Posted on Tuesday, July 12th, 2022 at 6:00 AM
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Organizations still have a long way to go when it comes to DEIB
It's been more than 2 years since the murder of George Floyd. Two years since business leaders published statements promising to address the systemic inequities within their organizations. Two years since organizations began hiring new diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) leaders, reexamining practices, and investing in new programs and systems. So, what results have we seen?
To date, the results of these actions haven't been great. According to the Edelman Trust Index, most employees under age 54 don't believe that companies are living up to the promises made to address racism within their organization. Further, trust in employers to respond appropriately to systemic racism and racial injustice has declined. As shown in Figure 1, this is particularly the case in populations impacted by racially motivated events, such as the mass shootings of Asians in Atlanta, GA in March 2021, Taiwanese in Laguna Woods, CA in May of 2022, and of Blacks in Buffalo, NY also in May of 2022.
Though issues of race are the most prevalent at the moment, they're not the only areas for which employees are dissatisfied with their employers’ responses. For example, data from PwC shows that 80% of employees believe their organizations don’t gather and analyze data on compensation, performance, hiring, and promotions discrepancies. Further, nearly 40% of total respondents from a survey of 1,543 workers, the majority of whom identify as Black, Hispanic / Latinx, Asian, female, and LGBTQIA, believe their company’s commitment to DEI is likely to drift in the future.
Even CEOs recognize the problem: According to Deloitte, 41% believe there's a lack of trust around DEI in their organizations.
“The taken-for-granted assumption that one could just get a position of leadership and then behave however one chooses to and get away with it…is not really panning out. The context has changed.”
Employees still expect organizations to act
Despite employees’ dissatisfaction with their organizations’ progress over the last few years, they still expect companies to take action on issues of racial injustice. Americans still trust their employers more than any other type of institution to do what's “right” when it comes to racism. Similarly, 66% of Americans think businesses should act on racial injustice issues, while 68% believe people should be able to discuss the topic at work (see Figure 2).
Further, 58% of the U.S. general population indicate that an inclusive work culture with a strong and well-supported diversity program is critically important to attract and retain them. Further, in organizations that have made “a lot” of progress in addressing racism and racial inequities in the workforce, employees have higher levels of loyalty, employer advocacy, and commitment.
The questions this study answers
Given everything that's happened in the last few years, we took a step back and asked a few critical questions:
- What are some of the fundamental shifts we’ve seen related to talent—and how will this impact diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB)?
- What is a holistic way leaders can think about their DEIB efforts, thereby more effectively defining and integrating their DEIB strategy with other activities?
- What trends do we see moving forward that could influence organizations' 2022-2023 strategy?
This study is based on a review of more than 70 articles, and interviews with 10 DEIB leaders and 20 HR leaders.
RedThread's definitions of terms: DEIB
The earthquake beneath the talent landscape is shaking up DEIB expectations
Over the last few years, we’ve seen some tectonic-level shifts in the talent landscape. These include:
- Change in power dynamics in favor of Over the last year, we’ve seen the Great Resignation as well as a massive rebellion when it comes to employees returning to the office (office occupancy rates have plateaued at 43%). Further, the gig marketplace and alternative work arrangements are increasingly attractive to employees, with many opting for those roles in lieu of a corporate job.
- Demand for skills that are in under-supply results in a greater focus on retention, promotion, and talent The last few years’ whiplash-like changes in the business environment have highlighted organizations’ talent deficiencies. Leaders realize they don’t have the skills they need in their existing workforce—and they can't fill their organizations’ demand for skills from the external talent market. Therefore, leaders are focusing on retaining employees and developing them with the skills the company needs.
- Rising importance of human capital For companies, more and more of their business is people-driven, resulting in investors taking a growing interest in human capital metrics. The SEC, for example, is now requiring public companies to report on those metrics—including diversity metrics—in their financial reports.
As a result of these major shifts, leaders could not simply make their 2020 DEIB promises and move on to the next thing (see Figure 3). Instead, they see a situation in which:
- Employees feel empowered to demand change with Nearly 60% of those aged 35-54 and 70% of those aged 18-34 have advocated or acted against racism—and they're carrying those expectations of action into their workplaces. Another 82% of employees expect CEOs to do something to address systemic racism and racial injustice.
- Leaders must respond to employees’ demands to make progress on It’s clear that leaders must address racism or risk losing employees. While 40% of employees would consider leaving their company if they don’t trust it to fulfill its DEI commitments, 56% would not recommend their company as a place to work.
- The public is monitoring progress on With the current SEC requirements to disclose diversity data—and more requirements coming soon—investors, employees, and the media are all holding leaders accountable for moving the needle on DEIB metrics. While some organizations have shared minimal diversity data, it’s unlikely that scenario will remain tenable.
“A role that was once focused on race and gender has grown in complexity and inclusion of individuals spanning military status, special needs, LGBTQ, generations, and more. What was once a focus on workforce (people) now includes workplace (culture) and marketplace (business).”
DEIB isn't the sole responsibility of human resources. In 2019, Genentech CEO Alexander Hardy created the role of chief diversity officer (CDO) and decided it should report directly to him. Additionally, managers of departments are required to complete D&I action plans that are then shared with their teams and, in some cases, the entire company on its intranet. The departmental action plans help create ownership so that it's not just the CDO’s responsibility to drive D&I.
These steps have allowed the company to expand its commitment to D&I beyond hiring and retention, and into every aspect of its business and company culture.
Similarly, at Chipotle the diversity strategy is not seen as a responsibility of one department. The company’s program includes mentorship, virtual roundtables, and quarterly training. For the company, the most effective programming is an ongoing cadence of events that genuinely engage its workforce and features a diverse group of individuals from various departments. It believes that when employees make real connections, it helps cultivate an environment where they can thrive and pursue their passions with like-minded coworkers.
“Prior to the creation of the Chief Diversity Office, our D&I efforts sat within HR. Alexander understood the need for an enterprisewide mindset and a seat at the decision-making table for us to think bolder than representation—and truly advance equity within Genentech’s business.”
A shift within a shift: The rising importance of purpose
An underlying theme of the shift in power dynamics toward employees is their greater desire to align their personal purpose with the purpose of their respective organizations. According to Gartner, as of January 2022, within the U.S. employee population:
- 52% question the purpose of their day-to-day job
- 56% want to contribute more to society
- 65% are rethinking the place work should have in their lives
Leaders increasingly understand the need to identify, articulate, and act on their organization’s purpose. As identified in Figure 4, an organization's purpose is a clear and concise statement that inspires people to deliver value to multiple stakeholders.
An organizational purpose that considers multiple stakeholders—also known as stakeholder capitalism—is not some new-fangled idea that some fringe companies are doing. In fact, the Business Roundtable, an organization comprised of the largest companies in the world, released an updated “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” in August 2019.
In this statement, “181 CEOs committed to pursue a more holistic approach to serving stakeholders more broadly renouncing the concept of shareholder primacy.”
Organizational purpose: A clear and concise statement that inspires people to deliver value to multiple stakeholders.
Purposeful organizations focus on the same stakeholder types as DEIB leaders
The focus on purpose has a direct consequence for DEIB efforts, as the multiple types of stakeholders identified by the Business Roundtable (see Figure 5) are the same ones on which DEIB leaders traditionally focus.
This means that DEIB leaders should have more support for their efforts, as organizations try to fulfill the idea of organizational purpose.
But with that broader support also, potentially, come more cooks in the DEIB kitchen—and more scrutiny of DEIB efforts. This makes it more important than ever to have a clear and holistic approach to DEIB.
Developing a holistic approach to DEIB
“This work is about culture and change management, and so we need to be looking for behaviors, practices, or norms that need to change.“
—Mary Ellen Connerty, Director, Diversity & Engagement, O’Melveny & Myers LLP
Creating a holistic DEIB approach
When you’re developing a new DEIB approach—really a DEIB system—you need to answer these 6 questions (see Figure 6):
- Why is my organization focusing on DEIB?
- What goals are we trying to achieve and for whom?
- What is our strategy to achieve those goals?
- What levers are we trying to pull to enable that strategy? What are the supporting activities that pull those levers?
- How will we use technology to scale our operational activities?
- How will we use data, analytics, and metrics to create transparency and enable accountability?
A holistic DEIB system is one in which every organizational process, action, policy, and decision is looked at through a DEIB lens.
Start with your organization’s “why”
There are typically 3 reasons why organizations focus on DEIB:
- Alignment to organizational purpose
- “Right thing to do” (RTTD)
- Business case for D&I
Right now, though, there’s another reason:
Other competing priorities. A recent Deloitte study revealed that majority of senior leaders believe their organizations' commitment to DEIB will take a back seat as other competitive threats surface.
This skepticism of organizations’ commitment to DEIB means it's even more important than ever for organizations to follow through on their commitments.
Making it happen: Understanding the why
When you open the discussion to “why” your organization is supporting DEIB, it's critical to be sensitive to the organization's specific context, environment, and leaders’ perspectives.
Different leaders are at various stages in their journey to understand and embrace DEIB. One of the benefits of the greater openness we’ve seen is that many leaders are now more open to further learning.
Regardless of specific leaders’ perspectives, the important thing is to align on the overall why for the company.
“Begin with why this is important to you. Align it to the long-term value of the firm, the purpose of the firm, and your value system.”
—Mary Slaughter, Former Managing Director, EY
Why: A checklist to jumpstart your efforts
❏ Why are we focusing on DEIB (i.e., alignment to purpose, market / societal expectations, business outcomes)?
❏ How does that reason align with our business strategy?
❏ How does this reason(s) align with our internal talent expectations and our external brand?
❏ What are the specific DEIB changes that impact our organization?
❏ What are senior execs’ experiences with DEIB and how can we use those to align on a vision?
What does your organization want to achieve?
The next big question to answer is what your goals are, both long term and short. Some examples of typical goals we heard are:
- Ensure talent pipeline diversity
- Move the dial on leadership diversity
- Identify barriers to belonging while putting inclusive practices in place
- Enhance representation among middle management
It’s important to be very clear on these goals, and (as we discuss later) to have clear metrics and accountability in place for these goals.
Canada’s Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank) has created goals for the company for 2025 to increase the representation of Black, Indigenous, and minorities at the vice-president level or higher. To achieve that, the company began by conducting its first-ever racial equity audit in 2022.
The audit will scrutinize TD’s internal employment practices for racial bias and allow the bank to use its findings to inform future business practices with Black, Indigenous, and other racialized customers. It includes a third-party assessment by an outside law firm and TD staffers' contributions.
The purpose of the audit is to help the bank review its employment policy and understand how it operates. The bank is also committed to applying the lessons learned in its work with customers and communities. While the company started by looking at its operations and employee experience at the bank, its DEIB strategy has expanded to include how it interacts with and serves its customers and communities. The company’s approach to DEIB recognizes the intrinsic link to other dimensions of its business, and the impacts of racial equity on customers and communities.
In addition to focusing on representation, the company also tracks inclusion through an employee experience survey that it reviews from the perspective of different communities to understand the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and underrepresented employees at TD.
“If you don’t have that strong, inclusive culture within your organization, if you don’t have an understanding of how racism and discrimination can manifest—including in the form of microaggressions—then you’re not going to be able to achieve that sustainable progress you want to see.”
—Diana Lee, Vice-President of Diversity and Inclusion, TD Bank
And, for whom?
While it’s important to have high-level goals, you should consider focusing on goals for specific subsets of stakeholders (see Figure 7).
For example, you may have specific goals for C-suite leaders and middle managers, as those groups are critical to making DEIB a reality.
In addition, you may have goals for specific demographic groups, such as gender, race / ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, social / economic classification, age, disability, and religion.
For the last few years, there’s been a huge focus on both female and Black employees. We expect to see goals around representation and engagement of these populations to continue.
Making it happen: Listening for better goal-setting
When setting goals, it's essential for you to understand the range of perceptions and experiences of different stakeholders. This can mean leveraging a range of data sources (e.g., interviews, focus groups, surveys, demographic data, digital exhaust, etc.) to get a holistic picture of current state and gaps.
Recommendations and feedback from diversity councils, resource and affinity groups, people committees, and diversity advocates comprise an integral part of understanding where you stand and where you need to go.
“Every strategy must start with listening. We must veer away from making assumptions on what people need and how they need it, and listening forms a core part of that.” —Sheree Atcheson, former Global Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Peakon
Goals: A checklist to jumpstart your efforts
❏ Where are we currently?
❏ Where are the existing gaps?
❏ What is the experience of each of our stakeholders in working with our organization?
❏ How frequently are we listening to stakeholders?
❏ Are there specific roles or groups, such as executives or middle managers, whose approach needs to evolve so we can drive change?
❏ What has changed and are we addressing that in our goals?
❏ How will the goals we set align with our business strategy and objectives?
“Understand the business you’re in and figure out how D&I can enhance the bottom line. Such efforts can’t be an HR initiative; they ca be separate from corporate strategy. This is about engaging the entire organization on issues related to diversity.”
What is a strategy anyway?
We have read about a lot of different DEIB “strategies”:
- The 3 Ps: People, partners, and places
- The 4 Pillars: Workforce, workplace, industry, and community
- The 3 Is: Individuals, infrastructure, and impact
While these are useful methods to keep track of all the ways you can operationalize a strategy, they are not a strategy.
Instead, a strategy helps you understand what you should be doing—and, as a result, what you should not be doing—to achieve the established goals.
A DEIB strategy supports the purpose and drives the organizational culture.
Think of it this way: Your strategy to win a marathon may be to go fast the first 13 miles and slow the last 13 miles (and just hope you make it!). Or it could be to go slow the first 20 miles and sprint the last 6.
But a strategy wouldn't be to put on your running shoes, clothes, and drink water! They may be necessary to running the race, but they're not your strategy.
A business strategy is “… a set of guiding principles that, when communicated and adopted in the organization, generates a desired pattern of decision making.” Source: Harvard Business Review, 2007.
So what’s a DEIB strategy then?
A DEIB strategy, similarly, is a set of guiding principles that helps your organization achieve its DEIB goals. The DEIB strategy should help you make decisions about the activities to engage in and those you should forego to achieve your goals.
What does this look like in real life? As an example, let's assume a company’s goal is:
“To be the most inclusive organization in tech.”
Sounds lofty, right? Well, then the strategy could be:
“To create inclusive experiences for employees from their first interaction to their exit interview.”
This strategy clarifies that the organization will focus on all of the talent lifecycle and specifically focus on inclusion (diversity, equity, or belonging may be a secondary focus).
It also gives the organization a set of guidelines for making decisions, for example:
- Is this talent selection process inclusive? Nope? Let’s change
- Is this leadership program inclusive? Kind of. Let’s evolve it.
- Is this event inclusive? Yes! Great, how can we do more of them?
How are DEIB strategies changing now?
We asked every interviewee if their DEIB strategy is changing and the results were mixed.
Organizations that already had a clear strategy indicated they plan to stay the course. These companies have amplified their efforts for Black employees and their communities, but haven't planned significant strategic changes.
"Having a collective strategy around what we’re doing not only to hire the best talent but also to retain talent and develop talent is important. One of the reasons we’re seeing strong results is because of how we’ve treated our people , and a lot of that has been led by HR."
For those organizations that are relatively early in their DEIB journey, we find are much more likely to indicate they're planning to adjust their strategy. Generally speaking, this means developing a much more explicit focus on inclusion and belonging for Black employees, and a greater level of openness for difficult conversations about racial justice.
" to make sure we’re talking about inclusion and equality at every level, and that it is front and center in the board room and in the management room. We can set hard targets for ourselves and make those transparent to our board and measure them like we measure other outcomes like financial results.”
Strategy vs. goals: What’s the difference?
Once you've set your goals, the next step is to figure out how to achieve them and lay out a strategy for it. You may fall short at this stage as setting goals and objectives is often confused with an actual strategy.
While DEIB goals are what you hope to achieve, a strategy is a specific action plan that will help you get there.
It's critical that you be extremely detailed and descriptive in laying out the specific targets and how you strategically work to achieve them. Unlike goals, which can be both short and long term (1-5 years), a strategy should cover a short-time period (e.g., 1 financial year) and needs to be revisited often.
" You can’t take exactly what someone else is doing, put it in your organization and think it will work. You’re not really focusing on your own culture and diagnosing your own issues. You can learn what others are doing, but you have to figure out what challenges you’re trying to solve for your own company.”
Bank of America’s commitment to DEIB is reflected in its numbers. Its global workforce is half women, and in the U.S., 49% of its workforce are people of color. Half of the company’s board of directors is diverse, and it’s among just 9 S&P companies with at least 6 female board members. In 2021, the bank increased its commitment to racial equality and economic opportunity to $1.25 billion over 5 years.
One of the ways the bank builds on its diversity efforts and advances that success is through its “Let’s Get Real” courageous conversations series. These conversations allow employees to empathize, understand their differences, and contextualize some of the takeaways and lessons. Held across the organization globally, the conversations are led by members of the board, the CEO, most of the management team, multiple employee networks, and many employees who’ve been able to talk about the issues that matter to them.
The conversations cover different topics—intersectionality, mental health, equity, and inclusion—and have helped people check their own biases and reflect on how to be more consciously unbiased. Another area is helping people get comfortable with difficult conversations and providing them with the necessary tools to talk about sometimes difficult topics to drive more conversations around inclusion and equity.
Bank of America encourages its people to be proactive and have deliberate conversations. It wants them to listen to others instead of replying right away, and challenge themselves to see where that person is coming from. The bank encourages people to have authentic conversations.
Making it happen: Refining the strategy
Similar to goal-setting, involve different stakeholders right from the start in refining the strategy.
Incorporate different groups with varied experiences to get their perspectives on how goals can be achieved. Strategy setting should be a highly iterative process.
Our interviews revealed 3 findings crucial to this step:
- Collaborate with business leaders on how the DEIB strategy will work for their business and enable them to achieve their objectives
- Work with HR and other teams, such as talent acquisition, learning and development, and leadership development, to revisit policies and practices to ensure that the strategy is baked into every process
- Using the strategy setting process—and the resulting communications—as a way to get everyone onboard with the actions to come
Strategy: A checklist to jumpstart your efforts
❏ Who needs to be involved in creating the strategy (including middle and frontline managers)?
❏ Do our goals and strategy support each other?
❏ What specific activities will help us achieve those goals?
❏ What practices / policies need to be shifted?
❏ How can we embed DEIB strategy and activities into the business strategy?
❏ Does the strategy align with the overall purpose of the organization?
“Solving DEI&B starts with understanding the human brain and how we relate to one another. If we don't learn how to talk openly about this complex subject, if we don't learn how to spot bias in our own behaviors, and if we don't learn how to act inclusively and have empathy for others, all our procedures in the world won't change our individual experiences.”
—Mary Slaughter, Former Managing Director, EY
Moving on from strategy: Focus first on the levers, not activities
It’s super easy to rush from strategy to specific programs, initiatives, and events. Don’t make this mistake.
Instead, identify the levers your organization most needs to focus on to drive DEIB outcomes (see Figure 8). This allows you to be more purposeful about your organization's DEIB activities.
For some goals, it may be best to focus on some of the levers, while, for others, you might want to influence all of them.
For example, if your organization’s challenge is senior leaders' support, then you might want to focus on understanding those leaders’ individual beliefs / behaviors, and making low-risk policy or program changes. If, instead, your challenge is middle-manager support, then you might focus on understanding those leaders’ beliefs and behaviors, but also tackle driving changes in all other areas, too.
Select DEIB activities based on levers
Once you’re clear on the levers you're trying to influence, then identify the activities that could be appropriate. Figure 9 offers an example list of activities that impact DEIB levers. This list is not exhaustive. You should build out your own list—and adjust your assessment of the extent to which the activities influence the levers for your organization.
Generally speaking, it's better to have activities that influence multiple levers. That said, a specific talent activity may serve an important purpose for a single lever.
For example, a statement on the organization’s perspective regarding racial injustice during the summer of 2020 was incredibly important. However, since it only influences one of the levers, it needed to be backed up with other activities that can impact DEIB outcomes.
In early 2019, DoorDash, the food-delivery startup, implemented a DEIB program, Elevate, an internal sponsorship project designed to help advance the careers of women of color.
Because the executive team was already convinced about the need for such a program, leadership buy-in was quick. However, the program founders spent significant time educating leaders on the differences between mentorship and sponsorship. Specifically, they clarified that managers may offer support, training, advice, and coaching as part of mentorship, but a sponsor should also be an active advocate.
The program is designed for women of color who aspire to hold leadership positions. Participants (called fellows) receive sponsorship from senior management for 6 months. The fellows engage in several activities throughout the program, including attending:
- One-on-one coaching sessions with an external executive coach
- Executive sponsor meetings with company directors and C-suite members
- Career workshops
- Leadership team meetings
The activities aim to help them gain visibility, understand the language leaders speak at that level, and widen their network.
To track success, the company runs surveys before and after each program iteration. The surveys measure satisfaction rates for participants, including what they thought of the coaching and their sponsor. It also tracks retention and promotions of attendees, as well as internal mobility.
After 3 cohorts, Elevate has shown signs of success.
Within 6 months of completing the program, 38% of fellows earned promotions, a significant increase as compared with their non-Elevate peers. Additionally, 20% of alumni took lateral steps within the company.
“Rather than just focus on recruiting and getting more senior women of color externally, we wanted to focus on investing in talent internally.”
Making it happen: Enabling levers & activities
While strategy may be set by a subset of leaders, it comes to life through everyone. Therefore, it's essential for you to share details of the strategy throughout the organization and to distribute the authority to act on it broadly.
This means that once the influential levers and activities have been identified, you must provide tools, resources, and empowerment for everyone in the organization to take action.
Levers & activities: A checklist to jumpstart your efforts
❏ How do we enable action at every level?
❏ Who is responsible for which parts of the strategy?
❏ Have we clarified what decision-making rights leaders have?
❏ What role does everyone need to play?
❏ How can we enable individuals at all levels to drive DEIB?
❏ What tools and resources do people need to implement the strategy effectively?
Tech: The great scaler
For a long time, the combination of technology and DEIB—beyond training and ensuring accessibility—wasn't a thought that crossed most DEIB leaders’ minds.
That has changed. In our initial report from February 2019, Diversity & Inclusion Technology: The Rise of a Transformative Market, we identified 89 vendors in the space. In our most recent report on DEIB technology, we identified more than 100 vendors that offer solutions across all parts of the talent lifecycle.
As in so many other areas, DEIB tech can dramatically expand the scale and impact of your DEIB activities. However, just as with any technology implementation, it's essential that you have all other critical decisions—your “why,” goals, strategy, and levers / activities—made before you select any tech. Otherwise, you could be selecting technology that will scale your efforts … in the wrong way.
Before implementing any new technology, you should analyze your existing tech for biases that may exist either within the systems themselves or in how they're used. Then apply that same criteria to any new tech you may implement.
“DEIB technology is enterprise software that provides insights or alters processes or practices, at the individual or organizational level, in support of an organization's efforts to become more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and to enable belonging.”
Source: RedThread Research, 2021.
DEIB tech: You may already have it
When we think about DEIB tech, there are 3 types of vendors:
- “DEIB Focus” vendors: These vendors’ primary business is helping organizations address their D&I An example of this is a vendor whose product focuses only on reducing unconscious bias during hiring.
- “DEIB Feature” vendors: These vendors offer features or functionalities that cater specifically to D&I needs, but their primary business includes more than D&I. An example of this is a recruiting software vendor whose product can make all resume names / identifying information “blind” to minimize unconscious bias.
- “DEIB Friendly” vendors: These vendors do not address D&I as their primary focus, and they don't market themselves specifically as doing so—but their features or functionalities could positively impact diversity and inclusion in organizations. An example of this is a recruiting software vendor that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to recommend appropriate candidates to hiring managers.
It’s important to understand these differences because they can emphasize that your organization may already have technology—a “Feature” or “Friendly” tech—which can be leveraged for DEIB purposes.
Critically, many vendors have added DEIB features to their offerings (see Figure 10) in the last 2 years, making it more likely than ever that your existing tech already has some capabilities in this area.
After reviewing your existing technology, if you don't have a way to scale your strategy and activities, then consider some of the DEIB Focus technologies that may help you achieve your goals. Our DEIB tech research can help you find solutions.
Making it happen: Using tech to drive impact
One of the biggest benefits of technology is that it can help identify insights which either have been missed or considered too politically sensitive to surface. By tracking, measuring, and analyzing actions and behaviors, tech can highlight biases that otherwise wouldn't be discussed.
71% of people believe business leaders are incapable of recognizing racism around them.
Technology: A checklist to jumpstart your efforts
❏ What technology do we currently have that can be leveraged for DEIB purposes?
❏ How can we leverage tech to raise awareness among people on issues around DEIB?
❏ Which technologies do we need to add to help us meet our goals?
❏ Are there certain technologies that we need to get rid of?
“It’s my responsibility as the CEO of this company to make sure it doesn’t fall off the agenda. I think by setting goals for ourselves in the short, medium, and long term, we can then hold ourselves accountable. And I expect the GM team to hold me accountable.”
Data: Creating transparency & enabling accountability
One of the biggest shifts we’ve seen is a higher level of focus on identifying, analyzing, and democratizing DEIB data.
- Identifying DEIB data: While organizations have tracked diversity data for compliance reasons for years, the focus has shifted more broadly. Organizations are now trying to understand the employee experience for diverse populations and how that differs from the majority We’re also hearing about organizations seeking more forward-looking metrics—not just pipeline or representation metrics, which are backward-looking.
- Analyzing DEIB data: Historically, given the perceived sensitivity of this data, the analysis and reporting of DEIB data have been done by a small group of The recent proliferation of data technologies has expanded the groups that can access and analyze these data, making it more likely to be done.
- Democratizing DEIB data: Given higher expectations from employees and other stakeholders, organizations are sharing more data on DEIB than The key will be in ensuring accountability for changes, which is a responsibility of both organizational leaders and stakeholders.
Bank of America continues to make progress on its commitment to DEIB due to the support provided by its Global D&I Council, which is chaired by the bank’s CEO. The council comprises several senior executives across businesses and regions. The CEO attends every session. The council helps set priorities and hold the bank accountable to drive progress. Additionally, the bank’s board and CEO oversee culture, and hold the organization and DEI team accountable for their work to support internal talent and address societal issues.
The progress is reflected in the bank’s Human Capital Management Report, which shows that the progress for underrepresented groups is largely due to their accountability and governance structure. In addition to making progress in the gender diversity in its global workforce, It's closing gaps at senior levels and management teams are significantly diverse. Currently, 3 out of 8 business lines at the bank are women-led.
Since 2015, Intel has publicly shared percentages around its D&I data as part of its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) work. Further, in 2019, Intel made its pay data public and announced that it had achieved gender pay equity globally and race / ethnicity pay equity in the U.S. In 2022, Intel decided to go a step further and share raw data in addition to the percentages in its reports.
This level of transparency for Intel has resulted in increased accountability and a desire to do better when achieving its DEIB goals. The results are indicative of the efforts.
In 2020, the company had 1,250 women and 380 underrepresented minorities (URMs) in senior leadership roles. The company’s target for 2021 was to reach 1,375 women in senior leadership. It surpassed its goal by 74, ending the year with 1,449 women in senior leadership roles across the globe. The U.S. URM numbers for senior leadership roles also increased to 444.
Even though the company continues to push its efforts, it has witnessed a drop in some places. For example, it saw a decline in technical roles held by women from 25.2% in 2020 to 24.3% in 2021. The company has set goals to exceed 40% representation of women in technical positions by 2030. To achieve this, the company will be implementing targeted programs to increase the number of women hired for technician, engineering hardware, and software roles through sourcing, pipelining, and workforce development initiatives.
The company aims to increase the representation of Black / African American employees in senior, director, and executive-level roles in the U.S. workforce by 10% by the end of 2022. It also plans to achieve 30% female representation in technical entry-level hires and $1.4 billion in annual spending with diverse suppliers.
"We are looking at being transparent and holding ourselves accountable like we want our employees and the industry to hold us accountable. We're taking this year to reassess and ensure that our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) work is truly forward-thinking and will get us to a great place by 2030."
—Dawn Jones, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and Vice President of Social Impact, Intel
Making it happen: Data, analytics & metrics
Many companies can fall into the trap of “check the box,” for which DEIB efforts become something you have to do because it's required. By tying efforts to actual metrics that are reported and connected to potential rewards, you can embed accountability.
Additionally, establishing metrics that can be tracked consistently might be one of the most crucial steps you can take in the process.
“In every organization, there is a need for a set of standardized metrics that can be applied across the business, and customized metrics that are specific to each business, to ensure equitable measurement.
—Crysta Dungee, DEI leader
Data, analytics & metrics: A checklist to jumpstart your efforts
❏ What data will help us understand if we're making progress toward our goals?
❏ Do we have both forward-looking and backward-looking goals? How can that data be consolidated into 3–7 metrics we can track consistently?
❏ Which metrics can be connected to either carrots or sticks to drive accountability?
❏ And for whom? What data / results must we share with everyone?
❏ What other data / results should we share with other audiences?
❏ How often must we share that data with those stakeholders?
“If we want to make change, we have to have a target and accountability. If is important, we attach a number and a timeline to see if we’re making progress on that.”
—SVP, Head of People Sustainability and Chief D&I Officer, Technology company
Trends for 2022 & 2023
Trend #1—Ensuring return to office isn’t return to 2019
One of the most remarkable sets of data from the last few years compares the return-to-office preferences of different demographic groups. As shown in Figure 11, most underrepresented populations prefer to be in the office much less frequently than their white colleagues.
Qualitative research reveals that one of the primary reasons for this is the significant reduction in microaggressions and other types of harassment when employees worked remotely. As employees are in the office more regularly, leaders need to be aware of this issue, and implement workplace practices, behaviors, education, and resources to mitigate it.
There's also the topic of employees who return to the office much less often, as they require the flexibility they've found over the last several years. Research shows that, among knowledge workers, underrepresented populations desire flexibility much more than other populations.
This is also the case for working parents, for whom 57% of working mothers and 48% of working fathers want to work remotely 3-5 days per week (see Figure 12). However, the same research shows many working parents (46%) fear that working remotely will negatively affect their career trajectory (as compared with just 34% of nonparents).
As leaders look to adjust their return-to-office policies, they should consider (if they haven't already) how they'll design their talent practices to minimize the impact of proximity bias. This is especially important since it appears underrepresented populations may take more advantage of flexible work arrangements.
Approaches, such as the following, can go a long way in addressing this issue:
- Analysis of performance scores or promotions by in-office time
- Ensuring every employee has a career conversation
- Making access to information about development and promotions more transparent
Trend #2—Auditing existing talent practices and technologies through a DEIB lens
Due to the events of the last 2 years, organizations have a higher level of insight into the challenges of underrepresented populations. Many DEIB-specific resources have been launched to help address these challenges, such as employee resource groups (ERGs), hiring a DEIB leader, and providing DEIB training.
While helpful, these approaches don’t address systemic bias. To do this, leaders need to look at their talent systems—their practices and technologies. Figure 13 highlights DEIB-related practices that U.S. employees believe would help their companies’ long-term success while also benefiting DEIB.
One of the most important places to start looking is where critical talent decisions are made—hiring and advancement. Analyzing those talent processes for potential biases is a really good place to start. For example, one organization we’ve spoken with has put in place a “candidate advocate” on interview and promotion panels to listen specifically for potentially biased comments (e.g., “She’s got a young kid at home, so she probably doesn’t want this opportunity.”). Other standard practices include having diverse hiring / promotion panel slates.
Another area many companies are focused on today is pay equity. Many organizations can help companies analyze existing pay practices and plan for appropriate adjustments.
Trend #3—The increasing importance of DEIB metrics
We define DEIB metrics as:
Metrics that help leaders analyze and monitor the state of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging within the organization.
As alluded to earlier, DEIB metrics are increasingly required by investors, customers, and candidates. It's important to note that we'll soon see more required disclosures from the SEC, which will heighten the need to produce high-quality DEIB metrics.
However, external disclosures are not the only reason to focus on DEIB metrics. Instead, organizations should provide DEIB metrics, along with a straightforward narrative around them (especially around why they may not be able to change as fast as some desire), to dispel rumors and distrust within organizations. As shown in Figure 14, a substantial percentage of employees don't trust colleagues to tell them the truth about racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion in the organization.
Part of the reason for the lack of trust is this: Companies can appear to be “cherry-picking” the specific metrics they share. As shown in Figure 15, some metrics, such as board data disclosures and overall workforce diversity numbers, are commonly reported by companies. However, some of the metrics which could potentially cast companies in a more negative light, such as racial / ethnic pay ratio or diversity targets by race / ethnicity, are less reported upon.
As we all know, providing metrics around DEIB won’t necessarily change everyone’s mind. However, by being clear about where the organization is on DEIB and why specific metrics are being shared versus others, leaders can start to build trust with employees. Over time, regular disclosures of metrics—and improving those metrics—can strengthen employees’ trust in this topic.
The time is now for DEIB leadership
Here & now
The last few years created a unique set of conditions that made people, organizations, and society more open to making meaningful changes to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging than ever before.
Create a holistic DEIB system
While it remains crucial that you create DEIB strategies aligned to specific needs, you also need to create alignment across the entire DEIB system— from “why” the organization focuses on DEIB down to leaders’ data, analytics, and metrics. This will create a much more cohesive and stronger system to support DEIB.
Our research indicates that organizations need—and employees demand—to take action on DEIB. By creating an aligned DEIB system (see Figure 16), your organization will be better prepared to tackle whatever comes next.
Posted on Thursday, July 7th, 2022 at 11:44 AM
On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe vs. Wade ruling, leaving many companies scrambling. In response, we convened a roundtable of leaders on June 30 to discuss these challenges and identify possible solutions.
Specifically, we discussed 3 questions:
- How organizations are communicating about Roe vs. Wade, both internally and externally
- How organizations can support those affected by this reversal
- What are some of the broader implications for talent attraction, retention, and employee experience
There is a general sense of fear resulting in a slow or lack of response from organizations on the issue
Companies had been quick and vocal about expressing their support for social issues in the recent past, such as the Black Lives Matter (#BLM) movement. Yet, many have stayed silent on this issue both internally and externally due to a few reasons:
- While some groups and individuals expect their employers to take a stand on the issue, others prefer to avoid political discussions at work.
- Many companies have offices across the globe. Taking a stand on a U.S.-based issue that does not impact large parts of the organization has deterred many leaders from speaking out publicly.
- Many leaders are afraid of expressing a personal view or explicitly showing support or dissent for the ruling. Instead, they are limiting their response to acknowledging differing beliefs.
However, there is also a general fear of repercussions from staying silent on the issue. Employees have an increased level of expectations from their employers to take a stand, mainly because many organizations have been vocal about political issues in the recent past.
Many companies are focusing on the healthcare aspect of the issue
Many companies, unwilling to take a political stance on the topic, are using language that promotes healthcare access for employees to show their support. Because the overturn of the ruling changed laws overnight in some states, many HR leaders are not clear on the current benefits available to employees and how they will change in the future. Participants mentioned the lack of communication from their insurance companies, making it hard for organizations to share information with employees resulting in confusion and fear.
Some companies are finding other ways of helping their employees, such as:
- Expanding benefits to include travel expense coverage
- Communicating that the health and safety of their employees is their top priority
- Working with their benefits provider to ensure that all employees, regardless of location, have access to the healthcare they need
Some are also providing mental health and wellbeing support by:
- Encouraging conversations led by employee or business resource groups (E / BRGs) with guidelines on how to start a conversation on the topic, and set expectations around sharing, listening, and respecting each other
- Opening up forums and town halls for communications with leadership
- Promoting employee assistance programs (EAPs) for emotional support, including crisis lines offered to employees in need
- Bringing in external facilitators to guide discussion and hold courageous conversations without repercussions
Privacy is a concern, but many are not thinking about it
There are serious legal implications that could emerge from the data collected on employees, but few companies are thinking about it or addressing it right now. Data tracking on employees who request medical support could lead to privacy concerns around access and usage. Similarly, reimbursements for travel expenses that require disclosure of travel purposes could also result in privacy challenges.
One of the ways companies can prevent such challenges is by using a third-party administrator for travel reimbursements or stipends which would ensure privacy for employees. Additionally, companies can restrict access to sensitive data such as biometrics. Finally, some organizations are revisiting their paid time off (PTO) policies to remove the distinction between sick time and PTOs and help afford employees privacy when applying for a leave without disclosing the specific reasons.
It’s too soon to know the broader impact on organizations
Participants agreed that while there will certainly be some implications for organizations based on how they approach this issue, it is too early to tell whether they will be long-term and significant. Over time, companies could find themselves asking questions such as:
- Is this impacting the experience different populations have within the company?
- Is talent attraction impacted because of it?
- Has it impacted our attrition in the long term?
- Do we see this affecting our brand?
Organizations are aware that any communications regarding the overturn will affect their company culture over time.
Thank you to all who participated and shared their experiences. We welcome your suggestions, thoughts, and feedback at [email protected].
Posted on Tuesday, June 28th, 2022 at 2:36 PM
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Many of us are beginning to return to the office (RTO). Who could have imagined it would take more than 2 years? What an experience we've lived through. So, it's safe to say none of us are the same as when those first shelter-in-place orders were announced in early 2020.
For one thing, we've collectively lived through a grand experiment in remote working. And, as it should be with any experiment, we've learned a lot. For example, we've seen that:
- Certain work can get done better in distributed environments than in the office
- Not all work needs to be done synchronously
- Through improvements in technology and process, we can work in new and often more effective ways
- People can be much more self-directed and effective than many had imagined
We've also been reminded of just how much humans are social creatures. This has been reinforced by situations where in-person work interactions truly allow us to flourish. After 2-plus long years, there’s an incredible attraction to be together again with our teams—to create together, rejoice in being alive together—in a physical workplace.
Now’s the time for us to move to the next phase of the experiment—hybrid working. As we enter this period, the question becomes,
How can we keep the goodness of both situations—distributed (remote) and in-person work—while enabling our people and organizations to perform effectively?
While we have many components to do this, one area that many organizations are overlooking is performance management.
In this report, we focus on a few things:
- The critical levers for performance management (PM) and how they've evolved thus far since the start of the pandemic
- Why those specific levers are especially critical to hybrid work
- How to audit your organization's current practices and get started
This research is based on a number of different studies we've done over the years on PM, as well as the results of our 2021 survey of employees and HR leaders on performance management. See the appendices for the nitty-gritty methodology. This report gives you the data, insights, and practical suggestions you need to prepare your organization for this next grand experiment.
Performance management: Critical to the hybrid work experiment
PM is always important—it:
- Touches every employee in the organization
- Provides clarity on goals, objectives, and performance
- Influences incentives
While important, PM is far from perfect—its limitations and potential biases have been documented by many.
Unfortunately, many biases will likely be exacerbated in a hybrid work setting (see Figure 1). For example, managers may be susceptible to proximity bias when assessing performance if some employees are in the office more than others. To potentially overcome these biases, employees may begin to come into the office more often, even if it’s not where they get their best work done.
To ensure that employees can perform as effectively as possible—and managers can support them fairly—leaders need to make sure PM works for all in this new hybrid work world.
While this might feel a bit daunting (or not even be on your radar at all), let us assure you this is possible. After all, we've just been through a global pandemic and have learned some important lessons that we can apply to the future. Not only that, our RedThread data show that some organizations and managers have already adjusted their practices to better suit a hybrid work environment. So, your organization may already be further ahead than you know.
Introducing the new 3C model
While a wide range of practices can be considered essential when desiging performance management for hybrid work, the question, of course, becomes:
Which practices and behaviors matter most?
When we first conducted this study in 2019, we introduced a model that organizations needed to focus on most to drive PM. The model was comprised of 3 levers:
- Culture. Promotes the values and norms of the organization to drive organizational performance and engagement
- Capability of managers. Plays a role in creating the right environment to drive individual performance
- Clarity. Enables individuals to understand their contribution—in the present and the future—to drive engagement
Our latest research provides an updated model of 3 levers that organizations need to focus on when it comes to PM in current times. As readers can notice in Figure 2, some elements of the old model remain important, while others have evolved.
The 3 levers that organizations should focus on in a hybrid world are:
Culture. A culture that clearly promotes the organization's values and prioritizes people became an even bigger priority for leaders during the crises of the past 2 years. As companies look to implement new ways of working once again, they need to maintain their efforts to reinforce a high-performance culture. This lever has evolved in 2 important ways when compared with the 2019 version:
- Culture now includes the new subfactor of “clarity” (that was its own separate lever in 2019). A high-performing culture must now provide employees with clarity around their goals and performance.
- Another subfactor from our 2019 model, “future-focus,” is now renamed “fostering growth.” Organizations need to provide opportunities that help employees grow in their current roles and no longer view development as future-oriented.
Capability of managers. Few others have played a more impactful role in employee experience and performance during the pandemic than managers. Leaders will continue to rely on managers for their culture-building efforts and to empower employees to perform effectively in the future.
Connection. This is a new lever that organizations need to focus on. The pandemic and subsequent changes in work made the annual performance conversations obsolete for many. Several of these companies increased employee check-ins during the pandemic, which resulted in improved levels of engagement for many. Moving forward, enabling connections between employees, their managers, and the broader organization will be essential to employee performance.
Beyond our data, real-world stories also reflect the criticality of culture, capability of managers, and connections. Over the past few years, several companies have revisited their PM processes to understand what’s working and what needs changing—to ensure continued performance and career development.
A culture of continuous feedback and check-ins, along with clarity and alignment around expectations, are welcomed and encouraged widely. The latest example comes from Google, which recently did away with its biannual performance reviews. The new approach, Googler Reviews and Development (GRAD), involves feedback and check-ins throughout the year, twice-a-year promotions, investments in internal mobility, and once-a-year formal performance reviews.
Why should organizations use the 3C model?
Focusing on the 3Cs positively impacts several talent and business outcomes that leaders care about. Our findings revealed that companies—which focus on culture, capability of managers, and connection—are more likely to have:
- High engagement. Organizations that focus on the 3Cs are 1.6 times more likely to have high engagement. We know that employee engagement impacts retention, productivity, turnover, and employee health. It became a top priority for leaders during the pandemic—and continues to be critical as companies figure out their next chapter around planning work.
- Met business goals. Companies that focused on the 3 levers were 1.5 times more likely to have met their business goals in 2021. The pandemic has made it challenging for companies to set business objectives and even more difficult to achieve them as the instability continues. For companies looking not just to survive—but to be successful during such times—and instill confidence in their stakeholders, it’s critical to meet their business goals.
- High NPS scores. Organizations that focus on culture, connection, and capability of managers are 4 times more likely to receive a positive NPS from their employees. The rise of the “Great Resignation” has focused companies on improving employee loyalty. Similar to employee engagement, NPS data give organizations a general sense of how employees feel—meaning a low score, especially during a crisis, can be terrible news.
- High manager effectiveness. Companies that score high on culture, connection, and capability of managers are 3 times more likely to have employees who rate their managers as effective. Managers impact an employee’s engagement to a great extent. Managers also play a central role in their employees’ development and career journeys—making it imperative that managers possess the capabilities required to enable effective performance.
The 3 levers in our model (see Figure 3) can impact one, a few, or all of the critical outcomes mentioned above. For example, our data show that organizations should focus on building manager capabilities if they want to drive higher engagement, NPS, and manager effectiveness, in addition to meeting their current business goals. Organizations should consider connection-building if they only want to impact manager effectiveness.
Depending on which outcomes organizations want to drive, they should focus on 1, 2, or all 3 levers. In Figure 3, we look at each of these levers and the outcomes they influence.
In the following sections, we take a deeper dive into each of these 3 levers, discuss why they’re important, and look at how some PM practices should change to better fit the hybrid world of work.
Culture is the shared assumptions, values, and behaviors that determine how people do things within a company which helps them and organizations thrive. When redesigning PM, organizations should look at how each of these—assumptions, values, and behaviors—impact current practices.
In this section, we take a closer look at culture:
- What it is and why it matters
- Role of culture
- Highest priority practices to change
What it is & why it matters
When we looked at the importance of culture as a lever, we found that it significantly impacts all the talent and business outcomes that organizations care about. As we see in Figure 4, organizations that focus on culture experience significant positive results with NPS, manager effectiveness, past business performance, and employee engagement.
Additionally, in comparing 2021 data with 2019, we notice that culture's impact on employee engagement has grown significantly. In 2019, we found that organizations which did well in creating a high-performing culture were 32% more likely to experience high employee engagement. In 2021, this likelihood nearly doubled to 63% (see Figure 5).
Role of culture
While culture is extremely important, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what aspects of culture matter most for PM. Our 2019 research revealed 3 cultural elements⎯feedback, fairness, and future-focus⎯that organizations needed to focus on to drive performance. However, organizations must now rethink culture for hybrid work—and our new model reflects this change. To build a high-performing culture for a hybrid world of work, organizations must continue to do what they’re already doing—and provide employees with focus and clarity around their goals. (See Figure 6)
A few things to note about the culture lever in 2021 when compared with 2019:
1. Clarity, an independent lever in 2019, is now a critical aspect of the culture lever. Culture took on new meaning during the pandemic. With remote work, companies have had to:
- Become explicit about the work that needs to be done
- Show how it ties to the company’s overall mission and goals
- Provide employees with the support and resources to do it
This means that organizations can’t rely on individual managers' varying capabilities and enthusiasm to provide clear goals and feedback. Instead, organizations must have a cultural competency around clear goals and feedback—so that, if employees don’t get what they need, then they’re empowered to ask for it. As such, our analysis revealed that “clarity” is now a part of organizational culture.
2. Growth continues to be an important part of culture, but is no longer solely future-oriented. As mentioned earlier, we renamed the subfactor “future-focus” from our 2019 model to “fostering growth.” In 2021, we saw a new urgency overtake upskilling and continuous L&D (as they apply to PM) as employees encountered both complex and mundane challenges that they hadn’t faced before the pandemic. For this reason, we no longer see growth and development in the performance context as being about preparing for the future, but rather as essential to executing the job today.
As organizations look to put in place practices and processes for hybrid work, they must consider these 4 areas under culture—feedback, fairness, fostering growth, and focus and clarity—as guiding lights for driving performance.
We know there’s a greater likelihood of new and existing biases creeping up in a work setting in which some portion of the workforce is remote. Organizations that are rethinking their culture should intentionally design and implement practices that address these biases. Specifically—by promoting a culture of fairness and trust—organizations can avoid halo / horn bias, whereby good or bad traits can dominate perceptions. Similarly—by encouraging feedback and emphasizing clarity—organizations can make sure that managers receive constant information and feedback on employee performance, thereby avoiding proximity, primacy, and centrality biases.
For example, Salesforce implemented “Flex Team Agreements” after receiving feedback from employees that they needed greater flexibility. These agreements are broken down into 3 levels—office-flexible, home-based, and office-based—and help provide clarity to employees on what's most important for them, including how many days a week they come into the office and what kind of work they’ll continue to do at home.
Teams can also decide how they communicate and what behaviors are most important to them. For instance, the Employee Success team agreed to “no meeting Fridays” and monthly wellbeing days. The team also prioritizes in-person meetings twice a year, volunteer days, and end-of-quarter celebrations to keep everyone feeling connected.
Similarly, IBM was able to build trust and psychological safety by replacing a system of once-a-year performance conversations with a culture of continuous feedback. Based on input from employees, the company put in place a new performance development process called “Checkpoint”—where feedback is self-driven and centered around providing a more holistic evaluation of employees.
To ensure strategy alignment across departments, offices, and countries, 5 key dimensions—or core values—were created:
- Business results
- Client success
- Responsibility to others
In addition, IBM partnered with a PM technology solution to have one platform for check-ins, feedback requests, and goal-setting. The company has been able to move past traditional questions like, “Did you accomplish your yearly objectives?” to questions like, “How are we performing? What are the skills needed? How does this impact my career?”
Highest priority practices to change
So, what are the specific practices that lead to a high-performing culture? Depending on the outcomes that leaders want to influence, our data revealed specific practices which are important.
Figure 7 breaks down the specific culture practices used by high-performing organizations. While there are certainly more practices which organizations can adopt, we include only those that have a significant impact on outcomes.
When Patagonia decided to redesign its PM process, leaders wanted to make sure that the changes aligned with the company's strong culture of being a place at which people were proud to work. The existing PM approach was traditional top-down and rigid—whereas the company’s culture was more bottom-up, open, collaborative, and heavy on authenticity.
The company decided on 3 design principles to guide its reinvention of performance at Patagonia—more dynamic, more democratized, and more data. To make it dynamic, the company put in place 3 new performance tools:
- Quarterly stretch goals
- Quarterly check-in conversations
- Continuous crowdsourced feedback
Each tool (stretch goals, check-ins, and feedback) was built to allow employees to drive the process, while managers provide support and help them improve. Managers took on the roles of guide, coach, and advocate on behalf of their employees. To enable more data usage, the company integrated digital tools that collect data on the frequency of feedback, and networks of people giving and receiving feedback.
Employees still meet with their managers in the first month of the new fiscal year and set a few high-level, yearly targets—but they avoid getting too detailed about them (see Figure 8). After that, employees begin using the 3 optional (but highly recommended) performance tools.
In the first month of each new quarter, employees write 3–5 quarterly stretch goals. Then they ask for feedback from their peers and managers using digital tools. In the first month of a new quarter, they use the digital platform to fill out a check-in form that guides them through self-reflection questions. Finally, they schedule a 30- to 60-minute check-in meeting with their manager.
By applying this "regenerative performance" approach, the company has created an ongoing cycle that supports continuous growth and performance improvement year over year.
Capability of managers
Given the spotlight on managers during the pandemic, it comes as no surprise that capability of managers continues to be a crucial lever for driving performance management.
In this section, we take a closer look at this lever:
- What it is and why it matters
- Role of capability of managers
- Highest priority practices to change
What it is & why it matters
Organizations are increasingly relying on managers to:
- Support employee wellbeing and health
- Provide clarity to employees about the work that needs to be done
- Communicate company commitments and priorities
- Help employees effectively work virtually
Our data (see Figure 9) reveal that organizations, which focused on building manager capabilities, were highly rated by their employees on NPS, manager effectiveness, engagement, and the likelihood of meeting business goals in 2021.
Role of the capability of managers
Managers play a central role in making hybrid work successful. Similar to conditions during the pandemic—shifting priorities, work practices, and differing experiences of employees—require organizations to rely on managers to lead effectively. This is especially true as companies think about making sure the new working conditions are fair and equitable for everyone.
Findings from our data indicate the evolving nature of the manager’s role in today’s work environment. As we see in Figure 10, in addition to providing coaching, exhibiting candor, and clearing barriers for employees⎯as it was important for them to do in 2019⎯managers must also now exhibit confidence and care.
The addition of confidence and care for managers’ capabilities isn’t surprising for a few reasons:
- Having confidence in employees and trusting them are fundamental elements for a thriving work environment, especially in times of crisis and upheaval. Our Responsive Manager study revealed that—among the behaviors adopted by managers in organizations that are highly responsive to disruptions—trust and showing respect toward employees greatly impact enabling effectiveness. For example, the computing company NVIDIA exhibits confidence and trust in its employees with its “the project is the boss” philosophy. This approach leaves it up to the employees (and their schedules) to decide when work is completed, as long as the project is finished as expected.
- Care, a practice that has become extremely important over the past 2 years, is now seen as foundational to a manager’s role. Managers need to be supportive, flexible, and inclusive to help employees feel a sense of stability and empowerment, along with feeling valued, during a time of crisis. For example, one of Microsoft's steps to be successful at hybrid work is to encourage managers to care for employees’ unique needs in and outside of work, and their career aspirations and goals. “Care” is part of the company’s manager framework that was introduced a few years ago and on which the company continues to lean heavily.
Organizations must double-down and invest even more in manager capabilities as they move toward hybrid work environments for a few reasons:
- Preventing biases. Managers—who fail to recognize work that lacks a direct line of sight (between the manager and employee) and continue to promote those they physically see in the office—will inadvertently exacerbate the common PM biases in a hybrid work setting.
- Managing split teams. Hybrid work means teams with employees who might have different work schedules and days when they come into the office versus working from home. This means taking into account the different needs and challenges that can arise unexpectedly and on short notice. Companies need managers who are able to effectively solve these challenges while displaying consideration and care.
- Overseeing employee wellbeing. According to one study, 56% of employees report improvements to their mental health as a result of the hybrid work environment—and managers played an important role in that during the pandemic. As companies set long-term policies around hybrid work, they need managers to be responsible for leading this charge.
Highest priority practices to change
So, where should organizations focus? Our data revealed specific practices and behaviors that managers should look to adopt.
In Figure 11, we list them along with the specific talent and business outcomes they impact. While organizations can adopt several other practices, we include here only those that have a significant effect on the outcomes.
In order to better assist their managers during the pandemic, Zillow, an online real-estate company, set up cohorts of managers across the organization. The purpose of the cohorts was to allow managers to engage in rotating 1:1 conversations with their peers to troubleshoot their current managerial challenges.
These conversations offered safe opportunities to engage in vulnerable conversations that focused on how managers can commit to specific actions to support the wellbeing of their team. Managers were able to practice empathy with their peers, ask specific questions to understand their challenges, and articulate their own circumstances in response to probes.
As a result, the conversations offered managers the opportunity to fail in a safe space and be better prepared to help their employees. This also promoted a coaching culture within the company, with managers offering each other ideas and advice outside of structured times.
The philosophy at Clarus Commerce, a small advertising and marketing company, resembles that of a winning sports team. The leadership works to:
- Hire good people
- Train them through practice and preparation
- Coach teammates to back up each other
- Learn from their mistakes
- Accept wins and losses together
Once the new hires are ready, leadership lets the players play.
Once play begins, or the new hires have proven they’re capable of tackling projects on their own, managers will only step in a limited number of times. The field of play at Clarus is set by goals and budgets. Within these boundaries, it’s up to the workers to execute. This empowerment enables the company to move quickly according to conditions on the ground and diligently to meet changing customer needs.
Much has been said about the importance of connection-building during the past 2 years. As such, we weren’t surprised (although excited!) to see it emerge as a lever in our new model.
In this section, we take a closer look at the connection lever:
- What it is and why it matters
- Role of connection
- Highest priority practices to change
What it is & why it matters
Connection surfaced as a modern PM lever for a few reasons:
- Genuine relationships within a company can help to create a workforce that’s generally more satisfied and less stressed
- Research shows that a top challenge among remote workers is loneliness—add to that ambiguity over expectations and goals due to a lack of frequent conversations—and it’s a sure-shot recipe for a disengaged and unproductive workforce
- Bonding connections (within-group interactions) and bridging connections (across-group interactions) that are important for collaboration and innovation deteriorated from the virtual work environment during the pandemic—organizations need to be intentional about rebuilding these connections to drive growth
One of the primary ways that leaders build a connection with their employees is through check-ins. Our research shows that the frequency of daily check-ins increased by 8% from 2019 to 2021, while that of monthly structured conversations increased by 10% from 2019 to 2021 (Figure 12).
These increases in conversations (connections) occurred for the following reasons:
- Organizations shifted to more continuous goal-setting approaches that required frequent conversations between managers and employees
- Leaders feared that employees might feel cut off from company culture—resulting in a greater effort to engage employees through frequent check-ins
- Managers lacked previous levels of visibility into an employee’s work—resulting in managers speaking with their team on a more regular basis
- The informal means used before the pandemic to provide “in-the-moment" feedback to employees disappeared—leading managers to set more frequent conversations
As many organizations implement policies that require the workforce to return to the office for some portion of the week, it’ll be tempting for managers to let go of these habits—this would be unwise.
Our findings reveal that 70% of employees want more daily or weekly check-ins than they’re having with their managers. Although low as compared with other levers, connection has a significant positive impact on manager effectiveness (see Figure 13).
Organizations with ineffective managers could end up losing critical talent. While the impact isn’t necessarily high, we believe it’s just as important because of how it impacts other PM levers for a few reasons:
- Companies need to foster connections through regular and frequent conversations. This is especially critical to empowering managers to build trust and show candor with their employees. This can have a positive impact on the capability of manager lever, too.
- A culture of feedback and clarity requires frequent conversations. Quick check-ins are a great way for managers to give “in-the-moment feedback,” and clarify employee goals and expectations. This can have a significant impact on the culture lever as well.
Role of connection
We believe that building and managing connections will continue to be important—if not more so—as hybrid work becomes a reality for many. A few reasons for this include:
- Addressing the “fear of missing out” (FOMO). Employees who continue to work entirely from home or for some portion of the week might experience anxiety due to the fear of missing critical information or being left out of important decisions. Frequent check-ins with their managers can provide opportunities for employees to discuss and address such concerns, as well as alleviate their sense of FOMO.
- Staying connected. Employees need to feel connected with their workplace and a part of the company culture—which can be challenging to maintain in a hybrid work environment. Connections built through informal check-ins can assuage some of the fears and feelings of being disconnected.
- Avoiding bias and discrimination. Because remote work offers a better experience for women and people of color, they’re more likely to prefer working from home than others. Organizations must provide and promote opportunities for frequent conversations between employees and managers in a hybrid workplace setting to avoid proximity bias from creeping in. Regular conversations can help address concerns, provide the necessary support, and ensure they’re not forgotten or passed over for development opportunities.
Figure 14 provides an overview of this third lever in our PM model.
Highest priority practices to change
As we mentioned earlier, connection's impact on organizational outcomes is low as compared with other PM levers. However, organizations mustn’t ignore this lever for a few reasons:
- Employees want more conversations. Our survey findings show that about 70% of employees want more daily or weekly check-ins than they currently have
- Companies need connections to drive the other levers. Those wanting to implement a culture of clarity, feedback, and coaching will find it hard to succeed without implementing processes that encourage frequent conversations and communications between managers and employees
So, what are the specific practices on which organizations focus? Our data reveal one practice that organizations should look to adopt¾quick check-ins. In Figure 15, we outline the practice and the outcome it impacts.
Spotlight adopts more frequent conversations between employees & managers
Before COVID-19, Spotlight, an analyst relations firm, had a PM process in place that consisted of employees and managers having development conversations on an annual or biannual basis. Once the pandemic hit and employees shifted to a remote work environment, a clear need surfaced for more frequent development conversations. Company leaders received feedback from employees asking for more frequent conversations and 1:1s with their managers.
As a result of this feedback, the company:
- Executed focus groups to understand the specific pain points around its current performance management process as experienced by managers and direct reports
- Researched practices instituted by other companies to address similar pain points
- Leveraged technology to make the process easier and execute the changes
Because of these steps, Spotlight was able to redesign its PM process—so it’s now comprised of practices, such as providing continuous feedback, weekly check-ins, and monthly 1:1s with managers.
Early results from these efforts show that employees generally report a more positive experience with their managers. The company has seen an increase in employee scores on questions around employee relationships with their managers, their levels of trust toward them, and development investment from them.
UCHealth makes conversations an integral part of its PM process
UCHealth’s mission is to improve lives through learning, healing, discovery, and human connection. The healthcare system of hospitals and facilities wants everyone who connects with the organization to have a positive experience, thus making UCHealth an attractive employer in a tight marketplace. The company believes that relationships are the most potent and essential lever which leaders can pull to influence behaviors, align employees’ work, and inspire the workforce.
Over 2 years, the company collected data to understand its Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and found 2 things that mattered most to employees and for retention:
- Personal, instead of transactional, relationships
- Opportunity for growth
Unfortunately, the existing PM process eroded the company’s EVP as it didn’t help employees focus on growth, improve performance, or build connections with leaders. Instead, it focused on:
- Evaluating performance to provide ratings for merit-based pay increases and bonuses
- Giving feedback on past performance
- Satisfying regulatory and legal requirements and internal processes
After collecting feedback and data through conversations and forums, the organization decided to revamp its PM process. The overall objective was to design a process that:
- Supports retention
- Encourages relationships rather than being transactional
- Helps grow and move talent
- Provides a forum for comparative rating for merit-based raises
- Aligns with UCHealth’s overall objectives and mission
In 2019, the Organizational Development and Learning Services team revamped the process to reduce the administrative burden. The following year, it decided to formally shift the focus of performance reviews from evaluation to “Career Conversations” around professional development. “Career Conversations” drive inspiring discussions between employees and their managers about the employee’s performance, growth, and opportunities at UCHealth. They’re mandated for everyone and framed around 3 core sections for all leaders and employees.
Managers begin by asking employees if they’re willing to take on extra and challenging work. Starting with this section allows the organization to focus the bulk of the conversation on discussing growth and career development. Questions in this section are not rated, and encourage useful dialogue between employees and managers. The following 2 sections cover discussions around whether the employee is getting their current job right and if they are a good teammate. The organization evaluates these sections on a 5-point rating scale.
Overall, the new process provides equal opportunity to all employees to manage their development, while simultaneously fulfilling the need for comparative ratings to inform the annual merit pay increase and bonuses.
UCHealth emphasizes that leaders go beyond transactional relationships, and build deep and meaningful connections with employees. It also invests in helping leaders build interpersonal skills—and holds them accountable for meaningful conversations with employees throughout the year through “Career Conversations”, stay interviews, and other informal check-ins.
Because of the critical role that managers play in the new process, the organization:
- Helps managers improve their interpersonal skills by building deep connections and relationships
- Provides resources, such as formalized learning opportunities and courses, to help leaders hold conversations
- Provides opportunities to role-play different scenarios to help leaders prepare for difficult conversations
“The challenge of the next decade for organizations will be to figure out how to create a space where individuals can feel heard, aligned, and part of something bigger while still getting the work done.”
—Matthew Gosney, Vice President of Organizational Development and Learning Services
By designing a PM process that puts an onus on building connections and holding meaningful conversations around growth and development, UCHealth is actively working on addressing this challenge and fulfilling its overall mission.
And the results are proof that these efforts are working. The organization improved its internal promotion rate significantly from 37% to 67% over the last 5 years, with considerable improvement over the previous 2 years. The organization is on track to achieve what it sees as the ideal mix of internal versus external hiring.
A secondary benefit of these efforts is improved representation in the company’s talent pipeline. The organization improved its Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) representation in its talent pipeline by 40% in the last 2 years. It also tracks performance metrics around ratings and promotions on the backend, and analyzes them by demographic data to identify biases and discrimination.
What now? Getting started
Now that we know which practices and areas impact performance management, how can organizations get started on applying these across the organization? Different companies have different needs, which means they might focus more on some areas and practices versus others.
One thing is certain—performance management as we know it no longer works.
Companies that redesigned their PM processes in the recent past already see the benefits of doing so. According to our data, in organizations with redesigned PM processes (within the last 2 years), 56% of employees believe their evaluation process is fair and consistent, as compared with only 36% of employees in organizations that haven’t redesigned their PM processes (see Figure 16).
So, what should organizations do? In Figure 17, we outline the 5 steps organizations can take to kick-start their modern PM journey.
Step 1: Identify what matters most
While most organizations will agree that engagement, NPS, meeting business goals, and manager effectiveness are all important outcomes they want to drive—each company will differ in which of these outcomes matters the most, given where their individual business is today. This is why the first step to redesigning your PM process should be identifying the outcome you want to impact most.
Our research shows that engagement is one of the primary reasons organizations conduct performance management—and this has changed significantly over the past 2 years. As shown in Figure 18, almost 45% of organizations reportedly managed performance to engage employees in 2021, as compared with only 26% in 2019.
You can better identify your priority areas by:
- Clarifying your organization’s philosophy for PM—specifically answering the following questions:
- What are we hoping to achieve by managing performance?
- How does that tie to our organization’s overall values and purpose?
- Pinpointing the desired state or the specific outcomes your organization needs to achieve
- Specifying what the success of PM practices should look like and how it can be measured
For example, a U.K.-based IT consulting company with a history of acquiring many companies follows a very clear philosophy when it comes to performance management. The company conducts PM to help employees understand:
- Where they currently stand
- Where the company needs them to be
- How they can get there
Even though the company made changes to its practices around manager check-ins and goals over the past 2 years due to the pandemic, the overall purpose of managing performance didn’t change.
Step 2: Determine gaps in the current approach & with the 3C model
The next step is to take inventory of the existing practices within the organization, identify the ones that map to the areas you want to impact, and identify the gaps.
“Voice gap” is the difference between how much voice and input workers feel they ought to have versus how much they actually have¾that exists between workers and leadership when it comes to topics that impact them in the workplace. Employees want to participate in decision-making around policies and practices that affect them, such as performance management. Therefore 2 of the most important things for organizations to do in this step are to collect feedback and be open to discussions.
Organizations can execute this in several ways. Figure 19 offers a few steps that we’ve outlined.
For example, Old Mutual Wealth decided to set a customer-centric strategy to ensure the company meets its business goals and recovers from the financial crisis. The company realized that it needed to leverage performance management to bring the new strategy to life. Leadership identified organization-wide, customer-first behaviors that were incorporated into employee performance reviews, manager feedback systems, and an all-employee survey.
The changes spawned a new culture throughout the organization in which everyone took responsibility for their decisions—starting with the CEO, who clearly said that nobody would be blamed for giving him bad news. Within 12 months, 90% of the firm’s U.K. and European insurance books were replaced by new products aligned with the board’s vision. And Old Mutual’s share price more than doubled in 5 years.
Step 3: Ideate & brainstorm solutions
Once the gaps are identified, you may find it tempting to start work on adding in the missing practices needed to drive performance and to weed out the ones that go against the desired state.
We recommend against doing this—in favor of taking some time to be sure you understand the root cause and gain others’ input before moving forward. Specifically, organizations can take these actions at this stage:
- Identify root causes of the reasons for the gaps in performance practices
- Brainstorm potential approaches to address the root causes
- Test out assumptions on what the implications of those potential approaches would be
- Consider different variations of practices that could potentially work
- Conduct research to understand practices adopted by others with similar challenges
- Do a technology audit to understand how it’s currently used and identify any opportunities for leveraging it more effectively
When it comes to technology, many organizations look to fix a process with technology—but remember: If you simply automate a bad process, then you’re enabling the organization to do bad things faster. Technology should help managers and leaders have better conversations, and provide timely feedback—instead of turning these into tasks for managers to check off their lists. As pointed out by a leader during our research, if managers don’t understand their role in enabling performance and conversations, and giving feedback, then no amount or kind of technology will matter.
Once covered, these steps should make it easy for your organization to narrow down the areas to focus on, allowing it to quickly identify the specific practices needed. Practices for different outcomes should be coordinated and should reinforce each other.
For example, Behavioral Learning Center Inc., a healthcare organization, improved employee engagement and enabled manager effectiveness by adopting a culture of feedback and clarity. New practices adopted by the organization allowed managers to assess and provide continuous feedback to their employees flexibly and frictionlessly.
Managers can also complete evaluations and on-field assessments using smartphone apps, along with initiating feedback as soon as a project is complete. After implementing the tool for real-time feedback, the company witnessed a marked increase in employee engagement, with a decrease of 30% in voluntary turnover.
Step 4: Socialize & refine focus areas
Once the practices and outcomes are identified, the next step is to get feedback. Organizations must continue to refine the focus areas by soliciting feedback on what is and isn’t working. Again, organizations should seek input from employees and managers about their pain points with the new process and the challenges they face.
For example, when an IT consulting company decided in early 2022 to change its performance appraisal process and the role managers play, the company made sure it had support and buy-in from executive leadership. The affirmation from the top helped socialize and communicate the importance of the changes to the other leaders.
The company also refined its focus areas by coaching less tenured managers to ensure they have the necessary skills to lead their teams. In addition to providing training and courses for them, the company looked toward the more experienced and senior managers to support these efforts.
Another essential element to sharing information and continued refinement is using data and insights to track and identify areas of improvement. In 2019, Infosys began using analytics to drive manager enablement in the company.
The company designed “MaQ” (Manager Quotient), a tool to empower the manager community to meet their current and future challenges in a personalized way. The end objective was to make MaQ the one-stop shop for all managers—to find out how they’re doing as managers, as well as chart and track their L&D paths to improve their managerial styles.
Within 12 months, more than 51% of its people managers were using MaQ to either view their assessments or learn small nuggets on managerial effectiveness.
Step 5: Communicate & manage change
Communication must start at the top and be reinforced at every level. Organizations should use different channels on hand to socialize the message around those practices and behaviors that need to be changed. These messages must clearly explain why this is important, and how they align with the business objectives and priorities. The communications should cover 3 core areas (see Figure 20).
Many organizations see the PM designing process as once and done. If the past 2 years have taught us anything, it’s that you can never be entirely prepared for what comes next. With hybrid work as the preferred option for many, organizations will constantly have to be vigilant and monitor those areas that will define their next steps.
To that end, we encourage organizations to focus on how they can continue to make PM relevant for the future—and enable employees to perform to the best of their abilities in a constantly changing environment. This means organizations need to put in place a plan to ensure which practices and processes are revisited and reviewed regularly. Decisions to revisit or reform PM practices can be driven by several factors, such as response to a crisis, declining employee productivity and engagement levels, or a change in leadership.
At a minimum, organizations must always keep a check on the “employee pulse” to understand the value they’re getting from the existing processes. By making sure they’re checking with employees and regularly collecting their feedback, organizations can determine which areas they’ll potentially need to focus on and the steps that can help them get there.
With rising consumer prices, talks of an impending recession, a national baby formula shortage in the U.S., and mass shootings, the first half of 2022 has been rocky for many of us, to say the least. The pandemic has blurred the lines between personal and professional, and there’s little evidence of things returning to how they were 2 years ago. Companies looking to retain and develop their talent will likely find themselves pressed to do more to help employees address challenges. One such thing that companies can do is build a PM process that is fair, transparent, and free of bias.
By focusing on culture, building manager capabilities, and encouraging connections, organizations can better engage employees and improve manager effectiveness while meeting their business goals. Organizations should proactively plan and integrate these practices when designing performance management for hybrid work.
Given the ongoing and upcoming changes surrounding the workplace and hybrid working, many organizations will likely revisit their existing PM practices. Whether they listen to their employees and implement processes that ultimately help them develop and perform their best remains to be seen.
Posted on Tuesday, June 14th, 2022 at 2:09 PM
The goal is fit
In times of crisis and uncertainty, organizations tend to default to what they know best.
At the height of the pandemic, for example, more than one L&D leader asked me the best way to get all of their classroom training online. While we have accepted for years that learning happens all the time in all the places, one little global pandemic threw L&D back into classroom mindset.
In the process of climbing out of the pandemic, however, a lot of people practices got better. And that is particularly true of learning and development. Managers got better at giving feedback; L&D got better at offering existing resources; and tech made it easier to personalize learning for employees more broadly.
The list of options organizations recognizes for developing employees is long. We know because we classified them all last fall in our study: Next Gen Learning Methods: What to use, how to choose, and when to cut them loose. And while knowing the universe of tools available is helpful, it can also be overwhelming. As Elizabeth Robinson, VP of Talent Engagement and Development at Healthcare Consultancy Group said:
It's the idea of using methods in a more integrated fashion. It's choosing the right method for the right purpose.
Our most recent study is aimed directly at that problem. It isn’t enough to know what’s available. L&D leaders must also know how to choose learning methods that fit their organization. What do we mean by fit? We mean:
• How well does it fit the business need?
• How well does it fit the culture?
• How well does it fit the audience?
• How well does it fit the available resources?
Including data from an extensive survey, interviews, and roundtables, our latest study hopefully helps leaders to determine how well methods “fit” with their goals and constraints.
A note: Throughout this report, you’ll see references to learning culture or high learning culture index or a strong learning culture. This measure is an average of 6 questions we asked survey participants:
To what extent are these statements true in your organization?
1. Enables me to plan my career.
2. Enables me to find development opportunities.
3. Enables me to access content and opportunities to grow my skills.
4. Enables me to experiment with new knowledge and skills.
5. Enables me to connect with others for learning.
6. Enables me to perform better in my current role.
The average of these 6 questions gives us a good indication of how well organizations are building a learning culture. Our research explores how well those organizations with strong learning cultures compare to the rest of the population.
Fit the business need
Choose based on how well a learning method fits your business need
To put it succinctly, learning methods should fit a particular business challenge. Over the past few years, the role of L&D functions has been elevated, as senior leaders have asked them to lead reskilling, mobility, and in some cases DEIB initiatives. More L&D pros are also being asked to participate in workforce planning and talent mobility discussions. As a result, we have seen a shift in L&D’s mindset: from caring mostly about how the employee will engage (which is still important) to a more balanced approach that also carefully considers the business need.
We saw this different mindset in our interviews and at our roundtable. Gina Mouch, Senior Training Specialist at the University of Michigan, got right to the point when asked how her organization chooses learning methods:
It really depends on the business goal.
We also saw this mindset reflected in the cold, hard data. Figure 2 shows us that 80% of L&D pros in organizations with a high learning culture index consider the business challenge to a significant extent when determining which methods they should invest in. That is a whopping 34 percentage points more than their peers in other organizations.
Just as interestingly, while their peers in other organizations listed cost as the number 1 way to choose a learning method, organizations with a high learning culture index listed cost as 4th, after business challenge, implementation, and procurement.
While some organizations are already doing this, it bears repeating: start with the business reason for any employee development initiative. As Chris Casement, previously Managing Consultant for System-Wide Learning and Innovation at Sutter Health said:
The reason we implemented that mentoring program was tied to a business reason.
Measure how well a learning method fits by looking at business results—not smile sheets
While implementing methods that align with business goals is key, investing in methods that meet those goals is equally important.
When L&D pros were asked how L&D understands the methods that are most valuable to employees, again, those with high learning culture indexes relied more heavily on all the approaches we asked about more than their peers in other organizations.
Of note: the number 1 way L&D pros in high learning index organizations determine what is valuable is how well a method meets business needs. Usage data and evaluations follow closely.
L&D functions with strong learning cultures are measuring their learning methods against business results and keeping an eye on how valuable (or frequently used) those methods are to their employees.
Other organizations are still highly reliant on evaluations (their number 1 answer), followed by anecdotal feedback.
The sheer difference in reliance on these methods is jarring: 42 percentage points for business results and 26 percentage points for usage data.
This indicates that those organizations with strong learning cultures are listening more—not just with their ears, but with data—to understand what learning methods are important and valuable.
Real World Thread – Learning methods that meet a business need
L&D functions hold more ownership over big workforce development initiatives that allow them to respond to business challenges. At Healthcare Consultancy Group, Elizabeth Robinson, EVP of Talent Development, is an influential L&D leader who recognized the organizational need to upskill her workforce.
To do this, she and her team began using skills assessments. These assessments are intended to measure an employee’s skills around each of the organization’s core competencies. Based on the results, L&D then helps employees to craft intentional learning pathways to address any skill gaps.
For example, they currently have a research-based profiler that looks at eight different skills needed for innovation, one of the organization’s core competencies. Based on the results, L&D assists the employee by mapping out various learning and development activities. The goal is to build the employee’s innovation skills in a pathway that’s customized to them. Elizabeth was able to meet the business challenge by maintaining a sharp understanding of the organization’s current state and creating a solution using learning methods that aligned with its needs.
Fit the culture
Balance methods that support all learning behaviors
Culture is often defined as “the way we do things around here.” Implicit in that definition is “doing” things. Learning cultures, then, are defined by learning or development behaviors employees demonstrate.
Enter RedThread’s Employee Development Framework. This framework describes the behaviors organizations should encourage and enable for a strong learning culture. Figure 4 shows these 6 behaviors and the learning methods that align with them.
When choosing learning methods, organizations should understand what their options are, and which behaviors the methods are likely to encourage or enable.
The goal is not to invest in all methods, but to identify methods within each behavior that work within the confines of the organization.
As such, learning functions should understand
- The extent of the learning methods they are providing or enabling
- The alignment of those learning methods to the behaviors they’re trying to encourage
- The effect those learning methods are having in promoting that behavior
An easy way to think about it may be to visualize all the methods associated with all of the employee development behaviors as the entire universe. Organizations should be looking for the constellation that works best for their organization.
Strongly consider the methods that matter more to learning culture
Much to our surprise, our research revealed a number of learning methods impact learning culture more than the rest.
While learning methods are only a portion of how a learning culture is enabled, they do play a role. In fact, when we statistically analyzed the 49 methods, we collected data on to determine what (if any) effect they had on learning culture, a model emerged that identified 13 learning methods.
Together, these 13 learning methods explain 23% of learning culture. Figure 5 describes these methods and categorizes them by the learning culture behavior they support.
While that number may not seem huge, it is significant. Organizations can account for 23% of their culture by implementing and supporting these 13 methods.
Organizations should consider how they are utilizing and enabling these methods. Organizations can ask themselves:
- To what extent are these methods available to employees?
- How well does our organization enable these methods?
- What role can L&D play in ensuring their availability?
- How do these methods integrate with others offered?
- How well do these methods integrate with the organizational culture?
- How do these methods connect employees to each other?
Experiment to find methods that fit your culture
Choosing the right learning methods for a given organization is often about experimentation. There are no hard and fast rules on what will work best within a given culture, so L&D functions often find themselves using trial and error to determine which ones are best.
Interestingly, our data showed that organizations with high learning culture indexes are experimenting more than other organizations (Figure 6). That is, they aren’t putting all their eggs into a single metaphorical learning method basket.
Chris Casement, previous Managing Consultant for System Wide Learning and Innovation at Sutter Health, saw this to be true within his organization:
What the pandemic enabled us to do is jump ahead about 4 years on some pioneering experiments and push the envelope on how we engage people through different mediums.
In our conversations with leaders, we found that L&D functions approach the alignment of methods to culture a bit differently than other organizations. These high learning culture organizations tend to be more:
Flexible and agile
Organizations that experiment more tend to adopt flexible and agile mindsets and systems, allowing them to quickly adjust when it becomes apparent that changes need to be made to the methods they have chosen.
Learning leaders in organizations where experimentation is prevalent are more apt to use data for decision-making. More of them tend to run controlled experiments, use A/B testing, and examine usage data to determine if learning methods are working.
L&D functions that experiment tend to be more circumspect, meaning that they are less likely to fall in love with a solution and implement it with brute force. They tend to take a wider view of learning methods, determining if and how they fit and sunsetting them if they don’t.
It also turns out that organizations with high learning culture indexes also just use more methods than everyone else. On average, those in high learning cultures support 21 methods compared to everyone else, who support an average of just 10 methods (Figure 7).
Elizabeth Robinson, VP of Talent Engagement and Development at Healthcare Consultancy Group, expressed her support for this sentiment:
We're using most methods, but we want to make sure that we are pushing ourselves on how we use those methods, strategically and creatively.
While we’re certainly not preaching quantity over quality, we are finding that experimentation and using more methods go hand in hand. Organizations that consistently experiment spend their energy identifying the best methods for their broad employee base.
Don’t forget human connection
We’re at a point in history where human connection really matters. Before the pandemic, many learning strategies (and the tech that supported them) focused on self-service learning—the Netflix of learning, as some people called it—and the ability to both scale and personalize development opportunities with tech.
We’re seeing the pendulum swing, however. Spending 2 years alone in our home offices has taken its toll, and organizations are now actively seeking ways to bring humans together. This effort is particularly important as organizations navigate their way through hybrid and remote work.
The desire to connect is also manifesting in employee development, and came through loud and clear in our roundtable and interviews for this study.
A talent development leader working at a large manufacturing organization we spoke to recognizes the role L&D functions can play in connecting people:
Because so many are now faced with all these ripple effects of what's happening, one of our priorities is to create more opportunities for learning that connects people.
Given this desire for connection and the role L&D can play, leaders are carefully considering the methods they’re investing in and deliberately choosing those that bring people together.
We found that over half of the 49 methods we investigated involve at least 1 other human for learning to take place. (Peer or manager feedback, for example, requires personal connection, whereas something like internet does not.)
We think human connection is an important variable, both because many organizations desire to reconnect, and because human interaction introduces other challenges to consider: lift on the organization (which we’ll talk about in a minute), variability to the learning experience, and additional systems and processes. Elizabeth Robinson, VP of Talent Engagement and Development at Healthcare Consultancy Group puts it this way:
Yes, having more connection in terms of communities of practice and mentoring and coaching to further support development—it's a really important thing for us right now.
As organizations identify the methods to invest in they should consider the level of human touch for each, and its ultimate cost and benefit.
Use methods that fit people into other methods
One of the oldest new ideas in L&D is that of blended learning. For decades, L&D teams have been identifying ways to use several methods together to teach courses or concepts. This seems to have become even more important since the pandemic.
Figure 9 shows learning methods that have strong correlations: the darker the square on the chart, the more likely it is that the organization offers both types of learning methods (row and column).
Interestingly, the Connect behavior correlated more with other methods than any other behavior. It had both high and numerous correlations with learning methods within its Connect category as well as with other behaviors.
Leaders we spoke to backed this up. Christel Londt, Last Mile Capability Manager, said,
started to move away from traditional e-learning because people just don't retain the knowledge. Now we combine e-learning with discussion forums and role-playing—we want people to build a community to share their learning and experiences with one another.
In our roundtable, leaders spoke of particular methods they are using to add a human element, including
- Remote classes with an attached lab or cohort aspect
- Coaching as part of leadership development
- Manager involvement in employee development initiatives
- Communities of practice with a mentoring aspect
This research backs what we’ve known for ages: people learn from people. But we’re seeing new iterations as some of these methods become both more measurable, digitally enabled, and integrated with the work itself. We’re excited to see what comes next.
Real World Thread – A mentoring program to ignite connection
Employees want to learn by connecting with those inside and outside their organization.
Chris Casement, who used to be a Managing Consultant responsible for system-wide learning and training at Sutter Health, saw the desire to learn via connections. In response, his team supported a variety of hybrid programs, including a new-grad mentorship program for incoming nurses at Sutter Health.
Being in the healthcare industry for many years, Chris knows about the impact of high turnover and burnout rates on nurses. Post pandemic, it's even more critical to support new nursing graduates as they transition into a new job and signal to nurses looking for a job that they won’t be alone here, they’ll be developed and supported.
By the end of this mentoring program's first year, the number of mentors increased from 3 to 25. Chris attributed much of the program's success to how it was built, delivered, and enabled by human connections.
Fit the audience
Consider overall preferences in your organization
While some methods can be tied specifically to a stronger learning culture, the appropriateness or fit for many of them depend on the target audience. To this end, L&D functions should consider their audience, its needs, and its preferences as they round out their offerings. Christel Londt, Last Mile Capability Manager said:
We analyze the needs of our target audience, understand their requirements, which helps us determine what will work best for them.
It should also be noted that the methods that fall under the Discover behavior aren’t actually used for learning per se, but rather for finding opportunities for learning. After much debate, we left them blended in with the other methods, as we feel that discovery of development opportunities is key to a strong learning culture.
A few high-level observations about the entire audience—all job levels, locations, business sizes, and industries—before we dive into different sub cuts:
- All but 1 of the top 25 methods tie to all of the behaviors of a strong learning culture. None of the methods in the Top 25 are tied to Experiment behavior. This isn’t surprising, but it is slightly disappointing.
- All the methods in the Discover behavior made this list, except for Automated Recommendations. Employees rely heavily on these methods to identify opportunities for learning.
- Most learning behaviors have an outlier method– one that is relied upon significantly more than the rest.
While this data and these observations can be useful to L&D functions, the data becomes even more interesting when we looked at different cuts.
Because learning cultures are nuanced, we compared reliance on learning methods across different groups. Our data showed some subtle and some not so subtle differences that are worth considering when choosing what to invest in. We explore these subsequently.
Use methods that fit the management level
Not too surprisingly, employees at different leadership levels rely on different learning methods (Figure 11). This was particularly true of the senior leaders who participated in our study.
Many L&D functions (and leadership development functions) intuitively take some of these differences into account. As employees move up the proverbial leadership ladder, some things change. For example,
- Senior leaders likely don’t have the same leadership support that others lower in the organization might (because they may be near the top).
- Senior leaders often have responsibility for strategy and sensing—both of which are often supported better with external resources (professional networks, videos, articles).
- Senior leaders leverage relationships and connection to get work done, and apparently to learn as well. They are more likely to leverage social and professional networks, peer feedback, and customer feedback.
Methods for individual contributors—and to a large extent, managers—tend to be the ones that help them perform in their roles (manager feedback, formal reviews, peer feedback). These employees also rely more on methods that are provided directly by the organization.
Choose methods that fit org size and maturity
This likely goes without saying: organizations should focus on methods appropriate for their size. It might be unreasonable, for example, for a 20-person organization to create all kinds of custom e-learning.
Interestingly, though, the methods employees relied on didn’t differ much between large organizations and small organizations.
In fact, most statistically significant differences could be tied to the maturity of the people processes in the organization. In other words, employees appear to rely on whatever they have access to.
For example, in Figure 12, goal setting is relied on more within midsize and large organizations. This seems consistent with the fact that by the time an organization reaches midsize, goal-setting systems are usually in place. For small organizations, goal setting is not relied on as much because that method is not standardized yet.
This gives us a small hint not just about the methods employees would prefer and rely on, but also the methods that organizations are offering.
Figure 12 clearly shows that large and even midsize organizations are apt to have more systems and processes in place that aid in employee development.
This is interesting on 2 fronts. First, L&D functions in many midsize and large organizations fail to recognize the value of these systems for employee development and may be able to leverage them more. Second, small organizations default to courses for developing their employees (we even made this mistake in our tiny company).
In cases where a full-blown L&D function is not an option, organizations can leverage these other systems, likely already in place, to ensure that employees continue to develop.
Preach what you practice
When we compare how L&D pros learn to how others learn, we see some fairly large differences. We included this nugget just for L&D pros because it highlights a few important points.
First, L&D pros may not be practicing what they preach. Although as a function, they have historically focused on more traditional ways of developing employees, we don’t see any of those methods in their top 10 list. Instead, they are utilizing internet, articles, and professional networks to learn.
From our interviews, we know L&D pros have long been wanting to move away from courses and have started to move in that direction. The knowledge that they aren’t relying on courses much themselves could be a catalyst for change.
Second, we again see the evidence of human connection in this data: 63% of L&D pros significantly rely on professional networks for development, significantly higher than their peers in other functions (by 27 percentage points). They also rely on social networks and peer feedback more than their peers. The takeaway: If it’s important for them, they should be enabling it for others, as well.
Finally, L&D pros have an obvious bent toward learning: of the 49 methods we gathered data on, L&D pros utilize 46 of them at a greater rate than their peers. It’s hardly surprising that they would tend in this direction: it’s their vocation.
So? L&D pros could consider a bias toward learning a potential blind spot, acknowledging that learning may not come as easily or naturally to all employees. Utilizing methods that integrate development into the work itself (like enabling manager and peer feedback) can alleviate some of this bias.
Real World Thread – Choosing the right method for the organization’s size
Organizations should choose learning methods that align to their size and maturity. Larger-sized organizations usually have more institutionalized employee development processes and systems due to the maturity of their organization.
Gina Mouch, a Senior Training Specialist on the Michigan Dining team at the University of Michigan (UofM), understands this concept well. She is one of almost 40,000 employees working at UofM, a university that’s also been around since the 1800s. For employee development in particular, processes for learning and growing staff are not only part of the culture, but they are entrenched into the employee development system.
As a training specialist for over 3 years on the Dining team, Gina relies on standardized processes put in place for employee development. For example, skills assessments are used consistently in the hiring process for Dining staff. It is essential that Gina and her team understand right away where someone needs to upskill and where they are proficient. This helps to drive the development efforts and training content for her staff.
Even now, Gina and her team are looking for ways to further leverage this current process in place to personalize learning for incoming staff as well as start to understand how the focus on skills can add to the value proposition in the hiring process.
Fit your resources
Don't forget low or no cost methods
Like other functions, L&D departments likely undergo a budget approval process toward the end of the fiscal year.
During that process, methods are considered: which ones they will continue to support, which ones they can afford to invest in, and which ones they may have to sunset. Cold hard cash—the cash that shows up on the L&D balance sheet—is a big factor. As one talent leader at a large manufacturing organization said:
Our end goal is to have skill-based career planning, but for budget reasons we've had to postpone that. Now we're trying to use what we have—our LXP—to help people record their goals and skills.
Often, however, L&D functions fail to consider alternatives to expensive methods. Figure 15 classifies the 49 learning methods we have data on into low, medium, and high cost (cost being money out of pocket that shows up on the L&D function’s balance sheet). Each method also shows the percentage of respondents who identified that method as being relied upon significantly.
Interestingly, slightly more than half of the learning methods that employees rely on are low or no cost to the L&D function.
Cost-conscious L&D functions should look for ways to encourage and enable the use of these learning methods, which are less expensive but still meet employees’ needs.
For example, Goal Setting and Manager Feedback have high usage, 46% and 52% respectively, and incur low out-of-pocket costs to the L&D function (and in most cases, the organization as a whole).
L&D can partner with other functions across the organization, to provide guidance, reminders, feedback, and data to encourage employees to utilize these methods.
One other observation: Some of the most expensive learning methods are not the ones employees rely upon the most. Granted, this could be because fewer organizations offer them due to their cost, but it may also indicate investments that could be redeployed into more effective options.
L&D should also take time to understand how valuable these learning methods are to their employees before doubling down on them.
Take into account organizational lift
When considering potential learning methods, one of the factors that is often overlooked (or at least not quantified) is the amount of lift on the organization. We define organizational lift as the effort exerted by the organization (IT, PR, managers, leadership, etc.) to implement and support the employee development method.
Interestingly, L&D pros in organizations with a high learning culture index do pay attention to organizational lift. In fact, 61% of L&D pros in high-learning culture organizations significantly consider implementation when determining learning methods, compared to 40% of L&D pros in other organizations. There are 3 reasons it’s important to consider organizational lift.
Investigation may prompt a different method
Often, once L&D functions understand the organizational lift required by a given method, they reconsider the method altogether. Figure 14 classifies the 49 methods we examined into high, medium, and low lift. It also shows the percentage of respondents who rely on the method significantly.
Considering lift can help L&D functions find fit-to-org solutions that still meet employees’ needs.
Think through whom L&D needs to collaborate with to implement a method
Our roundtable and interviews told us that L&D leaders actively collaborate with their peers in other functions to identify the changes to culture, tech, leadership, and communication necessary for getting a learning method off the ground.
In situations where L&D doesn’t own the method outright, their focus should be on, first, accounting for it in a development method, and second, on helping the owner make it more effective and efficient—through processes, necessary aids or guides, skill development, or knowledge.
What shows up on the balance sheet rarely explains the total cost to the organization
Considering organizational lift helps L&D functions identify all costs associated with a given method. Those costs may appear as time, effort, and resources. For example, IDPs (individual development plans) are used broadly and require a fairly large organizational lift. Collecting data about or from IDPs may require extra effort on the part of L&D. Employees and managers will spend time putting them into place and tracking against them. In some cases, software needs to be implemented, maintained, and integrated.
Most organizations utilize IDPs, but they often don’t consider the full lift it requires to get them done. Organizations understand that they’re valuable and would probably do them anyway. But when L&D functions properly take into account the full scope of the lift, they can identify ways to simplify processes, provide tools, and increase communication to make sure they are more effective.
Real World Thread – Using cost-effective methods for development
L&D teams have always needed to be mindful of cost when choosing learning methods, and this was especially true during the pandemic when profits were uncertain.
For one large organization in New Zealand, the operational demand within the business exploded at the height of the pandemic. They needed additional resources but were under resource constraints. The learning and development team had to quickly and cost-effectively upskill a large part of the organization to support the new demand.
The team decided to create and distribute standard operating procedures, checklists, and job aids to those transitioning to operational roles. These learning methods enabled employees to learn while on the job and fulfilled low-cost criteria. Even the learning and development team had to shift to working as operational staff and saw first-hand the usefulness of the resources they had distributed.
Learning methods that allow workers to learn while doing their jobs have been adopted by other teams across the company as a cost-effective learning strategy.
More than anything, this research has given us empathy for the position of today’s L&D leaders. The decisions they’re facing, coupled with the expectations placed on them, are putting them under a load of pressure.
Choosing the right learning methods may be a small piece of their overall responsibilities, but it’s a balancing act: not all methods work in all situations, and not all methods stay valid in an organization or for a specific function long-term. And the post-pandemic work environment is likely to continue to shift for some time in the future, making learning needs even more fluid.
The good news is that there are choices—lots of them. This body of research has identified 66 methods that contribute to employee development, and provides data on 49 of those methods.
Another piece of good news is that with that data, L&D leaders can be more confident about their choices. No organization needs to consider all the methods. The L&D leader’s role is to consider the universe of methods and choose the constellation that fits best.
And, as a reminder, by fit we mean:
- How well does it fit the business need?
- How well does it fit the culture?
- How well does it fit the audience?
- How well does it fit the available resources?
We strongly encourage you to complement this study with our previous study on learning methods: Next Gen Learning Methods: What to Use, How to Choose, and When to Let Them Go. If you still have questions, please reach out. We love to learn from you.
Note: for Appendices, including study demographics, research methodology, and contributors please download the PDF report.
Posted on Tuesday, June 14th, 2022 at 4:00 AM
2021 brought its own set of challenges beyond the continuation of COVID-19: a rise in job resignations, the beginning of high inflation (which is still perniciously present), and the start-stop pattern of planning for hybrid work. Now that we are fully in 2022, we continue to manage those challenges, which are exacerbated by the persistence of COVID and its variants, the war in Ukraine with its far-reaching impacts, and a rise in commodity prices. Leading a business is never easy, but the past few years have been especially volatile.
To address this volatility, leaders have turned to people analytics like never before. When workers weren’t physically present, people analytics provided insights into their needs. When organizations needed to pivot to meet changing customer needs, people analytics helped leaders identify staff with the skills and capabilities to lead those efforts. And when leaders needed to understand why employees were leaving in droves, people analytics provided insights and helped stem the tide. In short, people analytics has been a beacon of rationality and calm in a world that has had little of either during the past few years.
For these reasons, understanding the people analytics technology (PAT) market is more important than ever. These PAT tools are helping millions of leaders make better choices about their people in a time when uncertainty and confusion can cloud decision-making capabilities. Therefore, understanding what’s happening in this market—and what needs to come next—are critical to leaders’ abilities to manage the next phase of volatility and uncertainty yet to come.
This PAT study is our third and builds on the rich knowledge we’ve built up—as well as the feedback our readers have provided to us—over the last few years. As you see in Figure 1, our study relies on 2 vendor surveys, 1 customer survey, and hour-long briefings / demos with most participating vendors.
This study is designed to roll up our insights on the market broadly and provide information on the specific categories within it. For more about specific vendors, check out our People Analytics Tech tool, which vendors can update on a 24/7 basis.
As always, we aim to help you better understand the PAT market and, thus, enable you to make better people decisions with the help of technology. We are grateful to all the vendors and customers who participated in our study—and without whom this report wouldn’t be possible.
After reading this study, if you have further questions, then please reach out to us at [email protected].
- Employee engagement and experience continue to be the biggest vendor category. Of the 58 vendors in our survey, a large percentage (42%) fall into the employee engagement and experience category—making it the biggest vendor area within our PAT study. It was also the dominating category in 2020, albeit with a smaller percentage of vendors (34%).
- 2021 saw the biggest market growth, along with high levels of investment. Based on our calculations, the PAT market size is $3 billion, with a growth rate of 53% for 2020–2021 and a 5-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 80%. Among the vendors, 47% reported receiving investment funding in 2021.
- Prices for large customers have gone up. More vendors (34%) are now charging $500,000—$1,000,000 in subscription fees for companies with more than 50,000 employees, as compared with only 23% of vendors in 2020. Conversely, fewer vendors now serve smaller companies than in 2020.
- Vendors help customers by focusing on attrition and wellbeing. The vast majority of vendors (73%) reported attrition as a primary talent area of focus in 2021—with almost half also focused on wellbeing, an increase of 14% since 2020.
- Use cases are shifting over time, but vendors might be slow in responding. The shift in use cases comes as people analytics practitioners (PAPs) export data out of vendors’ systems for additional analysis in other tools, while non-PAP users increasingly rely on data for business decisions and adopt it Vendors should focus on non-PAP users to ensure continued usage.
- Data ethics and privacy are a priority for most vendors. More than 80% of vendors work with their customers to ensure compliance with different legal requirements in different regions and countries. Additionally, more than 70% design guidelines and policies—and align stakeholders around data collection, access, and sharing of insights.
- Customers are less satisfied than before, but vendors have high expectations for the future. Average customer Net Promoter Scores® (NPS) for vendors fell to 58 in 2022, as compared with 67 in 2021. Yet, 55% of vendors anticipate more than 30% growth for 2022.
Employee engagement & experience continue to dominate the solution market
The largest vendor category (at 42%) in our study continues to be the employee engagement / experience / voice category. This is similar to our 2020 study in which 34% of vendors fell into this category—making it the most dominant (see Figure 2).
We didn’t find this surprising for a few reasons:
- Employee engagement / experience has become a top priority for organizations over the past 2 years. As we see in Figure 3, when we asked customers about the top challenges they’re trying to solve for, both employee engagement and experience were among the top 5.
- The employee engagement / experience software market has traditionally been a busy space with growing potential. According to one source, the total investment made into this market in 2021 was more than $200 million and the total addressable market (TAM) for employee engagement solutions in 2022 is $77 billion. As surveying capabilities became a common commodity in the space, many vendors upped their game by adding measurement and analytics capabilities—thus moving into the people analytics space.
The percentage breakdown for the remaining categories remains similar to what we saw in 2020—suggesting that vendors are both continuing to focus on their areas of expertise and, as our data show later in this report, doubling down on differentiating themselves within their submarkets.
Foundry, a U.K.-based company that develops creative software for the digital design, media, and entertainment industries, faced a challenge—it lacked a safe space for employees to provide feedback.
In March 2020, Foundry embarked on its first-ever employment engagement survey using a PAT solution that focused on employee engagement.
The results showed that learning and development was one of the biggest areas of concern among employees. For example, more than half of those questioned (54%) agreed that good career opportunities existed for them at Foundry, while only 55% said they had access to the learning and development needed to do their jobs well.
Because of the insights from the data, the company was able to launch a series of efforts aimed at improving employee engagement. For example, the company revamped its internal movement policy with a fair application process to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity in applying for any role.
It also put in place a mentoring plan that grew from an initial 20 pairings of mentors and mentees to 50 within the space of 12 months, along with the creation of Foundry Guilds—knowledge-sharing groups that bring together people with similar interests to talk about best practices and challenges.
As a result of its efforts, Foundry’s overall engagement score increased by 11% between the March 2020 and April 2021 surveys.
2021: The biggest market size yet with significant investment
The PAT market grew at an unprecedented rate in 2021. We calculated the market size at more than $3 billion for 2021 (see Figure 4). Overall, the market grew at the following rates:
- 53% growth rate for 2020—2021
- 80% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) for the past 5 years
For those who read our 2020 research, you may notice that we’ve updated the revenue numbers for 2017—2020. This is because we have several new participants in our study and a number of older participants provided us with updated figures for previous years.
Vendors indicated that growth has been driven by both new and established customers which expanded their user base beyond people analytics practitioners (PAPs).
Growth’s also been partially driven by significant investments in the space. As Figure 5 shows, almost half of the vendors participating in our study received funding in 2021. Additionally, about one-third of vendors reported undergoing a merger, an acquisition, or some type of ownership change. This isn’t surprising as we know record investments ($30.8 billion by some estimates) had been made in work technologies in 2021.
Vendors are charging more & moving away from serving smaller companies
When we compare subscription fees vendors charged in 2021 with those of 2020, we observe (see Figure 6):
- Vendors charge more for very large In 2020, 23% of vendors charged subscription fees in the range of $500,000—$1,000,000 for companies with more than 50,000 employees. In 2021, this increased to 34%.
- Fewer vendors serve small and midsize A larger percentage of vendors no longer serve companies with fewer than 10,000 employees,:
- 21% of vendors don’t serve small companies with less than 1,000 employees, as compared with 13% in 2020
- 13% don’t serve midsize companies with 1,000—10,000 employees, as compared with 5% in 2020
- Only 8% of vendors offer a low subscription fee of less than $50,000, as compared with 23% in 2020
- 63% of vendors charge a higher ongoing subscription fee of $50,000—$100,000 for midsize companies, as compared with 43% in 2020
While the pandemic made people analytics a must-have for larger companies with enough resources, it’s possible that this also resulted in smaller companies putting their investments in PAT on the backburner since they likely had fewer resources to spare.
“ tool itself is totally effective, there might be 2 challenges: one is the pricing, and the other is consultancy required to effectively translate .”
—Large telecommunications company for an employee network and communications solution
2021 necessitated different approaches
Similar to 2020, vendors quickly responded to customer needs last year. The pandemic, growing resignation rates, and a shift from remote to hybrid work required leaders to seek insights–based on real-time data and from multiple sources–to make the best informed decisions.
Our data reveal that vendors responded to these needs. As with previous years, in 2021 vendors demonstrated a much clearer understanding of their own strengths and the characteristics that set them apart in the market.
As we see in Figure 7, in 2021 vendors differentiated themselves based on their data integration, collection, and engineering capabilities—as well as ease of use—as compared with 2020.
Customers appreciated this. When asked about the strengths of the PAT solution they utilize, customers cited ease of use and data integration capabilities among the top 3 (see Figure 8). Additionally, many customers also listed advanced analytics as a top strength. This is likely because multisource analysis platform solutions—that offer predictive analytics, machine learning (ML), and artificial intelligence (AI)—received a significant number of customer feedback responses.
“Extremely knowledgeable team and focused feature set. Solves a massive integration problem that would be impossible otherwise.”
—Small real estate company for an employee engagement / experience / voice solution
Data ethics & privacy are a priority for most vendors, but only some are focused on education
When it comes to data ethics, security, and privacy, the majority of vendors take the lead in collaborating with their customers. As we see in Figure 9, more than 80% of vendors
comply with the different legal requirements in different regions and countries. (This does, of course, make us wonder what the other 17% are doing, but we will take that up with them separately!) Companies increasingly look to their technology partners to understand how policies differ across regions as well as their potential implications.
In addition, we also see that many vendors are working closely with their customers to design guidelines and policies, and align stakeholders around data collection, access, and sharing of insights.
The one area in which we see only some vendors taking the lead is education. Our data indicate that about half of vendors reported working with their customers to educate the broader organization on data ethics and privacy. This is a bit surprising and seems counterproductive to their other efforts in the area.
Without helping their customers gain an understanding of the complexities and legal challenges surrounding issues of data ethics, vendors may find it hard to align different stakeholders and move ahead with their work. It’s possible that vendors still see this as a job for the legal teams. However, as adoption of these tools scales across organizations, we hope to see more vendors envisioning this as an integral part of their role.
Use cases are shifting over time
Over the course of our conversations, we began to see that how organizations use PAT is changing, depending on the organization’s level of people analytics sophistication and the type(s) of users. Figure 10 is a simplified depiction of how organizations currently use these technologies.
- Phase 1. PAPs use vendor tools for understanding a specific HR area (e.g., engagement), integrating data from other HR data sources (e.g., HRIS), and presenting it in dashboards; senior leaders begin to leverage dashboards.
- Phase 2. PAPs use vendor tools to integrate a broader set of people-related data and some operational data, and provide a continuous stream of data; other leaders increasingly use these more robust dashboards and insights.
- Phase 3. PAPs use vendor tools to export the integrated data, to add it to a data lake or run additional analyses on tools of their choice, such as Tableau and Power BI; leaders broadly adopt the dashboards and other capabilities to answer business questions.
As shown in Figure 10, once PAPs move to Phase 3, the level of usage of the tool declines for them. Importantly, though, this is when the tools can achieve broader scalability via adoption by business, HR, and people leaders—if the tools target those non-PAP audiences. Unfortunately, most don’t.
“Adding users is a bit cumbersome and, depending on the end-user, they may have some difficulty with understanding the complexity if there are a lot of dashboards / reports.”
—Small healthcare company for an employee engagement / experience / voice solution
Overall, customers aren’t as happy as before, but multisource analysis platforms are a bright spot
We saw a dip in customer satisfaction levels for 2021 when compared with 2020. Specifically, we saw a decline in NPS® from 67 in 2020 to 58 in 2021 (see Figure 11). This NPS is based on 21 vendors with 5 or more customer responses.
A few potential reasons for the decline in NPS include:
- Some vendors may not be doing enough to cater to the needs of non-PA leaders, resulting in a poor experience for them (see the first quote below)
- The pandemic made everything urgent, which shortened the required timeline from deployment to insight: this may have been challenging for many vendors (see the second quote below)
- With an increasingly crowded market space and rapid growth, there’s growing competition, along with customers’ high expectations of vendors to provide unique and differentiating capabilities (see the third quote below)
Given that employee engagement / experience / voice and multisource analysis platforms (MSAPs) are the 2 biggest categories in our study, we analyzed those categories specifically to see if their customer NPS scores varied from the average. As you can see in Figure 12, on average, the multisource analysis platforms received an NPS score of 64, while vendors in the employee engagement / experience / voice category received an average NPS of 58, suggesting that customers are happier with MSAPs, as compared with other vendors.
“The concept and idea is good, the analytics is good—but the content and features are not attractive for users.”
—Large technology company for an employee engagement / experience solution
“Flexibility is good for what you can build / do in the application. But for strategic workforce planning, it needs to be more robust and aligned to the overall WFP process if it wants to be a successful player in this competitive market.”
—Small healthcare company for an employee engagement / experience / voice solution
“They do not deliver the roadmap and are way behind what the competition can offer.”
—Large technology company for an employee engagement / experience solution
Vendors have high expectations for 2022 & made business changes to meet them
Vendors expect to see continued growth in the future. Specifically, for 2022 (see Figure 13):
- All vendors expect growth of at least 6% or more
- More than half of vendors expect growth greater than 31%
Our briefings revealed that vendors expect this growth to be driven by a few factors. Specifically, customers are:
- Using people analytics to implement and manage hybrid work
- Exhibiting a growing emphasis on using data and metrics for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB)
- Preparing for more SEC reporting requirements around human capital metrics
The optimism is perhaps also driven by business changes made by vendors to meet customer needs. Vendors reported that they (see Figure 14):
- Adjusted their products, roadmap, and / or marketing strategy to meet the needs of the changing 2022 environment
- Are offering greater technical and admin support, as well as resources, to customers as part of their subscription
- Changed their sales and pricing models
Our briefings also revealed that vendors are actively engaging with the wider customer community to understand emerging issues, and creatively working to help customers solve them—through better data capabilities, partnerships, and expansion into other talent areas. As customers face more nuanced challenges while navigating the complexities of hybrid work, we expect to see more vendors make such business changes.
Vendors are helping solve current challenges
Vendors are actively working on solving the pressing challenges that organizations face today, such as (see Figure 15):
- Managing employee engagement and experience. Similar to 2020, the top challenge is issues around employee engagement and experience.
- Enabling action through insights. Companies need help identifying insights that can drive action, prioritizing efforts, and finding areas of need. Several vendors reported this as a primary challenge they’re helping to resolve.
- Providing insights across areas. Companies need contextual insights to make better decisions―which means pulling in data from many different sources to get a holistic picture. Vendors are increasingly helping customers gain such insights.
- Designing a data-based HR strategy. Several vendors report helping customers design an HR strategy based on data—linking talent and HR decisions to business outcomes, and identifying objective KPIs to track and measure.
- Advanced workforce planning. The pandemic recast strategic workforce planning as a priority for companies. Additionally, the conversation around skills has accelerated, making workforce planning a top area of focus.
C.H. Robinson uses PAT to design return-to-office policies
When the pandemic struck in early 2020, C.H. Robinson, a large transportation and logistics company, knew it needed to bring employees into the conversation. The company leveraged its employee engagement and experience solution to deploy pulse surveys in June 2020 and spring 2021 to measure employee sentiment about returning to work. The data collected from the surveys helped design the company’s plan for supporting new post-pandemic ways of working.
The data revealed that employees had mixed emotions about returning to the office. While about 50% of employees were comfortable with the idea, others were concerned about work-life balance and safety. Employees favored staggered scheduling, physical distancing, and frequent cleaning. The company decided to do a deeper dive into restructuring the post-pandemic work experience.
As a result of the data and feedback collected from employees, the Return to Office team partnered with executive leadership to develop a flexibility model using employee work personas—in-office, 2 hybrid groups, and remote workers. The goal was to ensure that all groups had the support and clarity they needed around how and where each group works.
The company also worked to create:
- An Employee Experience Journey Map as a guide for understanding the emotional journey for both employees and managers
- A more robust communication change management plan, targeting different messages to different personas
It also built resources for managers to have a reference for interacting with each of the different employee personas.
Vendors focused on areas of top priority
In addition to asking vendors about the primary challenges they’re helping to resolve, we also asked about the top areas of talent management on which their solutions are focused.
As we see in Figure 16, most vendors (73%) reported attrition and employee engagement as their primary areas of focus. Interestingly, attrition wasn’t even featured among the top 5 areas of primary focus for 2020. This increased attention isn’t surprising, though, when we consider that conversations around the “Great Resignation” dominated a good part of 2021.
Another unsurprising, but worth acknowledging, finding—almost half of the vendor solutions in our study now focus on employee wellbeing. The number of vendor solutions focusing on this area grew significantly from 34% in 2020 to 48% in 2021. This growth is primarily driven by the increase in vendors that focus on employee engagement and experience.
As companies continued with remote working in 2021, tracking and managing employee wellbeing has become an integral part of the employee experience. In this new era of growing focus on mental and physical health at work, it’s great to see vendors offer capabilities that allow customers to identify, solve for, and facilitate conversations around burnout, collaboration overload, and isolation.
CAPLAN corporation leverages PAT to understand attrition
CAPLAN corporation is an information technology and services company based out of Minato, Tokyo, Japan. The company faced a major hurdle in identifying the reasons for employee turnover as HR had no visibility into people data collected across the employee lifecycle. As a result, significant people decisions were being made solely based on intuition.
Leaders hypothesized that newer workforce members (those with the company for less than 3 years) quit the company at a higher rate. Additionally, they believed that issues with lack of transfers between merged entities within the company might be one of the reasons for the turnover.
Because the company lacked a PAT tool to help visualize the historical data on its employees’ career paths, leaders had no concrete way of testing the hypothesis.
The company decided to leverage a multisource analysis platform to help with the challenge. Connecting employee attributes data revealed that CAPLAN’s hypotheses around newer workforce leaving the company wasn’t true. In fact, the attrition rate for high-tenure employees was higher than that of newer employees. This helped the company realize that it needed to focus on cultivating the careers of the more tenured workforce.
Further, the company discovered that almost no personnel transfers existed between its merged companies. This confirmed for leaders that the company wasn’t functioning as a cohesive unit. By leveraging the PAT solution, CAPLAN found clarity and alignment on wider organizational issues that needed to be addressed to improve its people strategy and processes.
Vendors make it easier to connect data
One of the most positive findings from this year’s study is that vendors are making it easier for customers to pull data from different sources and technologies. As we mentioned earlier, customers also see this as a top strength of PAT solutions.
We expected to see the majority of vendors continue to use traditional methods, such as CSV or flat-file upload, to connect data with a few exceptions. Instead, we were pleasantly surprised to see that a large number of vendors have built API integrations, connectors, or some other designed integrations to pull continuous data from different systems.
As we see in Figure 17, almost 50% of vendors have designed integrations to connect data from HRIS systems. While CSV continues to be the method of choice for vendors integrating sales, CRM, and employee survey data, several vendors have built APIs for cloud-based technologies and learning systems. Particularly interesting, we found that more vendors have built APIs to integrate data from work technologies, such as email, Slack, and MS Office365, than use a flat-file upload. This makes sense, given the structure and continuous nature of the data.
Additionally, almost half of the vendors offer capabilities to integrate existing employee data with other internal and external sources (see Figure 18). As companies look to connect more and more data for better contextual insights, we expect to see these capabilities become tablestakes in the future.
“Insightful data, good user experience, seamless integration with IT.”
—SMB technology company for an employee engagement / experience / voice solution
Vendors may not be responding quickly enough to changes with end-users
The vast majority of vendors (93%) continue to focus on PAPs as their primary end-user (see Figure 19). Additionally, when compared with previous years, there’s a decline in usage frequency by all other groups except people managers.
This growing gap is indicative of what we heard during our vendor briefings and found in our surveys. Vendors now understand the value propositions their solutions can provide for different users—but they’re not doing enough to attract greater usage from non-PAP users.
We heard from numerous vendors about their efforts to design user experiences around a specific set of users and provide them with targeted capabilities. However, given the significant gap in usage between PAPs and all other users, clearly vendors need to do more. For example, vendors should consider:
- Surfacing relevant insights for HR and HRBP users that tie in directly with business priorities—benchmarking those against other business units and making it easy to share those insights more broadly
- Giving tool access to employees, so they can see insights based on data collected about them and compare their own historical performance with that of other teams
For years vendors have said they would expand their end-user focus: We’re still waiting
In our first study in January 2019, we asked vendors the extent to which different users were current users and the extent to which those users would use the solution in 3 years’ time.
Well, now it’s nearly 3 years later. When we compare vendors’ predictions from 2019 about usage rates at the end of 2021 with the actual rates from the end of 2021, it’s a bit dismal (see Figure 20):
- Business & C-suite leaders. The estimate from 3 years ago was 72%; actual usage is 51%
- People managers. The estimate from 3 years ago was 81%; actual usage is 56%
- Employees. The estimate from 3 years ago was 54%; actual usage is 23%
Here’s the really depressing part: All of those actual usage percentages for 2021 are lower than the actual usage numbers given in 2019.
With the near stagnant levels of usage by non-PA leaders and the shifting use cases we discussed earlier, vendors could face a real challenge if they don’t start providing value to non-PA leaders and thereby increase their usage.
C-suite leaders & employees are the most infrequent users of PAT insights
Current tool usage by non-PAPs has been stagnant for the past 3 years. This can be partially explained by the low frequency with which these groups use insights from their people analytics solutions.
In our survey, we asked vendors to tell us about the frequency of different users receiving and using the insights from their solutions, even if they don’t access the solution themselves. As we see in Figure 21, PAPs are at the top, with more than 60% of vendors reporting that PAPs receive insights from their solution on a daily or weekly basis. Given the critical role that people analytics can play for C-suite and business leaders, it’s surprising to see that only one-third of all vendor solutions provide these user groups with continuous insights. Even more depressing is the fact that only 19% of vendor solutions do this for employees.
As we’ve previously highlighted in our research, insights from people analytics can be crucial for driving the CEO’s agenda and making data-driven people decisions. The pandemic has made this all the more urgent and necessary. Similarly, the pandemic has changed the way employees feel about work. In a recent survey, 50% of employees agreed that the pandemic changed the expectations they have of their employers—one of which is their employer provides them with more control over their work. Sharing insights and data with employees is one way companies can do that.
“ has enabled us to transform to a data-driven HR organization. Not only the HR division makes use of it, it enables line managers unfamiliar with both data and HR to understand and incentivize, to look into their people data through a simple and beautiful UI/UX.”
—SMB media and entertainment company for a multisource analysis platform
Vendors need to offer more targeted capabilities for non-HR users
As we indicated earlier, the near constant level of usage by non-PA leaders could be due to the fact that vendors aren’t providing enough value to other user groups. One way vendors can do this is by providing targeted capabilities that help non-PA leaders use the tools for their own specific purposes. This includes providing them with insights that are relevant for them and are also based on their team data, as well as recommending actions suited to their roles and levels. Some vendors are doing this, but more needs to be done.
As we see in Figure 22, when it comes to non-HR users such as people managers, a little more than half of vendors report providing them with recommendations for relevant analyses. While this is certainly more than the number of vendors doing this for PAPs (34%), it’s not enough—people managers need more support and guidance when it comes to analytics.
If the aim of people analytics is to drive decision-making by putting the right insights in the hands of the right people at the right time, then the majority of vendors are falling behind.
For non-technical users such as people managers who need to take action based on data, a tool that helps them to prioritize based on business needs is critical. Similarly, although 70% of vendor solutions provide customized insights to business and C-suite leaders, there’s certainly room for growth.
Uber puts people analytics in the hands of its people leaders
People data housed in different places and systems made it hard for Uber, a large mobility as a service company, to quickly conduct analyses on its workforce across the entire organization—and put needed insights in the hands of its leaders. Answering simple questions around headcount, for example, was often a challenge as no processes were in place to do such analysis on a repeatable and scalable manner.
The company decided to work with a vendor whose solution would allow comprehensive information on its people to be delivered to business leaders through an attractive and intuitive interface.
Uber wanted to empower all business leaders, not just HR leaders, with data and analytics. The company pursued a self-service model that enables users, rather than having a large analytics team do customized analyses with specialized tools and raw data.
The vendor helped design an “Uber People Dashboard” based on a previously used design that was tested with a group of users. The idea was to fast-track 80% of the solution, then iterate to get to a 95% solution by co-developing improvements.
Weekly feedback gathered from users showed that different user groups had very different needs. For example, leaders with small teams didn’t value analysis of headcount or past attrition as much as leaders with 200—300 employees. However, both types of leaders were interested in predictive analytics.
Uber rolled out its new people analytics solution to a broad group of business and HR users over a few quarters. Among business and HR users, more than 50% actively use the solution.
Understanding the PAT market: Our 2×2 matrix
A crowded marketplace
We continue to use our matrix approach to classifying the PAT market, for which we compare 2 aspects of solutions’ capabilities—usage frequency and data sources. (See Appendix 1 for more details; note that a firm’s placement up and to the right in the matrix is not necessarily better.)
The number of logos on our matrix (see Figure 23) has almost doubled since our first PAT study in 2019. A few things caught our attention this year:
- The majority of new vendor participants have survey capabilities. In particular, we’ve seen a crowding of vendors in the 2 quadrants to the right of the Y axis, indicating a greater focus on more continuous analysis driven by employee listening.
- More vendors are integrating data than before. We’ve observed the addition of vendors above the X axis, meaning a larger number of vendors are:
- Pulling disparate internal organizational data (e.g., sales, CRM, learning data, etc.) as well as external data (e.g., labor market data)
- Combining active data collected directly from employees with passive data, such as metadata or data from collaboration tools (e.g., Slack, MS Teams, etc.)
(For information on individual vendors, see our People Analytics Tech vendor tool: https://redthreadresearch.com/pat-tool/)
Understanding the market
While the 2×2 matrix is helpful to understand market changes, it’s not necessarily as helpful as it could be to identify the vendors you need to do certain types of analysis. We have, therefore, for the first time with this research, also grouped vendors according to 4 categories of actions that they help practitioners perform (see Figure 24):
- Plan. Vendors grouped under this category primarily concentrate on helping customers with strategic planning around their current and future workforce, based on internal organizational data and external labor market data. The subcategories within the plan category include:
- Workforce planning
- Labor market analysis
- Manage. In this category, vendors focus on helping customers manage their existing talent by connecting different HR processes under one system. Currently, only one subcategory exists within this area:
- HCM / HRIS
- Discover. These vendors help customers discover and identify insights around their existing talent by connecting disparate data sources from HR, as well as non-HR systems. The subcategories include:
- Multisource analysis platforms
- Employee networks and communication
- Engage & learn. Vendors in this category help customers understand their employees—and, thus, engage and develop them by bringing together data collected directly from employees, as well as data from systems in which they work. Subcategories are:
- Employee engagement / experience / voice
- Learning analytics
Plan: Workforce planning
As shown in Figure 25, workforce planning technologies integrate data from a range of sources and are used often (depending on the organization’s current talent needs), but not continuously.
Specifically, workforce planning technology can:
- Enable planning and finance professionals to identify the supply and demand of talent, and plan for current and future talent needs
- Integrate internal HR data to identify needs with external labor market data to provide insights on workforce supply
- Provide insights around internal mobility and skills identification
The workforce planning technology market tends to be hot when the talent market is at its extremes—either growing quickly (as we’ve seen for the last 18 months) or contracting rapidly (as we may see soon). It’s during extreme times of change—specifically the need to rapidly acquire talent or to determine which talent must be kept in times of layoffs—that leaders turn to the insights provided by workforce planning.
That said, strategic workforce planning works best when it’s done on a regular basis. It takes consistent effort to understand specific talent markets, plan and execute talent strategies, measure change, and then make adjustments. One-off projects don’t fully leverage the power of strategic workforce planning. As data become easier to integrate, our expectation is that strategic workforce planning will be used more consistently within organizations.
“Increased collaboration and accountability (more people involved), increased availability of insights (faster analysis and planning), increased accuracy of workforce needed and its cost.”
—Small professional services company for a workforce planning solution
Plan: Labor market analysis
As shown in Figure 26, labor market analysis technologies integrate data and are used frequently, especially in hot talent markets. In particular, these technologies:
- Collect and analyze external talent market data (e.g., from the S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but also from LinkedIn and job boards) to help organizations with their current and future hiring needs
- Help companies understand compensation trends
- Provide insights into the types of talent that competitors are hiring and in which geographies
We’re starting to see a focus on skills data by these vendors—a growing trend that’s being driven by the necessity to understand current skills and plan for needed future skills. As a result, we’re seeing labor market analysis platforms collate skills information for organizations from labor market data, such as job vacancy posts, to identify “in-demand” skills and general trends.
Also, we see more partnerships and integrations between labor market analysis platforms and other vendors, particularly those that integrate many data sources. For example:
- Visier, a multisource analysis platform, partners with EMSI, a labor market analysis vendor, to help customers with job classification and insights on
- Claro (recently acquired by WilsonHCG) feeds benchmarking data via a widget to another multisource analysis platform, eqtble, to provide customers with insights on the labor market next to their talent metrics.
This is a smart move as it not only allows vendors to leverage more data for better contextual insights, but also makes it easy for users to access more information in one place.
Manage: HCM / HRIS
As shown in Figure 27, HCM / HRIS analysis technologies are less uniform in their distribution on the matrix than are other categories due to how they’re used. Specifically, these technologies:
- Provide analytics capabilities embedded as part of their HCM / HRIS solution
- Target HR practitioners as their primary users
- Cover many talent areas, including candidate selection, attrition, performance, DEIB, compensation / total rewards, and succession planning
- Conduct analyses based on data primarily collected by the HCM system with capabilities to integrate additional data
A major benefit for customers that use the people analytics technologies offered by their HCM / HRIS systems is that they’re able to access all their data and analyses within one place. Further, they’re often also able to action decisions made as a result of analyses (i.e., increasing the compensation of certain people, approving promotions, or allocating budget for compensation increases). Also, fewer data security and privacy risks exist in this case as all data resides in one system.
The technologies in Figure 27 are leaders in the HCM space and have, in recent years, added people analytics capabilities as part of their solution offerings. For example:
- ADP offers the ability for customers to integrate external data, as well as employee survey data, and provides insights geared toward front-line managers delivered via their mobile application
- Workday HCM is able to integrate insights from its Workday Skills Cloud for customers, along with analyzing data from its HCM and financial systems
“So far, the solution has reduced manual tracking of many items. It has a very comprehensive amount of data collection for HR.”
—Small government / military organization for an HCM / HRIS solution
Discover: Multisource analysis platforms
As shown in Figure 28, multisource analysis platforms (MSAPs) tend to be used very frequently and integrate data from other systems. In some cases, MSAPs also create that data.
Specifically, these solutions can:
- Integrate and analyze data from HR and other operational systems, and distribute insights at appropriate levels of security throughout the organization
- Provide insights to people analytics and HR leaders—and, increasingly, to business leaders and managers
- Offer data architecture capabilities along with a data warehouse for storage
- Offer insights on the skills and behaviors being exhibited in organizations
By bringing together disparate data, MSAPs can create a single, integrated source of data truth that can then be used to answer critical questions about what’s happening with the workforce. Our research shows that effectively using integrated people analytics data can help impact businesses in terms of millions and sometimes billions of dollars. These significant business outcomes are typically the result of people analytics teams working to help answer strategic business questions, with the support of the CHRO and senior business leaders, who make the final decisions.
Yet, the people analytics team is only so big in any organization. By putting data into the hands of more business leaders, managers, and employees, organizations could enable more people to make better, data-backed decisions about people—and, thus, better enable those organizations (and people!) to thrive. This represents a critical future direction for MSAPs.
“It truly democratizes data in a self-service manner across the enterprise and enables people insights to be accessed at scale.”
—Large healthcare company for a multisource analysis platform
Discover: Employee networks & communications
As shown in Figure 29, vendors in this subcategory are mainly used on a continuous basis and can be both data creators as well as integrators. Specifically, the solutions in this space:
- Collect passive data (from collaboration tools, emails, calendars, ) and / or active data (from surveys, forms, etc.) on employee networks to understand the relationships and collaborative behaviors among them
- Target people managers, PAPs, and employees as users
- Provide insights around DEIB, burnout, collaboration patterns and overload, isolation, and wellbeing
- Offer some of the highest levels of security around data access and privacy due to the nature of data collected
These vendors offer what are commonly referred to as organizational network analysis (ONA) tools. Readers should notice that only one vendor is in the bottom left quadrant of Figure 29, Innovisor. Based on our last briefing with the vendor in 2019, it’s the only one in this subcategory that solely focuses on creating data by collecting information from employees via surveys. All other vendors in this space collect active as well as passive data (data from work technology and collaboration tools), and integrate the 2 data types to provide insights around employee networks.
ONA has become especially useful for organizations looking to understand how employee networks have changed over the last 2 years. We know that connections which are important for collaboration and innovation deteriorated with virtual work environments during the pandemic. We expect to see a continued focus on these tools in a hybrid work world as well.
Engage & learn: Learning analysis
As shown in Figure 30, learning analysis platforms tend to be used with different levels of frequency, depending on the vendor and its customers. These technologies can:
- Provide customers with insights around employee learning, knowledge, and skills
- Collect data from systems and tools that employees use to learn or work, such as multimodal learning resources (e.g., formal, informal, and on-the-job learning), and employee behavior and performance data
- Help admins understand utilization and cost implications of different platforms
The learning analysis category is sparse because these technologies are still a bit of a niche offering. Many learning organizations are not very mature at using analytics, continuing to rely on Kirkpatrick Level 1 “smile” sheets or rudimentary analysis run in Excel. Further, learning analytics aren’t often within the purview of people analytics practitioners, so PAPs haven’t necessarily been a potential buyer of these technologies.
All that said, there’s clearly a need for learning analysis technologies. For example, as we think about the big push toward understanding skills, a critical part of “upskilling” is in understanding which learning experiences actually drive the acquisition of critical skills sets and the timeline on which those are acquired. Further, as organizations are analyzing how learning happens with hybrid work, they’ll need more sophisticated tools to measure effectiveness. Learning analysis platforms have the potential to provide this type of insights.
Engage & learn: Employee engagement / experience / voice
Representing 42% of the vendors in this year’s survey, employee engagement / experience / voice platforms create data and, in some instances, integrate data from other systems (see Figure 31). They tend to be used very frequently by organizations. Specifically, they can:
- Help companies track and manage employee engagement, experience, and voice
- Collect active data from employees via engagement surveys, pulse surveys, and / or feedback forms
- Collect and integrate passive data from collaboration tools (such as Slack, MS Teams, emails, calendars, )
- Integrate HR data with non-HR data, such as information from sales and CRMs
The employee engagement / experience / voice category has experienced some of the most significant growth during the pandemic. It’s also seen some of the greatest market activity in the last few years—with Workday purchasing Peakon, Perceptyx purchasing Waggl and Cultivate, and Visier purchasing Yva.ai.
*Yva was acquired by Visier during the compilation of this report. Although it’s featured under “Engage & Learn” in this report, moving forward it’ll be covered in the “Discover” category.
We expect to see employee engagement / experience / voice vendors continuing to augment their survey data (which measure perceptions) with passive “objective” data (that reflects what’s actually happening). This passive data will almost certainly come from collaboration analytics tools—which use the metadata from work tools such as Slack, MS Teams, emails, and calendars, to understand how people work together. Therefore, we also expect to see some action with other vendors in this space, such as Glickon, Network Perspective, RSquared, Swoop Analytics, and Worklytics.
"They are great to work with and the tool works for what we need it for, but still would like the experience side and the engagement side to talk to each other.”
—Large healthcare company for employee engagement and experience solution
What’s next for the PAT market?
We foresee a few trends for this tech market in the near future.
- More use of collaboration and digital exhaust. The market is clearly headed in this direction—the recent acquisition of Yva.ai by Visier is an indicator of this. Employers increasingly want to understand how their people work and collaborate, especially in a hybrid world of work. The combination of passive data with active data can help leaders better understand how work gets done.
- “Widgetization” of one technology into another. As more and more vendors partner with each other, they look for ways to make it easy for customers to access the different insights. We’re starting to see this with vendors integrating their tools into other software, similar to embedding a We expect to see more vendors adopt this approach to provide customers with greater contextual insights.
- More partnerships between vendors. We’re already seeing a large number of PAT vendors from different categories partner with each other to provider a broader set of capabilities to their customers. For example:
- Visier has partnerships in place with Medallia and EMSI
- Medallia has a partnership with Humanyze
We expect to see such partnerships become more commonplace as organizations adopt hybrid work models, and require new and different types of data to understand and manage their workforce.
People analytics continues to be a guiding light for many in these turbulent times. Findings from our research show that the PAT market continues to gain momentum and grow stronger. Even though our data revealed lower customer satisfaction scores than we’ve seen in the past, we’re optimistic about the market, and believe in its ability to help lead organizations by separating fact from fiction and myth.
Our vendor briefings and conversations with practitioners further strengthen our belief that the market is moving in the right direction when it comes to solving the toughest challenges faced by its customers, such as:
- Integrating disparate data
- Managing employee wellbeing and attrition
- Understanding skills
- Providing advanced analytics capabilities to answer workforce-related questions
Vendors are highly optimistic about the future and anticipate more growth moving forward. There’s certainly a growing appetite to work with people data within organizations. We look forward to continuing to watch this market and how it evolves in the coming months, and reporting these changes to you next year.
Appendix 1: Summary of methodology
This study is a culmination of 5 months of qualitative and quantitative research (see Figure 32).
We kicked off our People Analytics Technology study early in 2022—and did a few things differently this year. For example, vendors were required to complete 2 surveys, Vendor and Market, in order to participate in the study (instead of 1 robust survey as in the past). A couple of reasons for this include:
- Having 2 separate surveys allowed us to capture information and compartmentalize it between market trends and vendor trends more While the majority of findings from the Market survey are included in this report, the information from the Vendor survey are shared in our updated PAT tool.
- Going forward, our Vendor survey will remain live 24/7—allowing vendors to update us about changes to their solutions as and when they happen, without waiting a full year. The Market survey will be conducted annually.
Similar to previous years, we conducted 60-minute live briefings with 40 vendors and reviewed recorded briefings for 3 of them (vendors had the option of providing prerecorded briefing videos if they preferred). The briefings took place from January to April 2022.
In addition, we also conducted a customer survey. Customers were asked to:
- Share the challenges they’re using the solution to solve
- Give feedback on the vendor’s strengths and areas of improvement
- Determine a customer Net Promoter Score® (NPS) for their vendor
Vendors were also asked to share case studies, representative screenshots of their technologies, and logos with us.
Each vendor was required to receive a minimum of 5 customer reviews to be included in our study, with no limit on how many reviews they could receive. We received 5 or more customer reviews for 21 vendors as of the end of March 2022.
A total of 43 vendors completed our surveys. In addition, publicly available data for 15 vendors were included in the dataset, bringing the total n to 58.
Once our qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis were complete, we revisited the 2×2 matrix that we introduced in our 2019 report. Our matrix compares 2 aspects of vendors’ capabilities—usage frequency and data sources. This approach allows us to identify some points of differentiation and categorize vendors in different, meaningful segments.
Understanding the X-axis
Starting with the X-axis (see Figure 33), we range from solutions that users tend to use / access on a frequent basis (e.g., quarterly, bimonthly, or monthly) on the left side of the matrix to solutions that are used on a continuous / always-on basis (e.g., biweekly, weekly, or daily) on the right. Please note: We’re specifically thinking about how frequently users tend to utilize the solution, not the frequency with which it’s updated or can give insights. We focused on user frequency because it allows us to understand, from a practitioner’s perspective, how frequently a solution tends to be used— which can help us understand how and by whom it’s used.
For example, the solutions on the left side of the model tend to be used to consistently check in on specific areas of interest. These are leveraged by HR, people analytics, and other business leaders who are looking to make strategic talent decisions.
As we move toward the right, we see solutions that both provide analysis for strategic, organizational decision-making, and inform users about themselves or their team. Many of these solutions’ typical primary users are people analytics or HR—but the vendors have expanded (or are in the process of expanding) their user groups to include senior leaders, managers, and employees.
On the far-right side of the graphic are solutions that both tend to be used more continuously, which lend themselves to more operational (nonstrategic) adjustments, and alert individuals about their own or their team’s behavior. Obviously, when this type of data is pulled together and analyzed longitudinally, it could inform strategic decision-making as well. These vendors tend to focus more on providing greater accessibility to data and sharing insights directly with employees in the form of nudges, individual reports and dashboards, and notifications.
Understanding the Y-axis
On the Y-axis, we classify solutions as follows—from whether vendors collect (via any method) and “create” the data themselves, as shown at the bottom of the graphic, to whether they integrate the data from other sources (e.g., government data, other third-party solutions, or other internal technologies), shown at the top of the graphic. Note that almost every vendor in our study pulls data from the HR information system (HRIS) for basic demographics, hierarchy, location, and other facts, so we don’t “count” integration with HRIS as one of the integrations on this axis.
Figure 34 indicates how the scale changes. At the bottom of the model, we have solutions that “create” data primarily by collecting it directly from employees (i.e., engagement, onboarding, exit surveys, etc.). Moving up the axis, we add in solutions that collect data as well as integrate other data captured on employees, such as wellbeing or performance management data, via their own tools.
Moving up further (closer to the X-axis), we have solutions that still capture data but also integrate a wide range of data sources (e.g., 360-feedback data, financial / business outcome data, work productivity data like email or Slack / MS Teams, and customer experience data).
Finally, toward the top third of the Y-axis, we have solutions that primarily integrate data from others. Unlike those on the bottom, the majority of these solutions don’t offer the capability to collect data. A number of them work in tandem with those lower down on the matrix as part of the bigger people analytics technology ecosystem.
When we put all of this together, we end up with 4 different quadrants with distinct characteristics (see Figure 35):
- Accumulated analytics. Vendors in this quadrant rank high in their ability to provide users with a longitudinal view of data, including insights that enable strategic talent decisions. Data tend to be aggregated and integrated from several sources, including external data. The insights from these vendors can be used by teams on a frequent basis to track specific areas of interest.
- Snapshot analytics. Vendors in this quadrant are data collectors and provide insights that are reviewed for strategic talent decisions on an event-driven basis. These vendors are primarily focused on active data collection, though they may also have some newly introduced data integration capabilities.
- Targeted analytics. This quadrant includes vendors that focus on a specific talent area (e.g., engagement / experience, performance management, wellness). They collect data directly from employees—enabling both quicker deployment and adoption, and access to insights and analysis by multiple teams on a very frequent or continuous basis. Several of them push insights directly to employees to promote faster action.
- Guiding analytics. This quadrant includes vendors that integrate data from several different sources and which are used very frequently to continuously. This combination of elements enables users to frequently access deep and broad information that can guide strategic organizational decisions, operational decisions, and individual’s decisions about themselves or their team. Our mental model for solutions in this section is like a guided missile—they can give insights that can change the trajectory quickly.
It’s important to note that none of these quadrants is superior to the others. In fact, there’s likely a place for all of them in an organization’s people analytics technology ecosystem. However, by putting technologies into these boxes, we can start to think about what that ecosystem might look like and how organizations might begin to build them.
Appendix 2: Vendor demographics
This year, a total of 43 solutions participated in our study. We included publicly available information for an additional 15 vendors, bringing the total to 58. The demographic breakdown of survey participants by year founded, number of employees, and HQ location is shown in Figures 36–38.
Appendix 3: Customer demographics
We received a total of 128 customer responses. The demographic breakdown for the customer respondents by industry, roles, and number of employees is shown in Figures 39–41.
Posted on Tuesday, May 24th, 2022 at 5:52 AM
L&D's DEIB commitments are growing
As we head further from the catalytic events of summer 2020, it’s heartening to see that organizations are continuing to ramp up efforts on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). For example, the Association for Talent Development (ATD) reported that 39% of organizations have introduced DEIB programs in the past 2 years. And organizations appear committed to continuing this trend: A study by Traliant and WBR Insights reported that 79% of organizations planned to allocate more budget and / or resources to DEIB in 2022 compared to 2021.
Like their broader organizations, L&D functions are doing more to foster DEIB. LinkedIn Learning’s 2 most recent annual workplace learning reports (2022 and 2021) indicate that L&D functions plan to deploy more DEIB programs in 2022 compared to 2021. In addition, more L&D functions said they own or share responsibility for DEIB efforts in their organizations (Figure 1).
These growing commitments make a lot of sense: L&D functions should be more involved in DEIB efforts. With their broad and cross-functional reach and their ability to influence expectations for the ways people work and interact with one another, L&D functions are uniquely positioned to drive the kind of deep and widespread culture change that DEIB requires. As Emma Birchall, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Ericsson, put it:
You can’t overstate the importance of L&D in DEIB. L&D is the part of the organization that translates the business strategy into signals to individuals and teams about how they execute on the strategy.
Moreover, improving DEIB is (or should be) an enterprise effort. In our experience, DEIB efforts that are seen as 1 group’s job face an uphill battle. DEIB culture change isn’t something that can be achieved if only 1 team, no matter how dedicated and capable, is committed to it.
As L&D functions continue to become more deeply embedded in their organizations’ DEIB efforts, partnering with teams across the organization—especially DEIB teams—will be key. We touch on this idea of partnership throughout this paper.
3 reasons L&D isn’t more effective on improving DEIB (yet)
Despite the growing sense that L&D functions can and should do more to improve the DEIB cultures in their organizations, many are not contributing as effectively as they could. We see 3 reasons for this:
- Lack of organizational DEIB policy / guidance. Many of the leaders we talked to said they were waiting for an organizational DEIB strategy to be developed before they started incorporating DEIB into employee development experiences.
- Defaulting to training. In many organizations, it’s assumed that training is all L&D functions do (or should do). This can lead to an over-focus on DEIB training as a strategy for effecting change. There’s a good deal of research indicating that one-off, compliance-focused diversity training alone does not improve DEIB in organizations. The article “Why Diversity Programs Fail,” by F. Dobbin and A. Kalev, gives a good overview of why this may be.
- L&D’s own blind spots. In the learning survey that we conducted in December 2021, about 75% of L&D respondents were white (Figure 2). This lack of diversity may make it difficult for L&D functions to recognize their own biases. For example, in our survey, 50% of L&D pros who identified as white said their L&D function proactively applies a DEIB lens to learning opportunities. Only 36% of those who did not identify as white agreed with the same statement.
Jeffrey M., Senior Manager for Organizational & Leadership Development at a commercial space company, articulated the challenges associated with a lack of diversity within L&D functions in this way:
If you don’t have like me, or someone Latino or Asian on the team, then there’s a certain lack of diversity of thought that’s built into the development opportunities that are offered.
Fortunately, these challenges aren’t insurmountable. There’s a lot that L&D functions can do—starting now—to more effectively drive DEIB cultures in their organizations. That’s the focus of this study.
Focus on learning equity
In our lit review on DEIB & learning, we identified 4 main areas L&D functions consider when approaching DEIB (Figure 3):
- Delivering DEIB training. L&D functions deliver training on topics like unconscious bias, with a focus on making the training more effective and “stickier."
- Making all training more DEIB. L&D functions adapt the language, visuals, physical and virtual spaces, etc., for all trainings to make them more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
- Developing employees’ DEIB skills. L&D functions identify the skills that will drive a DEIB culture in their organizations and focus on enabling employees to develop those key skills.
- Focusing on learning equity. L&D functions take a systemic approach to DEIB in employee development. They make the systems and processes of employee development more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
Our research focused on this 4th approach: learning equity. We chose this focus largely because much has been written on the first 3 approaches, but learning equity is a relatively new concept for organizations. This systemic approach was described by Kate Shaw, Director of Learning at Airbnb:
DEIB has to be not just a piece of what you do, but woven throughout everything you do.
In addition, there’s a correlation between a systemic focus on DEIB and high performance. In our learning survey, 61% of L&D pros in high-performing organizations said their L&D function proactively applies a DEIB lens to employee development, versus 36% of L&D pros in the rest of our dataset.
3 elements of learning equity
Our research indicates that organizations are making development opportunities more diverse, equitable, and inclusive by paying attention to 3 specific aspects of employee development (Figure 4):
- Discovery is how employees find out about development opportunities. Employees use a range of formal and informal methods to get information about the opportunities available to them
- Access is which employees can take advantage of a development opportunity if they want to. Employees’ access to many development opportunities is determined by the organization, often based on an employee’s role, skills, job function, job level, or management status.
- Participation refers to which employees actually participate in the development opportunities they have access to.
L&D functions should assess Discovery, Access, and Participation in their organizations to identify where systems and processes may be inequitable or hamper diversity and inclusivity. With a more nuanced understanding of where the gaps are, they can take more targeted actions to close those gaps and improve learning equity.
Discovery is a critical component of learning, as it’s what connects employees to the opportunities they need. Some of the ways employees discover opportunities to learn and grow include:
- Informational emails from the organization
- Assigned or required training
- Searching / browsing on the internet, intranet, LMS, LXP, or other learning platform
- Automated recommendations from learning systems
- Recommendations from senior leaders, managers, peers, or colleagues
Even when several of these methods are available to employees, some groups of people face consistent and systemic barriers to discovering opportunities.
For example, many L&D functions rely on email to share info about development opportunities. But if a large portion of the workforce doesn’t have an email address or can’t easily check their work email regularly, then defaulting to email isn’t an equitable or inclusive method for Discovery. As one roundtable participant put it:
It's inequitable if L&D sends an email about a development opportunity and 30% of your workforce doesn't use email.
We also know—for example, through research we did on DEIB skills—that information about opportunities often flows through informal channels. Some opportunities, like job rotations or special assignments, are open only to those who know about them.
Interestingly, our research found that high-performing organizations make opportunities more transparent (Figure 5). About 81% of employees in high-performing organizations reported their organizations are transparent about the development opportunities that are available, compared to 61% of employees in other organizations.
L&D functions can make employee development more equitable and inclusive by making all opportunities explicit and transparent to everyone. With this transparency, employees can find and take advantage of the learning that’s right for them.
Making Discovery more equitable and inclusive
This research uncovered a number of challenges associated with Discovery, as well as some effective ways that L&D functions are addressing those challenges.
Challenge 1: Organizations make access to opportunities too narrow
Historically, organizations make development opportunities available only to employees with an immediate or obvious need. In general, this choice applies not just to costly opportunities, but even to the ones that are free or inexpensive.
This narrow focus limits Discovery: Employees are told only about the opportunities that the organization feels they need, rather than having the choice, freedom, and equity to determine their own career path.
Action: Increase transparency about what’s available
To the extent possible, L&D functions can make Discovery more equitable and inclusive by becoming much more transparent about all the development opportunities that are available.
For example, they might:
- Remove limitations based on role, function, seniority, etc. from what’s visible / searchable in the LMS or LXP
- Review any matching or recommendation algorithms to ensure they’re equitable and inclusive
- Communicate directly with employees rather than relying on managers to disseminate information about opportunities
- If there are different newsletters or email distribution lists for different target audiences, publish those lists and allow employees to opt into them
- Implement a talent marketplace to make projects, gigs, rotations, jobs, mentoring opportunities, etc. more explicit and discoverable by anyone in the organization. This doesn’t necessarily mean implementing a new tech tool: It can be done in a low-tech / low-cost way with spreadsheets, or it can be an add-on to existing learning or HR systems
Making opportunities visible to everyone, even if not everyone gets Access to them, at least enables employees to see more options—to envision different paths they might pursue.
Challenge 2: Different groups of employees use different methods to discover opportunities
Part of what drives inequities in Discovery is the simple fact that not everyone accesses information in the same way.
In our research, we saw some of the largest and most consistent differences in Discovery between frontline and not-frontline workers. Frontline employees often experience challenges using some of the most common methods that L&D functions rely on to share information about opportunities (e.g., email).
Action: Tailor Discovery method by employee group
Leaders said they put a lot of effort into understanding how different groups of employees discover info about development opportunities. Two specific ideas for uncovering these differences are:
- Experiment with different channels. Do some A/B testing. Try putting the same message in different communications channels (e.g., email, chat, intranet, etc.). Track open rates and clicks by employee group and by channel to find out who’s accessing the message where. Reach out to the IT team for information from systems the L&D function can’t pull data from.
- Ask for feedback. Many learning leaders said they value their relationships with Employee Resource Group (ERG) leaders and DEIB team members in part because these individuals can provide insight into how certain employee groups find information about development opportunities.
Mike Murphy, Director of Inclusion and Community Programs at CFA Institute, talked about the importance of having data to identify obstacles to Discovery:
Let’s say I've reached the entire 70-person marketing team but only 12 of the huge IT team. You have to have the data and then ask: What was the obstacle? What's keeping me from getting that message to all the places they are?
With a more nuanced understanding of how different groups of employees acquire information about development opportunities, L&D functions can adjust their efforts to utilize the channels that target audiences rely on the most.
Action: Cast a wide communications net
Another approach is for L&D functions to communicate more, and more widely. Many leaders talked about the need to overcommunicate. They suggested:
- Repeat messaging multiple times in multiple channels
- Leverage influencers in the organization—such as ERG leaders—to get the word out about development opportunities
- Don’t assume tech is best: Think broadly about all the communications channels available. Sometimes paper flyers in a break room are most effective
Leaders emphasized the importance of trying multiple ways of sharing info about development opportunities to increase the chances that all employees will find what they need.
Challenge 3: Some employees have more time and ability to find opportunities
To be sure, employees have a responsibility for their own learning—and part of that responsibility is finding relevant development opportunities.
However, it’s also true that employees’ ability to find opportunities can differ based on the strength of their networks, how much time they can spend looking for opportunities on the clock, their position within the organization, their location, their tech capabilities, and more. Some employees are more privileged in their ability to Discover opportunities than others.
Action: Make Discovery easier for all
L&D functions can make Discovery more equitable and inclusive by making it more automatic and embedded in employees’ work. Some specific ideas include:
- Embed information about opportunities into the places employees do their work—such as chat, browsers, intranet homepages, point of sale systems, time clock systems, etc.
- Incorporate information about opportunities into processes that all employees go through, such as performance and development conversations, onboarding, required / compliance training, or open enrollment for benefits. All these events offer touchpoints where employees could potentially share information about their skills and interests and receive information about opportunities.
- Use tech to match employees with opportunities based on their skills, abilities, experiences, and desires. The recommendation engines in many learning tech systems, especially LXPs, are intended to surface relevant opportunities for employees.
One company makes Discovery easier by asking employees, as part of their regular development planning process, to identify and write down the skills they’d like to work on. This information is fed into the LXP so that it can make recommendations based on those skills.
Real-World Thread: Making Discovery a 2-Way Street
Ericsson, a multinational networking and telecommunications company, has over 100,000 employees around the world. Unsurprisingly, these employees have very different development needs and goals.
To address the challenge of enabling such a varied population to discover development opportunities, Ericsson is taking the burden of Discovery off the employee’s shoulders as much as possible.
To do this, the company is implementing a skills-based learning tech ecosystem that will match employees with opportunities based on their skills signature.
CLO Vidya Krishnan described:
The ecosystem should be intelligent enough that you don’t have to find the opportunities. They find you. It’s a 2-way street.
The skills signature will comprehensively and holistically describe not only what an employee can do now, but what they want to do in the future. This will allow matching algorithms to surface highly relevant opportunities to employees of all kinds.
Access to employee development refers to who can take advantage of a development opportunity if they want to. Access is determined by things like:
- Nominations for select programs
- Logins / permissions to view / consume certain courses in an LMS or LXP
- Manager approval to participate in development opportunities
- Technology (access to computer, tablet, mobile, good internet, etc.)
- Technical capability / tech savvy
- Cost (particularly the ability to pay for opportunities that are then reimbursed)
- Time zone
In the past few years, some organizations have been working to make Access more inclusive. For example, RedThread's research on coaching found they’re offering coaching in various forms to more employees. They’re also opening courses to more participants (which, in many cases, became possible as in-person courses were put online during the pandemic) or removing restrictions on inexpensive or free content.
Valarie Williams-Foy, Organizational & Staff Development Lead at the University of London, described how the university opens Access to all employees:
We were founded on the value of access, as we were the first university in the UK to allow women. We allow anyone to register for any development opportunity.
In high-performing organizations, more respondents agree that employees have equal Access to development opportunities (compared to employees in other organizations). Figure 6 illustrates this difference: In high-performing organizations, 84% of employees agree employees have equal Access, compared to 58% of employees in other organizations.
Of the 3 aspects of learning equity, Access is the one with the biggest power differential between employees and organizations. No matter how hard some employees try, they may not be given Access to certain opportunities. This means it’s especially incumbent on organizations to ensure the Access they do provide is as equitable and inclusive as possible.
Making Access more equitable and inclusive
L&D functions are taking targeted actions to address 3 challenges associated with making Access to development opportunities more equitable and inclusive.
Challenge 1: The way skills / abilities are defined, prioritized, and measured may cause Access to be inequitable
In many organizations, there are assumptions and implicit biases that influence how skills and abilities are defined for various tasks and roles. If these assumptions are not reviewed, identified, and addressed, then the criteria used to measure skills and match employees with opportunities may be inherently inequitable.
Action: Make decisions about Access transparent and equitable
As with many DEIB efforts, simply bringing transparency to decisions can help improve equity around who gets Access to development opportunities. To make decisions more transparent, L&D functions can do the following:
- Establish and publicize standardized criteria for any nomination-based opportunities. Criteria can be based on, for example, employees’ current and needed skills, tenure / experience, and career desires. Leaders in this research noted that it’s important to review nominations to ensure they adhere to the criteria.
- Review and revise any underlying or foundational documentation—for example, skills or competency definitions—that might inform decisions about Access to development. This effort can ensure the inputs to decisions about Access are themselves as unbiased and inclusive as possible. It’s likely that some of this documentation lives outside the L&D function, so partnering with other functions is critical here.
- Consider removing human decisions altogether. It’s possible to implement tools or matching processes that can automatically give employees Access to content and opportunities. For example, some internship, apprenticeship, and rotational schemes simply assign people to teams or projects, rather than managers selecting people for their teams.
We particularly like the idea of removing human decisions where possible. In our experience, automatic matches (rather than manager selection) can add more diversity of thought to a team—since nobody is selected for “fit”—and are often more successful than managers or employees might expect.
Challenge 2: Legacy systems, processes, and assumptions can make Access inequitable
Most organizations have legacy systems and processes like HiPo nomination schemes or manager approvals for many opportunities that might limit Access for certain people.
In some cases, for example, managers are reluctant to approve employees’ requests to participate in development opportunities. Often this reluctance is driven by a belief that their teams won’t be able to meet targets if they spend work time learning—or, if the opportunity is a rotation or gig, a fear of losing the employee down the line. In other cases, employees aren’t given Access to courses because the courses aren’t deemed relevant to their work or their career path.
All these legacy systems create potential biases in Access that prevent certain employees from benefitting from some (often highly valuable) development opportunities.
Action: Track Access metrics and step in when something isn’t right
L&D functions can make some of these legacy systems more equitable and inclusive largely by shining a spotlight on who has Access to what, so that inequities become more obvious. To do this, L&D functions can track Access metrics, identify gaps, and step in when something doesn’t look right.
For example, one leader shared that for a HiPo program he ran, he noticed only 9% of nominees were women—when women made up 38% of the target audience for the program. He used this data to get buy-in to rewrite the nomination criteria for the program. The number of women nominees rose shortly thereafter.
Other leaders shared similar stories and emphasized that they couldn’t have intervened or made changes without data. They track access metrics such as:
- Nomination numbers for select programs / opportunities
- Amount spent per employee on development
- Number of employees with access to mentor or sponsorship programs
- Number of employees who have regular career conversations with their managers
These metrics can be sliced and analyzed by categories like frontline status, gender identity, age, seniority, job level, or race / ethnicity (in some countries). Which data cuts are most important will depend on which employee groups are underrepresented in your organization.
Challenge 3: Logistical and operational barriers can make Access inequitable
Logistical and operational factors like timing, language, tech, and cost can all be barriers to Access. For some employees, particularly those on the front line, it can be difficult to Access development opportunities while on the clock. For others, being in the “wrong” time zone or speaking the “wrong” language might prevent them from accessing development opportunities.
When it comes to online and remote learning, tech access is a big issue for some organizations. Some employees may not have the right device(s) or a strong enough internet connection. Some may not be able to afford better internet if they’re working from home, for example.
And affordability is an issue not only for employees but for companies: It can be expensive for organizations to open up access to more employees.
Action: Collaborate to identify and address common barriers to Access
L&D functions should identify and eliminate as many common barriers to Access as possible. In many cases, this means working with leadership, IT, HR, and other teams to make changes.
To address the time challenge, one approach is to try formats or methods that do not require employees to step away from their work for extended periods of time. Some leaders are experimenting with microlearning, for example, so that employees can access development in short snippets. To address some of the other challenges, L&D functions might:
- Provide devices to all employees
- Offer learning stipends and / or prepay for outside opportunities rather than providing reimbursement
- Offer learning methods that allow for flexible schedules
- Allow local teams to tailor or translate language
- Offer events at times that work globally, or multiple access times
- Open opportunities that have little or no marginal cost per employee to all employees, whether or not the opportunities are directly related to their role
These logistical and operational barriers were cited again and again in the course of this research—yet they may not be entirely within the L&D function’s control to fix. In these cases, having strong relationships with other functions can help pay for and provision some of the solutions suggested here.
Real-World Thread: Tracking Access metrics to improve learning equity
South Africa is 1 of a handful of countries with strict reporting requirements on companies’ training spend. Organizations are required to track and report how much they spend to train different groups of employees. These reports prompt companies to show that they have provided equal training opportunities to all employees.
At one major bank in South Africa, the head of learning solutions points out that this reporting isn’t just a check-the-box exercise. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s good for business because it helps increase the quality of all employees at the bank.
The bank tracks Access metrics like how much money is invested in training people from disadvantaged groups. Reports are broken down by job grade, race, gender, and disability status. The reporting requirements have been tightened in recent years to prevent companies from favoring training spend on certain job levels. These tighter requirements complicate the reporting, but ensure a fair distribution of investment across employees at all levels in the organization. Now, reporting targets are set by job grade and job band to drive equity in investment.
Each year, the company spends a percentage of payroll to develop a certain band of employees, with the goal of developing a strong, diverse pipeline of employees moving into job bands and job functions that currently have less representation.
Participation refers to which and how many employees actually take advantage of the development opportunities available to them. Our past research found that employees participate in employee development by doing 6 things:
- Planning their development and careers
- Discovering opportunities (as discussed above)
- Consuming learning content and experiences
- Experimenting with knowledge and skills
- Connecting with others for learning
- Performing better on the job, and learning while doing it
Participation in development opportunities encompasses all 6 of these behaviors, and there’s a wide variety of methods that employees can use to engage in them. The research we did on learning methods found 66 learning methods, and we’re sure there are more.
High-performing organizations enable more Participation in employee development (Figure 7). For this discussion of learning equity, we broke down our survey respondents’ answers by age, frontline status, gender identity, and race / ethnicity. Across all groups, more employees in high-performing organizations reported their organizations enable them to participate in these 6 employee development behaviors, compared to employees in other organizations. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.
Still, we know that Participation in most organizations isn’t as equitable or inclusive as it could be: Most organizations have groups of employees who aren’t participating in development as much as they could or should. The challenge for L&D functions is to find those groups of people, figure out why they’re not participating, and fix what’s causing those inequities.
Making Participation more equitable and inclusive
We discovered 3 primary challenges associated with Participation, as well as targeted actions that L&D functions can take to address those challenges.
Challenge 1: L&D functions need better insights on Participation
To make Participation as diverse, equitable, and inclusive as possible, L&D functions must understand where the inequities in Participation in their organizations are and what’s driving those differences.
Data is critical to gaining that understanding with some level of detail and nuance. Without data, actions might be well-intentioned and seem reasonable, but potentially lead in the wrong direction.
Action: Analyze Participation data to identify and address inequities
Data about Participation tends to be more readily available than data about Discovery or Access. Most L&D functions track Participation rates: “butts in seats” is one of L&D’s most well-established metrics. If demographic data is available, L&D functions can use it to slice and dice their Participation data to see where there are differences, and to understand who’s taking advantage of which opportunities.
L&D functions can analyze available data to answer questions about Participation such as:
- How do Participation rates vary by gender, ethnicity, age, frontline status, or other demographics that matter to our organization?
- What differences in Participation show up if we look at various intersectional identities?
- Are different groups of employees participating in different types of opportunities—for example, required training vs. stretch or rotational assignments? Who and why?
- Are some groups of employees spending more time on development opportunities than others? Who and why?
- Do some groups of employees participate in a greater range of development opportunities than others? Who and why?
- Do some groups of employees have stronger connections to more senior or more influential people in the organization who can help them grow? Who and why?
Tania Tiippana, an OD consultant working with a multinational manufacturing company, emphasized the importance of gathering data from all employee groups:
I asked, “Do we have data about how things are working in South Korea? In Poland?” We didn’t. So we did a global needs analysis and tracked participation by gender, location, and so on to find the gaps.
Although the answers to the above questions won’t make Participation more diverse, equitable, and inclusive by themselves, they can help L&D functions prioritize and decide where to take action.
Challenge 2: Messaging about opportunities may exclude certain employee groups
The language and visuals used to market development opportunities matter a lot—they’re often what makes the first impression about an opportunity to an employee. If employees perceive that an opportunity is not inclusive of “people like me,” they may choose not to participate.
Many L&D functions are discovering the various ways their organization’s messaging about opportunities isn’t inclusive, from gendered language to images that only show people of particular ages or ethnicities.
Action: Ensure messaging is DEIB
L&D functions appreciate that messaging should be inclusive and applicable to a broad base of employees. We heard of many efforts in L&D functions to broaden the language they used to describe opportunities, particularly ensuring that the language and visuals represented their organization’s employee population. Specifically, L&D functions were:
- Including broad representation of different genders, ages, races / ethnicities, and worker types (manufacturing, office, retail, etc.) in visuals and language, aligned with the demographics of their workforce
- Ensuring language does not exclude certain groups of employees—for example, using highly competitive language or analogies that only certain people understand (such as sports metaphors)
- Implementing processes to regularly review all messaging through a DEIB lens
A number of leaders recommended partnering with the DEIB team to assess how inclusive the messaging for development opportunities is. Many DEIB teams offer fairness audits. They can review messaging and outreach strategies, and make recommendations for improvements.
Challenge 3: Some opportunities aren’t designed inclusively
Sometimes an opportunity might be inequitable or exclusive because it’s not well-designed for certain groups of people. Participant demographics can also be a source of exclusion. If there are no members of underrepresented groups participating in the opportunity—or in the roles an employee might attain through a particular development path—employees considering the opportunity might be less likely to start down that path.
Action: Incorporate diverse perspectives when developing opportunities
One of our favorite insights from this research is that no matter how much we think through something, it's likely to be biased if only a few people are doing the thinking.
Leaders advised doing one simple thing to reduce this bias: Bring more people into the process. There are 2 main ways to do this:
- Add perspectives to the L&D function itself. There are lots of ways to bring in new perspectives: permanent hires, special projects, rotations, gigs, internships, apprenticeships, and more. One leader advocated for recruiting people from underrepresented groups to L&D early in their careers, so that there’s a pipeline of more diverse L&D thinkers and leaders into the future.
- Ask for feedback. Many, many leaders talked about how they solicit feedback from lots of people in their organizations. They ask for input from ERG leaders, the DEIB team, and focus groups / interviews of employees who are representative of the organization’s employee population.
Based on these diverse perspectives, L&D functions can make changes to things like the format of an opportunity, who participates, or even what opportunities are offered.
Action: Get intentional about demographics
Demographics matter for Participation. But they matter in different ways for different opportunities. Sometimes it makes sense to intentionally build diversity into the participant pool of an opportunity, so that no matter who looks at the opportunity they see someone participating who looks like them. Other times there’s a need to craft development opportunities solely for members of specific underrepresented groups.
The common thread is intentionality. Leaving demographics to chance is where bias and inequity can creep in. This intentionality can also help ensure there is a pipeline of employees from underrepresented groups ready to move into more senior / more visible positions, so that employees coming after can picture themselves on similar paths.
Real-World Thread: Building diverse cohorts
A multinational aerospace corporation has an L&D function that is strongly committed to ensuring diversity within the cohorts that participate in their leadership development programs. There are 3 levels of programs for aspiring, new, and current leaders.
The L&D function believes that if everyone in a cohort looks and thinks the same way, they’re going to get less value from the program. So they scrutinize the demographics of each cohort and ensure each one has diverse representation.
Kevin B., a former DEIB leader at this company and participant in the new leader program, believes that the value he got from the program derived largely from his interactions with other participants. He reflected:
If you have a homogeneous, cookie cutter class, you’re not going to learn a lot. In my cohort, I made tremendous friends with a couple of guys from the UK. I even had someone from the Saudi royal family in my class, which was amazing.
Kevin noted that in some cases it can be helpful to do the opposite—to bring together members from 1 underrepresented group. But in general and for most topics, he believes diverse cohorts learn better from one another.
We’ve come away from this research convinced that improving learning equity is one of the best ways L&D functions can contribute to the DEIB efforts in their organizations. Figure 8 summarizes the challenges associated with the 3 elements of learning equity (Discovery, Access, and Participation) and some actions L&D functions can take to address each challenge.
Looking forward, we expect L&D functions will continue to make strides to improve DEIB in their organizations—and we think those strides should be focused on learning equity. We hope the ideas in this paper have given L&D functions some concrete ideas about the steps they can take to move their organizations toward employee development that is more diverse, equitable, and inclusive for all.
Note: for Appendices, including study demographics, research methodology, and contributors please download the PDF report.
Posted on Tuesday, May 10th, 2022 at 12:13 PM
At our recent roundtable called Learning Methods: Which Ones Work, we brought together Learning and Development (L&D) leaders from various industries to talk about learning methods. Specifically, we wanted to understand the learning methods L&D functions are implementing and how they might have changed since the pandemic.
Before we began, we reminded everyone of the research RedThread did last year. We identified 66 learning methods employees are using and how those methods fit into the 6 behaviors in our employee development framework (see our final report Learning Methods: What to use, how to choose, and when to cut them loose). This framework illustrates how different learning methods enable different behaviors.
We focused on 4 of the 6 behaviors:
- Plan: includes methods that enable employees to plan their development
- Experiment: includes methods that enable employees to experiment with new knowledge and skills
- Connect: includes methods that enable employees to learn from each other
- Perform: includes methods that enable employees to learn while on the job
We chose these methods to push the conversation to those behaviors that L&D may find challenging or areas they are just starting to consider.
This roundtable generated several insights we thought were important. This readout shares our top 4 key takeaways.
Skills are an essential driver for helping employees plan their development
Learning leaders are actively thinking about skills—and with that, how to encourage and enable employees to build skills the organization needs. To do this, they're focusing on learning methods such as:
- Skills assessments. L&D is leveraging assessments to better understand the skills employees have and help them figure out how to fill them. As one L&D leader said,
“We’ve started to use skills assessments to fill skills gaps as we begin to think about what the future skills are."
- Individual development plans (IDPs). As organizations focus on individuals and personalization, IDPs appear to be getting new life. One leader said his organization had rebranded the IDP as a Growth Portfolio – a way to plan and record individuals' learning and development that can also show desired career path and competence.
- Career Coaching. L&D sees career coaching as a learning method to help employees build the skills they need. However, it can be a heavy lift for organizations to manage. For this reason, many roundtable participants confirm that their organizations do not rely heavily on career coaching when planning development (our data says 19% of employees).
Experiment methods are slowly gaining traction.
Roundtable participants noted that learning methods geared toward helping employees experiment with new knowledge and skills (job rotations, job shadowing, informational interviews, etc.) were becoming more common within their organizations.
“We’re trying to do more job rotations. We’re thinking about the skills of the future and how we bridge those gaps. Especially for new employees and HIPOs – how do we get them into those rotations?”
As L&D works to utilize these methods, many are facing 2 challenges:
- Systemic issues. L&D leaders find ”experiment“ methods challenging to manage and track. But they’re still making it work. One leader said her organization is trying to leverage its talent marketplace to enable employees to experiment with new knowledge and skills (e.g., scheduling informational interviews).
- Structural issues. Many participants also noted that the L&D function isn't the sole owner of many experiment methods. Because it is a shared responsibility in many cases, it’s sometimes unclear who's in charge and who is driving the initiatives, or it takes too much coordination. Others mentioned that their organizations don't yet have the structure to encourage experiments on a larger scale.
The pandemic left many employees feeling bereft of support and connection.
Before the pandemic, there was a big focus on self-service learning. After the pandemic, one of the themes appears to be connection in learning. Roundtable participants mentioned that they see connection in the following ways:
- Both internal and external connections. Organizations are looking for ways to help employees connect internally with other employees for learning but are also looking to connect them with experts on the outside. A participant noted that the top 2 most relied upon Connect methods, from RedThread Research’s learning survey data, focus on building networks outside of the organization (prof networks = 39% and social networks = 28%).
- Employees feel responsible for helping their peers learn. L&D leaders are observing that employees have a desire to learn from each other. For one L&D leader, a recent survey in their org found that 68% of employees felt accountable for contributing to the learning of others. They continued by saying,
"This was 20 percentage points above benchmark. This data influenced our strategy—how can we facilitate that natural strength of our learning culture?"
L&D leaders are trying to figure out how to support the shifts in connection. As one participant said,
“Do we want to support colleagues in creating external and internal connections or leverage collective knowledge in the organization by supporting connections among colleagues?”
Choices in how methods are implemented can affect how equitable learning opportunities are
The idea of learning equity or development equity resonated with roundtable participants. We weren't surprised to hear this, as more L&D functions are taking on responsibilities having to do with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.
Participants drew a connection between more personalized planning and offering more learning methods and a more equitable experience. One leader said,
“Everyone has an opportunity to grow. We’re making it easier for individuals to capture the strengths / skills they have and what they want to develop more of. So, let’s allow people to tell us what they’re good at and tailor the learning to that.”
Additionally, participants mentioned the need to tweak systems and processes related to access to learning methods. For example, online courses are often reserved for those with specific titles or in certain areas of the company. Instead, L&D functions should work to provide as much access as possible to as many as possible, cost permitting.
Thank you to all who participated and shared their experiences. We welcome your suggestions, thoughts, and feedback at [email protected].
Posted on Tuesday, April 26th, 2022 at 5:49 AM
In April 2022, we convened a roundtable for leaders to discuss how L&D functions can make employee development more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. This session was part of our research into what we're calling L&D's DEIB Opportunity. We aim to identify the most effective things that L&D functions can do to support diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts in their organizations.
This readout shares some of the highlights from the session. Thank you to all who participated, shared their experiences, and learned from one another.
L&D's DEIB commitments are growing
To frame the conversation, we shared data from LinkedIn Learning’s 2021 and 2022 Workplace Learning Reports (Figure 1). L&D functions are not only planning more DEIB programs, but they’re taking on more ownership of DEIB efforts.
When we asked roundtable participants if they were seeing or experiencing this trend themselves, they agreed. They wrote in the chat things like:
- “Without a doubt”
How can L&D functions meet these growing responsibilities?
To answer this question, we focused on how L&D functions can make the systems of employee development in their organizations more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. We discussed 4 aspects of employee development:
- Discovery. How do employees find out about development opportunities? How can L&D functions enable different groups to more equitably discover those opportunities?
- Access. Which employees could take advantage of development opportunities if they chose? Who has permission / is nominated to attend? Who has the right tech? How can L&D functions enable different groups to more equitably access development opportunities?
- Participation. Which employees participate in development opportunities? How does participation differ across groups, and why? How can L&D functions enable more equitable participation across groups?
- L&D itself. How might L&D’s systems and processes be biased or inequitable? How might L&D functions address those inequities?
The roundtable generated a number of insights we thought worth highlighting. Here are our top 5 takeaways.
To make learning more DEIB, focus on how decisions are made
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ways decisions are made have a huge effect on whether employee development is equitable, inclusive, and accessible across the various groups in an organization. Decisions about who can access certain development opportunities are particularly impactful. One participant shared the following anecdote:
I used to work for a large corporation. Pre-pandemic, we would fly people in for exclusive leadership development programs. The lack of diversity was astounding. The programs are great, but they're often reserved for people who are already privileged. I had to ask myself: Who's approving these attendees? Who's got the budget?
Leaders shared 2 ideas for reducing such biases.
- Make decisions transparent. One organization implemented decision-making frameworks to help managers and leaders understand the different factors that weighed into their decisions. These frameworks also help leaders explicitly focus on the criteria that align with their values and the organization's values.
- Make matches, not decisions. Another organization is using skills to remove some decisions entirely. By ensuring every employee has a skills profile (or skills signature), the organization can match employees with specific skills needs and gaps with appropriate development opportunities. The system makes the match, not a leader.
We thought these 2 ideas for reducing bias in decision-making were practical approaches that might apply in many organizations.
Marketing and messaging can include or exclude
A second insight from the group is just how important marketing and messaging are. They influence who learns about what development opportunities and—arguably more important—who decides to take advantage of those opportunities.
A portion of the conversation focused on whether outreach and marketing activities reach the people L&D functions intend them to. As one leader put it:
It's inequitable if L&D sends an email about a development opportunity and 30% of your workforce doesn't use email.
Leaders suggested marketing development opportunities in multiple channels—overcommunicating—and ensuring opportunities are marketed where employees are. For example, a paper flyer in a break room or stand-up meeting might be most effective for reaching front-line employees who do not regularly check email.
In addition, leaders noted that the language, visuals, and tone used in marketing communications about development opportunities can affect whether an employee thinks an opportunity will be relevant and helpful to them. They should be able to see themselves in the opportunity, or they may not choose to participate even if they have access.
Analytics and data can reveal systemic inequities
Leaders in this roundtable emphasized the need to check assumptions about whether development opportunities are as DEIB as L&D functions might hope. Ideally, they said, the demographics of the people who participate in development opportunities should roughly mirror the demographics of the organization's employee population.
Leaders shared that some reasons for differences in participation rates between groups might be:
- Lack of technical access to training (e.g., cannot access learning on mobile phone, do not have a company-provided device, do not have good enough internet access). The ability to pay for tech to access development opportunities is also a potential source of inequity.
- Messaging / marketing doesn’t speak to certain groups
- Certain employees aren't afforded the time to access learning within their work day and cannot / do not want to participate on their own time
Tracking participation in development opportunities over time to see if attendees do, in fact, mirror the population can help reveal possible gaps in marketing / messaging, access, etc. The importance of tracking data over time was articulated by one leader who noted:
We can make plans that we think allow for universal access, but until we check to see whether in fact the result is representative participation, we don’t know whether our approaches are in fact creating equal access.
One leader shared that in her organization, they do A/B testing like marketers. They look to see who's registering for opportunities, who shows up, who consumes content online, etc. They analyze this data by all demographic / diversity statistics that are available.
L&D functions should rely on DEIB resources across the organization
Leaders in this roundtable agreed that as L&D functions take on more of a role in DEIB efforts, they cannot and should not do it alone. There are many resources across an organization that can help L&D functions identify and address inequities in employee development.
For example, the leader whose organization does A/B testing recommended reaching out to the IT team. They can help L&D functions access data about who's clicking where, which employees have company-supported devices, and—in many organizations—aggregated data on how many employees have downloaded accessibility software (screen readers, etc.).
Other leaders noted all that DEIB teams can offer. A number of leaders said the DEIB teams in their organizations do "fairness audits" for business functions to help identify gaps. They can do this for the L&D team, for example by auditing the fairness of L&D's messaging, communications, and learning platforms.
A third resource leaders noted were Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). They recommended involving ERGs in marketing / messaging for development opportunities, assessment of how different opportunities appeal to / impact different groups, and the creation of new opportunities.
Virtual work made some learning more equitable
Leaders noted that when the pandemic forced them to put many in-person, cohort-based development opportunities online, they saw a marked increase in participation rates in these programs. And not only did participation increase, but it often increased in terms of diversity: more diverse employees attended. Leaders attributed this change to a few factors:
- Virtual is easier to attend. Trainings were shorter and didn't require travel or overnights away from home. This meant it was easier for caregivers (who are disproportionately women and members of underrepresented groups) to attend.
- Diversity begets diversity. Leaders reported that in their organizations, as more people saw people like themselves participating in or leading learning, they felt more comfortable participating themselves. As such, they saw an increase in participation from people who'd never attended trainings.
One leader offered a counterpoint to this general trend. After the pandemic started and her organization shifted to remote work, she saw a marked decrease in participation rates. When she asked employees why, they told her that before the pandemic, they only requested to attend training because it got them out of the office. Their experience in-office was toxic; they felt they couldn't express themselves. Working from home, they didn't feel the same need to escape.
We were grateful for the open and vulnerable discussion during this roundtable. We welcome your suggestions, thoughts, and feedback at [email protected].
Posted on Tuesday, April 19th, 2022 at 3:21 PM
In December of 2021, ByteDance, which owns the better-known TikTok, dissolved its learning & development function. According to CNBC, the entire department was let go over the holiday break in a virtual meeting.
Their reason for this drastic move? ByteDance felt that “many learning events, such as online talks of mediocre quality…that could easily be found on the internet didn’t make good use of their employees’ time.” In an internal memo, ByteDance also mentioned that initiatives were more feel-good activities with limited and questionable value.
In short, L&D wasn’t cutting it.
L&D’s Oh Sh!t Moment
The ByteDance story—and other stories we've heard—indicate that L&D functions may be having an "Oh, sh!t!" moment. L&D functions are facing bigger, more complicated challenges than they have before. These challenges are causing L&D functions—and senior leadership—to reevaluate what they do, how they do it, and the skills they need to do it well.
Yet this moment comes at a time when L&D functions have never been more visible. The past 2 years have created renewed awareness of the importance of employee development. Indeed, L&D functions are being called upon to solve some big problems.
Many senior leaders are looking to L&D functions to guide skills, skills data, upskilling, reskilling, and mobility, in an effort to meet the needs of their ever-changing environments. Our data indicate that L&D is being involved in larger strategic discussions and workforce planning in about 50% of high-performing organizations. A percentage that high would have been unheard of a decade ago.
Additionally, according to Glint's 2021 Employee Well-Being Report, “Opportunities to learn and grow” is the most important driver for a great work culture, a stewardship owned by the L&D function. Employees expect more than page-turner courses or day-long events. And if we connect the dots, opportunities to learn and grow affect culture, productivity, engagement, and retention.
The problems L&D is tackling—upskilling, agile workforces, mobility, work culture—aren’t small. They’re big and important and relevant, which is both a blessing and a curse. L&D has been seeking a “seat at the table” for years. They finally, undeniably, have one. The question now is, do they have the skills they need to do something at that table?
Learning and Development Skills
We want to start by acknowledging that some good work has been done to identify skills L&D pros need. Of note are LPI, ATD, and Training Industry, all of which have capability models outlining L&D skills.
Our intent with this research was not to create another capability model. Instead, we are interested in the skills that L&D pros in high-performing organizations think they will need to focus on developing to meet near-future needs.
All the Skills
To avoid bias (and to make our lives harder), we asked 300 L&D pros the following open-ended question:
What are the top 3 skills you feel L&D functions will need for the future?
We coded their answers, combining those that were similar, and grouped them into larger skills groups.
In all, L&D pros identified 39 skills. These skills were then categorized into 7 skill groups. The graphic below shows the relational focus of these skills and groups. The larger the bubble, the more L&D pros mentioned the skill. The percentages represent the percentage of the total number of skills mentioned that fall into each category.
Click graphic to enlarge, or see our infographic for this study.
The skills identified by L&D pros were varied and nuanced. They give some insight into the kinds of challenges L&D pros and functions may be facing.
In fact, in looking at the names of the larger skills groups, we see many indications that L&D’s influence is expanding, as its responsibility:
- Leadership: skills to lead inside and outside the L&D function
- Data & Decision-making: skills to use data for making better decisions
- L&D Core: skills to build the capabilities of the workforce
- Business Core: skills to understand and align with business strategy
- Managing Relationships: skills to build and maintain relationships, internal and external to the L&D function
- Readiness: skills to help individuals and functions readily adapt to changing environments
- Tech: skills to leverage tech to upskill the workforce
This data—the skills identified by L&D pros—tells us that L&D pros need to be more than just instructional designers. They need to know much more than just adult learning theory. In this day and age, and particularly at this very strange moment in history, they need to be entrenched in the organization.
At the same time, we know that focusing on building all the skills will lead to focusing on none of them. Understanding the 39 skills L&D pros think they need is only the first step.
Understanding the ones they actually need is the next.
Skills in High-performing Organizations
Determining which skills L&D people need is an inexact art. The existing literature bases skills recommendations on expert opinion, asking L&D pros and thought leaders what challenges – and skills – L&D professionals will need next.
We took a slightly different tack. Instead of asking experts, we looked at the data L&D pros provided about the skills they thought they needed for the future. We then asked them how their organizations were performing, using these 4 measures:
- Met or exceeded its business goals for the last three years
- Responds quickly to marketplace changes
- Innovates faster than its competitors do
- Customers are more satisfied than its competitors’ customers
We then combined these 4 measures into one score and assigned that score to each L&D pro that gave us data on skills. Finally, we identified those L&D pros with scores in the top 25% to determine which were associated with high-performing organizations.
Finally, we compared the skills that L&D pros in high-performing organizations were focusing on with the ones L&D pros in other organizations named. The results, shown in Figure 3, revealed some interesting differences.
The results got even more interesting when we combined our observations from this data with the insights we gathered from interviews and our roundtable.
Four differences stood out to us. L&D pros in high-performing organizations likely:
Are already focusing on leadership skills
We know that L&D pros in high-performing organizations participate in workforce and strategy discussions significantly more than their counterparts in other organizations.
So while it may look like L&D pros in other organizations are more focused on Leadership skills than those in high-performing organizations, it's likely because they perceive those skills as a need. L&D pros in high-performing organizations have likely already acquired them.
Have already built data into their decision-making process
Anecdotally, higher-performing organizations are more attuned to Data and do more information-gathering, and it is more ingrained in the way they currently operate. Other L&D pros may not have developed these competencies or the systems to support them in their work, resulting in a higher recognition of the need to meet future (or current) needs.
See connecting their work to the business strategy as key
L&D pros in high-performing organizations focus significantly more on Business Core skills. Both the quantitative data and the data collected from our interviews and roundtables indicate that L&D pros in high-performing organizations tend to draw more explicit connections between what they do and the goals and strategy of the organization. They also tend to have a deeper understanding of the business goals, and they tend to make decisions based on those goals.
Focus on relationships more than their counterparts do
Finally, as we'll see throughout this report, L&D pros in high-performing organizations tend to focus more on relationships.
High-performing organizations tend to have L&D pros who understand their place in the larger ecosystem and value their relationships with other functions.
These 4 broad differences can give us high-level insight into where L&D pros may want to focus. However, the devil, as they say, is often in the details.
We also saw differences among the 39 individual skills between L&D pros in high-performing organizations and their counterparts in other organizations.
The Skills Groups
In the following sections, we’ll provide more information about each of the 7 skills groups, including the individual skills within each. Our goal is to explore why each group and their respective skills may be important at this point in history.
We’re also interested in the blind spots—the places where L&D functions may be over- or under-emphasizing certain skills. To determine what those blind spots may be, we compare the skills that L&D pros are focusing on in high-performing organizations with other L&D pros may be focusing on.
L&D pros view their own leadership skills as the most important group of skills for the future. Twenty-one percent of all skills mentioned fell within this category.
That 21%, validated by our interviews, are indicators of the breadth of leadership responsibilities L&D pros currently have. Kirsten Jackson, a Director of Leadership Development, told us:
We’ve really done a lot of work in the last couple of years to make sure L&D has a seat at every table—tables at the business function level to understand development needs, but also tables at the enterprise level to understand leadership expectations, goals, and how L&D can support them.
But it isn’t just these significant initiatives that L&D pros find themselves leading. In our research, we found that a lot of L&D functions are becoming much more strategic and intentional about employee development. They offer more learning methods and integrate more development opportunities into the workplace than in the past.
These changes from reactive to proactive, from just-in-case to just-in-time, and from learn-in-a-classroom to learn everywhere, require L&D functions to change the hearts and minds of business leaders and employees alike. Leadership skills like consulting, coaching, and motivation and engagement ensure that L&D professionals will be able to make these adjustments.
Leadership: Blind Spots
These findings don’t constitute hard and fast recommendations. Each L&D function should consider all of the variables – internal and external, that may affect the skills they need. That But we did identify some areas that may be getting either too much focus or not enough from the L&D professional population as a whole.
Focus more on Coaching, Motivation & Engagement, and DEIB
L&D pros in high-performing organizations focus almost twice as much on Coaching and Motivation & Engagement as their counterparts in other organizations.
We have observed that organizations, particularly those adopting hybrid and remote practices, are continuing to look for ways to connect and engage with employees. A stronger focus on Coaching and Motivation & Engagement can help organizations build those connections into their development practices.
Gina Montefusco, Associate Director of L&D, at United Healthcare Group, sees Coaching as a crucial skill for internal L&D leadership as well as external consulting:
Coaching is super important. You can use it to understand your business better and be more comfortable asking questions. I do think that my coaching experience has made me a better consultant overall, because now I ask questions differently.
In our 2022 yearly trends report, we mention that the human is becoming more critical. The fact that L&D pros in high-performing organizations are focusing on skills that further that mission is not lost on us.
We would also be remiss if we didn’t mention the abysmal showing for DEIB skills. While we are happy that this skill showed up at all, the percentage of L&D pros that mentioned it is pretty low. And it's even lower among L&D pros in high-performing organizations.
LinkedIn Learning’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report says that 55% of L&D functions own or share responsibility for DEIB initiatives. L&D pros should be building these skills and looking for opportunities to align their work with DEIB initiatives.
Focus on a broader set of Leadership skills
L&D pros in high-performing organizations tend to focus more evenly across key leadership skills while L&D pros in other organizations tend to focus quite heavily on just some of them.
This uneven focus may mean that L&D pros are putting too much focus on some while ignoring others. For example, L&D pros in other organizations focus more on Consulting (6 percentage points more) and Influencing (7 percentage points more) than those in high-performing organizations.
This focus on specific skills may be key to being effective in their particular organizations, but L&D pros should at least consider how they’re spending their development time and money, and what those skills can get them.
Data & Decision-making
Within Data & Decision-making, the top skill mentioned by L&D pros was Data Analysis. In general, we think that a focus on data skills is good, and it has been missing from most L&D functions for years.
We grouped Data Analysis with other skills used to make better decisions, as Data Analysis is a tool rather than an end unto itself. To be useful, Data Analysis must necessarily be tied to questions, which are ultimately tied to decisions. Other skills in this group are highlighted in Figure 6 below.
As L&D pros take active roles in bigger, more strategic conversations, the need for skill in Data Analysis grows. One L&D leader mentioned that data was a language that businesses speak. Data Analysis is crucial for L&D pros as they try to identify the skills organizations and individuals need and then identify experiences that will help them grow those skills.
Many leaders mentioned that they’re looking more deeply at LMS, LXP, and other learning data to understand what their users need. Some have also started to analyze data outside of L&D. Another L&D leader, for example, looks at engagement data:
We look at data from many sources. So, for example, we look at employee engagement scores—questions like, “Do you feel supported by your manager?” This data helps us understand what our leaders will need in the future.
It’s great that L&D is focused on data. Where it gets tricky is how “data” is defined and what other sources L&D pros should be considering, which brings us to a blind spot for Data & Decision-making.
Data & Decision-making: Blind Spots
While L&D pros have started to focus on leveraging data for decision-making, they may be failing to develop other skills that could help them make sounder decisions. And by the way, this is true for all L&D pros. In this case, there was no significant difference for those in high-performing organizations.
Focus more on different data-gathering skills
Data-gathering skills include External Environment Analysis, Data Literacy, and Research. These activities may not always result in hard numbers, but many of the insights they yield can be key to better decisions. Not all data is quantifiable. Trust us. We're researchers.
Focus more on decision-making skills
Problem-solving and Strategic Thinking fall within this subcategory. Frankly, we’re a little surprised we didn’t hear more about them. As L&D pros exercise these skills, they’ll likely see more possibilities and solutions.
So, to sum up: L&D pros recognize the need for better decision-making. And they recognize that Data Analysis skills are a big part of that. But they shouldn’t develop these skills at the expense of other underdeveloped skills.
Not surprisingly, L&D Core is important to L&D pros. Several pros pointed out the importance of these skills to their job and, if they were a leader, their employees’ jobs.
And rightly so: L&D pros bring an essential and unique skill set—one that no other group has—to help organizations solve the development challenges they face.
Learning Experience Design and Training Delivery top the list of skills L&D pros feel they need in the L&D core skills group.
Training Delivery and Learning Experience Design top the list of essential skills in L&D Core. This is not surprising, given that many L&D pros get degrees and certifications in these skills, and have based their careers on their application.
However, what was surprising was the number of other skills that popped up in this skills group. Human-Centered Design, for example, or the Ability to Upskill, have been recognized only relatively recently as skills that L&D pros need.
Another unsurprising but still growing skill was Content Curation. Its relative prominence hints that L&D pros understand that their responsibilities go much further than creating a course. It may have more to do with assembling the right information and creating the right context and experience.
When we talked to L&D pros about the skills they need specific to L&D, we heard traditional answers, but with a twist. For example, where Training Delivery used to be all about facilitating classroom initiatives, L&D pros mentioned new methods used to “deliver” learning, including coaching, stretch assignments, and external content.
L&D leaders are also looking for broader skill sets when it comes to L&D Core. Ryan Cozens, Learning & Development Lead, Well Health, said:
I think instructional design is an important skill, but it can’t be the only skill. There have to be mindsets and behaviors tied to that. I’m not just looking for someone with the ability to design really incredible self-directed asynchronous learning; I’m looking for someone who understands and can see the bigger picture.
Indeed, L&D Core skills are changing. L&D pros are looking at traditional skills differently, and they're introducing new ones for the future.
L&D Core: Blind Spots
L&D Core skills were the 3rd most important group of skills identified by the L&D pros we surveyed. But, as we saw above, when we look at the focus of L&D pros in high-performing organizations versus those in other organizations, we see they rated L&D Core skills at the same level as Business Core.
That Business Core and L&D Core are considered equally important is telling. It indicates that L&D in high-performing organizations are likely more aligned to and focused on business challenges than more traditional L&D functions.
There are also some key differences between the particular focuses of L&D pros from high-performing organizations focus and those in other organizations. Two caught our eye.
Focus more on Experience Design and Upskilling the Workforce
First, L&D pros in high-performing organizations focus more on Learning Experience Design (7 percentage points more) and Upskilling the Workforce (8 percentage points more) than their counterparts in other organizations.
These differences might indicate that L&D pros in high-performing organizations are more attuned to the entire experience of learning and ensuring that the workforce has the right skills. This, in concert with the other skills they find essential, may indicate a more holistic, intentional approach to learning in general.
Focus less on Training Delivery and Learning Science
This brings us to the second big difference. L&D pros in high-performing organizations focused significantly less on Training Delivery (12 percentage points less). While Training Delivery was the most important skill in L&D Core for L&D pros in other organizations, it was 5th out of 8 skills for those in high-performing organizations.
Likewise, while L&D pros mentioned Learning Science as a skill they thought they needed for the future, not one L&D professional in a high-performing organization mentioned it. Does this mean Learning Science is not necessary? Absolutely not. But it does mean that L&D functions that focus too heavily on traditional learning science, without considering the new context (technology, mindsets, motivations, etc.), may not be using their L&D development time or dollars in the best way.
Increasingly, L&D pros consider themselves a part of the business rather than an entity that serves the business. This idea came through loud and clear in the research: L&D pros identified skills that are necessary for collaborating with other business functions.
Business Acumen and Marketing top the list for important Business Core skills, according to L&D pros.
Figure 10: Business Core skills group – % of focus on each skill, n=87 | RedThread Research, 2022
Among the skills mentioned in the research, Business Acumen topped the list. Leaders mentioned 3 aspects of Business Acumen.
Understanding organizational goals and strategy. L&D pros are more proactively evaluating their business direction and determining the best ways to build a skilled workforce than in previous years. Brandon Wolfram, HR Manager for Learning and Performance Solutions at SaskTel, put it this way:
We used to get more operational requests—things like, “Hey, we need some training on this topic,” or “Can you put something together on this.” Now, we get requests like, “Can you partner with us to solve this complex business challenge.
Understanding business basics. L&D functions are professionalizing. Many see themselves not as a traditional cost center but as a contributing member to business growth. As such, project management, change management, and their creativity and innovation muscles are increasingly important.
Speaking the same language. For years, L&D functions have embraced adult learning theory and the research surrounding it. While that is all good, leaders we spoke with understand the need to ditch wonky L&D terms in favor of vocabulary used more broadly.
Focusing on Business Core skills draws them into the business itself, erasing any invisible lines that may have kept them separate. These skills also make it easier to participate in larger strategic discussions.
Business Core: Blind Spots
The blind spots that L&D pros may have around this skills group come down to 2 individual skills.
Focus more on Creativity & Innovation
First, L&D pros in high-performing organizations focus significantly more (19 percentage points more) on Creativity and Innovation than their counterparts in other organizations.
The importance of this focus in high-performing organizations aligns with what we heard from learning leaders in our interviews and roundtables. Drew Goodrich, the Director of Learning Enablement at Intuit, spoke about the importance of Creativity & Innovation for his team:
Let's get inspired by anything that’s working and done well and takes hold and gets people to do things. That's a lot more creative than just standing up PowerPoint slides or doing a breakout session—let’s get creative.
L&D pros in high-performing organizations are less likely to worship the status quo. They tend to focus on finding creative solutions to business challenges and taking more risks.
Focus less on Marketing (courses)
L&D professionals in high-performing organizations and their peers in other organizations also focus differently on Marketing.
Marketing, in this case, refers to using marketing techniques to encourage employees to participate in learning interventions. While L&D professionals in general seem to see this as a critical skill, L&D professionals in high-performing organizations were not as interested (9 percentage points less).
While it's beneficial for L&D, focusing too heavily on Marketing may indicate a fairly traditional approach to learning: “If you create an awesome course and market it the right way, they will come.”
That L&D pros in high-performing organizations are focusing so much more on Creativity & Innovation indicates that they may also be broadening their views of learning, including methods that may not be as easily “marketed” in the traditional sense.
This means that L&D pros should likely broaden “marketing” to include strategies that make all learning opportunities “discoverable.”
Several skills mentioned by L&D pros had to do with building and managing relationships. We grouped these skills into the larger skills group, Managing Relationships.
L&D pros who spoke with us in the roundtable and in interviews identified 3 areas where they found managing relationships crucial.
First, L&D pros found it necessary to manage the organization's relationship with L&D. Learning is an entirely voluntary activity—you can force someone to complete an e-learning course, but you can’t force them to learn the content.
L&D pros spoke of developing trust with the organization —communicating the benefits of consistent development and empathizing with employees when creating and delivering initiatives. One leader emphasized the importance of listening as a part of communication:
I think the hardest part is hearing. Not just hearing enough to fall in love with the problem, but hearing enough to solve the problem. And then creating.
Second, L&D pros increasingly see their networks and relationships with others in the organization as the key to their success. Some mentioned these relationships in the context of understanding key aspects of the business in order to meet their development needs. Others mentioned these relationships as crucial to getting things done. Relationships were crucial for tasks from understanding who to speak to in procurement to identifying the strongest SME for a specific project. Another leader said:
I’m a big believer in networking: getting to know lots of different people, and not getting too deeply dug into one particular discipline. Because if you do, you forget how all of these things are connected.
Finally, L&D pros also mentioned the need for Relationship-building and Networking as key to increasing their own knowledge and understanding. They also mentioned the need to identify the best ways to build those skills in the employee population at large.
Managing Relationships: Blind Spots
Consistent with our finding about Networking, we found that L&D pros across organizations place value on skills around Managing Relationships.
Focus more on Collaboration & Teamwork
When we look at the focus on specific skills, however, there is a different story. Collaboration & Teamwork received significantly more attention (14 percentage points more) by L&D pros in high-performing organizations.
This focus indicates that L&D pros in these organizations realize that learning cannot just be the responsibility of the L&D function. It has to involve everyone in the organization. Drew Goodrich at Intuit says they leverage collaboration to help with strategy:
It's good there’s a lot of teamwork and collaboration and co-creation and co-planning. Getting everyone involved and getting everybody’s hands on it means you’ll actually stick to your strategy.
In essence, part of L&D's job is to deputize the organization – get everyone on the same page and build cross-functional systems that support a learning culture. That can only be done through carefully managing relationships.
When asked, 10% of L&D pros identified Readiness skills as necessary for the future. Readiness skills are those universal skills that allow L&D functions to do their jobs in ever-changing, often chaotic circumstances. L&D pros recognized 4 skills within that category.
The past couple of years have required significant change for most organizations. That need has also trickled down to L&D functions. They have had to adapt many traditional training methods to serve hybrid and remote employees. They are also being tasked with leading initiatives such as DEIB or Return to Office (likely more than once).
These changes are forcing L&D pros to be more adaptable, agile, resilient, and efficient.
The Readiness skill group the majority of them spoke of them as capabilities needed by the L&D function, not necessarily the individual. Many talked about changing mindsets, systems, and processes to make the function itself more adaptable and agile.
For example, L&D leaders mentioned they were doing things like:
- Moving away from traditional waterfall development processes and toward agile approaches, because waterfall slowed them down too much
- Recognizing the perishable nature of learning and encouraging L&D pros not to fall in love with any one solution. Thinking instead of the lifecycle of the solution and put into place evaluation triggers and plans for sunsetting or replacing them
- Adapting to immediate needs versus making sure that something is 100% perfect before launching
- Experimenting and taking risks, gathering data, and adjusting as they go instead of only measuring at the end
One leader summed up all of these ideas as she described how her L&D function was becoming more nimble:
We need to be OK with putting something out there that isn’t 100% polished, because we need to move fast. Then we see what happens. Then we need to gather feedback and adjust.
The funny thing is, we’ve been paying lip service to these skills for years. But recently, probably prompted by external events, L&D pros are doing more than just talking about them.
Readiness: Blind Spots
L&D pros from all organizations put the greatest focus on Agility in this category. They also agree that Adaptability & Flexibility are important skills. But then we see some differences.
Focus more on Resilience
L&D pros in high-performing organizations focus on Resilience more than their peers in other organizations (7 percentage points more). The 2011 journal article “What Is Resilience?” describes Resilience as positive adaption, or the ability to maintain or regain mental health.
From our interviews and roundtable discussions, we learned that L&D leaders are looking at Resilience in 2 ways.
First, L&D leaders recognize the changes their own functions have encountered recently and understand that Resilience is key to quick adaptation.
Second, L&D pro are considering how Resilience can be taught, encouraged, and systematized within their organization so that their workforce can handle future changes and disruptions.
Focus less on Efficiency & Productivity
Interestingly, L&D pros in high-performing organizations tend to focus significantly less on Efficiency and Productivity (9 percentage points less). We’re fans of efficiency, and we think all L&D functions should strive to be more efficient and productive. But we also know that change is often messy, requiring inefficiencies and experimentation to find new and better ways of doing things.
The combination of these 2 things—greater focus on resilience and less on efficiency—likely lead to more experimental and risk-friendly environments.
L&D functions may want to consider how much respective focus they put on Resilience and learning from mistakes versus institutionalization and standardization.
Finally, Tech. Nine percent of L&D pros mentioned Tech skills when determining which skills will be needed for the Tech plays a pretty important role in the work of L&D pros, and that role appears to have been magnified as organizations were forced to adopt remote and hybrid work models.
Even before the pandemic, however, L&D pros saw tech as a way to engage, scale, personalize, evaluate, and quantify learning. Organizations had also started to move toward a digital mindset. As organizations have begun to adopt skills a skills mindset, tech has only become more critical.
L&D pros identified tech skills in basically 2 flavors, as shown in Figure 16.
L&D pros overwhelmingly identified skills related to using tech more effectively in their roles. In fact, Tech Use was the second most mentioned skill overall—second only to Data Analysis. However, we want to note some nuances in the interviews that we feel are important.
First, L&D pros mentioned that as their organizations have fully embraced hybrid and remote work, many employees lack the skills necessary to work in these environments effectively. Karen Dowdall-Sanford, Senior Director of L&D at Flyhomes put it like this:
Once again, there’s a skill set specific to virtual collaboration and how you use Teams or Slack effectively. There’s the technical skill set of just understanding the tool, but then there are also norms and practices and behaviors that run into how to do it effectively.
L&D pros appear to understand that they need skills to help others develop skills in virtual collaboration—something we think we’ll see more of.
Second, some L&D pros mentioned 2 skill sets that fall under tech use. First, a skill set needed to use the tech effectively. Second, a skill set associated with creating the right environment around that tech. Tech that doesn’t integrate with the organization doesn’t work. Mitchel McNair, Global Learning & Career Consultant at Dow, said it like this:
We’re doing some things in technology, but the huge technology piece is probably the easiest piece. The bigger challenge is the culture and processes and L&D work design.
The other piece of the Tech skills group is Tech Strategy. Tech Strategy focuses less on the skills needed to use individual technologies and more on how the technologies work together to create the experience.
Tech Strategy often involves tech outside of the L&D function, such as tech that is leveraged from other business functions. (Teams and Slack are good examples).
A strong tech strategy also identifies places of intersection with other business tech and ensures that the learning tech roadmap aligns with the vision of the larger organization.
Tech: Blind Spots
Focus more on Tech Strategy
None of our research indicated much difference between the focus of L&D pros in high-performing organizations versus those in other organizations. All L&D pros focused heavily on Tech Use.
Frankly, we wish we had an explanation for this, as we expected to find the opposite. However, it looks like high-performing organizations are still, as are most talented L&D pros, thinking about what the tech can do and less about how it fits together.
Therefore, the blind spot associated with technology is common to all L&D pros, regardless of their organization’s performance. All L&D pros should focus more time and effort on creating the experience, including determining how technology pieces fit together, the overall technology strategy, and how it aligns with the organization’s tech strategy.
Wrap Up: Upskill, L&D
Undoubtedly, organizations are focusing on upskilling their workforces. And, undoubtedly, L&D pros have a big role to play in that effort. Exciting times are ahead, but L&D pros need to be prepared.
To use a well-known metaphor, L&D pros are sitting in an airplane experiencing some turbulence. The oxygen masks have dropped, and L&D needs to take the time to put theirs on first before ensuring that employees get theirs on as well.
So upskill, L&D. We learned a lot in this study about where L&D pros should focus their efforts. Knowing is half the battle. The other half – making the time and actually doing the development – is the harder part, but we think crucial to the continued efficacy of L&D functions everywhere.
Note: for Appendices, including skills definitions, study demographics, research methodology, and contributors please download the PDF report.
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
- 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
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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"‘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.
"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
- "Are learning equity issues affecting your company?" J.D. Dillon, TD Magazine, 2021.
- 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.
- "How internal talent marketplaces can help overcome seven common DEI strategy pitfalls," M. Heiskell, D. Kearns-Manolatos, and M. Rawat, Deloitte, 2021.
- "Assignments are critical tools to achieve workplace gender equity," E. Macke, G. Gall Rosa, S. Gilmartin, and C. Simard, MIT Sloan Management Review, 2022.
- "How does your company support ‘first-generation professionals’?" M. Burwell and B. Maldonaldo, SHRM, 2022.
- "Providing performance feedback to support neurodiverse employees," M. Hamdani and S. Biagi, MIT Sloan Management Review, 2022.