Performance Management: Evolving Unevenly for the Hybrid Work

Posted on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022 at 6:00 AM    

We reviewed more than 20 recent academic, business, and news articles and reports on performance management (PM) to understand the state of the current conversation. We limited our review to the past 12 months, as we conducted a literature review on this same topic last year.

This short article summarizes what we found:

  • 4 major themes from the literature
  • 5 critical articles we think you should explore
  • A complete list of the articles we reviewed

Major Themes

From the literature we reviewed, we identified 4 major themes that reflect the current state of performance management, including how some organizations are changing it and where it is headed:

  1. Performance management is starting to look more like performance development
  2. Connections are becoming integral to performance management
  3. Continuous performance management is here to stay
  4. Organizations are unsure about how to move ahead

Performance management is starting to look more like performance development

Recent literature highlights the need for organizations to adjust their performance management (PM) practices to help individuals and teams perform effectively in a remote or hybrid environment. One approach suggested in the literature is to make career growth and development an integral part of PM. Recent findings reveal that growth and advancement opportunities are a leading cause of ongoing attrition. For example, McKinsey & Company found that employees leave when uncaring leaders don’t provide career development.

Another approach suggested in the literature is to provide clarity around organizational goals and ensure alignment through transparency and access to information. By being clear about desired outcomes, organizations can make sure employees are setting appropriate and achievable goals.

Connection is becoming integral to performance management

Recent literature, including our own, shows that the connection between the manager and employee has emerged as a critical factor for enabling performance in a hybrid work world. The role of manager-employee relationships in motivating and engaging employees has been highlighted by many in the past.

We also found articles that talk about the role of connections that employees have with their colleagues, leaders, and the organization in driving collaboration and, thus, enabling performance in a remote or hybrid work environment. The literature stresses the need for organizations to be intentional about fostering these connections, for example, by implementing performance management practices that encourage relationship-building.

Continuous performance management is here to stay

The pandemic accelerated the trend toward adopting a continuous approach to PM. We identified articles that shared examples of companies that eliminated or suspended the annual performance review and started conducting frequent check-ins and providing real-time feedback once they shifted to remote work.

The literature stresses the importance of communicating and providing development resources to employees in real time in a hybrid work environment, because of its positive impact on employee engagement. It also helps managers gain greater insight into their employees’ work and better meet their needs. Continuous feedback and employee check-ins are an integral part of this approach.

Organizations are unsure about how to move ahead

Quite a few articles covered companies returning to or updating practices around performance ratings and annual reviews to identify low-performers and areas of low productivity—practices that had been paused or replaced with frequent check-ins during the pandemic. In these cases, the practices are in addition to (rather than replace) the frequent check-ins and feedback practices adopted during the pandemic.

One explanation for the re-adoption of these practices is rising inflation and slow growth in some industries, resulting in the need to freeze hiring, cut the workforce, and reduce costs. As some companies double down on productivity and cost-cutting measures, it remains to be seen whether the frequent feedback and check-in process set during the pandemic will stay in the mix.

5 articles you should explore

From the literature we reviewed, 5 articles (listed below) in particular represent the 4 themes above and contain valuable and intriguing information.

Network effects: How to rebuild social capital and improve corporate performance

Taylor Lauricella, John Parsons, Bill Schaninger, and Brooke Weddle

“When teams feel connected, they tend to get more work done and do it faster… Social capital matters to an organization’s performance.”

This article highlights the vital role connections play in employee productivity and knowledge gain. Based on data collected in early 2022, the study shines light on the state of social capital, how it declined during the pandemic, and how companies can build it back.

Performance management shouldn’t kill collaboration

Heidi K. Gardner and Ivan Matviak

“Giving equal weight to financial outcomes and development underscores the importance of learning and growth.”

This article highlights the importance of cross-silo collaboration for employee performance and development, especially in sales organizations, and how current PM practices discourage it. The authors describe the common mistakes that undermine collaboration and provide steps companies can take to counter them.

How to conduct a great performance review

Frank V. Cespedes

“The biggest impact from performance conversations is often what happens after the review. Too often, nothing happens: The review is an isolated annual event and therefore has little real impact.”

This article is timely and informative, especially as some companies begin re-adopting annual and bi-annual performance reviews. It walks through the do’s and don’t’s of an effective review, highlighting the need to accompany it with ongoing feedback on progress towards goals and coaching for professional growth and development.

Why Organizations Are Adopting Continuous Performance Management

Lars Hyland

“The annual appraisal still plays an important role in the performance management process. It’s just not the only process anymore.”

This article explains continuous performance management and why it is important for organizations to adopt it. It then shows how companies can get it right and some the ways to incorporate it into the talent strategy.

Dump traditional reviews to better measure performance

Amy Leschke-Kahle

“It may be hard to imagine abandoning decades of tradition and big investments in old-fashioned performance reviews, but the world of work has changed. How we measure employee performance needs to keep up with the lightning-fast speed of change.”

This article examines how traditional ways of reviewing performance fail, as they often focus on whether an employee was able to meet their annual goals and are based on infrequent feedback and meetings. Instead, the author suggests organizations move towards measuring performance by collecting frequent quantitative performance data.

Wrap up

The current literature covers many emerging trends and provides information on how companies are adapting their PM practices. However, we found it lacks insights into the specific practices that impact employee performance in a hybrid work environment and how organizations can start to adopt them.

Complete List of Reviewed Articles

  1. How to Conduct a Great Performance Review”, Frank V. Cespedes, Harvard Business Review, 2022.
  2. Performance management outlook 2023: The shift towards performance enablement”, Mohamed Ameen, Talent Management, 2022.
  3. 6 ways to ensure your team achieves corporate goals”, Andrew Kenney, FM Magazine, 2022.
  4. Performance Management Shouldn’t Kill Collaboration”, Heidi K. Gardner and Ivan Matviak, Harvard Business Review, 2022.
  5. Mark Zuckerberg braces Meta employees for ‘intense period’”, Alex Heath and David Pierce, The Verge, 2022.
  6. Proof versus potential: Why women must work harder to move up”, Katie Bishop, BBC, 2022.
  7. Women Aren’t Promoted Because Managers Underestimate Their Potential”, Kelly Shue, Yale Insights, 2021.
  8. Why it may be time to ditch annual performance reviews”, Arden Madsen, Fast Company, 2022.
  9. The Importance Of Performance Management”, Arijana Koskarova, Forbes, 2022.
  10. Performance reviews aren't dead – they just need a shakeup”, Amanda Woodard, HRD, 2022.
  11. Dump Traditional Reviews to Better Measure Performance”, Amy Leschke-Kahle, MIT Sloan Management Review, 2022.
  12. Gone for now, or gone for good? How to play the new talent game and win back workers, Aaron De Smet, Bonnie Dowling, Marino Mugayar-Baldocchi, and Bill Schaninger, McKinsey, 2022.
  13. Goldman Sachs is bringing back its infamous performance reviews, but experts say it’s a poor management strategy: ‘Exemplary leaders are not going to give up on low performers’”, Aman Kidwai, Fortune, 2022.
  14. Google CEO tells employees productivity and focus must improve, launches ‘Simplicity Sprint’ to gather employee feedback on efficiency”, Jennifer Elias, CNBC, 2022.
  15. Network effects: How to rebuild social capital and improve corporate performance, Taylor Lauricella, John Parsons, Bill Schaninger, and Brooke Weddle, McKinsey, 2022.
  16. Performance Development in a Remote or Hybrid Workplace”, MIT Human Resource, 2022.
  17. Redesigning performance management for a hybrid workplace”, Kat Boogaard, Culture Amp, 2022.
  18. 6 Ways to Make Performance Reviews More Fair”, Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio, Harvard Business Review, 2022.
  19. The Great Attrition is making hiring harder. Are you searching the right talent pools?, Aaron De Smet, Bonnie Dowling, Bryan Hancock, and Bill Schaninger, McKinsey, 2022.
  20. The three C’s of effective performance management”, Ian White, People Matters, 2022.
  21. Top Three Trends In Performance Management In 2022”, Jessica Kriegel, Forbes, 2022.
  22. Five Lessons In Building A Hybrid Workplace For The Future Of Work”, Jeanne Meister, Forbes, 2022.
  23. Why Organizations Are Adopting Continuous Performance Management”, Lars Hyland, Training Industry, 2021.

5 Themes in the Literature on Connection at Work

Posted on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022 at 4:56 AM    

Many organizations are experiencing a connection crisis spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. As ways of working changed in the course of the pandemic, employees lost connection with one another and their organizations. Employees and organizations recognize that's not a good thing: Loss of connection has consequences for employee engagement and well-being as well as organizational performance.

That's why we're researching connection in the workplace. We want to know how organizations can foster connections that will help them thrive.

As part of this research, we reviewed over 50 academic and business articles, reports, and books. We wanted to understand the state of the current conversation so that our research can contribute as helpfully and thoughtfully as possible. This short article summarizes what we found, including

  • 5 major themes from the literature
  • 5 critical articles we think you should explore
  • A complete list of the articles we reviewed

Major themes

5 themes emerged from the literature on connection at work. Each is discussed below, with links to articles that support the overarching theme.

Connection is a big deal

The literature we looked at generally agreed that connection is important for employees and organizations alike. A few striking data points to support this finding:

  • Employee recognition firm O.C. Tanner reported that weekly one-to-one meetings with managers during uncertain times (like the COVID-19 pandemic) lead to a 54% increase in engagement, a 31% increase in productivity, a 15% decrease in burnout, and a 16% decrease in depression among employees.
  • WorkHuman’s research associated connection with a greater sense of purpose, more collaboration, and decreased turnover intention.
  • McKinsey & Company found that employees who feel more connected with colleagues are 1.5x more likely to report both engagement and a sense of belonging at work.
  • According to BetterUp’s 2022 Insights Report, highly connected employees experience 34% higher goal attainment, a 36% boost in well-being, and 92% more professional growth.

These stats give color and detail to the overall sense we got from the literature, which was: connection is associated with things like more innovation and creativity, a culture of inclusion and belonging, higher employee engagement, less burnout, lower turnover intention, and higher productivity. The literature agrees that connection is good for employees, and it’s good for business.

Loss of connection isn’t just a pandemic problem—but the pandemic made it worse

Even before the pandemic started, there was a body of literature reporting an increase in disconnection and loneliness at work and assessing its consequences. Back in 2019, Karyn Twaronite and the EY Belonging Barometer team found that 40% of people felt isolated at work. In early 2020, Cigna reported that 62% of US workers could be considered lonely, at an estimated cost to the US economy of over $406 billion a year. And just before the pandemic began, researchers Hadley and Mortensen revealed that 76% of workers said they had difficulty connecting with their teammates, and 58% agreed with the statement “My social relationships are superficial at work.”

As with many other areas of work, the pandemic accelerated an existing trend: It made the connection crisis much worse. The literature points out 2 primary reasons for this accelerated loss of connection:

  • As employees adjusted to the pandemic, they “turtled up,” as researchers King and Kovacs put it. That is, employees maintained and even strengthened ties with close colleagues, while letting their weaker connections to acquaintances wither.
  • Lost connections weren’t replaced by new ones. It’s natural for some connections to fade over time. But the pandemic didn’t allow them to be replaced as they normally would be.

As a result of these lost connections, one study by Buffer found, 52% of people feel less connected to their coworkers since shifting to remote work.

Connection isn’t just one-to-one

Heading into this lit review, we expected the literature to cover interpersonal (one-to-one) relationships more heavily than other types of connection. That’s not what we found. The literature covered a wide range of types of connection, including:

  • One-to-one: Relationships between 2 people
  • One-to-many: Relationships between 1 person and a group of people
  • One-to-organization: An employee’s sense that they belong in the organization and that they’re part of a community
  • One-to-work: An employee’s sense of connection to, and meaning in, their own work
  • Team-to-team: The relationships between teams in an organization

We were particularly intrigued by the explicit links made in the literature between connection, purpose, community, and belonging. For example, the Center for Equity, Gender & Leadership at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business emphasized that fostering different types of connection can strengthen employees’ sense of belonging and inclusion. McKinsey & Company’s Great Attrition research linked connection to employees’ sense that they’re part of a community. And researchers Blount and Leinwand noted that to accomplish their purpose, organizations must foster silo-breaking connections. Other articles also mentioned that alignment between individual and organizational purpose can strengthen employees’ sense of connection to the organization.

Strengthening connection is everyone’s responsibility

The literature contains a mix of advice for senior leaders, managers, HR leaders, and individual employees. Our interpretation of this mix is that the literature is telling us that everyone in an organization plays a part in, or has a responsibility for, building connection in different ways.

Many articles claimed that fostering connection is one of a manager’s or leader’s primary responsibilities, with motivational speaker John Hall emphasizing that building connections should be at the top of any leader’s priority list. Other articles proposed ways for HR leaders to implement systems and processes to enable connection. A blog by Lumapps, for example, advised HR leaders to create peer mentorship programs, set up communities of practice, and host regular social events.

A smaller, though still noticeable, number of articles were primarily directed at individuals. These articles dispensed advice on networking and forging one-to-one or one-to-many connections, since these connections are within an individual employee’s locus of control.

Connection must be strengthened intentionally

The literature emphasized that, particularly in a hybrid work setting, connections are not going to strengthen themselves. Several articles noted that leaders, managers, and employees must thoughtfully and intentionally put in place processes and systems to foster meaningful (not superficial) relationships.

For example, one article by writer Gwen Moran suggested that organizations start building connection at employee onboarding. A few mentioned the importance of documentation and communication—consistently taking and disseminating meeting notes, sharing detailed rationales for decisions, and setting explicit norms and expectations—to connect employees to what’s going on in the organization.

A final aspect of intentionality in the literature had to do with time. Some articles noted that building meaningful relationships takes time, and many of the interactions that employees have today are transactional or superficial. These articles advised leaders and employees to set aside time to nurture deep, human connections. For example, one article by organizational psychologist Juliette Holt-Lunstad argued that employers need to go beyond simply increasing opportunities for interaction and instead take steps to foster high-quality interactions that build high-quality relationships.

5 articles you should explore

Of the literature we reviewed, several pieces stood out. Each of the articles below contains information that we found useful or intriguing. We learned from their perspectives and encourage you to do the same.

“Network effects: How to rebuild social capital and improve corporate performance

T. Lauricella, J. Parsons, B. Schaninger, and B. Weddle.

“It’s imperative… that business leaders manage social capital in the same way they manage financial, human, and other forms of corporate capital: systematically and intentionally.

This data-rich article advises leaders to interrogate the systems of social capital in their organization through 3 lenses: motivation, access, and ability. Are employees motivated to build and maintain relationships? Do they have access to the right relationships? And do they have the ability to build those relationships?

“What a year of WFH has done to our relationships at work

N. Baym, J. Larson, and R. Martin.

"Those who said their interactions with colleagues have decreased this year were less likely to be thriving at things that lead to innovation, like thinking strategically, collaborating or brainstorming with others, and proposing innovative ideas.”

The authors describe how interpersonal connections, especially the types of relationships enabled through chance in-person encounters in the office, were lost in the first year of the pandemic. Managers are key to helping rebuild them.

"Hybrid work: Getting leaders to stay connected with teams"

M. Arena

“As the pandemic lingered, we noticed a decrease in both bonding connections and bridging connections.”

The author explains there are 2 types of connection: bonding connections, which typically occur within a team, and bridging connections, which connect individuals across different teams. Both types of connection were lost during the pandemic, but bridging connections were particularly hard-hit.

“Two years into COVID: The state of human connection at work”


"The more recently someone has been thanked by a manager and / or peer, the greater their sense of connection to the company culture and their colleagues.”

This report offers tons of data and stats about how connection has been lost during the pandemic, and points to 4 ways to build connection: asking for feedback, communicating values, being human (demonstrating vulnerability), and saying "thank you."

“Are your team members lonely?”

N. Hadley and M. Mortensen

“Working remotely instead of face-to-face can by itself undermine social connections. But that is not the whole story, so resuming in-person work won’t fix the loneliness problem.”

This article reports results from 2 studies, one of which collected data before the pandemic began. The authors argue that face-to-face interactions (i.e., returning to pre-COVID ways of working) will not entirely solve the connection crisis. They make a case for fundamentally redesigning teams to foster meaningful connections.

Complete list of sources

Sources are listed in reverse chronological order.

  1. “Network effects: How to rebuild social capital and improve corporate performance”, Lauricella, J. Parsons, B. Schaninger, and B. Weddle, McKinsey & Company, August 2022.
  2. “22% of people don’t have any friends at work. Here’s how to change that”, Moran,, July 2022.
  3. “The 5 things Gen Z is looking for in a job and career”, Fung and A. Yum,, July 2022.
  4. “The magic of your first work friends”, Goldberg, The New York Times, July 2022.
  5. Advancing belonging in organizations: An equity fluent leadership playbook, Smith, J. Sanders, and I. Rustagi, Berkeley Haas EGAL, June 2022.
  6. Employee engagement and resignation: You need a virtual watercooler”, G. Giacomelli, com, June 2022.
  7. “How virtual work is accelerating innovation”, Berruti, G. Ho, P. Kirschner, A. Morris, S. Norman, and E. Roth, McKinsey & Company, June 2022.
  8. “Hybrid work: Getting leaders to stay connected with teams”, M. Arena, com, June 2022.
  9. “Don’t want to lose your Gen Z and millennial talent? Here’s what you can do”, Parmelee, Deloitte, May 2022.
  10. “Maintaining network connections”, Gratton, Strategy &, May 2022.
  11. “Purpose at work predicts if employees will stay or quit their jobs”, Amire,, May 2022.
  12. 6 tips for creating strong work connections in a hybrid office, according to an expert”, J. Liu, CNBC Make It, April 2022.
  13. “Do we still need teams?”, Noonan Hadley and M. Mortensen, Harvard Business Review, April 2022.
  14. “Managers can’t do it all”, Gherson and L. Gratton, Harvard Business Review, March-April 2022.
  15. “Two years into COVID: The state of human connection at work”, workhuman IQ, March 2022.
  16. “We need to talk about why so many people are lonely”, Moran,, February 2022.
  17. “14 ways to foster connection between employees”, Forbes Council Members, com, January 2022.
  18. “How leaders can build connection in a disconnected workplace”, Poswolsky, Harvard Business Review, January 2022.
  19. “The neighborhood effect: Implications of hybrid work”, Arena,, January 2022.
  20. Connectable: How leaders can move teams from isolated to all in, Jenkins and S. Van Cohen, McGraw Hill, 2022.
  21. Rewired: Protecting your brain in the digital age, D. Marci, Harvard University Press, 2022.
  22. The connection crisis: Why community matters in the new world of work”, BetterUp Insights Report 2022.
  23. “2022 state of Remote Work”, Buffer, 2022.
  24. Rise of the relatable organization, Mercer Global Talent Trends 2022 Study, 2022.
  25. 15 tips to create meaningful relationships at work”, Sestric,, November 2021.
  26. “4 tips for being a ‘connected leader’”, Coultas,, October 2021.
  27. “‘Great attrition’ or ‘great attraction’? The choice is yours”, A. De Smet, B. Dowling, M. Mugayar-Baldocchi, and B. Schaninger, McKinsey & Company, September 2021.
  28. “Why workplace connection matters”, McClure,, Sept 2021.
  29. “How to keep remote workers from feeling disconnected”, Somers, MIT Sloan, July 2021.
  30. “The worker-employer relationship disrupted: If we’re not a family, what are we?”, Schwartz, K. Eaton, D. Mallon, Y. Van Durme, M. Mauptmann, S. Poynton, and N. Scoble-Williams, Deloitte, July 2021.
  31. “How to be a leader who connects with others”, Hall,, June 2021.
  32. “Help your employees find purpose—or watch them leave”, Dhingra, A. Samo, B. Schaninger, and M. Schrimper, McKinsey & Company, April 2021.
  33. “What a year of WFH has done to our relationships at work”, Baym, J. Larson, and R. Martin, Harvard Business Review, March 2021.
  34. "Research: We’re losing touch with our networks”, King and B. Kovacs, Harvard Business Review, February 2021.
  35. Digital body language: How to build trust and connection, no matter the distance, Dhawan, St. Martin's Press, 2021.
  36. “12 effective ways to create a more connected workplace”, Herman, Lumapps, December 2020.
  37. Are your team members lonely?”, N. Hadley and M. Mortensen, MIT Sloan Management Review, December 2020.
  38. “How the coronavirus outbreak has – and hasn’t – changed the way Americans work”, Parker, J. Menasce Horowitz, and R. Minkin, Pew Research Center, December 2020.
  39. “8 tips for leaders to increase connection in their teams (Part 3)”,-C. Ross, October 2020. “Employees need to feel connected: Leaders have to be human”, S. Taherian,, June 2020.
  40. Loneliness and its impact on the American workplace, Cigna 2020 Loneliness Index Executive Summary, March 2020.
  41. “Only 28% of employees say they feel connected to their company’s purpose”, Schroeder,, February 2020.
  42. “The Value of Belonging at Work”, W. Carr, A. Reece, G. Rosen Kellerman, and A. Robichaux, Harvard Business Review, December 2019.
  43. “Why are we here?”, Blount and P. Leinwand, Harvard Business Review, November-December 2019.
  44. “Building relationships at work: Why it matters”, Ryba, Quantum Workplace, June 2019.
  45. “The surprising power of simply asking coworkers how they’re doing”, Twaronite, Harvard Business Review, February 2019.
  46. 6 ways to increase social connection at work”, Sellwood,, July 2018.
  47. “Fostering social connection in the workplace”, Holt-Lunstad, American Journal of Health Promotion, June 2018.
  48. “A manager’s guide to helping teams face down uncertainty, burnout and perfectionism”, Fosslien, First Round Review, undated.
  49. 5 questions on the minds of hybrid managers,” Microsoft WorkLab, undated.
  50. “10 ways to connect people in your workplace”, Attfield,, undated.
  51. “5 ways to form real human connection at work”, Career Contessa, undated.
  52. “Traditional leadership is dying: Here’s what HR can do to help”,C. Tanner white paper, undated.


L&D’s Opportunity to Move beyond Diversity Training

Posted on Thursday, February 24th, 2022 at 7:52 PM    

Organizations are investing more than ever in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts. We see an opportunity for L&D functions to do the same, beyond simple diversity training. With their influence on culture and reach across the enterprise, L&D functions are well-positioned to improve the DEIB culture in their organizations.

And L&D functions want to do more on DEIB. In LinkedIn Learning’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report, 64% of L&D professionals globally and 73% in North America said DEIB programs were a priority. Our own experience tracks with this trend: RedThread community members are asking more and more about DEIB and learning.

But L&D functions seem to struggle to identify the best ways to help. That’s why we launched a research study focusing on this question:

What are the most impactful things L&D functions can do to help build a robust DEIB culture in their organizations?

To get a grasp on the current DEIB and learning conversation, we reviewed nearly 100 articles, books, podcasts, and reports. We expected, frankly, to find a lot about diversity training and not much else. And, as expected, there was a lot about diversity training. But there were more interesting ideas, too.

This short article summarizes the key ideas we found, including:

  • 4 themes from the literature
  • 1 hidden gem
  • 5 articles that caught our attention
  • 6 additional articles to check out if you have time

What we found: 4 themes from the literature

The literature has lots of ideas about DEIB and learning. These ideas fell into 4 themes:

  • L&D is tangential to the DEIB conversation
  • L&D is focused on improving diversity training
  • Developing underrepresented groups is a common DEIB strategy
  • L&D functions need to take a hard look at themselves

L&D is tangential to the DEIB conversation

In the literature we reviewed, DEIB or org psych professionals sometimes wrote about diversity training or unconscious bias programs. But not many L&D professionals ventured into the broader DEIB conversation.

Additionally, a few studies we ran across revealed that L&D functions are on the periphery of DEIB efforts. In one survey by i4cp, only 25% of respondents said L&D is “heavily tasked” with efforts to improve diversity and inclusion goals.

Many articles noted that L&D and DEIB teams often do not work together as closely or as effectively as they could. As a result, L&D functions are sometimes left out of key DEIB strategy, goal-setting, and planning decisions. These pieces argued that if L&D functions want to do more on DEIB, they need to partner better with stakeholders across the business. For example, Matthew Daniel, principal at Guild Education, wrote:

"Rather than siloing objectives onto separate teams, CLOs and CDOs can accomplish more by working together, while also measuring and tracking progress at the same time."

Other pieces echoed Daniel’s point about measuring and tracking progress. They suggested that L&D functions should know how success on DEIB is defined, tracked, and measured in their organization. Then, they said, L&D should align the learning strategy to those goals and metrics.

L&D is focused on improving diversity training

We expected to see many articles arguing that compliance-focused, event-based DEIB training doesn’t work. And there were lots of articles about diversity and unconscious bias training. To our surprise, however, these articles took the ineffectiveness of these training programs as a given. They often cited the 2016 article, “Why Diversity Programs Fail,” as proof.

There were 2 broad threads in this portion of the literature:

  • Training effectiveness: Ideas about making diversity training more effective in changing employee behavior. For example, articles mentioned using AR / VR simulations to encourage empathy and help employees practice skills.
  • Inclusivity: Suggestions for making all training (especially diversity training) more inclusive. For example, the literature suggested soliciting diverse perspectives when designing training and content.

Some articles did explore additional learning methods that might be used to develop employees’ DEIB skills. Of these, many mentioned coaching managers on being more inclusive leaders. Others discussed microlearning and “nudges” that space learning over time. But these articles did not explore ways for L&D functions to improve DEIB outside of creating learning programs.

Developing underrepresented groups is a common DEIB strategy

The literature agreed that organizations should develop individuals from underrepresented groups. As one study by McKinsey pointed out, employees in underrepresented groups report having fewer development opportunities than other employees. Several articles argued that active and intentional support of underrepresented groups could help reduce this gap.

The literature also noted that employees from underrepresented groups are more likely to use and benefit from structured programs. There were many ideas about programs that might enable these employees to develop and advance. Some of the ideas mentioned included:

  • Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
  • Work-study programs
  • Apprenticeships
  • Work assignments (e.g., international postings)
  • Rotational schemes
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Talent marketplaces (to enhance visibility and access to opportunities)
  • Intrapreneurship programs
  • Communities of practice
  • “People advisors” who provide career coaching
  • Mentoring and sponsorship
  • Coaching

In reviewing this theme, we noticed a disconnect: Many articles pushed for more development of underrepresented groups. But others noted that L&D isn’t heavily responsible for DEIB efforts (as we saw in the first theme of this review).

These threads seem contradictory. If developing underrepresented groups is so important, why isn’t L&D more central to DEIB strategies? The literature didn’t answer this question directly. But it’s interesting to note that many of the above programs aren’t traditionally L&D’s responsibility (e.g., rotations, ERGs). We think that may be the reason so many authors emphasized the need for L&D functions to partner with key stakeholders, as mentioned above.

L&D functions need to take a hard look at themselves

A few articles in the literature asked L&D functions to do some serious self-reflection. They are not the bulk of the literature—not by a long shot. But we are calling them out as a theme because they highlighted an issue with substantial DEIB implications: L&D’s own lack of diversity. These articles—especially the ones from authors Gena Cox and Katy Peters, Ave Rio, and Maria Morukian—noted that most L&D functions are majority white and majority women (except at senior levels). Most L&D professionals hold advanced degrees. That means:

White women with advanced degrees dominate L&D. At more senior levels, white men with advanced degrees do.

According to these articles, non-diverse L&D functions might find it harder to drive DEIB efforts and make employee development more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. For example, some articles noted that a lack of diversity might allow bias to creep into the ways that L&D functions tend to:

  • Define, prioritize, and measure skills, aptitude, and abilities
  • Use data to make decisions about learning
  • Decide which development opportunities to offer
  • Choose learning methods to invest in

These articles explored how the L&D function might need to change itself to address potential biases. They are a great start to a broader conversation about all the ways L&D functions can contribute to DEIB efforts in their organizations.

Hidden gem: A systems approach to DEIB and learning

We found a handful of articles that took a systemic view of how L&D functions might influence DEIB. They thought more broadly about how to make learning more equitable and inclusive, rather than just about the programs L&D functions might create.

J.D. Dillon, CEO of learning vendor Axonify, wrote:

"Restoring learning equity requires a fundamental mindset shift. Rather than relying on programs as the basic unit of learning, professionals should adopt a systems approach."

By a “systems approach,” these articles meant looking at things like accessibility and opportunity:

  • Who is offered access to development opportunities, and why?
  • How might access to development opportunities vary based on an employee’s location, access to tech, or ability to use nonworking hours for development?
  • Are learning opportunities easy for all employees to find? Are they widely and effectively marketed to all employees?

We appreciated these prompts to think about how L&D functions can ensure that all employees have equitable access to development opportunities. And we believe a systemic lens will reveal many additional ways that L&D functions can make learning more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. We plan to investigate this systemic approach in more depth as part of this research.

What caught our attention

Of the literature we reviewed, several pieces stood out to us. Each of the articles below contained information that we found helpful and / or intriguing. We learned from their perspectives and encourage you to do the same. Click on the titles to go to the full articles.

Advance DEI Using Talent Development Expertise

Ed Hasan and Ifedapo Adeleye

"The biggest opportunities for TD professionals to make a difference lie in three important but often overlooked segments: knowledge management, career and leadership development, and coaching."

This article has detailed, practical advice for L&D professionals who want to do more on DEIB, above and beyond DEIB training. It also has some great examples of what good looks like—and what good doesn’t look like.


  • Training courses are one part, but not the cornerstone, of a strong DEIB strategy.
  • L&D functions can use their knowledge management expertise to make tacit DEIB knowledge more explicit, storable, and shareable.
  • Inclusive, equitable employee development programs require DEIB and L&D staff to work together.
  • Coaching can build more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces by equipping managers with DEIB skills.

L&D’s DEI Blind Spot: Perpetuating Inequity?

Gena Cox and Katy Peters

"What if the L&D professionals who measure achievement of… skills understand the day-to-day experience of only a subset of their colleagues? What if the career progression decisions from those measurements perpetuate some of the same distorted effects that are now evident in educational assessment?"

This article examines how L&D’s potential biases and blind spots might lead to inequitable employee development. It makes a case for a proactive, systemic approach to overcoming those biases.


  • The L&D profession lacks racial and ethnic diversity, potentially leading to blind spots, biases, and inequity.
  • The way skills are currently defined, prioritized, and measured may lead to biased outcomes.
  • Overcoming L&D’s blind spots requires a systemic approach that re-examines many long-standing L&D practices, including how skills are defined and how data are used.
  • A proactive approach to addressing L&D’s blind spots will help make workplaces more inclusive.

Mapping Exclusion in the Organization

Inga Carboni, Andrew Parker, and Nan S. Langowitz

"Our research made clear that who you know is as important—often more so—than what you know when it comes to rising through the ranks."

Organizational network analysis (ONA) can reveal who knows whom. It can uncover who has access to informal networks and sources of info about development opportunities. Using ONA, L&D functions can also identify marginalized groups who can be invited for specific development.


  • One study revealed that men’s informal relationships with their male managers could explain nearly 40% of the gender pay gap.
  • Women are less likely to be at the center of the networks that matter: knowledge, innovation, and critical decision-making networks.
  • L&D functions can impact DEIB by codifying and sharing the networking strategies of people with solid and diverse networks.
  • L&D functions can use ONA to assess the effectiveness of specific diversity training and other learning programs.

L&D’s Diversity Dilemma

Ave Rio

"‘Here we are in Taiwan, in Asia, where they were doing training and learning way before the US, and the two major keynoters they got were white guys over 60 from New York,’ Masie said."

This article is packed with quotes from L&D and DEIB experts. These experts explain why L&D functions must reflect the employee population in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, background, etc.


  • The number of people of color in L&D does not reflect the communities L&D serves.
  • L&D functions are often asked to be the ambassadors of organizational culture, which is difficult if they aren’t representative of the workforce.
  • Thought leaders in L&D are often older white men, reflecting the people who pioneered the field in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • To increase diversity, L&D functions need to be intentionally inclusive about whom they highlight as thought leaders.
  • L&D’s role in DEIB must be part of a larger organizational strategy.

Getting the Most from Your Diversity Dollars

Jennifer Garcia-AlonsoMatt KrentzClaire Tracey, and Miki Tsusaka

"When asked if their company offers support for women from executives and middle managers, 72% of male respondents say yes, compared with only 54% of women."

This report helps companies identify the specific diversity and inclusion initiatives—including learning initiatives—that offer the greatest payoff for gender equity. It breaks initiatives into 4 helpful categories: Proven Measures, Hidden Gems, Baseline Measures, and Overrated Measures.


  • Proven measures are valued by women and known to be effective by leaders. For example, a proven measure related to L&D is sponsoring women at scale.
  • Hidden gems are highly effective initiatives that many organizations should pursue. For example, a hidden gem related to L&D is offering professional development for underrepresented groups.
  • Baseline measures are basic steps that all organizations should do, but that don’t have a transformative effect on women’s daily experience. For example, a baseline measure related to L&D is mentoring women.
  • Overrated measures are seemingly promising efforts that often do not lead to real cultural change. For example, an overrated measure related to L&D is one-time diversity training sessions.

Additional articles to check out

  1. "Are learning equity issues affecting your company?" J.D. Dillon, TD Magazine, 2021.
  2. Improving Workplace Culture through Evidence-Based Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Practices, S. Creary, N. Rothbard, and J. Scruggs, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, 2021.
  3. "How internal talent marketplaces can help overcome seven common DEI strategy pitfalls," M. Heiskell, D. Kearns-Manolatos, and M. Rawat, Deloitte, 2021.
  4. "Assignments are critical tools to achieve workplace gender equity," E. Macke, G. Gall Rosa, S. Gilmartin, and C. Simard, MIT Sloan Management Review, 2022.
  5. "How does your company support ‘first-generation professionals’?" M. Burwell and B. Maldonaldo, SHRM, 2022.
  6. "Providing performance feedback to support neurodiverse employees," M. Hamdani and S. Biagi, MIT Sloan Management Review, 2022.







Next-Gen Learning Methods: Literature Insights

Posted on Tuesday, September 28th, 2021 at 9:00 AM    

L&D is at a true inflection point

Learning and development (L&D) functions are finally starting to do what they’ve been talking about for so long: They’re starting to think about learning differently. For example, we’re seeing orgs move away from the ideas that learning = courses and that L&D should control all learning.1

To capture and share the best of these changes, we recently started a new research study on learning methods—part of a larger inquiry into the next generation of learning in orgs.

This new study asks: How can L&D functions choose development opportunities that help create the conditions for employees to continually grow their knowledge and skills? What are the most effective learning methods?

Before diving into roundtables and interviews to answer these questions, we first looked at what other writers and thinkers are saying. We reviewed over 60 resources (academic and business articles, reports, podcasts, webinars, and books), looking for common themes, best practices, and great examples.

When we started this project, we weren’t just looking at next-gen learning methods—we were also looking at the steps L&D was taking to infuse these methods in their orgs. This lit review addresses both aspects: the methods themselves and what L&D is doing to make the methods most effective.

What we saw

From this lit review, 5 major themes popped out—all reflecting an expanded understanding of how employee development happens in orgs (learning methods) and how L&D functions can enable that development. Here’s what we found:

  1. Courses don’t build learning cultures—people and processes do
  2. L&D functions are experimenting with different learning methods to see what works
  3. Next-gen learning embraces the value of failure
  4. Next-gen learning methods support career planning
  5. Old learning methods are experiencing newfound appreciation

Courses don’t build learning cultures—people and processes do

Many of the articles we reviewed addressed the importance of creating learning cultures. These articles emphasized how learning cultures help orgs develop resilience and agility to compete in ever-changing business environments.

Interestingly, most of these articles highlighted “nontraditional” learning methods—methods that build learning into how work happens in the org. One article stated this directly:

To nurture curiosity and learning in your employees, there’s no need to rely on your organization’s formal learning and development programs.2

Some methods these articles suggested to instill a culture of learning included:

  • 1 to 1s. Managers talking about learning goals with employees in 1 to 1s
  • Performance conversations. Building learning into performance conversations
  • Feedback. Giving constructive, continuous, and critical feedback to employees

These nontraditional methods have much more to do with connecting people and building learning into existing processes than with putting people through training courses.

L&D functions are experimenting with different learning methods to see what works

The pandemic and hybrid work accelerated the (already fast) pace of change in many orgs. To help their orgs compete, many L&D functions are finding ways to be more agile themselves (e.g., developing minimum viable products, testing new ideas quickly, making iterative changes over time).3

This agility includes frequently experimenting with and updating the learning methods and development opportunities L&D functions choose to invest in.

As one article described, when the pandemic halted most face-to-face training, top-performing companies tested a variety of other learning methods—including YouTube video clips, discussions on collaboration platforms, like Slack and Teams, and internal “gig” marketplaces—to see what could best meet employees’ and the org’s needs. The authors noted:

This is a major shift from traditional L&D frameworks, which were often quite rigid. Yet the L&D teams that responded effectively recognized the importance of reevaluating decisions and priorities as new data became available.4

Other articles discussed how L&D functions are increasingly using skills (rather than roles) to strengthen agility in their learning programs.5

Next-gen learning embraces the value of failure

Experimentation and failure get at the heart of true learning in the flow of work: They mean trying new things (not in a course or simulation but as part of our core work), examining the results, and adjusting accordingly.

Much of the literature noted that to build a culture of experimentation, orgs must help employees truly believe that failure is a good thing: It’s data to be learned from. As one author wrote, orgs that are good at experimentation adopt the mindset that:

Being wrong or running a test that doesn’t lead to meaningful product improvements is the only way you’re learning and moving closer to the right answers.6

Indeed, another article found that in academic settings, students who “productively” failed (i.e., they tried to solve problems before the key concepts were explained to them) had learning outcomes up to 3x higher than what a very good teacher could help them achieve.7

More concretely, a number of articles recommended establishing repeatable processes to facilitate experimentation. Helping employees understand how to develop testable hypotheses, collect data, and analyze results in a consistent manner were highlighted as key elements of building an effective culture of experimentation.

Next-gen learning methods support career planning

Traditionally, L&D functions could get away with providing learning that aligned incompletely (or not at all) with employees’ career goals. Often chalked up to a lack of resources, L&D functions offered the same courses and development opportunities to all employees (a “peanut butter approach” where learning was spread across the whole org evenly).

But those one-size-fits-all approaches are falling by the wayside and we are seeing an entirely new category of learning methods focused on career planning—or, at least, the use of existing career tools (such as individual development plans) to support learning.

The literature emphasizes:

  • Learning as a benefit: L&D’s critical role in attracting and retaining talent8
  • Aligning individual development plans with business objectives as well as employee learning goals9
  • A mindset of mobility: L&D will help develop employees who may later leave the org, and that’s okay10

Whereas career planning used to sit with talent management and performance management functions, we’re seeing more and more about career planning in the L&D literature because learning is such a critical piece of getting employees and orgs from where they are to where they want to go.

Old learning methods are experiencing a newfound appreciation

Much of the literature addresses learning methods that L&D functions have used for many years, including virtual learning (learning online) and collaborative learning (learning from each other).

Interestingly, these methods seem to have gained new life. COVID has forced orgs to make a shift away from a belief that “good employee development = in-person, instructor-led experiences.” By necessity, learning virtually (either with a cohort or individually) has become the de facto way to learn throughout the pandemic.

And many articles emphasize—with an undertone of surprise—that learning virtually can work pretty well. In fact, McKinsey reported in Nov 2020 that:

“A well-designed virtual program can meet or exceed the efficacy of in-person offerings."11

COVID has also accelerated the adoption of what has traditionally been called “social learning,” as social features (e.g., liking, commenting, reacting—similar to what you might see on social media) have been added to more traditional learning methods. LinkedIn Learning reported that since the beginning of the pandemic, they’ve seen huge increases in the utilization of social features.12

Hidden gems

The literature contains a number of mini case studies—examples of real orgs putting some of these ideas into practice—that we thought were worth highlighting. Here are the top 3 “hidden gems” we found.

Virtual learning during COVID

When COVID hit, a South American multinational logistics company chose not to delay the full-scale business transformation they were set to execute. Rather, they switched from the in-person training they had planned to virtual learning via videoconference. They used these 3 guiding principles to design and deliver virtual workshops:

  1. Opt for interactivity over content. Rather than “death by PowerPoint,” sessions were focused on small-group discussion and engagement.
  2. Lean into the technology. The company had never used videoconferencing before, so they highlighted the workshops as an opportunity for colleagues to meet “face to face” when previously they’d only ever spoken on the phone.
  3. Make leadership visible. The virtual format made it possible for the CEO and other senior leaders to participate in the program, when travel and logistics would normally have prevented their in-person participation.13


We loved this simple example of how to create an expertise marketplace to help employees connect with colleagues they can learn from. Learning leader Anjan Acharya and his team implemented the #TagAGuru campaign:

The ask was simple: to share a piece of knowledge and tag three colleagues they knew who were experts or “gurus” in certain areas … Those who were tagged had to do the same, continuing the movement.

Acharya promoted the movement offline in team meetings and town halls, ultimately reaching a target audience of about 1,000 employees. The initiative was hugely successful, engaging employees and surfacing best practices over the course of about 6 months.14

Strategic use of in-person training

Deloitte and KPMG both run brick-and-mortar corporate universities that largely shut down during the pandemic. Now, as in-person learning has become an option again, both orgs are thinking carefully about what learning to keep online and what to bring back in person. They are creating holistic learning experiences by using multiple learning methods, including not only instructor-led training but also readings, coaching sessions, and guided practice.

And they’re using data to inform their L&D experiments:

Collecting the right data helped discover that while many topics could be taught effectively virtually, others didn’t have the same impact without an in-person connection.

More specifically, Deloitte discovered that technical content did well online, while interpersonal skills were better taught in person.15

Articles that caught our attention

Of the literature we reviewed, several pieces stood out to us. Each of the pieces below contained information that we found useful and / or intriguing. We learned from their perspectives and encourage you to do the same. Titles are hyperlinked for easy access.

Team Learning: Why it Matters and How to Achieve It”

Marla Capozzi & Amy Edmondson

If your team cannot learn, your organization cannot learn.

This webinar suggests that team learning is ideal and achievable—and in fact, not having a team learning culture is detrimental.


  • Creating iterative cycles of action and reflection is essential to build learning teams
  • Orgs must have psychological safety for employees to leverage each other’s expertise
  • Leaders should focus on “moments that matter”—instances where they want to show up differently for their teams
  • Execution as a performance task (deadline driven) is not the same as execution as a learning task (feedback driven)

Building a Learning Culture that Drives Business Forward

Matthew Smith & Elizabeth Young McNally

Organizations that are successful at start with storytelling and role modeling by senior leaders that learning and long-term perspective are important.

This article emphasizes that learning how to learn is a skill: People can learn how to learn better. Companies should proactively and explicitly model and invest in learning to remain resilient and successful.


  • Orgs can assess their learning fitness by asking questions like:
    • How are we talking about learning?
    • How are we demonstrating we favor learning?
    • Are we spending money on learning?
    • Are we explicitly setting aside time for learning?
    • Are we creating psychological safety to facilitate employee learning?
  • Leaders should explicitly connect L&D spend to the business strategy and learning to performance management
  • Orgs should hire and train for adaptability—“adaptability is malleable”
  • Orgs should assess skills gaps by starting with those most critical to business value

Workplace Learning Report 2021: Skill Building in the New World of Work

LinkedIn Learning

Two-thirds (66%) of L&D pros globally now agree that they are focused on rebuilding and reshaping their organizations.

LinkedIn Learning’s annual workplace report is chock-full of insights and data about learning, skills, and their connection to employee engagement.


  • Gen Z is learning more than ever and focused on career growth
  • A majority of L&D pros agree that internal mobility is more of a priority now than before COVID-19
  • L&D can employ certain tactics to drive engagement in hybrid work—create relevant learning paths, get close to learners’ needs, and help learners find their purpose
  • L&D budgets are nearly back to pre-pandemic levels and 1/3 of L&D pros expect their budgets to increase

“The Practices that Set Learning Organizations Apart”

David G. Collings & John McMackin

The disruptions caused by the pandemic have shown companies how rapidly the priorities and requirements of L&D functions can change. This volatility challenges L&D teams to be responsive and agile.

This detailed article lists 7 principles that L&D functions can implement to be most effective in helping their orgs succeed.


  • Orgs that had strong L&D practices in place pre-pandemic have been better equipped for recovery than those without strong L&D practices
  • Orgs that understand the skills required for their workforce to execute their strategic priorities are leaders in their industries
  • L&D functions should shift to just-in-time, more organic learning blended into workers’ daily flow
  • Individualized learning pathways are becoming more the norm
  • L&D must help employees understand their current and future skill sets

Closing the Capability Gap in the Time of COVID-19

Jon Garcia, Garrett Maples, & Michael Park

The imperative to create more capable workforces has never been greater.

This article is based on a series of case studies from the pandemic and offers concrete examples of how orgs are not just addressing the challenges associated with remote and hybrid work, but how they are helping employees regularly acquire and apply new skills.


  • The guiding principles for sustaining behavioral change have not changed since before COVID
  • Orgs should focus on critical actions—evolving digital delivery, building new tools and approaches to engage learners, and employing new reinforcement techniques
  • Learning is complete when behavioral change is achieved
  • Remote collaboration requires technological fluency and problem-solving in tandem with content

Additional articles to check out

  1. After Covid-19: How to Rebuild Learning and Development (Interview),” N. Bonnevalle, MERIT, undated.
  2. Let Your Top Performers Move Around the Company,” K. Oakes, Harvard Business Review, 2021.
  3. Where Companies Go Wrong with Learning and Development,” S. Glaveski, Harvard Business Review, 2019.
  4. Learning and Development in Telecoms: 2020 Report, Mpirical, 2020.
  5. "Why Every Executive Should be Focusing on Culture Change Now," R. Hollister, K. Tecosky, M. Watkins, and C. Wolpert, MIT Sloan Management Review, 2021.

Performance Management (PM) During COVID-19: Literature Insights

Posted on Monday, August 30th, 2021 at 3:15 PM    

PM: A Year in Review

PM in hybrid work is no longer a copy and paste of what it was pre-pandemic.1 To get a grasp on what organizations are doing (or not doing) for PM, we looked at more than 60 academic and business articles and reports around PM for this literature review. This article summarizes:

  • 4 major themes
  • Hidden gems we found among the lit reviewed
  • 5 critical articles that caught our attention
  • 5 additional articles to check out if you have time

Major Themes

The pandemic has changed how people work. However, PM practices haven’t kept pace. The specific themes that emerged from the literature are as follows:

  • Hybrid PM requires orgs to rethink culture and bias
  • Managers need to tackle PM with empathy
  • PM tech can play a crucial role in helping teams perform
  • Orgs are approaching PM with an assortment of strategies

The following sections take a closer look at these 4 themes.

Hybrid PM requires orgs to rethink culture & bias

Leaders are worried about a lot of things in hybrid work—and culture is one of them.2 We found many articles explaining how matching an org’s in-office culture to a hybrid work environment doesn’t work: This includes PM discussions. Orgs that are aware of this have implemented frequent performance feedback discussions3 since the start of the pandemic. They’ve also matched feedback conversations to the comfort and needs of the employees.4

Historically, PM has favored people in the office more than remote workers due to proximity bias.5While this bias may have been reduced when most people worked remotely, as employers bring people back to the office, the potential for this bias to resurface increases. If, as some expect,6 majority populations return to the office for more days per week than women or underrepresented minorities, it’s likely those majority populations will reap the benefits of proximity bias. Orgs need to proactively design for and address this situation.

In addition, during the pandemic, a concept known as “the intensive margin” has become more popular: It describes caregivers who are holding the same roles—but working fewer hours, declining assignments, or deciding against a promotion or new job due to childcare demands. Several articles highlight the gap in how rewards and opportunities for groups who’ve been experiencing the intensive margin is likely to have longer-lasting effects than the pandemic itself.7 This is again something orgs have to address as they look to retain the upward mobility of women and underrepresented populations (who are more likely to experience “the intensive margin”).

Managers need to tackle PM with empathy

As we rub our eyes and try to emerge from the pandemic, one thing is certain: We’re burned out. As Adam Grant described it,

People are languishing.8

Managers are shapeshifting into empathetic supporters and burnout alert buttons for their teams, while feeling everything but prepared for that new role.9 The resurgence of empathy as a management competency is due to the blurring lines between personal and work lives. The hardships brought on by the pandemic and social injustices have forced more personal conversations: Managers have had to be examples of vulnerability, while also creating psychologically safe environments.10

PM tech can play a crucial role in helping hybrid teams perform

Withstanding the turbulence since March 2020 has meant teams needed to reform in different locations, persisting through hardships, normalizing ambiguity, and striving to perform. To enable teams in these more digital environments, orgs have:

  • Positioned PM tech to support the definition and measurement of employee performance11
  • Leveraged PM tech to give power to employees to create their own goals12

With a ton of PM tech out there, orgs should be mindful of issues such as whether the tech is removing bias, and providing further clarity and power to workers. Employee tracking doesn’t necessarily equal more productivity.13 The asynchronous nature of hybrid work highlights the “how” work gets done as being less important than the “what” gets accomplished.

Orgs are approaching PM with an assortment of strategies

It’s a mixed bag when it comes to what orgs have been doing with PM during the pandemic as reflected in Figure 1 below:14

Figure 1: Organizations' Approach to Formal Performance Reviews During the Pandemic | Source: Gartner, 2020

Many orgs:

  • Redefined high-performance competencies15
  • Focused more on behaviors than outcomes
  • Adopted new or enhanced PM platforms during the pandemic16

Some orgs kept the ratings for the very highest and very lowest performers, but focused less on the ratings for those in the middle of the pack. Those with high ratings have been recognized for motivation and retention purposes. Managers have had development conversations with lower performers whose lagging was seen as less to do with an employee’s abilities 17 and more with the circumstances surrounding them.

In terms of employee-directed goals, it’s been common to see employees creating their own PM processes,18 while multi-rater assessments have become the popular new kids on the block19 — especially for companies with self-managed work teams for which there’s no formal boss.

Hidden Gems

Among the lit we reviewed, we found the following 3 hidden gems to share with you:

1. Recognition and rewards matter in hybrid work.

An employee’s desire to be recognized and rewarded increases in times of disruption, such as the pandemic. We came across evidence that extrinsic motivators are more important in hybrid work,20 and can positively impact morale and retention.

2. PM tracking needs to meet the ethical needs of hybrid work.

Performance tracking platforms have increased in popularity since the start of hybrid work. We came across a few intriguing pieces that highlight the importance of ethics and the risks of these integrated platforms.

When it comes to performance tracking, orgs must be careful not to erode employee trust, morale, or wellbeing. Strategies for this include enforcement of rules and regulations for which employees can remain in the driver’s seat and authorize use of their data.21 Tech that monitors employee performance can easily move into manipulation and “Big Brother” oversight, and should be closely monitored.

3. Where’s HR in all of this?

HR teams are becoming increasingly removed from monitoring performance and team dynamics—something HR had already been struggling with, but was exacerbated by the pandemic. Through the democratization of PM processes like peer feedback and employee-created goals, HR is taking a seat at the strategy table for PM (instead of the administration table) where they are serving as consultants who tie PM value to business needs.22

In hybrid work, managers are the PM pilots of their teams and HR is air traffic control—ready to support when needed, maintaining accountability to cultural values, and clearing the runway of obstacles.

What Caught Our Attention

Of the literature we reviewed, 5 critical articles stood out to us. We learned from their perspectives and hope you can as well.

What Does It Mean to Be a Manager Today?

Brian Kropp, Alexia Cambon & Sara Clark

This article describes a new era of management in which effective managers of the future will be those who focus and build relationships around how employees feel (via empathy) and manage visibility on what they’re doing.

"When interactions become primarily virtual, managers can no longer rely on what they see to manage performance, and when relationships become more emotional, they can no longer limit the relationship to the sphere of work."


  • Reports higher levels of performance and inclusion as an outcome of empathy-based management
  • Emphasizes the development of internal manager support groups to provide a safe space in which to practice empathy
  • Affirms that reorganization of teams increases a manager's capacity and time to have intentional conversations with employees
  • States that capabilities of managers are evolving to require more complex (emotion-based) competencies for which trust and fairness are integral

Rethinking Performance Management for Post-Pandemic Success

Michael Schrage

With hybrid work, this article argues that performance data and analytics are the nonnegotiable nutrients that give strength to the relationship happening between an employee and the org, while providing visible insights into the org’s limitations and strengths.

"High-performance management depends on high-performance measurement. The digital future of one depends on the digital future of the other."


  • Describes how COVID-induced remote work really exposes orgs and leaders to what little insights they have on their employees
  • Argues that real-time performance and people analytics are indicators which can assist in PM decisions that are accurate, transparent, and fair
  • Offers strategies to position PM dashboards as insight providers that are prescriptive and descriptive
  • Acknowledges that digital accountability platforms must reflect the coexistence of blurred work and home lives to ensure validity and remove bias in measurements

Talent management challenges during COVID-19 and beyond: Performance management to the rescue

Herman Aguinis & Jing Burgi-Tian

This journal article suggests that the scattered features of PM's potential are best when brought together in a strategic, relevant, and intentional way.

" … Implementing evidence-based performance management practices can not only help address pandemic-related talent management challenges but also allow organizations to thrive after the pandemic is over."


  • Defines performance management as future-driven, ongoing, and aligned with org goals
  • Describes how evidence-based PM can be a life raft for orgs to use during unprecedented transitions like the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Maintains that PM, while evolving, still fulfills a strategic, developmental, and documentary need
  • Recommends using evidence-based PM techniques, such as measuring results, in addition to behaviors, measuring adaptive performance, and using multi-rater processes

Are Peer Reviews the Future of Performance Evaluations?

Alessandro Di Fiore & Marcio Souza

This article talks about the diversification of sources within performance feedback, in which peers help provide managers with a fuller view of their employee’s work and interactions.

"The opportunity to create a socially-based feedback system feels even more urgent during the COVID-19 crisis, since many people are working remotely and without the same level of daily interactions with managers."


  • Provides an overview of socially focused feedback as part of the PM process
  • States that peer feedback is intended to help capture performance and behavior among remote employees who are less visible to their managers
  • Explains that aggregated feedback assists managers in focusing their development conversations
  • Advises that crowdsourcing techniques for PM must consider who’s giving the feedback, what categories they’re assessing, when it’s given, and how (anonymous? weighted?)

How Do You Evaluate Performance During a Pandemic?

Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, JoAnne Wehner & Sofia Kennedy

This article highlights the need for continuous awareness and accountability—both individually and on a team level—together with empathy and compassion to dismantle bias in hybrid work.

"Figuring out how to evaluate and reward employees fairly is hard even in the best of times. In this crisis, managers are facing a trifecta of conditions that make the task even harder because they’re likely to give rise to increased bias."


  • Emphasizes that managers should use empathy when balancing rewarding high performers and coaching / developing lower performers
  • Argues that, during times of crisis, managers are likely using their “fast-thinking” brains, which increases the chance of bias
  • Explains that implicit preference for those working in-person is increasing PM bias in hybrid workplaces
  • Recommends managers become crystal clear on evaluation criteria, combing for any unintended consequences, and “monitoring” other managers to ensure consistency and equity

Additional Articles to Check Out:

  1. Technology Can Ease Hybrid Work’s Performance Management Woes," SHRM, D. Zielinski, 2021.
  2. What Psychological Safety Looks Like in a Hybrid Workplace," Harvard Business Review, A. Edmondson & M. Mortensen, 2021.
  3. How One Company Worked to Root Out Bias from Performance Reviews," Harvard Business Review, J.C. Williams et al., 2021.
  4. How to Do Performance Reviews – Remotely," Harvard Business Review, R. Knight, 2020.
  5. Trust Is Key For Performance Management When Working Remotely,", A. Gaskell, 2020.

The Future of Leadership: What the Literature Says

Posted on Monday, August 2nd, 2021 at 10:54 AM    


The notion of hybrid work has been with us for a while now, yet it is not exactly clear what this means to leaders and organizations. As Satya Nadella said, hybrid work is paradox where “the vast majority of employees say they want more flexible remote work options, but at the same time also say they want more in-person collaboration, post-pandemic".1

In addition to hybrid work, DEIB issues are receiving more attention, employee experiences are changing, and the rapid changes in our world are demanding agility from leaders.

To understand how leaders should develop and what skills they need the most, we conducted a literature review. Here’s what we learned.

What we saw:

For this literature review, we identified and analyzed roughly 60 articles, periodicals, industry reports, and blogs – both pre – and post-pandemic. Below are the top 5 themes as well as 5 articles we encourage you to read for more insight.

  1. Future leadership needs to consider remote workers
  2. Leaders will be managing increasingly diverse teams
  3. Soft skills are increasingly important
  4. Leaders' digital skills matter
  5. Leaders need alignment and support

Future leadership needs to consider remote workers

The trend of utilizing remote work was growing even before the pandemic. Future of work is most likely hybrid, which means most leaders will be managing people in-person as well as remotely. This poses many challenges for leaders in areas such as performance management, communication, work-life balance, etc. To deal with the challenges and changes, leaders need to adopt a multi-model leadership to lead different groups of people effectively.

Leaders will be leading increasingly diverse teams

Employees expect leaders to take to heart the many social just movements in the last few years. In fact, in the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, 86% of survey respondents expect business leaders to step up when it comes to societal issues (pandemic impact, job automation, local community issues).2 and are spending increasing time and energy to ensure diverse teams. Add to that the fact that remote work introduces access to a much larger talent pool: if employees do not need to be collocated, orgs can recruit talent worldwide. Leaders will increasingly be called upon to create strong DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) cultures, which will require deeper skills in relationship-building, sensitivity, culture-building, and inclusion.

Soft skills are increasingly important

While soft skills have always been key to leadership, hybrid work, desire for better employee experience, and a focus on the “human” employee have led to added focus in recent years. In addition to communication, relationship building, collaboration, and conflict management, we’re hearing about the importance of concepts like agility of thought, growth mindset, and grit as well.

Development of these skills tends to be more time intensive and harder to measure, but also increasingly important in building the right culture, developing employees, and meeting new business challenges.

Leaders' digital skills matter

Technology is advancing fast, and the recent move to hybrid or virtual work has further necessitated use of workplace technology. To stay effective, leaders need to understand how to use existing technology, as well as how to leverage it.

Leaders have an opportunity to not just use technology to make the things they were doing before more efficient, but to do completely different things. For example, how can VR be utilized to increase sense of presence (and hence inclusion)?

Leaders need more organizational support

While we read a lot about the traits, characteristics, and skills leaders need to face current and near future challenges, one thing that was missing from the literature was solid ways to support leaders. Most literature suggested leadership training (some of it very inventive), and some suggested regular practice of leadership behaviors, but not many discussed how to leverage existing systems within organizations to support leaders. We think this needs more exploration.

Articles that caught our attention

Of the literature we reviewed, several pieces stood out to us. Each of the pieces below contained information that we found useful and / or intriguing. We learned from their perspectives and encourage you to do the same.

The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work — Are We Ready?3


Leaders need to be prepared to embrace hybrid work, and that involves considering/rethinking inclusion, relationship building, exhaustion, innovation, and talent management.

"We know two things for sure: flexible work is here to stay, and the talent landscape has fundamentally shifted."


  • Create a plan to empower people for extreme flexibility
  • Invest in space and technology to bridge the physical and digital worlds
  • Rethink employee experience to compete for the best and most diverse talent
  • Prioritize rebuilding social capital and culture

How to Develop and Select Your New Leadership Profiles4

C. Kim & R. Mauborgne

One of the challenges in leadership profile development is gaining buy-in from managers and leaders. As such, presenting the current leadership as a big picture (instead of individualized description) would have less resistance, and involving leaders in decision making regarding what future leadership profiles look like can further facilitate the process.

"…because the As-Is Leadership Profiles reflect the dominant acts and activities of all leaders at a level, not of particular leaders, not only does defensiveness go down as openness goes up, but a kind of we’re all in this together spirit of collective responsibility for change is born."


  • Identify hotspots and coldspots (“As-Is Leadership Profiles”)
  • Identify what leadership acts and activities should be eliminated, reduced, raised, and created
  • Develop alternative To-Be Leadership Profiles
  • Have top management select the To-Be Leadership Profiles to move forward on

2021 Leadership Development Survey: The Times They are a Changing…5

M. Leimbach

The shift in 2020 in terms of leadership development focuses indicate that the future of leadership is anticipated to be soft-skill oriented and socially responsible. Leaders need to learn to provide support and facilitate hybrid work.

" While the past year has been stressful, it also has opened a window of opportunity to make significant and meaningful change in how we develop leaders, transition to the next generation of leaders, and measure our success in leadership development."


  • Leverage senior executive engagement and investment in remote learning
  • Improve manager support of the next generation of leaders
  • Sustain the priority of Diversity and Inclusion
  • Focus on organizational outcomes

Purpose, or ‘purpose- washing’? A crossroads for business leaders6

A. Murray & B. Simpson

Having authentic purposes can help employees in multiple aspects, such as raising engagement and inspiring innovation. However, to really benefit from authentic purposes, devoting time and resources to pursue stated purposes is necessary. Purpose-driven employees, in turn, can support business operations.

"A powerful mix of forces … have led an ever-growing group of corporate leaders to recognize that a focus on profit is not enough. Purpose beyond profit has become a necessary ingredient for exceptional business success.”


  • Consider purpose as a long-term success necessity while profit as a short-term success measurement
  • Hear what employees have to say when determining what purposes can support them
  • Inspire innovation and creativity through raising purpose
  • Utilize measurable success factors to demonstrate said purposes are indeed followed and pursuit.

Digital mastery: The skills needed for effective virtual leadership7

S. Roy

Past research and theory demonstrated that these skills are especially important in a virtual work environment. The center of these skills are communication facilitating and relationship building, because virtuality introduces a barrier in these two areas.

"The Use of Virtual Teams by organizations is growing, thereby creating a need for virtual leadership skills, since it is more challenging to lead in a virtual environment, than in a face-to-face environment because of the lack of nonverbal communication”


  • Build trust and embrace diversity
  • Learn to utilize technologies
  • Understand communication difficulties and always be clear and non-critical
  • Create an open and supportive environment

Additional Articles to Check Out:

Other thoughts:

The fast pace of most businesses and hybrid work is likely here to stay, which means leaders need to develop and emphasis on a different set of skills. This point was made loud and clear in the research. However, there were several things we think should be addressed that weren’t:

  • We saw that demands from leaders are rising in hybrid work, but we did not see articles suggesting how leaders themselves can be supported.
  • We saw a possibility in organizational growth during the pandemic, but we did not see how specifically the growth could/should continue when work is hybrid (sure we can hire globally, but do we have the appropriate systems in place to manage a remote global workforce? If not, how to build these?)
  • We saw suggestions in balancing employees’ work-life balance by thinking and considering for the employees, but specifically to what degree employees should receive support from their leaders? In other words, when should leaders stop help balancing and say “hey, it’s your family not mine”?

What do you think leaders and orgs should be aware of? We’d love your thoughts on this. If you are interested, you can also email us to schedule a conversation to share your thoughts!

Upskilling L&D: What the Literature Says

Posted on Friday, July 23rd, 2021 at 10:31 AM    

What’s keeping L&D up at night?

  • How will we navigate return to work initiatives and hybrid workspaces?
  • What will the new world of work look like?
  • How will we ramp up the digitization of learning to meet this growing demand?

Encompassing these questions is the responsibility that the L&D function holds in ensuring a continuously skilled workforce. While the L&D function has been preaching the importance of prioritizing learning to leaders1 it has fallen hopelessly short in doing the same for itself. It’s the classic case of the cobbler’s children having no shoes.

Major themes

In our review of over 54 academic and business articles, reports, and books, we found a resounding call for a revamp of the L&D function. The average L&D function is seeing its impact on growth, transformation, productivity, and profitability decline, stemming from a misalignment of L&D and org goals, miscommunication, and a lack of clarity.2

We encountered several themes in our review:

The elevated importance of L&D doesn’t jive with L&D the dinosaur

Now, possibly more than ever before, L&D has the spotlight. Amid a skills crisis, a worker shortage, increased automation,3 higher employee expectations, and an uncertain global economic environment, orgs still need to build skilled workforces.

This spotlight extends clear up to the C-suite.4 Unfortunately, many L&D functions are perceived as slow, lumbering, backward-looking, and unprepared for the responsibility that has been placed on them. The impression they give is of a function that is rigid and inflexible,5 stuck using old ways,6 and having questionable impact.

Most L&D functions haven’t done enough to prove their effectiveness – and that has only been magnified by the recent pandemic.

New skills, new roles, and new applications for traditional roles

The literature had a lot to say about how L&D roles7 need to be expanded and reimagined. Specifically, it addressed shifting job descriptions, new mindsets,8 new skills, and new responsibilities9  that will be needed for L&D functions to credibly participate in business decisions.

L&D functions are becoming more multifaceted,10 with less emphasis on creation and more on enablement. This likely means new skills, such as influence and collaboration with different business functions, analytics, leading the digital learning charge, helping employees learn from each other, and creating a learning culture.

Even traditional skills are being applied in new ways: content creation is being applied to enabling user-generated content, vetting and implementing tools to be used by SMEs; likewise, facilitation skills are being used to lead online discussions or asynchronous cohort teams, and manage online communities.

And sometimes this is leading to new roles such as data analysts, consultants, marketing specialists, digital enablement specialists, and experience designers.

Models exist – and mostly agree

In the course of this research, we also looked at several existing prominent capability models, including:

While each model is unique, a similarity they share is that the capabilities they outline go well beyond classroom facilitation, learning management, and administration – areas often seen as L&D strengths. The opportunity to grow and expand the reach of the L&D function in enabling employees is vast.

The evolving role of CLOs

The role of the CLO has also evolved dramatically over the years: CLOs are transforming their organization’s learning goals, methods, and departments, bringing more focus to mindset shifts, better learning experience, and agility.12

The literature cites several examples of how successful learning leaders have taken their role beyond that of traditional training management by enabling learning cultures – recognizing that employees learn all the time and ensuring that tools, content, and opportunities are available to help them do it.

What caught our attention:

Of the literature we reviewed, several pieces stood out. Each of the pieces below contained valuable insights, and we encourage you to learn from their perspectives.

Back To The Future: Why Tomorrow’s Workforce Needs a Learning Culture

Jane Daly, Gent Ahmetaj, Emerald Works

"It’s no longer viable or beneficial to make assumptions about what we think people need. In fact, it’s risky. Our insights show it’s learning professionals’ biggest blind spot."


  • There is a key distinction between "High Impact Learning Cultures" (HILCs) and the average learning org. HILCs are 10X more likely to have a sustainable impact on growth, transformation, productivity, and profitability.
  • There is a widening gap between vision and practice for the L&D function. Learning leaders are more ambitious but less likely to have an impact on what matters to the org.
  • The top 3 concerns of learning leaders for 2020 are: 1) Reluctance from managers to make time for learning; 2) The L&D function is overwhelmed and under-equipped; and 3) The traditional expectations of the L&D function are difficult to challenge.
  • Learning leaders report a decline in the teams’ in-house capabilities. Ability to facilitate social and collaborative learning declined from 25% in 2018 to 15% in 2020.
  • The strongest capabilities of the L&D teams are classroom / face to face training / training delivery, and learning management/administration.

This report is an annual Health Check from Emerald Works, and is supported by robust data on learning strategy, learning tech, and the state of skills in L&D teams. It highlights the shocking state of L&D capabilities and the disconnect between business priorities and L&D strengths.

The LPI Dashboard


"It is perhaps no surprise that L&D professionals rate themselves most highly as face-to-face facilitators … a legacy skill that is under pressure from the continuing rise of digital learning, online communities, and virtual classrooms."


  • L&D professionals rate themselves most highly as face-to-face facilitators, a legacy skill that has decreasing value.
  • The L&D function is also good at content creation, solution design and development, and project management, which are vital for a modern learning function operating in an increasingly digital workplace.
  • The L&D function lacks the skills needed to define, collect, and assess the data that proves learning efficacy and impact – depriving it of the insights needed to inform strategy and decision making.
  • The L&D function also clearly struggles with the financial and procurement skills needed to manage budget allocation and maintain supplier relationships.

This unique dataset is taken from the LPI Capability Map, a self-assessment tool that helps individuals and teams identify their strengths and skills gaps to understand what is needed for building future capabilities. The LPI Dashboard gives a snapshot of the areas of strength and opportunities for L&D to grow.

A transformation of the learning function: Why it should learn new ways

Nicolai Chen Nielsen, Faridun Dotiwala, and Matthew Murray, McKinsey

"L&D team members will often work as part of cross-functional project teams that have end-to-end ownership and decision-making authority…key elements of an agile operation that strives to deliver fast. To stay relevant, the function will also need to keep updating its skill profile."


  • L&D should be deeply integrated with org strategy and talent processes, with a strong emphasis on helping employees continuously adapt by learning new skills and behaviors.
  • Organizations and functions that have undergone agile transformations outperform in fast-changing operating environments. L&D functions do not model this agility.
  • The L&D function is rigid, broken into different teams, and have goals not aligned to the overall goals of the business. Common evaluation metrics are myopic and limited.

Learning effectiveness comes through aligning L&D objectives with org objectives and ensuring the L&D function is agile enough to stay ahead of the org's changing needs. L&D needs to break away from more traditional methods to be more in sync with the changing needs of learners and the org.

Workplace Learning Report

LinkedIn Learning, 2021

"We have seen learning move from a relatively new discipline within HR to taking center stage and becoming a must-have strategic role that will help shape the new world of work.”


  • The L&D function is seen as a strategic partner to drive org change. Measuring the value of learning will be a major factor for L&D leaders to remain effective. L&D functions see budgets bounce back, with a focus on blended online learning.
  • Internal mobility has gained importance post-pandemic as L&D leaders focus on upskilling/reskilling in 2021.
  • Resilience and digital fluency are identified as top skills for the workforce.
  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) are top talent development initiatives for L&D leaders in 2021, as they often partner with D&I teams to deliver joint strategies and programs.
  • The L&D function is front and center to so many important shifts in the ways of working, from reskilling, enabling internal mobility, and ensuring teams are agile and ready for change.

Do your L&D Leaders Need a Jumpstart? 

Julia Cook Ramirez, Human Resources Executive Magazine, 2019

"Today’s L&D landscape bears little resemblance to that which existed even at the arrival of the current millennium. Learning is increasingly individualized, mobile and on demand.”


  • Learning has evolved from a one-size-fits-all approach to one that is highly personalized.
  • A heightened importance for the L&D function amidst a skills shortage has led to learning leaders playing a pivotal role in org success.
  • Several L&D leaders offer examples of evolving roles, including those needing skills in consulting, business acumen, change management, org design, intellectual curiosity, compassion, patience, and understanding.

L&D leaders are charged with enabling learning for the entire org, but much like the "cobbler who wears the worst shoes," they often overlook their own development. The article includes several anecdotal examples of different skillsets that provide added value to the L&D function.

 Additional Reading Recommendations:

What’s Next For The Coaching Boom? Latest from the Literature

Posted on Thursday, July 8th, 2021 at 2:58 PM    

Coaching Is Evolving to Meet the Times

“Everyone needs a coach.” You might suspect that an athlete like Serena Williams or Tom Brady made this comment—but it was, in fact, Bill Gates. As Gates explained in his 2013 TED talk:

Coaches provide valuable feedback, so they can help anyone improve their performance, not just top-tier athletes.1

As a practice, coaching isn't new. In fact, it dates back to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—philosophers who sought to realize human potential a few millennia ago.2 Recently, though, coaching has been evolving to:

  • Serve more people in the org
  • Address more than just performance
  • Provide more data to help orgs best develop their people
  • Utilize more tech to make coaching easier and more accessible to all

To understand more about these changes, we conducted a literature review of 60 academic articles, periodicals, industry reports, and blogs—both pre- and post-pandemic. Here’s what we learned.

What We Saw

Coaching plays an increasingly significant role in both employee development and employee experience. From the literature, we identified 5 key themes:

  1. More coaching for more people
  2. Different kinds of coaches
  3. Coaching for wellbeing
  4. Coaching cultures
  5. Tech-enabled coaching

More coaching for more people

Once reserved for top leadership (or those with severe behavioral challenges), coaching is now becoming more accessible to more people within the org. The literature strongly emphasizes how more types of coaching are being offered to more groups of employees in orgs today.

While coaching used to focus specifically on performance (and even more specifically on leadership performance), orgs now offer coaching to new hires and employees at key transition points (moving into management, for example). And, as part of DEIB initiatives,3 coaching is being used to retain and further develop diverse talent, increasing chances of upward mobility.4

Orgs are now offering coaching to new hires and employees at key transition points, as well as part of DEIB initiatives.

We also see coaching being viewed as a benefit—something we talk about more below—with orgs offering access to health, financial, sleep, nutritional, and other coaches.

Different kinds of coaches

Coaching—at its core—aims to increase self-awareness, provide support, and challenge preconceived notions.5 Increasingly, coaching is being provided by a wider range of individuals, not just trained or certified coaching professionals. While there’ll always be a need for these trained coaches—who, much of the time, are external to the org—many orgs utilize employees with other “day jobs” to fill coaching roles.

While there’ll always be a need for external certified coaches, many orgs also leverage internal employees to fill coaching roles.

The lit pointed out the 3 most common types of internal coaches:

  • Managers as coaches. Many orgs have shifted the way they’re handling performance management. Instead of the more traditional methods, these orgs rely on continuous conversations between managers and employees—both about performance and career aspirations. Add to that a definite preference by younger generations to have their supervisors act like coaches instead of micromanagers,6 and we see orgs starting to provide resources and tools to help managers develop their coaching skills.
  • Peers as coaches. Peer coaching involves pairs of employees who discuss their challenges, stressors, and relevant fears in the workplace with one another. One study found that those engaging in this type of coaching are 65% more likely to feel fulfilled and 67% more likely to be top performers in their orgs. This has become even more relevant for remote workers who face the stressors of working from home and need a safe environment in which to share and process what they’re dealing with.7
  • Reverse mentoring. Reverse mentoring flips the dynamic of traditional coaching by having a subordinate help a manager or executive develop more self-awareness and perspective on their leadership. This approach aims to enhance the leader's performance, while inviting input from the employee.8

Coaching for wellbeing

Prior to the pandemic, research on coaching started to address the need for emotionally intelligent coaches who could understand and appropriately respond to issues around stress, engagement, and motivation, in addition to role performance (coaching’s traditional primary goal).9 One article written in January 2020 predicted the rise of wellbeing as a niche for coaching that year.10 Little did they know.

By March 2020, when workers started working from home at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, wellbeing became a greater priority as employees had to deal with the stressors of everyday life alongside work demands. This transition further pushed wellbeing from a niche type of coaching (e.g., wellness coaches) to a goal of workplace coaching alongside performance: Leaders started to see the employee as a whole person, rather than just as a performer.11

The transition to working from home further pushed wellbeing from a niche type of coaching to a goal of workplace coaching alongside performance—with leaders starting to see the employee as a whole person, not just as a performer.

With these changes, coaching is shifting to encompass the dual goals of:

  1. Enhancing performance
  2. Improving employee wellbeing

And these dual goals seem to work well together. One study conducted among 20 managers across industries found that coaching significantly improved both the wellbeing and performance of these clients over the course of a few weeks during the pandemic.12

Coaching cultures

On an individual level, coaching has been shown to improve a variety of outcomes (e.g., creating safety, promoting self-awareness, developing people strategies).13 But it’s also having a great impact on the org at-large: This, however, is largely dependent on having a strong coaching culture.

Some of the literature was fairly prescriptive when describing what a coaching culture is. One article defines it as having 3 coaching approaches (internal coach, external coach, and manager as coach), a dedicated line item for coaching in the budget, and increased equal access to professional coaching throughout the org.14 Other literature talk about mindset and manager support as the most important aspects of coaching cultures.

Coaching can have a great impact on the org holistically—but this is dependent on the org having a strong coaching culture.

Either way, coaching cultures can be effective: See these 2 recent examples.

  • According to a 2019 study, 61% percent of employees in strong coaching cultures rated themselves as highly engaged, as compared with 53% of employees in noncoaching cultures.15
  • Another team went from having low levels of engagement within its org to the highest level after an org-wide coaching transformation.16

Finally, the literature also indicates the most effective ways to build a strong coaching culture. Like most org initiatives, coaching efforts are more likely to succeed when they’re embedded in the org’s other systems: L&D, talent management, DEIB, engagement and wellness groups—even people analytics—can support a coaching culture by actively embedding coaching in their overall strategies.

Tech-enabled coaching

Coaching has always been seen as a highly personalized experience, which doesn’t sound congruent with tech—but it actually is: Tech offers ways to scale and support coaching efforts.

As a part of this coaching study, we’re looking into coaching tech. The literature points to tech vendors developing their own coaching-related insights in these 4 ways:17

  • Establish a coaching baseline and monitor goal progress
  • Offer insights to coaches based on interpreting facial expressions, eye movements, etc.
  • Provide potential scenarios through AR / VR tech and analyzing clients’ actions
  • Use “nudges” to reinforce targeted behaviors

We know these 4 elements are not all the ways that tech can support coaching … and we’d like more info on how successful each of these areas is in helping orgs achieve their goals. We’ll let you know what we find. But we do know that tech provides a way to give more feedback, get better data, and erase previous limits imposed by geographic location.

Tech-enabled coaching provides a way to give more feedback, get better data, and erase previous limits imposed by geographic location.

What Caught Our Eye

During our review of the literature, we flagged articles that we thought were particularly interesting or helpful in expanding our perspectives on coaching. We summarized 5 of our favorites below.

Employee Coaching Increasing During COVID

Jen Colletta, Human Resource Executive, 2020

“Numerous studies have pointed to the burnout many employees are facing since the pandemic started, particularly working women. Those challenges are opening the door for coaching.”

This article from mid-2020 summarizes why coaching became so important during the pandemic. It suggests that the disruption caused by COVID-19 made employees seek out coaching as a method of developing self-awareness and as a wider learning strategy.


  • Coaching is taking on a new role to establish boundaries between work and home
  • Career development is becoming a greater priority of coaching
  • There’s been a mindset shift from coaching to fix a problem to coaching to invest in a person’s development

Newly Remote Workers Need Peer Coaching

Aaron Hurst, MIT Sloan Management Review, 2020

“The goal is not to come up with solutions to each other’s problems, but to help each other find their own solutions.”

This paper explores the value of peer coaching, especially as remote workers sought to address stressors during COVID-19.


  • Peer coaching is a way to support each other on an equal playing field, while relating to similar challenges by being in the same org
  • There are a few steps to take to help peer coaching be successful; managers need to provide the time, avoid making pairs with a hierarchy of power, encourage positive conversations, and model the behavior by making their own time for peer coaching

Why a One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Employee Development Doesn’t Work

Sydney Finkelstein, Harvard Business Review, 2019

“The exceptional leaders I studied don’t leave it to HR to create career progression programs for their team members. Rather, they personalize their coaching, support, and teaching efforts.”

This article suggests ways to focus on employee development and offers personalized coaching as a solution.


  • Employee development is a key value for 90% of Millennials, but less than 40% feel they’ve learned something on the job in the past 30 days
  • Managers play a significant role in developing their employees
  • Managers can track information regarding skills, motivators, and career goals to personalized coaching, while referencing this on a weekly basis and using this information during performance discussions

The Leader as Coach

Herminia Ibarra & Anne Scoular, Harvard Business Review, 2019

“Companies need to offer their managers the appropriate tools and support to become better coaches. And if they want to be sustainably healthy learning organizations, they must also develop coaching as an organizational capacity.”

This article explores how leaders can take on a coaching capacity to best lead their employees.


  • Managers need to not only perform their jobs well—but develop their people well, too
  • Effective coaching can build org capabilities and lead to a learning culture based in a growth-mindset
  • Resistance to coaching may be due to a need to assert one’s authority; however, directing others by asking the right questions proves to be more effective
  • Situational coaching, where managers apply their expertise and elicit insights from their clients, strikes a balance between directive and non-directive coaching styles, according to the specific needs of the moment

2020 ICF Global Coaching Study: Executive Summary

International Coach Federation & PwC, 2020

“The global growth and widening spread of coaching since 2016 is evident from the responses to the 2020 study.”

This 2020 report summarizes study findings based on the size and scope of coaching, with responses from a wide range of coaches across 161 countries. This is an updated report from research conducted originally in 2007, and updated in 2012 and again in 2016.


  • The study proposes a “coaching continuum”—comprised of coaching practitioners (external and internal) at one end and managers / leaders who use coaching skills on the other
  • Gen X accounts for 61% of managers who use coaching skills
  • 93% of coach practitioners offer additional services, like consulting and counseling
  • Almost all (99%) coach practitioners in the study have received coaching-specific training

Additional Articles to Check Out:

  1. Workplace Coaches Shouldn’t Just Be For Senior Executives,” Stirrett, S. & Gill, P., The Globe and Mail, 2019.
  2. Coaching for Change,” Boyatzis, R.E., Smith, M., & Van Oosten, E., Harvard Business Review, 2019.
  3. Employee Coaching Comes to the Masses,” Backaitis, V., CMS Wire, 2020.
  4. 10 Ways Technology Is Changing Coaching Now And In the Future,” Welsh, J., Forbes, 2019.
  5. The Democratization of Coaching And Leadership Development,” Richmond, J. and Forbes Business Council, Forbes, 2020.

C-Suite & People Analytics: Insights from The Literature

Posted on Tuesday, July 6th, 2021 at 10:15 AM    


As vaccinations and declining infection rates in some regions bring a sigh of relief, organizational leaders are starting to design policies around new working models, such as a hybrid workplace, for their employees. As a result, in addition to existing challenges around talent retention and recruitment, leaders are now faced with new questions such as:

  • Which employees should be brought back to office and for how many days?
  • How often should they continue working from home, if at all?
  • How do employees feel about the new policies?

Talent-related challenges will continue to remain a top priority for the C-suite in 2021 and beyond, as shown by recent research.1,2

So how can leaders prepare themselves and where can they look for support? Enter people analytics (PA).

In order to understand the role PA can play in helping the C-suite with these and future challenges, as well as what they need to be successful in this endeavor, we reviewed more than 50 academic and business articles, reports, and books. This article summarizes the themes and insights from our literature review:

  • PA has played a vital role during the pandemic
  • A growing opportunity exists for PA to step up in orgs
  • PA should understand and tie to business goals
  • A data-driven culture is essential for a C-suite and PA partnership
  • CHROs can help bridge the gap between the C-suite and PA

Let’s take a brief look at these 5 themes.

PA has played a vital role during the pandemic

People analytics became a much more visible force during the pandemic. Several articles highlight the value PA provided as orgs shifted their workforce to remote working.

During the pandemic, the C-suite and senior leaders relied heavily on people data to tell them how their employees were feeling, what challenges they were facing, and how to adapt to new business priorities.

Because of this data from PA teams, during the pandemic orgs could successfully:

  • Design and implement strategies that met the specific needs of their workforce
  • Keep a pulse on employee engagement levels as they moved to remote work

The question that remains to be answered, however, is whether or not PA will continue to perform this role.

Will PA and HR continue to play a vital role, consult with the senior leadership, and remain influential moving forward?

The answer, according to the lit, lies in how effectively PA functions can pivot their focus to the emerging challenges surrounding return-to-work plans—and use this time as an opportunity to keep their “seat at the table,” which leads us to our next theme.

A growing opportunity exists for PA to step up in orgs

Several articles spoke about how PA teams and leaders should use this period to step up, having recently shown the value they’ve provided to the org during the pandemic. Recent research has shown:

  • 42% of corporate board directors think talent management will be a top priority for them in 20213
  • 50% of CEOs globally cite recruitment and retention of top talent as their most critical human capital focus in 20214

Some of the ways PA can help leadership with retention and with building a culture that attracts top talent include providing insights around:

  • Employee engagement
  • Employee experience
  • Employee networks
  • Workforce planning
  • Labor market analysis

PA leaders should grab this opportunity to push back on some of the low-value and low-impact requests that come their way—and instead identify key business issues and create a cadence of sharing insights with the C-suite on those issues.

In addition, PA can continue to demonstrate value to the C-suite through issues surrounding diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) as they have risen to the top of every C-suite agenda. Orgs will continue to need PA to help them with these challenges, too.

PA should understand and tie to business goals

A frequent finding we came across in the lit is that, in order for PA to provide value to the C-suite, PA functions first must understand the business’s challenges and goals.

PA teams and leaders must:

  • Understand what metrics matter to the C-suite
  • Use their expertise and capabilities to convey that information in a timely manner and in language the C-suite will understand

According to one report, only 24% of HR functions provide analytics that connect their people metrics to business metrics.5 There’s a huge gap in the metrics and areas that PA teams focus on, and what information and data C-suite execs need.

PA must speak the C-suite’s language in order to engage them.6

A common reason why the C-suite is not often data-driven is a lack of trust in the data. According to research, 40% of senior execs have reservations about relying on the data and analytics HR produces.7

Often this can be due to either the correct data not being shared, or not being explicitly linked to the challenges and immediate needs of the orgusually resulting from a lack of knowledge around business priorities and agendas.

A data-driven culture is essential for a C-suite & PA partnership

A number of articles highlight the role of organizational culture in elevating PA to a place of strategic value to the C-suite. However, we note this push for such a culture that recognizes HR and PA as a market advantage must come from the top.

“It's the CEO who determines the culture of an organization, where to invest and what role HR has in the organizationstrategical versus tactical, offense versus defense.”8

Some of the ways the C-suite can effectively build this type of culture and start leveraging data to their benefit include:

  • Placing HR in the executive rank and have it report directly to the CEO
  • Making people data a priority and part of a regular cadence of check-ins with the CHRO
  • Looking for and putting in place HR leaders who are partial to science-based decision-making

These actions can help build an organizational culture that uses people data as a competitive advantage to understand and address people challenges: They make a statement that people are a priority.

CHROs can help bridge the gap between the C-suite & PA

We came across several articles that spoke about the role CHROs played during the pandemic, and how they’re working with CEOs to oversee their remote workforces and developing return-to-work plans. A few examples include:

  • IBM. Some of the questions the CHRO is discussing with the CEO and other senior leaders:9
    • Who comes into the buildings?
    • How many people are allowed in an elevator at 1 time?
    • How does the company configure floor plans to keep people far enough apart from each other so they feel safe?
  • Accenture. The CHRO is paying special attention to employees’ emotional well-being10

The key to doing this work is people data: PA functions and the CHRO can play a crucial role in bringing data and insights to the C-suite. In the lit, we discovered a few ways that CHROs can do this by:

  • Being a data champion. CHROs can help the CEO move toward the data domain by highlighting the immediate and long-term value of leveraging data to address challenges
  • Sharing important metrics. CHROs should regularly share metrics that matter to the CEO, depending on the issues facing the org
  • Presenting in business language. CHROs understand how to present and report metrics in terms of their financial impact on the overall business

What Caught Our Attention

Of the literature we reviewed, several pieces stood out to us. Each of the pieces below contain information that we found useful and / or intriguing. We learned from their perspectives and encourage you to do the same.

People Analytics As A Strategic Partner To The Business

Mellish, A., Human Capital Institute, 2020

Emphasizes the need for PA to become a strategic partner to the business. Return to work challenges, remote engagement, and retention of talent, DEIB culture, and workforce planning are some areas in which PA can contribute.

"People analytics means different things to different organizations. However, there is one through line of purpose for every people analytics practice: to inform and influence business decisions in support of organizational strategy."


  • The PA function can partner with the business in many ways. But PA must always ask the questions: How does this advance our strategy? And how strategically important is it when compared with everything else we’re working on?
  • Orgs can leverage PA to navigate return-to-work challenges, engage and retain employees remotely, build a culture of diversity and belonging, and infuse workforce planning with compassion.
  • To effectively use PA, orgs should internally build the capabilities and skills needed to influence business decisions with people data.
  • Orgs also need to invest in data analytics tools to enrich reporting, advance visualization, and uncover insights and trends that might have gone unnoticed.

People Analytics Should Be A Part Of Company’s DNA: Alexis Saussinan, Merck Group

Modgil, S., People Matters, 2019

Provides insights into how PA offers endless possibilities and application areas. This report also defines clear strategic cases, getting support from leadership, and setting transparent ethical guardrails as being key to driving business value.

"Companies that are able to make the most out of people data and analytics, in a sustainable manner and with the perfect balance between business performance, human focus and ethics will be best positioned to drive sustainable high performance and innovation."


  • Orgs need to ask if they have the right foundations in place to create and deliver PA at scale for the business.
  • PA can offer insights around factors that lead to high performance among new hires, and identify key influencers and team composition to drive performance and innovation.
  • To deliver maximum potential, PA should become part of the DNA of a company and be naturally embedded at every step of the employee journey.
  • Getting strong C-suite exec and HR sponsorship at the highest levels is a prerequisite to drive true business value as well as positive employee outcomes.

How CEOs And CHROs Can Connect People To Business Strategy

Harvard Business Review, 2017

Presents findings from a survey of 168 companies. The article also includes insights from interviews with thought leaders and CEOs from large global companies. The findings suggest that companies are making progress in their use of human capital metrics but it is still glacial.

“If you have an analytics savvy CHRO, he or she won’t let the CEO get away with problem turnover rates or engagement scores. They have deep conversations about how these metrics are connected to the business.”


  • Some of the findings from the survey include:
    • Less than 50% of respondents routinely report on human capital metrics to the C-suite.
    • Fewer than half of respondents say HR uses metrics to predict talent needs, measure the results of their talent strategy, and improve the business.
    • Only 24% of respondents provide analytics that connect people metrics to business metrics.
  • Human capital metrics will have strategic value when the CEO and CHRO have a trusted relationship: CHROs need to be data-driven and engage the CEO in meaningful talent conversations.

The CEO’s Guide To Competing Through HR

Bafaro, F., Ellsworth, D., & Gandhi, N., McKinsey & Company, 2017

Highlights the need to accelerate the reinvention of HR as a function capable of understanding the drivers of strategy using the power of data analytics.

"Technological tools provide a new opportunity for HR function to reach its potential and drive real business value."


  • Orgs that want to advance the reinvention of HR should concentrate on:
    • Rethinking the role of the HR business partner within the org
    • Using PA to identify the talent actions that drive value
    • Fixing HR operations
    • Focusing HR resources in a more agile way
  • Replace the business partner role with a new talent value leader (TVL) who would be held fully accountable for the performance of the talent.
  • The development and delivery of insights should be systematicas this will help HR drive strategic talent value instead of a piecemeal manner as at present.
  • As part of the reinvention, the HR function should use automation tech to address operational issues and focus more on strategic mission.

CFOs Should Not Leave Workforce Analytics Solely to HR

Freker, J., CFO, 2020

Highlights the need for CFOs to take a more active role in using HR analytics to identify strategic opportunities for capturing ROI from HR and people programs.

"There is a strong link between CFO’s level of involvement in strategic workforce planning and broader business performance."


  • CFOs can use workforce data for strategic insight—using talent data to lower cost of hiring, aligning compensation with business performance and engaging a productive workforce.
  • People analytics can help identify cost anomalies, especially in multinational companies in which jurisdictions vary across countries.
  • Four main analytics for CFOs to tap into include—healthcare analytics (employee health, absenteeism, wellness), financial analytics (benefits plan, equity, compensation), diversity analytics (talent management, L&D, succession planning, DEI metrics), and engagement analytics (employee engagement, communications, outreach).
  • Leaders should be looking at a single, intuitive, and responsive reporting system instead of one-off reports from multiple data sources.

Additional Reading Recommendations

Using Organizational Network Analysis Today & Tomorrow: Insights from the Literature

Posted on Tuesday, June 15th, 2021 at 10:28 AM    


If we had to choose one analytics approach that makes us most excited, then it would be organizational network analysis (ONA). Why? Because ONA:

  • Can be used for a wide variety of important use cases (hello, inclusion analytics!)
  • Is getting easier to use (thank you, vendors!)
  • Can drive big impact (for instance, an org that experienced a productivity dip following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, analyzed collaboration data to understand and improve it by 28%)1

The use of ONA is on the rise. A LinkedIn survey conducted in 2019 revealed that 14% of companies used ONA, with 27% of them planning to use it in the future.2 In 2020, another study revealed that 44% of companies were using ONA globally.3 Thought leaders have noticed a proliferation and increase in discussions around the value of ONA for orgs over the course of the last year.4

Additionally, we also saw a rise in the number of:

  • ONA vendors that participated in our 2020 People Analytics Tech study, as compared with 20195
  • Partnerships between ONA tech providers and other companies that offer analytics capabilities6,7
  • People analytics leaders who told us about internal network analysis systems they had put in place to understand their existing networks

Given this growing interest in the space, we decided to dive into the literature to find out what’s new with ONA and how the past 15 months have impacted orgs’ use of it.

What is ONA?

Before we dive into our lit review on this topic, let’s briefly discuss what ONA is.

Definition: Organizational network analysis (ONA) is a method to measure and graph patterns of collaboration by examining the strength, frequency, and nature of interactions between people in networks within and across orgs.8

Applied correctly and intentionally, ONA can be an extremely valuable tool in the people analytics leader’s toolkit. From identifying who are key influencers and connectors within the org to measuring connections, relationships, and inclusion—ONA can help orgs understand and, thus, strengthen their internal and external structures. The ability to do this became especially crucial during the shift to remote work when the pandemic hit.

Using ONA to understand existing networks, communication patterns, and work behaviors helped orgs prioritize, build effective strategies to address new challenges, and remove barriers for their people during the pandemic.

We looked at recent literature to understand how ONA helped orgs during the pandemic, the role it played, and how orgs should continue using it moving forward. A few key insights stood out for us from the lit:

  • ONA is instrumental in helping orgs manage remote work
  • Orgs should consider using ONA to better understand inclusion
  • ONA can help orgs design for the future

What Is New in the World OF ONA?

ONA is instrumental in helping orgs manage remote work

We’re delighted to see several articles, by both organizational leaders and solution providers, that emphasize the role ONA has played in helping orgs manage a remote workforce. In particular, two use cases stand out:

  1. Employee wellbeing and burnout. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted life worldwide. Physical distancing and remote working led to a heightened focus on physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing for individuals.
    • Orgs want to find out which employees might be at risk of burnout. Network data are able to identify remote teams or individuals who might be at risk of isolation. Orgs are able to use those data to put policies in place at the right time and address challenges that can help.
    • Another way ONA is able to help orgs with employee wellbeing is by monitoring collaborative workload among individuals working extra hours or being tapped by their colleagues for additional work requests.9 This especially has become crucial during the shift to remote work as many individuals found it difficult to disconnect from work.10
  1. Changes in networks and connections. ONA can help orgs measure the changes in workplace networks by collecting active (e.g., surveys) and / or passive (e.g., emails, Slack, Teams) data from employees.

By identifying teams and functions in which interactions might be declining, leaders are better prepared to foster cross-team collaboration and information flow.

  • Once employees began working remotely, a major concern for orgs was to ensure that collaboration and connections were not disrupted. Orgs need employees to feel connected even while they’re not working from the office. Findings from a recently released Microsoft 2021 Work Trend study found that companies have increasingly become siloed since the switch to remote work and existing employee networks have shrunk.11
  • Other research showed that bonding connections—the closest connections that people have in their networks, and which have a positive impact on productivity—have increased during remote work. On the other hand, bridging connections—interactions beyond the team and which have a positive impact on innovation—have.12

These findings have important implications for orgs: While orgs may be moving fast with highly productive teams, they’re less able to foster new and novel ideas, and scale them through the org.

Orgs should consider using ONA to better understand inclusion

Another exciting development we’ve come across is the growing use of ONA to understand and advance inclusion. Orgs have traditionally leaned on employee perception data to understand the levels of inclusion among employees, but haven’t been successful in capturing it holistically.

The social justice movements of 2020—that resulted in a greater focus around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB)—spotlighted the role that ONA can play in helping orgs understand and improve DEIB.

The ability to understand and measure inclusion at the individual and enterprise levels has become especially crucial during remote work as orgs worry about declining social connections that could result in loss in terms of performance and job satisfaction.13

Specifically, we came across several articles that spoke about how ONA can help identify:

  • Well-connected individuals to facilitate onboarding and buddy programs—to retain new employees from diverse backgrounds and help them feel included early
  • Where to place interventions for isolated groups or individuals who don’t feel included or part of the broader org—to improve cross-functional interactions and help facilitate different teams to build networks
  • Groups or teams dominated by one particular gender, race, ethnicity—to design strategies to make them more inclusive for the underrepresented groups
  • Diverse talent who are “hidden stars”—to recognize potential good candidates for leadership development and HiPo programs

As conversations and actions around DEIB have changed over the course of 2020, point-in-time surveys—such as annual engagement or pulse surveys—have yielded limitations in measuring employees’ levels of inclusion and belonging.

As the recent literature has demonstrated, an added layer of passive data—that shows how employees interact with each other and who they interact with on a regular basis—can show the social connections between them and illuminate levels of inclusion within a workplace.

ONA can help orgs design for the future

The lit review highlighted 2 key uses for ONA that can help orgs better prepare for whatever may come next:

  • Work models
  • Agile transformation

Work Models

Most CEOs expect some sort of a hybrid work model in a post-COVID-19 world. Yet, a majority of them aren’t prepared / don’t have a vision in place for it.14

Network analysis can help orgs be proactive in planning for hybrid work, rather than reacting to the challenges that arise due to the changes brought on by it.

Based on data from work behaviors, job needs, and networks, ONA can help leaders:

  1. Identify different work needs for groups or individuals, using data to make decisions on:
  • Who should return to the office
  • How frequently they should be allowed to work from home
  • What a hybrid work model should look like
  1. Be better prepared and stay connected with employees as the new working model is introduced, and put in place strategies and policies to support them
  2. Identify changing patterns in collaboration and networks for groups or individuals who move back to the office, as compared with those who continue to work from home primarily, and make the necessary course corrections if needed

Agile Transformation

The lit also highlighted the role ONA can play in helping orgs with agile transformation. The pandemic has made orgs recognize the necessity to focus on becoming more agile—if they want to survive future crises. ONA can help with that.

A crucial requirement for agile transformation is having the right people and teams in place.15 Implementing agile initiatives often involve creating networks of well-connected and empowered teams. ONA can help leaders:

  • Understand and improve how people collaborate
  • Design robust teams that are able to work together effectively16


Of the lit we reviewed, several pieces stood out to us. Each of these pieces contains information we found useful and / or intriguing. We learned from their authors’ perspectives—and encourage you to do the same.

Hybrid working may change our workplace social networks. What does it mean for inclusion?

Paris Will, LSE Blog, March 2021

Looks at what social network analysis reveals about the changes brought about by hybrid working and their potential for affecting inclusion in the workplace. The author finds that there may be both positive impacts, such as stronger ties and greater involvement in workplace processes, along with the risks of reduced social information-sharing.

At the organizational level, the connectivity of the network can be assessed to see how many people are involved in different workplace processes, and at the individual level, it can show how included one is by the amount of social connections they have.


  • Benefits and risks may come along as a result of shifting to a hybrid working model in the post-COVID-19 world, such as flexible working along with reduced opportunities for informal contact
  • Social network analysis can play an important role in illuminating levels of inclusion in a workplace
  • For orgs looking to transition to a hybrid work model, now is a good opportunity for them to monitor and assess the structural social components underlying inclusion within their workplace

What is the impact of virtual and hybrid working on innovation? (Interview with Michael Arena)

David Green, myHRfuture, December 2020

An interview with Michael Arena, VP for Talent and Development at Amazon Web Services, about the role of social capital, and how orgs can measure and harness it to their advantage through ONA.

I describe human capital as sort of a summarization of what you and I know, our experiences, our competencies, our capabilities, social capital is basically how well positioned we are inside of our organizations to leverage that human capital.


  • ONA can be used to measure social capital: 2 primary types of social capital are bonding and bridging
  • Passive ONA is good to study the dynamic effects of a network across time because a network is never static
  • HR often tends to be responsive and ONA can help HR become proactive in helping orgs prepare for the future

To weather a crisis, build a network of teams

Andrea Alexander, Aaron De Smet, Sarah Kleinman, and Marino Mugayar-Baldocchi, McKinsey, April 2020

Details 4 steps that can help orgs create a dynamic and collaborative team structure which can tackle an org’s most pressing problems quickly.

A robust network of empowered teams makes faster, better decisions. It is united by a common purpose, that gathers information, devises solutions, puts them into practice, and refines outcomes.


  • Create teams that’ll tackle current strategic priorities and key challenges facing the org
  • After creating the initial set of teams, a leader must shift toward ensuring that multidirectional communication is taking place—not only across teams within the network, but also between these teams and the rest of the org
  • The leader’s approach to communication will foster an environment of collaboration, transparency, and psychological safety that is crucial to its success
  • Once the initial network of teams is established and after support from leadership early in the journey, the network should become self-sustaining and self-managing

The age of behavioral analytics at work: using IT metadata to make improved business decisions

Philip Arkcoll, IHRIM, 2020

Makes the case for using ONA to responsibly and ethically analyze communication and collaboration data, and gather insights to help orgs make better business decisions and improve employee experience.

In most organizations, thousands of these small interactions or sessions occur across a variety of these digital platforms in a given work day. As a result, within each of these digital tools lies a mountain of information on how organization functions, how work gets done and what the day-to-day experience of employees is like.


  • ONA has grown significantly in popularity over the last few years
  • Finding an ethical way to perform ONA isn’t just important for employee buy-in, but also may be a matter of regulatory compliance as the laws on data continue to evolve
  • A leading practice is to avoid visual interpretation of network diagrams, and focus more on network metrics and mathematical models to look at parameters of the network and included groups
  • To get to the valuable insights, an org needs to go beyond just looking at the raw data and metrics on interaction

Using adaptable organization network analysis to reveal patterns that drive inclusion

Maya Bodan, India Mullady, and Devon Dickau, Deloitte Blog, April 2020

Highlights the role of ONA in helping orgs identify if their leaders, teams, or functions are not only diverse, but also inclusive. The article details the use of ONA to illuminate otherwise invisible information flows, connectivity, and collaboration between individuals and groups.

Next to increasingly standard inclusion measures such as engagement survey results that reveal workforce assessment and quantitative assessments of the talent life cycle, uncovering potential organizational biases, AONA can give leaders relationship-based analytic insights on how work is truly getting done in their organization, shining a light on who is being included—and who is not.


  • ONA can help surface individuals who serve as liaisons, groups that operate in a vacuum, and employees who foster or hinder information flow
  • ONA can help leaders focus more on underrepresented minority groups and highlight any systemic discrepancies
  • Some example questions that ONA can help answer include:
    • Where do we start the conversation on inclusivity in our org?
    • Are our informal mentorship efforts and programs effective?

RedThread Research is an active HRCI provider