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.







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.

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

DEIB & Analytics: What the Literature Says

Posted on Tuesday, April 27th, 2021 at 12:05 PM    


“Black Lives Matter protests moves corporate D&I initiatives center stage”1

“CIOs double down on D&I to build stronger businesses”2

“Amazon will examine its employee review system after claims of racial bias”3

These are just a few of the headlines published in the last 12 months on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts by companies. Given the growing momentum in the space, especially since the social justice movements of 2020 spread globally, we wanted to better understand how orgs are measuring and monitoring their DEIB efforts via people analytics.

We looked at more than 60 academic and business articles, reports, and books for this literature (lit) review. This article summarizes the themes from the lit:

  • Analytics for DEIB is more important than ever
  • DEIB analytics is more than diversity metrics
  • Predictive analytics for DEIB can help plan for the future
  • Don’t forget about qualitative data
  • Address issues of privacy and ethics

Much of the literature that we reviewed for this topic focuses on why analytics should be used to support DEIB efforts. However, some shining pieces did go beyond the “why” to discuss how companies can go about collecting and utilizing DEIB data. We take a closer look at these 5 themes in the following sections.

Analytics for DEIB is more important than ever

It's not surprising that we found a large portion of the lit focused on explaining why analytics is important for DEIB. As pointed out by 1 author:

“Research and data must play a role when it comes to implementing D&I strategy that actually moves the needle on equity. If you don’t collect data, it’s hard to diagnose how your company is performing. If you don’t track data, you won’t know how you’re improving.”4

Several recent articles call out the urgent need for it, especially now, as the COVID-19 pandemic and social movements have spurred companies to reexamine how they drive equity. If we look at the recent commitments to DEIB made by some of the biggest companies—such as:

  • Facebook tying improving employee diversity to executive performance reviews5
  • Target’s aim of increasing representation of Black team members by 20% by 20236
  • Starbucks’ goal of BIPOC representation of at least 30% at all corporate levels, and at least 40% at all retail and manufacturing roles by 20257

—then, we see that not one of these goals can be achieved without access to data and analytics.

DEIB analytics is more than just diversity metrics

While diversity and representation metrics remain foundational to DEIB efforts, we’re pleased to see several articles push orgs to collect and use data beyond representation metrics. One of the ways orgs can go deeper on metrics is by looking at experience data for different groups of the employee population. According to 1 author, orgs need to look at hard data:

“Are they invited to social gatherings? Included in meetings? Receiving proper mentorship? Looking at these interactions—where discrimination, microaggressions and lack of support often creep in—will reveal what’s truly derailing efforts to improve diversity.”8

These data can be helpful in measuring inclusion. Existing engagement surveys or specific pulse surveys can ask employees about concerns around inclusion. Question statements can be used by orgs to build an inclusion index and track it over time, including:

  • Employees are valued for their differences and their unique contributions
  • Employees can voice their opinions without fear of retribution or rejection
  • People are rewarded fairly according to their job performance and accomplishments
  • I have confidence in my company’s grievance procedures

These questions can be supplemented with check-ins, exit interviews, network data and other data to identify existing gaps.

Predictive analytics for DEIB can help plan for the future

Articles that focus on applying predictive analytics for DEIB talk about spotting the right patterns and identifying a potential issue before it turns into a problem. Predictive analytics can be a powerful tool to empower orgs to make smarter decisions about their DEIB efforts.

The lit contains examples of companies that are already using predictive analytics to support DEIB, including:

  • Whirlpool—to help steer the company away from a “…myopic focus on intake, while ignoring potential effects of retention risks and advancement challenges for diverse populations.”9
  • Walmart—to model and forecast techniques to understand the future through such questions as:
    • What could happen?
    • How can we arrive at the destination sooner?

Every quarter, diversity leaders and business leaders meet to review DEIB goals, as well as share insights from the data.10

  • International Paper—to analyze expatriate compatibility: Predictive analytics, based on past behavior, family dynamics, global acumen, and cultural agility, can forecast which employees would fare better with a global move. 11

Don’t forget about qualitative data

While not a recurring theme, we think the reminder about qualitative data is an important point made by some articles that deserves a mention. Very often, when we talk about data and analytics, we instantly think of hard numbers, dashboards, and spreadsheets.

DEIB and analytics leaders might find themselves trying to persuade or convince some stakeholders about the merit of qualitative data—and part of that challenge might require redefining what “data” means for the org.

Individual stories and experiences are an important piece of the puzzle. Interviews with employees can help leaders supplement quantitative data to get a holistic picture. As 1 author stated:

“Statistics don’t capture what it feels like to be the only black team member.”12

Some examples of the types of qualitative data that can be used include:

  • Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Textual analysis of written performance reviews
  • Analysis of exit interview notes
  • Analysis of hiring memos

However, the lit does offer some limitations to using this data. For example, if companies aren’t consistent or comprehensive in their qualitative analysis, then biases can creep in.

Address issues of privacy and ethics

No discussion about people analytics—especially when it involves sensitive DEIB employee data—can be complete without taking into account issues of privacy and ethics. And we’re glad to see a number of articles point out this issue. As one of the authors said:

“You want to be very careful of how you’re protecting the data and how you’re making sure that your data is being used to make fair and equitable decisions on people.”13

So, how can orgs best deal with this issue?

One way to maintain employee privacy is through data aggregation to ensure no one’s data is singled out. However, this could be challenging for small companies that may only have a few people from a particular demographic group.

Data ethics and privacy becomes even more important when collecting passive data on employees. Companies can be more responsible and ethical about collecting such data by:

  • Being transparent with employees about the data collected and who will have access to it
  • Sharing that data with employees
  • Being clear about the types of analysis being run on the data collected on employees and how those data are used

What caught our attention

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

The Next Generation of Diversity Metrics: Predictive and Game-Changing Analytics

Brian Baker and Michael Collins (edited by), Diversity Best Practices, 2013

Explains how predictive analytics, when used correctly, can support areas such as retention, development of a leadership pipeline, analysis of leadership and talent gaps, and creating a general talent pipeline.

"Predictive analytics will soon offer the make-or-break evidence needed to support every business case, every new project proposal. For diversity practitioners, predictive analytics offers more: A powerful tool to be smarter about inclusion efforts—which ones to ditch, which ones to double down on, which ones to invent.”


  • Link the hiring algorithm with recruitment of candidates from diverse backgrounds to revisit high-potential resumes and analyze retention data
  • Shift conversations from reactive debates to proactive consideration
  • Use predictive analytics to gain insight into what is reasonably attainable for companies in the future

Strength in Numbers: Using Data to Track Diversity and Inclusion

Marianne Bertrand, Caroline Grossman, Mekala Krishnan, Promarket, The Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, October 2020

Explains how no simple solution is going to cure all DEIB woes. Change needs to be deliberate and transformational, which takes time.

"People arrived at quotas as a panacea, as the silver bullet. And it’s great that it has led to increased representation on boards, but that’s really not had the kind of spillover effects that people had hoped."


  • Quotas for executive boards, while not showing any negative effects, aren’t the transformative policy that many thought it would be
  • Culture change takes time—anywhere from 5-7 years for change to really start to trickle through the org
  • Change the norms: For example, instead of lengthening the maternity leave policy which separates women from the labor force for longer, create a parental leave policy that encourages both parents to take time off, leveling the playing field

Here’s How to Wield Empathy and Data to Build an Inclusive Team

Interview with Ciara Trinidad, Head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at Blend, First Round Review, 2018

Explains that the key to building the strongest, most diverse team is understanding and believing in why you’re doing it. Knowing the reason behind it gives momentum to the initiatives and gets people onboard.

"Discussion gives muscles to data—especially around D&I. Without it, a dashboard is a depository. A dialogue becomes a monologue, which eventually becomes silence."


  • Partner with the HR operations specialist to learn what data is stored where; use the fields needed to help create a dashboard that provides a meaningful narrative
  • Try different analyses to discover which are the most revealing. Some examples might be:
    • Analyzing hires by month, by team which can show how recruiters are faring against DEIB strategies
    • Analyzing hires by month, by race which can reveal an org’s internal biases
    • Analyzing hires by tenure which can reveal when people leave and why
  • Present the data to every person who has a stake in the company in the clearest, most digestible way
  • Keep the lines of communication open; consider using your existing talent as your DEIB professionals and pay them for that work

Actionable Diversity and Inclusion Analytics with Philips’ Toby Culshaw

Joe Macy, Gartner, 2019

Provides a case study into how companies can leverage partnerships for DEIB analytics, and making sure how data can be made comprehensive and presented in a way that’s easy to digest.

"Because of the partnerships with internally facing HR analytics and reporting teams, the Talent Intelligence team could access information already available at Philips and avoid starting from scratch to find the needed information. The partnerships also ensured the different teams were on the same page and understood how to impact D&I at Philips."


  • Break the project down into 3 smaller phases:
    • Gather internal data to understand the current state by partnering with the HR analytics team
    • Gather external data to understand the feasibility of changing the current state by looking at the markets in which Philips operates
    • Synthesize the internal and external data in a segmented way to drive action
  • Present data by creating easy-to-consume materials designed to drive action
  • Thoroughly understand the competitive landscape worldwide to find the right talent and understand the feasibility of diversity goals

Delivering On Diversity and Inclusion: How Employers Can Achieve Measurable Results

White Paper, Visier

Encourages orgs to move away from the traditional top-down approach to D&I practices and, instead, empower frontline workers to initiate change. This approach must include data that’s readily understood by all and looks to the future instead of criticizing the present.

“When data can be accessed in a way that facilitates exploration (without the need for a data science degree!), it can help organizations understand where to focus their talent efforts to achieve broader goals.”


  • Avoid common data pitfalls, such as measuring diversity as a blanket number and prioritizing reports over insights
  • D&I taskforces are more effective than top-down approaches to change
  • Unify data from multiple sources, so that users can dig deeper into the data
  • Utilize D&I analytics to:
  • Compare the org to the most recent EEOC benchmarks
  • Clearly communicate changes and diversity through dynamic, real-time visual storytelling
  • Demonstrate how D&I initiatives have an impact on business performance metrics
  • Understand engagement among diverse employees, and monitor the impact engagement has on turnover and exit patterns

Additional Reading Recommendations

  1. “Better People Analytics: Measure Who They Know, Not Just Who They Are,” Harvard Business Review / Paul Leonardi & Noshir Contractor, November-December 2018,
  2. “15 Ways People Analytics Can Improve Workforce Diversity,” / Rosie Harman, August 2020,
  3. “Why you should apply analytics to your people strategy,” McKinsey & Co., The McKinsey Podcast / Simon London, Bryan Hancock & Bill Schaninger, April 2019,
  4. “Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with People Analytics,” Human Capital Institute, Nine to Thrive / Phil Willburn,
  5. “4 Things Walmart Learned About Using Data to Drive Diversity,” The APQC Blog / Elissa Tucker, September 2019,
  6. "How CEOs and CHROs Can Connect People to Business Strategy", Harvard Business Review Analytics Services, 2017,
  7. “Data And Diversity: How Numbers Could Ensure There’s A Genuine Change For The Better,” / HV MacArthur, August 2020,

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB) and Skills: What the Literature Says

Posted on Tuesday, April 20th, 2021 at 10:00 AM    

DEIB & Skills: We Found What We Expected

Our hope (wish? dream?) that we'd overlooked a treasure trove of articles on DEIB and skills did not come to fruition. Instead, as expected, our literature review turned up numerous articles explaining:

  • How leaders can become more inclusive
  • The role managers can play in promoting DEIB
  • The strategies orgs should put in place

But, missing from our lit review: The specific DEIB skills that individuals should or can develop, as well as what role learning can play in the development.

We looked at more than 50 academic and business articles, reports, and books for this lit review. This article summarizes the 5 key themes that emerged from the literature. But before we dive into them, we first want to touch upon a few things that surprised us.

A few things surprised us

We did still find a few interesting nuggets from our literature review, such as:

  • While much is written about DEIB-related courses and trainings, very little exists on the skills that foster DEIB and how they can be developed.
  • We found 2 reports with in-depth research on the skills that impact DEIB (we share details on these publications below).
  • Increasingly, storytelling is becoming more essential for knowledge-sharing and building a culture of trust and collaboration (areas that impact DEIB)—but no existing literature makes the direct connection to DEIB nor sees it as an important skill for it.


In this article, we summarize the key insights we learned:

  1. Traditional diversity training doesn’t work
  2. People look at DEIB competencies, not skills
  3. Skills for DEIB transcend individual roles and orgs
  4. DEIB skills should be part of organizational learning
  5. DEIB skills are in demand, but we don’t know how to teach them

Traditional diversity training doesn’t work

A recurring theme on this topic is the ineffectiveness of traditional diversity and unconscious bias training. In fact, research has shown that this kind of training may result in awareness among underrepresented groups of the bias-driven barriers that exist within an org while having no effect on the behaviors of the majority represented population.1

The positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two—and a number of studies suggest that it can activate bias or spark a backlash.

However, there’s considerable research that also focuses on ways orgs can make such training relevant and useful, by making some crucial adjustments to it, such as:

  • Being intentional about the outcomes and clearly defining them
  • Diversifying the training content
  • Removing the assumption that individuals at all hierarchical levels experience DEIB similarly
  • Articulating specific and realistic expectations
  • Consistently evaluating people to track changes and nudging them to take action

All of these suggestions point toward helping people learn something that they can apply in their work—skills.

People look at DEIB competencies, not skills

We found quite a bit written about competencies that leaders, managers, and employees need to drive meaningful change for DEIB. A common thread among the literature is the need to focus on developing competencies that are both individual- / person-focused, and those that impact the broader team and org. Cultural competency is one of the most frequently referenced areas.

“Cultural competence is the ability to recognize that people have different experiences than you, to understand the social, economic, or political reasons why those experiences are different”2

We found 2 problems with the lit that focused on competencies:

  1. There’s no consensus or agreement on what this set of competencies needs to be
  2. Competencies by definition are too broad to enable taking action to foster DEIB

We think the focus should instead be on the skills that foster DEIB. As we mention in our article Skills for DEIB: Building The Muscles We Need, skills are applied and, thus, enable action-taking. However, the current lit lacks structured research around the specific skills (or a set of them) that can enable people to take action.

Skills for DEIB transcend individual roles & orgs

Some of the lit we reviewed discussed the difficulty in identifying key skills for DEIB, as compared with the way we identify skills for a specific role or job via a job analysis. Skills that foster DEIB transcend roles and orgs.

Everyone needs DEIB skills if they want to work successfully and effectively with diverse individuals or groups, whether it be within their current org or a future one. It should be noted, however, that some evidence exists in the lit about how certain skills are more crucial at different hierarchical levels.

Some DEIB skills are more crucial at different hierarchical levels.

For example, a staff-level employee might find more value in leveraging their collaboration and communication skills if most of their interactions are with diverse peers or supervisors. On the other hand, an executive trying to implement strategic decisions that might impact diverse groups differently should leverage their active listening and / or storytelling skills.

DEIB skills should be part of organizational learning

As we mention in the beginning of the article, there’s considerable literature on DEIB training, and the role of L&D in delivering, tracking, and measuring its effectiveness. We did come across a few insightful pieces that see the role of learning extend beyond delivering specific trainings. Because DEIB is foundational to everything that happens at work, it, therefore, needs to be an integral part of org-wide learning initiatives.

Because DEIB is foundational to everything that happens at work, it, therefore, needs to be an integral part of org-wide learning initiatives.

L&D has an important role in doing that, and going beyond delivering trainings and courses on DEIB. From ensuring consistent terminology and definitions to assessing and measuring progress in skills development, the learning function can bring their expertise to ensure a lasting and meaningful impact.

By working with the DEIB leaders, the L&D function can effectively identify skills that have a meaningful impact on driving org-wide inclusion efforts—and make development of those DEIB skills a part of an individual’s overall learning and development.

DEIB skills are in demand, but we don’t know how to teach them

Many articles highlight the rise in demand for “soft” skills. The pandemic, widespread protests for social justice, and climate-related disasters have resulted in people becoming aware of certain skills that can help them survive and thrive during times of rapid change.

Some refer to them as “durable skills”—because they’re not perishable like technical skills that can become obsolete if the tech itself is no longer popular or used widely. For example, collaboration and empathy are increasingly seen as critical skills to function effectively in a new environment. Not surprisingly, these soft / durable / humanizing skills (whatever we call them) are also crucial for building inclusive environments and a culture of belonging.

People are becoming aware of certain skills—soft, durable, or humanizing—that can help them survive and thrive during times of rapid change.

The problem, as some authors allude to, lies in the approach to developing these skills for 2 reasons.

The first reason: It’s difficult to teach these skills individually. As one author put it:

“Historically, if employees don’t arrive “naturally endowed” with these skills, they are often left to develop them on the job. How do you teach or develop skills like mental agility, for example?”3

A suggested approach to this problem is grouping interrelated skills into clusters and investing in a family of skills.

“Rather than targeting mental agility in isolation, you might target its cluster by also addressing skills like navigating ambiguity, working with incomplete information, and developing organizational and self-awareness.”4

The second reason: It’s difficult to ensure whether these skills are being implemented and practiced by people. Some ideas are suggested in the existing lit to address this, such as:

  • Incorporating a microlearning approach and integrating it into the workflow
  • Combining learning with coaching
  • Using nudges and reminders to apply their new skills and practice them

What Caught Our Attention

Of all the literature we reviewed, a few pieces stood out to us. Each of these pieces contain information that we find useful and / or intriguing. We learned from their perspectives—and encourage you to do the same.

Skills for Diversity and Inclusion in Organizations: A Review and Preliminary Investigation

Rosemary Hays-Thomas, Alyinth Bowen, and Megan Boudreaux | The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 2012

This article offers an academic approach to identifying skills for diversity and how they vary, based on the different hierarchical levels within an org.

"Empathy or the ability to take the role of another may be critical to diversity effectiveness at all levels the organizations. Self-awareness and listening skills are likely to be important at all levels as well."


  • Reviews the existing lit on identifying the skills needed for diversity
  • Applies a critical incident methodology to develop a broad-based set of diversity attributes
  • Lays out a model to help understand what values, knowledge, and skills are most important at different org levels (e.g., staff, middle managers, and executives) for effectiveness in diverse environments
  • Highlights the importance of empathy at all levels of the org

Building the Link Between Learning and Inclusion

KeyAnna Schmiedl, interviewed by Deborah Milstein | MIT Sloan Management Review, March 2021

This article provides an example of how DEIB leaders and L&D functions can work together to create learning opportunities that foster a culture of belonging and inclusion among employees. This is an extremely timely article: It provides great examples of how Wayfair is leveraging such a partnership to update its training around inclusion in light of the social justice movements of 2020.

"We’ve … codeveloped ‘culture of inclusion’ trainings with L&D. They had the subject-matter expertise to pinpoint the highly engaging points in the instructor-led, in-person training and recreate those experiences in a different e-learning format."


  • People are making the connection that diversity, equity, and inclusion are not a set of initiatives that operate in a silo
  • DEI needs to be foundational to everything that happens at work, including learning
  • By partnering, DEI leaders and L&D can bring better solutions to people within the org
  • The connection between learning and DEIB should be seamless

Skills in Demand, Skills in Decline

Matthew J. Daniel, Susan Hackett | Chief Learning Officer Magazine, December 2020

This article offers insights into which skills are growing in demand and why, as orgs look to build those that’ll enable them to thrive in a new environment. It also provides suggestions on how orgs can approach developing these skills.

"The most notable trend, perhaps, is the volume of perishable skills in declining demand… platform- or organization-specific tools or languages that remain important for some but are increasingly volatile. Fluency in these programs takes a back seat to more durable and stable skills."


  • Perishable skills—that focus on specific tools or software, and which are org-specific—are in decline
  • Durable skills and stable skills—that are transferable, and which enable people to work in volatile environments—are on the rise
  • Orgs can approach the development of such skills by grouping them into clusters
  • Orgs need to think about broadening and diversifying the durable skills sets of their people

Risky Business: Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter

Celeste Young and Roger Jones | Victoria University and Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2019

This article provides a list of skills identified as critical to support D&I practice and the implementation of activities, based on a workshop conducted at Victoria University in December 2018. While the workshop was specifically designed for emergency management orgs (EMO), the applicability and relevance of these skills to all orgs is obvious and clear.

"Communication as a skill is already widely recognized as crucial for D&I practice, but the nomination of listening and reflective skills indicates the need for the development of specific social skills to enhance inclusion."


  • D&I shocks can lead to risks serious enough to threaten the ability of EMOs to perform their functions
  • Results from the workshop showed that listening and reflection were rated as the most important skills needed for D&I
  • Other needed skills for D&I included being collaborative and analytic, and applied skills such as engagement, negotiation, and being able to manage unconscious bias

Storytelling in Organizations: The Power and Traps of Using Stories to Share Knowledge in Organizations

Deborah Sole, Daniel Gray Wilson | Harvard Graduate School of Education Journal, January 2002

This article explains how storytelling can be extremely effective in building or renewing trust and building a collective vision. While an explicit connection between storytelling as a skill and DEIB is not made in the article, we think it’s an important skill as it drives many components of DEIB, such as building trust, resolving conflicts, and generating emotional connections.

"Storytelling has been used in domains to communicate embedded knowledge, resolve conflict, and simulate problem solving."


  • Well-designed, well-told stories can convey both information and emotion
  • Storytelling can especially be effective in socializing new members and mending relationships
  • Storytelling is a means to share norms and values, develop trust, and generate emotional connections

Additional Reading Recommendations

  1. Creating a Competency Model for Diversity and Inclusion Practitioners, The Conference Board / Indira Lahiri, 2008.
  2. What Black Employee Resource Groups Need Right Now,” Harvard Business Review / Aiko Bethea,
  3. Inclusive Workplace Competencies,” Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, 2017.
  4. “'Soft’ Skills Are in Demand. Can They Be Taught?Fortune / Anne Fisher, May 2019.
  5. Don’t Give Up on Unconscious Bias Training—Make It Better,” Harvard Business Review / Joelle Emerson, April 2017.

Learning Content In The 2020s: What The Literature Says

Posted on Monday, March 22nd, 2021 at 5:17 PM    

Looking at recent thought leadership in the L&D space, one glaring theme pops out—learning tech. Learning leaders, practitioners, and vendors alike are talking about skills tech, AR / VR, microlearning tech—you’d be forgiven for thinking, “It’s all about tech!” Our recent research confirms the ascendancy of learning tech.1


Even as learning tech has its time in the spotlight, learning leaders are realizing that what they’re trying to share via tech—the information that helps employees develop—is equally if not more essential than the tech that delivers it. In short:

The effectiveness of learning tech relies on the strength of the learning content it conveys.

This brings us to our current line of research—content.

In recent years, we’ve seen a massive increase in the amount and types of learning content available to employees—both internally created and owned by the org (proprietary) and externally created (nonproprietary). With this expansion of options, L&D leaders are pressed to ask questions like:

  • Where should we get content? Should we create it in-house or acquire it from a third party?
  • Should the type of content (i.e., nonproprietary vs. proprietary) change how we deliver learning?
  • How can we avoid overwhelming employees with learning content?
  • Within my org, who should own what content?
  • How can we measure and improve the effectiveness of content?

These questions gave rise to the overarching research question we hope to answer through this work:

How can orgs enable employees to access the right learning content, at the right time, in the right format (to give them the right learning experience)?

Themes from the Literature

We reviewed the current literature on content (including content management, strategy, operations, and tech) to understand what orgs and thought leaders are saying about content. We also wanted to see if any key steps exist to deciphering how orgs think—and should think—about content.

The following word cloud is the product of the 50 articles that we reviewed (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Learning Content Lit Review Word Cloud | Source: RedThread Research, 2021.

This word cloud illuminates several content-related trends.

  • First, Figure 1 highlights the significance of the word “more.” With an ocean of learning content available to employees now, people are overwhelmed. This reality was eloquently described by one author who said:

eLearning content is being created and shared faster than you can blink. While today's employees want to direct their own learning, digital information overload can make that a difficult task without a roadmap.2

This content overload gives rise to the question:

With so much learning content available, how can employees easily find what they really need?

  • The prominence of the word “need” in Figure 1 emphasizes the importance of enabling learning at the right time and place. For employees to learn in the flow of work, content must be easily accessible at the point of need.
  • Finally, “strategy” in Figure 1 is noticeably smaller than some of the other terms. This reflects a trend we see in the literature: Content strategy is present but isn’t a fully developed concept with L&D quite yet. By contrast, it is a fully developed concept with marketing and enterprise content management—and we drew on some of the literature from these areas for this lit review.

To add to this analysis, the literature reflects 5 key themes:

  • Content management tech doesn’t equate to a content strategy
  • Marketing and enterprise content management offer lessons about content for L&D
  • Democratizing content creation
  • Should delivery modality dictate content decisions?
  • Current literature says little about proprietary vs. nonproprietary content

Let’s dig deeper.

Content management tech doesn’t equate to a content strategy

Although many L&D articles reference content (CMSs) and learning content management systems (LCMSs), few address how to build a content strategy.

So what exactly is a content strategy? Author Chad Udell writes:

In its simplest terms, content strategy for formal learning is a holistic plan for content—the knowledge that you want the learner to receive and retain.3

A content strategy helps orgs be more intentional about the content learning leaders produce or acquire—typically to support the org’s business goals. It also helps keep content consistent and focused (including a consistent tone and voice—a form a branding). This focus stands in stark contrast to many orgs’ tendency to pump out more and more new learning content for the sake of content, ultimately overwhelming and misguiding employees.4

Hoping to make content more manageable and accessible for employees, some L&D orgs look to content management tech as the “silver bullet” answer—thinking their problems will be solved even if they implement the tech without a clear content strategy. This attempt often backfires—or at least dies a slow, quiet death—when nobody uses the tech.

So, instead of a tech-first approach, learning leaders must design a holistic plan for content—a content strategy—and set up any content management tech to support those larger goals.

A learning content strategy is not the same thing as a learning tech strategy: It’s not enough to buy new tech—orgs need to choose content to support their business and learning goals.

Marketing and enterprise content management offer lessons about content for L&D

Marketing offers relevant advice to the L&D world when thinking through questions related to content. If you swap “buyer” for “learner,” marketing-related resources can share key lessons for L&D on cultivating a consistent brand, conducting a needs analysis, and understanding one’s own audience when it comes to content.5 Both marketers and L&D practitioners need to understand:

  • Who their audience is
  • Why that audience needs our services
  • What content we should provide
  • When to trigger the buyer / learner to action
  • Where buying / learning can best happen

Marketing offers relevant advice to the L&D world when thinking through questions related to content.

These ideas are captured well in Figure 2.

The 5Ws for Content Marketing & L&D |, 2018.

Where marketing diverges from L&D is on the point of content ownership. While marketing typically has a central content team and a consolidated source of content operations, many orgs can’t centralize all learning content creation.6 L&D must figure out questions about learning content ownership without leaning on marketers’ experiences.

Where marketing offers insights into understanding our audience and cultivating a brand, enterprise content management focuses on standardization, governance, and modularity to enable orgs to create (or facilitate the creation of), manage, and personalize content at scale. Potential lessons for L&D from this area of the literature include:

  • Personalization of content can only be scaled by standardizing content7
  • Standardizing content requires breaking it into small, reusable component parts8
  • Establishing clear processes for content creation and ownership—governance—is critical to successful content management9

Democratizing content creation

Content has traditionally been handled with a “top-down” methodology, with orgs deciding what employees need to learn, and then creating or providing the relevant content. However, approaches like user-generated content flip this traditional approach on its head. Now employees are encouraged to create learning content.

User-generated content taps into the idea that workers are already sharing information with their peers. One study found that this type of peer-sharing often occurs through answering questions via message or social network (39% of respondents), and through sharing articles, podcasts, and other mediums (37% of respondents).10 The thinking is:

Workers naturally share information with peers, so why not equip them to create content on behalf of the org?11

By actively engaging employees in the process of content creation, user-generated content also promotes learner engagement and satisfaction. The content also tends to be more relevant as it results from real employee needs and experiences.

However, user-generated content isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. While democratized content is proprietary, it’s also less centrally controllable than other proprietary content—bringing in questions about the quality and reliability of the content itself.12 Learning leaders need to ask questions about their role in user-generated content: How should L&D facilitate peer-sharing learning and / or conduct quality reviews of this type of content?

Should delivery dictate content?

Nobody knows—yet.

Different types of delivery options have become increasingly popular of late. Among these are microlearning, mobile learning, and VR: In fact, one recent study documented a 7% increase in mobile learning from 2019 to 2020.13 While the literature reflects this shift, many recent articles discuss how to best create content specific to delivery modalities.

The literature reflects a shift in the learning tech market toward specialized delivery methods—and offers lots of advice about how to create content specific to those methods.

One author, Dr. RK Prasad, offers insight into what a content strategy specific to microlearning could look like. He recommends that learning leaders should rely on gamification more than instructor-led training (ILT): This, he argues, would make learning content more digestible for employees and less expensive for orgs in the long term.14

Another article focused on how to create a content strategy for mobile learning, stressing the importance of the content “lifecycle” and the need to transform content to fit a mobile platform.15 Similarly, another source addressed content development for VR training, and detailed the 6 steps needed to convert content for VR and then test it via this medium.16

The question then becomes:

Should the delivery method change the nature of the content or should orgs make all content reusable, regardless of the original platform?

We couldn’t find any answers in the literature, so we plan to explore this question further in our research.

Current literature says little about proprietary vs nonproprietary content

Heading into this research, we hypothesized that the type of content (i.e., proprietary or nonproprietary) would change how orgs select, prioritize, deliver, and measure learning content.

One reason we believe the content type matters so much is that ownership of the content can change depending on the content type.

In many orgs, a central L&D team fully owns nonproprietary content related to topics like leadership development, while subject-matter experts (SMEs) outside of L&D own proprietary content related to org-specific intellectual property, systems, and processes. L&D may facilitate delivery of that content, but an SME is responsible for creating and maintaining it. User-generated content complicates matters further by distributing creation and ownership even more broadly thoughout the org.

This reality has serious consequences for content strategy, delivery, and measurement. So, for L&D, this means fully answering the question:

Who owns what learning content within the org?

  • Should business SMEs be responsible for generating subject-specific content (e.g., related to processes, systems, intellectual property, etc.)?
  • Should L&D own all content creation? Should L&D own any content creation?
  • How does L&D’s role shift as it relates to both types of content (proprietary and nonproprietary)?

Unfortunately, we found little to no information in the literature weighing in on these questions. We look forward to exploring them in more depth as part of this research.

Top Sources Worth Reading

5 articles in the literature provided great insight into how learning leaders should be thinking of content, including taking advice from some marketing professionals. We found these sources helpful and encourage you to check them out:

10 Steps to Building a Successful Content Strategy

James A. Martin | CMS Wire, January 2018

The article, while initially created for marketing, outlines 10 key steps to creating a content strategy, including choosing the best tech and tailoring the right content for the job.

“To be successful, though, you can’t push out content ‘spray and pray’ style, hoping at least one piece hits its target audience in just the right way.”


  • Choose the right tech that allows you to update content
  • Be intentional about your target audience and build learner personas
  • Conducting a content audit will increase engagement
  • Cluster content into digestible chunks for employees


A Content Strategy Isn’t Just for Marketers

Bianca Baumann | Training Industry, Sept/Oct 2017

This article points out the steps L&D can take when creating and implementing a content strategy, pulling from parallels with marketing.

“Ultimately, having a strategy in place helps create meaningful, engaging and sustainable content, and allows to identify the right content at the right time for the right audience.”


  • Leaders need to think through both the substance and structure of the content
  • Leaders should consider workflow (e.g., resources needed) and governance (e.g., policies, decision-makers)
  • Implementing a content strategy requires the following steps (resembling the ADDIE17 model):
    • First, learning leaders need to identify a training gap (analysis), strategize before designing (strategy), and create a communication program upfront (plan)
    • Next, leaders need to consider reusing content in different forms (create) and think through different learning modalities (deliver)
    • Finally, leaders need to align measures with their org’s needs and objectives (measure) and make sure to keep content updated (maintain)

Reusing Content Is Key in Today's Quickly Changing Marketing Landscape

Anjali Yakkundi | CMS Wire, November 2020

This piece discusses how content can be reused by considering content assets to be more like Lego pieces than fixed creations, in order to adapt content to different delivery platforms. This Lego approach frees content creators from spending time updating, managing, and tailoring content—freeing them to focus on other activities like content strategy.

“By breaking down content to smaller, reusable chunks, marketing teams can more easily reuse, recombine and repurpose content to be used on multiple channels.”


  • To democratize the learning, content owners should reuse the content and involve multiple team members in the process
  • Content owners need to act with agility: They can use a “test-and-iterate" content strategy and be ready to shift priorities when required
  • When repurposing content, it’s important to make any changes needed for the context in which the learning’s being presented to the target audience

Bringing Content Strategy into the Blend

Phylise Banner | TD Magazine, August 2017

This magazine article discusses how blended learning can be best served with a content strategy that addresses 3 domains: objective, content, and human.

“When content strategy is done well, no one notices that it’s there. They are too engaged with the experience—which is exactly what we want from our learners.”


  • Content strategists need to:
    • Create learner personas to describe and understand the attributes of employees
    • Build an org-readiness matrix
    • Conduct a content audit to analyze which types of content are working
    • Understand workflow and governance by having a content lifecycle
    • Identify a team to facilitate the learning culture and carry out the content strategy

User-Generated Content: Socialization of eLearning content

Satyabrata Das | eLearning Industry, December 2020.

This article lays out key advantages and disadvantages of user-generated content and the reasons why this type of content’s becoming increasingly popular.


  • User-generated content’s gaining traction in formal learning (while it’s been popular in informal learning)
  • Advantages of user-generated content include high engagement, greater relevance, and greater acceptability
  • Disadvantages of user-generated content include dependency on a few users to generate content, questionable reliability and accuracy of the content, and incomplete coverage of relevant areas

Additional Reading Recommendations

Building Learning Tech Ecosystems: What the Literature Says 2 Years Later

Posted on Monday, March 15th, 2021 at 12:33 PM    

About 2 years ago, as part of our research on learning tech ecosystems we conducted an in-depth lit review on how to create such an ecosystem. We were looking for thoughtful, credible insights on how orgs, vendors, and thought leaders were approaching the question of how to build truly effective learning tech ecosystems that meet org and employee needs. Given how many vendors we'd seen offering point solutions rather than all-encompassing platforms, we were surprised at the dearth of credible sources on the topic.

In more recent research, we noted that learning tech is booming—with more vendors, more customers, more users, more functionalities, and more choice than ever before.1 Some of this growth is due to COVID-19: Learning tech got a shot in the arm during the pandemic as orgs scrambled to pivot their businesses—and the learning strategies that support them—to keep up with the massive changes occurring in their environments.

And, while some growth in learning tech was already happening (or forecasted) even before the pandemic, the upheavals of the past year have made this question much more urgent—and critical:

How should orgs be thinking about creating their learning tech ecosystems?

In other words, with so many learning tech options and so many ways to fit the pieces together, how can orgs choose tech to build the ecosystem that’s right for them?

So we decided to look at the literature again. We wanted to see if, in the past 2 years, articles on learning tech ecosystems have started pushing the thinking beyond the pedestrian. As it turns out, in some areas the thinking has moved forward—for example around learning budgets—but the advice in the literature is still largely fragmented and tactical.

Themes from the Literature

We reviewed the current literature on the topic of choosing learning tech to identify any models, frameworks, or thought leadership on creating learning tech ecosystems. The text of the 40 articles we reviewed resulted in the following word cloud (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Lit Review Word Cloud | Source: RedThread Research, 2021.

The word cloud highlights one of our early observations during this research:

The meaning behind “choosing learning tech” is changing.

Notice in Figure 1 that LMS and LXP are the only types of learning tech mentioned enough times in the literature to show up in the word cloud. This reflects the historic meaning of “choosing learning tech.” This phrase used to mean choosing the best LMS—or, if you were really forward-leaning, LXP—for your org. But there’s so much more to the universe of learning tech—a fact that shows up in some of the other words in Figure 1 like data, digital, experiment, change, and perform. That wasn't the case when we did the last lit review 2 years ago.

This shift towards an awareness of the wider learning tech universe is reflected in the 5 themes we identified from the literature:

  • Learning budgets are shifting toward tech
  • Don’t let the tail wag the dog: learning tech decisions should be made in service of business and learning strategies
  • Advice in the literature is fragmented and tactical
  • Choosing learning tech doesn’t (necessarily) mean buying learning tech
  • L&D teams need technologists

Let’s dive into these 5 themes in more detail.

Learning budgets are shifting toward tech

By Q1’2020, most L&D budgets for the year had been set. As the COVID-19 pandemic arrived on the scene, a few orgs decided to increase their overall learning budgets to invest more than originally planned in employee development. Many more orgs, however, decided to simply shift existing funds from planned in-person training to expand virtual and online development opportunities—all of which is supported or delivered by learning tech.

Overall, orgs significantly increased their usage of online and collaborative modalities, with considerable increases in 3 types of tech tools in particular:2

The shifting trend toward tech is here to stay: As illustrated in Figure 2, in 2021, almost three-fourths (73%) of learning professionals expect to do less instructor-led training (ILT), and almost four-fifths (79%) anticipate doing more online learning.3

Figure 2: Percentage of L&D Professionals Expecting Investment Changes—ILT vs Online |
Source: LinkedIn Learning, 2021.

Tech decisions must serve strategy

Don’t let the tail wag the dog: Tech decisions should be made in service of business and learning strategies.

A prominent theme in the literature is linking tech decisions to strategy. Many articles we reviewed emphasized the importance of understanding what your org is trying to achieve before deciding what tech is needed. Otherwise learning leaders risk investing in tech they don’t need and probably won’t use.

We particularly appreciated the point by two authors, Nan Guo and Bülent Gögdün, that in some orgs:

“… What goes wrong is the wasteful spending to signal innovativeness without solving a real problem.”4

Bottom line: While it may be tempting to experiment with new technologies, it's important to remember that novelty doesn't necessarily solve business problems. Instead, learning leaders must clearly identify what they want to achieve through employee development—what business results they seek to support—and look for the tech solution(s) that can help realize those goals.

Advice in the literature—Fragmented & tactical

The literature contains many, many articles on how to choose specific types of learning tech—an LXP, an LMS, or the latest VR tech, for example.5 As we saw in the word cloud above, LMSs and LXPs are far more represented than any other type of learning tech.

Where the literature falls short: Most articles don’t account for the incredible range of available tech that can be leveraged for learning—or how to fit the various pieces together into a cohesive ecosystem6 which evolves over time. Although some helpful checklists (provided by vendors) exist to help buyers think through various aspects of a learning tech purchase, most of these checklists focus on each vendor’s area of expertise.7

We see an opportunity to write about more holistic approaches to choosing learning tech.

These specific, tactical articles are very helpful—if you already know what tech you need. But there's not much in the literature for those leaders who need to step back, identify needs, and take a more holistic approaches to choosing learning tech.

Choosing learning tech doesn’t (necessarily) mean buying learning tech

Some articles in our lit review noted the importance of understanding the full capabilities of the tech already in-house. According to one source, 89% of orgs already use at least 3 learning tech platforms.8

89% of orgs already use at least 3 learning tech platforms—and most platforms aren’t being fully leveraged.

There’s a good chance that in-house platforms offer features and functionalities that could support learning needs—and which aren’t currently being used. This situation often arises because a platform is purchased to meet one need (or set of needs) and only certain functionalities are turned on to meet those needs, even though the platform has more to offer. In other cases, vendors add functionalities during platform updates.

Some orgs also have the in-house capability to build systems, processes, and / or platforms to meet learning objectives.

So, before making any additional purchases, it’s critical to understand what features already exist—or could be built in-house—and how they might be leveraged. Considering all the different ways to acquire tech—not just buying—can help learning leaders make the most effective, cost-efficient learning tech decisions.

L&D teams need dedicated learning technologists

The fact that most orgs already have multiple learning tech solutions makes any learning tech decision more complex. L&D leaders must not only ask what already exists—as discussed in the previous section—but also how any new tech would integrate with existing systems.

Enter the learning technologist!

Learning technologists have unique skills—amounting increasingly to full-time jobs and, in some orgs, entire teams—that allow them to:

  • Truly understand the learning tech that’s available in the market
  • Envision how learning tech might help solve an org’s specific business challenges
  • Figure out how all the different pieces of tech can be leveraged and assembled / integrated together

Traci Cantu, then-director of learning technology at Whole Foods, emphasized in a podcast that learning tech bridges the worlds of HR, IT, operations, and learning.9 It’s helpful to have team members dedicated to understanding and navigating this nexus.

Or, as another article put it, in the L&D orgs of the future:

“Learning technologists will design and implement the right technology stack with the right mix of tools—from traditional learning management systems (LMSs) to modern learning experience platforms (LXPs)—and fit-for-purpose learning apps.”10

Next, we take a closer look at some of the key articles we discovered in our lit review.

Sources That Caught Our Attention

Several articles—and one podcast—in the literature illuminated key considerations about choosing learning tech. The sources below contain insights we found both intriguing and helpful. We learned from their perspectives and encourage you to do the same.

Three Steps to Turn Your Company into a Learning Powerhouse

Andrew Dyer, Susanne Dyrchs, J. Puckett, Hans-Paul Buerkner, Allison Bailey, and Zhdan Shakirov | BCG, November 2020

This article outlines how to put learning at the forefront of the org. It includes tech as 1 factor to consider, situating tech decisions within the overall learning and business strategies.

“Does your company have the necessary infrastructure—the tools and technology—to measure, support, and continuously improve the learning ecosystem?”


  • The 5 domains that make learning ecosystems successful are:
    • A refined strategy
    • A mature learning org
    • High-quality offerings (library of content)
    • Enablers / infrastructure to support delivery
    • “Learnscape integration”—a community of providers inside and outside the org
  • The authors developed a set of questions to evaluate these 5 domains, including learning tech in the “enablers” domain
  • CEOs must measure learning capabilities against KPIs
  • Orgs must assuage leaders’ fear of investing in employee development only to lose those people to other teams or even other orgs entirely

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

LinkedIn Learning, 2021

This comprehensive article on the state of learning in the workplace highlights a number of key trends that resulted from or were accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The section on L&D budgets is particularly relevant for this research on choosing learning tech.

64% of L&D pros globally agree was the moment learning shifted from a “nice to have” to a “need to have.”


  • L&D has gained a lasting seat at the C-suite table as CEOs continue to prioritize learning; as a result, L&D budgets are likely to continue increasing
  • The pivot from instructor-led training to virtual / online learning is here to stay—as reflected in learning budgets, which are allocating far more to tech than previously: 79% of L&D pros expect to spend more on online training in 2021
  • Upskilling, reskilling, and internal mobility are top priorities for orgs and L&D in 2021
  • Resilience and digital fluency are the most important skills cited by L&D leaders

Navigating the Corporate Training Market During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ken Taylor | Training Industry, April 2020

This article offers a great snapshot of the state of learning tech at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It reflects much of the uncertainty in the market and offers advice to vendors about how to best serve L&D teams struggling to pivot quickly. has seen an 8.6% increase in web traffic over the past few weeks , with an 8,135% increase in topics related to remote learning, virtual instructor-led training (vILT), and leading through adversity and change.


  • Although some learning tech spending was put on hold in the early days of the pandemic, as of April 2020, orgs appeared ready to increase spending on learning tech
  • Prepandemic:
    • 89% of companies surveyed already had more than 3 learning tech solutions in place, and almost a quarter (23%) had 9 solutions
    • More than 20% of companies planned to increase their investments in learning management systems (LMSs), eLearning, digital content solutions, social / collaboration tools, and delivery platforms
    • Two-thirds of companies felt they were ready to introduce new training tech
  • While the pandemic enabled greater spending on tech, “old problems still exist”; orgs still need to cultivate a strong L&D strategy

A review of L&D budget allocations in 2020

Rocco Brudno | Coassemble & Brandon Hall Group, November 2020

This article describes the changes in L&D budgets in 2020, including helpful statistics on overall budget shifts as well as data on how learning tech priorities change based on on org size.

The majority of businesses didn’t shrink their L&D budgets in 2020 but rather shifted, and in some cases, expanded them.


  • The majority of L&D budgets did not decrease and, in fact, some increased in 2020
  • 83% of small businesses and 97% of large businesses that responded to this article’s survey reported the use of an LMS, and almost one-half of businesses said they keep their LMS for more than 4 years
  • Almost one-half of businesses surveyed didn't know how much their LMS costs per learner annually
  • In addition to LMSs, video platforms and authoring tools were the most valued learning tech solutions among survey respondents, while microlearning and coaching / mentoring solutions were also seen as valuable

Navigating the Purchasing Minefield

Christopher Lind and Jordan Fladell | Learning Tech Talks, February 2020

This frank and fun podcast illuminates many of the landmines in the learning tech purchasing process, and provides helpful, practical insights to learning leaders about how to avoid or mitigate those challenges.

You need to know in detail what L&D must support, what your learning tech systems already can do, and what they can't. And where they can't—that's where you say, “We need X new tech.” Then you have your case built and your internal stakeholders onboard.


  • The RFP process is currently broken—it’s a check-the-box exercise that just encourages L&D leaders to chase features
  • L&D leaders need to clearly understand the business challenges most important to their org—and select learning tech that can help solve those issues
  • Learning leaders must set a scope for their due diligence searches to avoid being overwhelmed by the choices out there
  • Selecting the right learning tech includes understanding whether a new tech can integrate with existing systems exactly as your org needs them to

Additional Reading Recommendations

The Purpose-Driven Org: What the Literature Says

Posted on Thursday, April 16th, 2020 at 2:17 PM    


We’ve been living in a COVID-19 world for quite some time now, and many people are feeling the effects. Companies cut more than 700,000 jobs in March and the total of unemployed workers now exceeds 16 million.1,2 Suppliers are scaling back on production,3 and the consumer confidence index declined in March to 120.0 as compared with 132.6 in February.4 In many ways, there's a sense that we just need to survive this time before we can get “back to normal.”

But in so many other ways, this crisis is providing an opportunity for individuals and organizations to contribute more to others than they ever have before. Many leaders right now assume that companies have an obligation to their workers and communities – even to humankind – to figure out what they can uniquely contribute to help others get through this crisis. And what’s more – to get it to them for free or at cost. (Click here for an epic list of companies contributing to humankind.)

This crisis has brought purpose-driven organizations – those organizations with a responsibility to deliver value to its stakeholders, not just shareholders – into the spotlight.

Given this dynamic, it's even more important to understand how organizations inspire people and make purpose-driven decisions. Our hope is that we can capitalize on this unique moment to better understand how leaders and HR professionals can leverage purpose to navigate the current crisis and continue to add value well beyond it.

To that end, we have begun a study on this topic for which we're asking:

What is the role of purpose-driven organizations today, and how can they help stakeholders navigate and survive this new reality?

It’s important to start by understanding what others have said – and there’s a lot of that! To better understand purpose in organizations, we looked at more than 50 published scholarly articles, periodicals, research reports, and blogs from the past 5 years. Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, we also extensively scoured what's been written more recently to identify trends or shifts in purpose-driven organizations.

5 themes from our lit review

Five themes emerged from our review. In this article, we summarize the most interesting insights we learned:

  1. Good purpose statements inspire action
  2. Relationships anchored in purpose can increase resilience
  3. Purpose enriches the employee experience
  4. Leaders face barriers to purpose-driven decisions
  5. Purpose-driven metrics are a big problem

Good purpose statements inspire action

Many organizations spend a significant amount of time, effort, and even money developing a purpose statement. Some even outsource it to PR or advertising firms to come up with a catchy slogan. But our review found a different story for organizations that are able to develop a good purpose statement and activate it throughout the organization.

Good purpose statements are clearly defined and distinct from other different, though related, terms like mission, vision, values, and principles:5,6

  • Mission. Establishes the organization’s specific business – what it is and what it isn’t
  • Vision. Defines what the organization aspires to become in the future
  • Values. Defines what the organization prioritizes and values most
  • Principles. Outlines a set of behavioral guidelines or rules

Purpose, on the other hand, has its unique flavor:7

Purpose: Expresses the organization’s impact on multiple stakeholders (employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers, communities) and connects to people’s intrinsic motivation. At times, it’s even called an organization’s philosophical beat because it serves to inspire employees.

Good purpose statements motivate people to take action through a shared sense of direction. It's shared because there's a collective sense among colleagues of working toward an unquestionable common goal.8

Relationships anchored in purpose can increase resilience

For purpose-driven leaders, challenging situations represent an opportunity for the organization to live up to its purpose of serving a greater cause. This couldn’t be more true in today’s coronavirus situation. Many organizations are shifting priorities to address market needs, such as distilleries and perfume makers that are now manufacturing hand sanitizers9 or automakers now producing ventilators.10 These actions can go a long way. Research shows that 88% of people feel it’s particularly crucial that organizations not only have a clear purpose statement, but they also demonstrate behaviors which are congruent with it.11

In our readings, we found that the benefits of purpose go both ways because people are more willing to help and defend a purpose-driven organization, if necessary. In a recent U.S. study, for example12

  • 73% of people said they would be more likely to defend a purpose-driven company if someone spoke badly of it
  • 67% of people said they would be more forgiving of companies that lead with purpose compare to those that do not

In companies that had an average annual growth rate of 30% or more in the previous 5 years, purpose enabled them to overcome the challenges of slowing growth and declining profitability.13 In general, purpose isn’t only beneficial to stakeholders, but it's also favorable to purpose-driven organizations. It allows them to build trust and loyalty both internally and externally, which in the end, can make them more resilient to challenging situations.

Purpose enriches the employee experience

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, it may be easy for employee experience – employees’ collective perceptions of their ongoing interactions with the organization14 – to take a back seat as organizations grapple with business disruptions. But, while it may be tempting to neglect employee experience, truly purpose-driven organizations tend to be better equipped to protect it.

For example, in purpose-driven organizations, HR plays a crucial role in helping people understand their purpose, how it connects to the organization’s purpose, and how their daily work contributes to it. This extra attention and effort in helping individuals connect their individual work to the organization’s purpose, especially during a crisis, go a long way in enhancing people’s connection to their work and the organization. Employees who perceive their work as meaningful and purposeful are 3 times more likely to stay with their organization.15

Organizational culture is a particularly important element in purpose-driven organizations. For example, we noticed a parallel between our study on employee experience and the purpose-driven organizations in our readings. Organizations with a positive employee experience display 5 behaviors that are woven into their cultural fabric (see Figure 1).16

Figure1 The Purpose-Driven Organization Literature Review Summary

Figure 1: 5 Essential Behaviors in Supportive Cultures | Source: RedThread Research, 2019.

Similarly, purpose-driven organizations, and especially leaders, tend to demonstrate behaviors that support a positive employee experience:

  • Collaboration. In purpose-driven cultures, shared purpose – a collective sense of working with colleagues toward a common goal – is the most important source of meaning for employees.
    • And meaning matters because employees who rate their work as very meaningful report 14% more job satisfaction than average employees, and 51% more satisfaction than employees with the least meaningful jobs.17
    • The power of shared purpose is more important now than ever. Consider healthcare workers on the frontlines who continue to put themselves at risk to treat infected patients driven by their shared purpose of saving lives.
    • Examples of HR activities that foster collaboration and shared purpose:
      • Career pathing to help existing employees discover their individual purpose and align it to career paths, projects, and new experiences that fuel their sense of meaning and purpose.
      • Learning and development opportunities – training, mentoring, coaching, education, resources – to help employees build skills that further their sense of meaning along with the organization’s purpose.
  • Alignment. Purpose-driven leaders use storytelling to help employees personally identify with the impact of their daily work on the organization’s stakeholders,18 which creates alignment and a stronger sense of shared purpose.
    • The current pandemic is inspiring a sense of shared purpose and alignment among many leaders. Messages like Together We Will Persevere from SAP’s co-CEOs and Coming Together to Combat COVID-19 from Microsoft’s CEO are more common now than in recent years.
    • Example of HR practices that create alignment:
      • Recruitment (hiring for purpose) by having a compelling employer brand that attracts the right individual to apply for jobs at the organization.
  • Transparency. Purpose-driven organizations have leaders who translate (reduce the complexity of purpose) and truthfully communicate the social impact of every decision.19
    • Consider for example, Patagonia’s decision to close all stores amid the COVID-19 outbreak to protect both employees and customers, and their commitment to continuing to pay employees throughout their closure.
    • Example of HR practices that cultivate transparency:
      • Communication to clearly and constantly convey purpose-driven beliefs, values, assumptions, behaviors, and decisions.
  • Psychological safety. Purpose-driven leaders dedicate time to talk personally with employees and intentionally integrate rituals or events that manifest their shared sense of purpose and enhance their mutual trust and psychological safety.
    • Crises like the current pandemic are testing many leaders’ ability to calm down fears and instill a sense of safety throughout the organization. The Coronavirus Generosity Challenge is an example of leaders who are finding ways to make a positive contribution internally and externally amid the current situation.
    • Example of HR practices that build greater psychological safety:
      • Manager support to learn to lead a remote team with empathy (e.g., encourage them to check-in more frequently with their direct reports via video conferencing or phone calls and have meaningful conversations).
  • Feedback-sharing. Purpose-driven organizations actively solicit employees’ ideas to activate their individual sense of meaning and their collective sense of purpose.20
    • Purpose-driven organizations tend to measure purpose through real-time feedback mechanisms (e.g., pulse surveys) that influence the employee experience.
    • Example of HR practices that support feedback-sharing:
      • Pulse surveys to collect real-time and frequent employee feedback, especially during these challenging times.

Leaders face barriers to purpose

Historically, many leaders have believed that a purpose-driven focus conflicts with a profit-driven approach. This may be of no surprise as most of the world has focused on only maximizing profit for shareholders. But even though purpose is often cast as the opposite of business profit, this isn’t necessarily the case.

Organizations can define their impact on stakeholders as a spectrum of possibilities based on what aligns with the firm’s objectives and values. This spectrum can range from deliberate social impact to maximizing both impact and profit objectives, and to meeting the traditional market expectations of pure business profit (see Figure 2).21

Figure 2 The Purpose-Driven Organization Literature Review Summary

Figure 2: The Force for Good Spectrum | Source: INSEAD Responsibility – BLOG, 2020.

Beyond the purpose-vs-profit debate, leaders face other barriers that prevent them from adopting purpose-driven strategies:22,23

  • Market volatility tied to shareholder expectations, which hinders leaders’ ability to focus on long-term value creation
  • C-level executives sometimes lack the ability to envision synergies between sustainable development goals and their business
  • Organizational systems and infrastructure that are not aligned with long-term purpose and value
  • Hiring people whose individual purpose does not align with the organization’s purpose
  • The lack of development opportunities for leaders who do not behave in purpose-driven ways
  • Employee performance targets and incentives that are not aligned with the organization’s purpose

This is further worsened by limited purpose-driven targets or incentives tied to leaders’ scorecards; 68% of leaders see the need to make better progress in this area.24

Yet, it seems like the current COVID-19 pandemic is affording leaders a bit of flexibility to make more purpose-driven decisions than in years’ past. We’re seeing this play out in leaders’ responses to policies and practices that protect employees or in their rapid pooling of resources to address community needs for more ventilators or masks. We see 2020 as providing an opportunity to cement a purpose-driven approach as a strategic and imperative way of doing business.

Purpose-driven metrics are a big problem

Nowadays, purpose is touted as a cost-of-entry for any business. This has been partly driven by pressure from well-known investors,25 by increased scrutiny over the impact of organizations on stakeholders,26 and, to a certain extent, by the promise of greater consumer trust and loyalty along with increased talent retention.27

This focus on purpose-driven organizations is bringing the need to measure impact to the forefront – which is easier said than done. In theory, purpose-driven organizations can substantiate their triple bottom line (TBL) impact on 3 areas: people, planet, and profit.28 There are numerous measurement approaches that follow TBL principles. Here are some of the common ones:

  • Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria29
  • Includes measures of environmental impact (e.g., green building, pollution prevention, energy efficiency), social metrics (e.g., human capital engagement, labor standards), and governance (e.g., business ethics).
  • Social return on investment (SROI)30
  • Tracks relevant social, environmental, and economic outcomes to forecast or evaluate impact. It calculates a ratio after assigning a monetary value to inputs and outcomes.
  • B Corporation Certification31
  • Assesses all aspects of a company (environmental and social impact, corporate governance, community involvement) based on accountability and transparency standards.
  • SAM Corporate Sustainability Assessment32
  • Serves a wide range of stakeholders and includes several indices:
    • The Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI)
    • S&P ESG Index
  • ISO 26000 Social Responsibility33
  • Provides guidelines to effectively assess and address social responsibilities to multiple stakeholders: customers, employees, environment, suppliers, and shareholders.

But in reality, organizations find it challenging to actually measure their TBL; only 35% of companies align their business practices to a multistakeholder model today.34 This is partly driven by unclear and unsystematic reporting mechanisms.

Entities such as The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) aim to fill this gap by outlining specific reporting guidelines that facilitate organization- and industrywide comparisons.35 Organizations can use the recommended guidelines to report their impact across clearly defined economic, environmental, and social categories.

Must-read articles

These articles caught our attention because they're interesting or insightful in helping us understand purpose-driven organizations.

Gartner HR survey reveals 88% of organizations have encouraged or required employees to work from home due to coronavirus

Brian Kropp

“As the COVID-19 crisis disrupts organizations across the globe, HR leaders must respond quickly and comprehensively, considering both immediate and long-term talent consequences.”

This article summarizes findings from a recent HR survey on how organizations are addressing coronavirus challenges and needs.

  • States that 88% of organizations have encouraged or required employees to work from home.
  • Shows how organizations are responding to coronavirus-related absences.
  • Lists recommendations for HR leaders on managing remote talent.

COVID-19 and corporate purpose—Four ways businesses can respond now

Greg Hills

“When faced with this unremitting uncertainty, how can a company maintain clarity on its societal purpose? What is the role and responsibility of your business in a time of chaos and crisis?”

This article suggests four levers to guide purpose-driven organizations during the current COVID-19 crisis.

  • Recommends that organizations leverage their core business assets to meet the current needs of stakeholders.
  • Emphasizes the importance of focusing on generosity and compassion (vs. profit) during this time of need by adding value to stakeholders, especially employees and local communities.
  • Advises leaders to keep a long-term view of their company’s role in navigating the pandemic and helping stakeholders return to normalcy once the current crisis passes.

We are nowhere near stakeholder capitalism

Vijay Govindarajan & Anup Srivastava

“While we admit that considerable progress has been made in developing theory, models, and disclosure norms for ESG objectives, we believe that we are nowhere close to achieving ‘integrated reporting,’ as some people might claim.”

This article states that many organizations aren’t creating value for all stakeholders.

  • Suggests that real change will come once organizations transform their financial and non-financial measures.
  • Mentions that maximizing shareholder returns remains the main objective – while keeping ESG goals as a secondary objective – for many organizations.
  • Asserts that organizations aren’t close to developing an “integrated reporting” framework that includes both tangible and intangible capital resources.

Put purpose at the core of your strategy

Thomas W. Malnight, Ivy Buche, Charles Dhanaraj

“When customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders see that a company has a strong higher purpose, they are more likely to trust it and more motivated to interact with it.”

This article highlights results from a global study of companies that use purpose to generate sustainable growth, stay relevant, and deepen ties with stakeholders.

  • Describes a purpose-driven strategy to help companies overcome challenges.
  • Provides specific suggestions to help organizations define their purpose and implement it as a core business strategy.
  • Highlights the tangible and intangible benefits of purpose to organizations.

Putting purpose to work: A study of purpose in the workplace

Shannon Schuyler & Abigail Brennan

“Purpose is about empathy – it defines the human needs and desires that a company’s products and services fulfill.”

This report discusses results from a study of over 1,500 U.S. employees across 39 industries on purpose in the workplace.

  • Considers leaders’ role in purpose-driven organizations, especially in their communication and decision-making.
  • Identifies team leaders and coaches as holding the greatest potential to help employees identify and translate their individual meaning and purpose into the organization’s purpose.
  • Discusses the role of younger generations in shaping the purpose conversation.

9 out of 10 people are willing to earn less money to do more-meaningful work

Shawn Achor, Andrew Reece, Gabriella Rosen Kellerman, Alexi Robichaux

“The old labor contract between employer and employee – the simple exchange of money for labor – has expired.”

This article discusses results from the Meaning and Purpose at Work Report, and asserts that people highly value meaningful work.

  • Identifies that more than 9 out of 10 employees are willing to trade a percentage of the earnings for greater meaning at work.
  • States that many companies fail to leverage the power of meaning at work despite its many benefits to both employees and organizations.
  • Recommends a series of actions companies and leaders can take to support and foster a sense of meaning and purpose throughout the organization.

Additional articles for your reading pleasure

  1. A Time to Lead with Purpose and Humanity,” Joly, H., Harvard Business Review, 2020.
  2. From Being Purpose-Led to Foster A Toxic Culture: Why Companies Like Away Fail to Live Up to Their Promises,” Bulgarella, C., Forbes, 2019.
  3. Balancing Profit and Social Welfare: Ten Ways to Do It,” Craig Smith, N. & Lankoski, L., INSEAD, 2018.
  4. Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization,” Quinn, R.E. & Thakor, A.V., Harvard Business Review, 2018.
  5. The Purposeful Company,” Chapman, C., Edmans, A., Gosling, T., Hutton, W., & Mayer, C., Big Innovation Centre, 2017.
  6. Purpose-Led Organization: ’Saint Antony’ Reflects on the Idea of Organizational Purpose, in Principle and Practice,” White, A., Yakis-Douglas, B., Helanummi-Cole, H., & Ventresca, M., Journal of Management Inquiry, 2016.
  7. “The Business Case for Purpose,” Keller, V., EY Beacon Institute & Harvard Business Review, 2015.

RedThread Research is an active HRCI provider