulating something we were already living,” then—maybe we’re in the right place after all. Meet Dr Rachel Fichter, once a professional cellist and educator who now spends her days helping colleagues accelerate progress in the world by providing intelligence essential for companies, governments and individuals to “make decisions with conviction”… in other words—live out the company Purpose statement. The company in question she’s doing all this at is the world’s leading provider of credit ratings S&P Global, where she’s the 22,000-strong company’s Global Head of Talent and Leadership. What’s really interesting is that her company is also helping its customers better orient to a Purpose perspective, by creating environmental social and governance information products that help investors better evaluate companies around important metrics like climate change to social justice, as well as help clients understand where it stands with respect to those increasingly critical KPIs. On the podcast, Rachel tells RedThread Research’s Stacia Sherman Garr and I all about her journey to such a position, and why Purpose could matter for a global financial data and analytics company like S&P. So, a definite important contribution today to us gathering the inputs to try and answer our question of, ‘Is Purpose Working?’ Like me, if you’re interested in how questions around how talent management, leadership development, executive coaching, organizational development, culture, and workplace Learning factor into the Purpose discussion, then you’re definitely going to want to hear Rachel’s thoughts. Finally, another reminder that all this ‘Is Purpose Working?’ work is set to peak in a live, online gated experience where Dani, Stacia and I will debate all the Learnings from Season 7 that have come through, with inputs including today’s great discussion with Rachel. There, you will be able to get your question about anything she or our other Season 7 guests have raised—but to get your questions in nice and early, lock-in your free place at the webinar over at the special NovoEd microsite supporting the project, www.novoed.com/purpose. You good? Great—so now, let’s hear from Rachel explain how you go from the New England Conservatory to the heart of American finance, why L&D is deliberately decentralized at S&P Global, as well as: why we need to stop saying ‘talent’ (hint: is that all we value in this person?); how S&P has adopted a consciously ‘Agile’ approach to delivery these past couple of years; reimagining the performance experience and what that looks like; the importance of the 2019 Business Round Table Purpose statement to S&P’s new focus on Purpose; why there are still Purpose challenges and trade-offs; why, if Learning is now everyone’s responsibility, so is Purpose; why everything she does is like interpreting a musical composition; and much more.
As we dig deeper into answering our question ‘Is Purpose Working?’ we find that while Purpose is a very new concept for many, having a conscious organizational Purpose has been BAU for some corporations for decades. This week we meet one, which had it written down in 1960, and which specifically states that the company’s”first and foremost priority” is to contribute to human welfare. The company in question is $30bn, Ireland and Minnesota-headquartered Medtronic, the world’s largest medical technology company and creator of the world’s first battery-operated pacemaker. And we also learn how, 60 years after being defined, it’s a Purpose statement that continues to serve as an ethical framework and inspirational goal for all 90,000-plus employees around the world. Explaining all this for us is the company’s Vice President, Global Learning and Leadership, Jeff Orlando. Based in Philadelphia, Jeff explains just how new he is in post—he joined the very week the company had to move into Lockdown, in March—but also how quickly he’s become part of the Medtronic family. With the help of RedThread Research, we find out just how-with those guys actually leading the debate with Jeff this time, and me joining in with a discussion at the end (well, actually the beginning this time, to keep things fresh)! As you’re about to hear, for me, and for Dani and Stacia, what makes Medtronic’s conscious sense of Purpose even more interesting than its heritage and on-going affirmation (something we get into big time in the conversation) is that it’s marked by ritual. In 1974, the company introduced a special in-house “mission and medallion ceremony” that’s now held many times a year at facilities all over the world; an employee gets to receive the medallion as a reminder of the honor and responsibility they have in fulfilling our mission. Acting as a deliberately symbolic way of bringing new employees together behind the company’s defined common purpose, could rituals like this be something other CEOs pursuing Purpose be looking at doing too? Should your Purpose statement really act like the Constitution for you over time? It’s a fascinating question—and one bound to come up, I predict, at the special ‘Is Purpose Working?’ webinar early in 2021, our live, online gated experience where we will debate all the Learnings from Season 7 that have come through, with inputs including today’s great discussion with Jeff. Make sure you can ask your question about Purpose and ceremony by locking-in today your free place at the webinar at the special NovoEd microsite supporting the project, www.novoed.com/purpose. So: all set? Great—so let’s hear about Jeff starting with our our executive summary of the conversation and how Purpose is brought up to make hard decisions, how you can’t ‘fake it’ and why Purpose isn’t just in pockets across the company, which as well as: a shared podcast participant history (Deloitte); how he sees L&D’s contribution is creating organisational capability to win in the market; how companies with a defined Purpose seem to have so much passion about it; the idea all employees are really only ever ‘stewards’ of the Mission (the Medtronic Purpose); how L&D has an important place in creating the space and time for the ceremonies that can anchor your Purpose work; how Medtronic’s HR accepts the Mission is its Mission, too—but it still needs to help the company meet immediate targets; and much more.
Ask today’s guest, Dan Pontefract, about his current mission and he’ll tell you, “If we want Purpose to happen, maybe we need to take a look at our thinking”—and that, “We’re not here to see through each other, we’re here to see each other through.” Sounds like we need his input into our work trying to answer our defining question for Season 7 of ‘Is Purpose Working?’ Agreed—and we do just that in today’s episode, but then we do even more: in the first of a two-half Purpose podcast, we then have a mid-Season discussion which I’ll tell you about in a second. Now, back to Dan: based in Canada (Victoria, British Columbia) Dan is a leadership strategist, author, keynote speaker and trusted advisor. After a successful career including as ‘Chief Envisioner’ and Chief Learning Officer at TELUS, a $14bn Canadian telecommunications company where he (among other things) set up a special internal TELUS MBA, a role he took on after senior roles at major tech firms such as SAP, Business Objects and BCIT, Dan then founded The Pontefract Group, which is all about building bridges between life and work. Writing for Forbes and Harvard Business Review, he’s also an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria Gustavson School of Business, and has published four books (with a fifth on the way!). And as you’re going to hear, Purpose is very much at the heart of all his recent work and thinking; he says he helps organizations and leaders become better versions of themselves, plus offers consulting to help organisations get more “collaborative, productive, engaged and purpose-driven”. We flesh this out a little bit, and also find out how: why Purpose needs to be more than ‘values on the wall’ but a working, operating behaviour guide; his idea that there are three kinds of Purpose—personal, role and organisational; why he’s convinced there’s a direct link between EBITDA and Purpose; is it the employer’s responsibility or not to help the employee find their Purpose? why Purpose is much more a realistic business deliverable after COVID than it was in 2015; and much more.
Then, as noted, we pivot after the conversation with Dan to conduct a special three-way (Dani, Stacia and I) review of some recent key developments with regard to Purpose and what’s going on out there in a fast-moving COVID world right now. Before we deep dive into all that, just a reminder that, in early 2021, the issues Dan but also all our other awesome guests will get discussed in the second half over all nine episodes of the Season will have a full Level 1 Diagnostic in a special live, online gated experience where we will debate all the Learnings and problems with Purpose we’ve uncovered. Make sure you file a question if you have one real early by locking-in your free place at the webinar. How can I do that, I hear you say? So easy it’s almost insulting to a smart person like you, I answer! Just zip on over to the special NovoEd microsite supporting the project, www.novoed.com/purpose (and thanks once again to those guys for sponsoring all this work). All set? Cool—so get ready for a quick debate between me and the smart RedThread Research ladies on what we took from talking to Dan like the many levels of Purpose beyond organisational and why they need to align and his sharp linking of Purpose and Empathy, as well as external developments such as: how talk of Purpose is everywhere right now—including for the President-Elect—but will it stand the test of Time? a year on from the famous Business Roundtable statement, what’s actually happening in the real world, Purpose-wise? a critique of the September KKS Advisors Purpose audit and its methodology; where we are with possible metrics to help… if we even need them; and much more.
Near the end of today’s episode our guest tells us that, “My Purpose is to bring hope to every employee of Johnson & Johnson.” We have no doubt at all he means it—and what makes this even more interesting is that he’s working in an $85 billion enterprise that many see as being one of he very first American brands to publicly commit to Purpose. The company is, of course, Johnson & Johnson, a brand founded in 1886 that develops medical devices, pharmaceutical, and consumer packaged goods, and the individual we’re speaking to about Purpose is its Global Head of Talent Development, Clint Kofford. Today, we’re going to delve into what Clint means by his statement—as well as how Johnson & Johnson’s Purpose statement, its famous Credo, feeds into what he and all of its other 135,000 team members do every day. As you may know the Credo, written in 1932, lays out how, among other things, it is “responsible to our employees who work with us throughout the world” and that managers must always strive to “provide an inclusive work environment where each person must be considered as an individual”—but just as importantly, “When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return.” Amazing stuff for 1932; still pretty cool—which is why we knew J&J had to be a big part of Season 7, where we’re working with the smart gals at RedThread Research to understand Purpose in modern American business… and why Clint is convinced the Credo’s more than just a moral compass, but a recipe for business success. And we do, I think, but really through a great dialog with him, not from a line-by-line analysis of any Purpose statement. A senior HR, talent, and leadership development professional with a strong track record of delivering high impact change initiatives, developing talent, and elevating executive capability across a variety of industries and business life-cycles, Clint discusses his career highlights, which include time at Nike and Mars, what led him to living in North Central New Jersey, as well as: his day to day role leading of Johnson & Johnson’s management and leadership development work; what the mechanism is for doing that at the company, the Human Performance Institute, and its roots in sports psychology, and how the Institute is now the new internal J&J ‘brand;’ Purpose and L&D and how new personalised career paths are starting to energise the team; how, as a Learning professional, he’s doing what every Learning professional wants—harness the unique talents of everyone in the organisation to bring out the best ; how he thinks Purpose the glue that holds Talent together—but how internal paradigms may need to shift around the status of non-full time employees first; and much more.
Celia Berenguer. since November 2017 Chief Learning Officer at European-headquarterted Life Sciences giant Sanofi, couldn’t have been more excited getting ready to press the ‘Go’ button a new Sanofi University. Then, as we hear on this latest episode in our on-going Season 7 look at Purpose in the modern enterprise, a certain novel coronavirus decided to mess with her plans. This is a story, then, about not just how she and her L&D team had to help flip the company to remote working, but what to do about that whole corporate Learning endeavor. Celia—a graduate of Tufts who’s held senior Learning roles in organisations including Barclays, BP, and the Harvard Business School—tells me and this week’s co-interviewer, RedThread Research’s Dani Johnson, not just how she won through, but how a renewed Sanofi focus on Purpose driven by its new CEO, Paul Hudson, helped her work through many of her most difficult issues. A way we decide to understand all this is that COVID’s been a way to help L&D see that what it needs to offer is access to skills and support for talent mobility that makes sense for the individual, the company’s and their own Purpose of ‘Empowering Life:’ Purpose, perhaps, as more bottom-up than top-down, compared to other companies we’ve profiled in our exploration of ‘Is Purpose Working?’ Expect to hear a lot of honest reflection on the first steps of an amazing journey, then, as well as all the countries you need to live in to end up with that accent, the fun and challenge of working with 140 nationalities working hard on everything from general medicines to consumer healthcare to vaccine creation, as well as: how she’s seen the Pandemic throw out the talent rulebook and end standard career pathways; how Learning at Sanofi has a new focus, aligned to getting products out there to help patients; the contribution to making Purpose explicit by her new CEO; why she sees L&D as the source of all the support mechanisms and development tools that can bring that Purpose to life for people; democratising Learning and sharing Learning in a crisis; and so much more.
Does Purpose help the bottom line? It’s a fair question, surely—maybe, ultimately, the best question we can really ask ourselves in business as the idea of a move away from purely shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism takes off. And while we do need to ask CEOs of Purpose-driven companies that question, perhaps the ideal community to seek a hard-nosed answer here is the VC (venture capitalist) world, for whom the conditio sine qua non of an investment has to be that it will pay back, at multiples. Luckily for us on Season 7 and all our now fast-interlocking conversations on our central question of ‘Is Purpose Working?’ is that today, we have the definitive answer: yes—in fact, it’s actually only the companies that have Purpose that end up with strong cultures and stronger outcomes. There’s a lot to take in to see why our guest, Deborah Quazzo, Managing Partner at GSV Ventures, an early stage venture capital fund investing in education and workforce technology entrepreneurs, is so convinced of that fact, but we hope we have intrigued you enough to listen in to see her logic and proof… but it’s also just such a pleasure to listen to the fusion of a deeply ethical mindset and razor-sharp thinking Deborah brings to her job. Just one example among many: her rhetorical question about why she does what she does: Is it more fun to go call on a company making breakfast cereal, or on a company that’s really trying to change people’s lives meaningfully? Deborah and her team have been active for many years disrupting the $6 trillion education technology sector, having helped amazing names like ClassDojo, Degreed, and RaiseMe, among many others, get out of the lab. Equally important to her, as you’re about to hear, is her work on the annual ASU GSV Summit: now in its 11th year, the Summit celebrates innovations and innovators across the global “preK to Gray” learning and talent landscape and this COVID, virtual year attracted a quite staggering 33,000 online attendees. So tune in now to hear how this predominantly Chicago-based ed tech sector investment ninja has been putting ‘Purpose’ as one of the ‘5 Ps’ a startup has to have before she even looks at them. Before we get started, two callouts are needed: one, to our on-going Season 7 partners, Dani and Stacia over at Purpose-driven HR advisory group RedThread Research, and most especially to our Season sponsors, ed tech luminaries NovoEd, who are just as keen as we are to find an answer to ‘Is Purpose Working?’ Don’t forget that in early 2021, the issues Deborah raises today will be under the microscope in our planned special live, online gated experience, where we will debate all the Learnings from Season 7. If you doubt that Purpose is good for capitalism, then make sure you can get in your two cents about it by locking-in your free place at the webinar. How can I do that, Chris? I hear you say. It’s easy: click on over to the special NovoEd microsite supporting the project, www.novoed.com/purpose. All done? Great—so let’s hear about VC money, Purpose, diversity and what a VC does, as well as: how Deborah sees a coming together of all parts of Education and workplace training; the emergence of knowledge as a ‘currency’; why what GSV does is not the same as what an impact fund tries to do; that significant 2019 Business Round Table statement… are we actually seeing enough action by companies? How Learning is starting (at last?) to be seen as an important weapon by corporate leaders to improve overall outcomes; her conviction that exponential growth in an ed tech company will come not just through great technology, but through diverse teams; what inspired her to get into the ed tech area; and much more.
First there was IDEO, an award-winning global design firm that decided to take a human-centered, design-based approach to help organisations innovate and grow; you may or may not have encountered its unique approach if you’ve ever interacted with the Stanford d.school. And then, in 2014, along came IDEO U (University), an online school promising to equip learners with the skills, mindsets, and tools to help us stay relevant and adaptive in our modern world. Just on its own, IDEO U would so be worth us looking at it as an example of successful online L&D, as it’s served over 50,000 learners in 100 countries, spawning a community connecting over 200,000 change makers bringing increased creativity, innovation, and modern leadership into their work. But we know that driving principle at IDEO is Design Thinking, which its chair Tim Brown says we should see as “a human-centered approach to innovation” that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success… so what is the connection, if any, between Design Thinking and Purpose? What role does Purpose play in what Suzanne’s been trying to do this past bumpy year of COVID as Managing Partner of that part of IDEO? Given that the organization specifically offers a Power of Purpose course (“A clear purpose guides people through change and motivates them to lead from wherever they are”), we knew we needed to know more. So this week, in one of our final (but not final final!) episodes in our ‘Is Purpose Working?’ Odyssey we meet the latter’s Founder and Dean, Suzanne Gibbs Howard to try and find out. Her work at IDEO U caps a pretty amazing (she’ll tell more of a “crooked path:” we think you’ll disagree) personal and professional journey that involved Anthropology and associated field work, as well as a dip into divinity school, usability and lengthy spells in China and Africa. We learn about that, as well as: why she ended up in that beautiful city by the Bay called San Francisco; how IDEO interprets Purpose—as a way of helping align people toward what’s next for them; how our common tough 2020 brought Purpose to the surface for many people struggling to “keep pushing forward;” the role of Learning as a way to spark the engagement that’s the necessary precursor to successful, Purpose-driven engagement; why L&D needs to be a lot more than “just MOOCs and talking heads” from now on; and so much more.
This series on Purpose is being sponsored by NovoEd. A special thanks to them!
Global enterprises rely on its collaborative online learning platform to build high-value capabilities that result in real impact, with its customers working to deliver powerful, engaging learning that activates deep skill development, from leadership to design thinking and digital transformation, as well as driving measurable business outcomes.