People Analytics Tech 2020

Posted on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020 at 4:53 PM    

In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the social justice movements, people analytics had an unexpected opportunity to shine. Technology played a more important role than before as people analytics team looked for ways to scale and provide deeper insights to leaders on their workforce, the majority of whom were working remotely. Our goal is to help people analytics leaders succeed in that endeavor and prepare for 2021.

Through this research, we wanted to understand:

  • How did the people analytics tech vendor market change in 2020?
  • What are the newest capabilities leaders need to know about?
  • What should leaders be thinking about when making (or expanding) a people analytics tech investment?

This study is a culmination of nearly a year of qualitative and quantitative research, that included an online poll, a vendor survey, a customer poll, and over 40 vendor briefings and demos. This flipbook highlights the changes and trends from this year, the different capabilities offered by the vendors, and the questions potential technology buyers should consider before making or expanding their tech investments. We also suggest readers check our interactive, evergreen people analytics tech tool, for current vendor information.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging: Creating a Holistic Approach for 2021

Posted on Monday, November 30th, 2020 at 4:50 PM    

2020 was not easy for anyone, but it had an especially significant impact on diverse people. As leaders look to 2021, they have an opportunity to revisit their diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) strategy. Through this research, we wanted to understand: 

  • How have the events of 2020 have affected organizations’ approaches to DEIB? 
  • What steps or actions must leaders take moving ahead? 

In this study, we review the specific areas leaders should focus on when revisiting or developing their DEIB strategy. We also review 3 major trends we believe will impact DEIB next year and which leaders should take into account when crafting their strategy.

Our study is based on a review of more than 50 articles, and interviews with 10 DEIB leaders and 20 HR leaders over the course of September – November 2020. This flipbook explores the fundamental shifts we have noticed this year, guides leaders on how to develop a holistic approach to DEIB and offers insights into some trends for 2021. 

Skills and Competencies: Differences, Utility, and Messaging

Posted on Tuesday, November 24th, 2020 at 6:00 AM    

Continuing our collaborative exploration of the skills landscape, we recently gathered leaders together for the first skills roundtable. This session focused on skills and competencies. It included questions such as: 

  • What’s the difference, in practice, between skills and competencies? 
  • Under what conditions might organizations shift from competencies to skills? 
  • How do competencies drive organizational results? How do skills drive organizational results? 
  • How do you measure skills proficiency? 

Mindmap of Skills and Competencies Roundtable

The mindmap below outlines the conversations we heard as a part of this roundtable.

Key Takeaways

We had a rich, energizing, and informative discussion that helped us learn how skills and competencies are defined, perceived, and used in organizations. Here are 5 key takeaways. 

Skills = “what;” competencies = “how”

Leaders agreed that, in general, skills tend to describe what an individual or organization can do, while competencies outline expectations for how a job should be done or an individual should behave. 

There was less agreement about whether skills or competencies are job-agnostic. Some organizations use competencies to describe broad behaviors that any employee should exhibit in order to succeed. In these organizations, competencies apply to any job in the company and include the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to get things done.  

In other organizations, skills are the job-agnostic ones. They are still more granular and specific than competencies, but they are not tied to specific jobs or roles. Rather, they are portable building blocks that an employee can apply to any role they might be in. 

Skills as currency

A number of leaders mentioned skills as currency: skills represent what an employee does for or offers to the organization 

Treating skills as currency makes them portable. With a clear understanding of the skills they can offer, employees can move around an organization more easily. Internal mobility and gig work become easier to implement organization-wide. 

Leaders drew a distinction between the longevity of skills and competencies, citing the shorter shelf-life of skills as one reason they are a strong currency. Because many skills must be developed (and sometimes abandoned) much more quickly than competencies, they are more susceptible to supply-demand imbalances. This makes certain skills highly valuable when they are in high demand.  

This transactional concept applies best, however, only to non-durable skills.  

The struggle with “competencies”

Interestingly, many leaders in the roundtable said the word “competency” is viewed negatively in their organization. Because competencies tend to include proficiency ratings, they are perceived as a way to tell employees how they don’t measure up. By contrast, skills are perceived more positively and are associated with employee development. As one leader put it, “I have an opportunity to get better at a skill, as opposed to not having the competence to do a role.” 

As a result of the way competencies are perceived, some organizations have changed their messaging. One leader reported, “competencies are actually used more, but we call them skills because competency is associated negatively with performance.”  

The group noted this strategy will not work long-term unless skills stay simple, easy to understand and use, and focused on employee development. If skills become as burdensome as competencies are today, they will take on the same negative associations as well.  

Measuring skills proficiency is a challenge

Most leaders reported their organizations are not measuring skills proficiency at all, are just starting to measure proficiency, or are measuring in ways that will not scale. Current tech limitations are partly responsible for the fact that most organizations are not measuring skill proficiencies to the extent they want and need to. Most skills platforms currently treat skills as binary: I have a skill or I don’t. They do not yet offer ways to denote skill proficiency. 

Another challenge lies in the subjectivity of skill assignment. Leaders agreed it is not enough to simply ask employees whether they have a skill; there needs to be some kind of verification process. However, asking a manager to verify all their reports’ skills is burdensome and can introduce bias. Managers also may not be able to accurately assess skills or skill levels if they do not have the skill themselves.  

As burdensome as it can be to input and verify skills and skill levels, leaders noted most employees appreciate the conversation this exercise prompts. Employees find it helpful to understand from their manager how they are perceived and where they can improve. 

Orgs want to simplify

Leaders emphasized that they are trying not to simply replicate competency frameworks in the skills space. Instead, they are employing two main strategies to simplify their approach 

  1. Grassroots. Organizations are building skills databases from the ground up rather than creating unwieldy conceptual models to fit skills into. In this approach, employees input their skills into a database, then data analysis is applied to draw out skill groups, themes, and commonalities. 
  2. Prioritization. They are prioritizing the key skills they would like people to work on. They are looking at the desired end state, identifying the strategically important skills, and focusing on only those skills rather than trying to map the universe of skills 

A special thanks

This discussion helped us refine our understanding of the differences between skills and competencies, the value each brings to organizations, and the challenges associated with finding simple ways to understand “what we can do as an organization. Thank you again to those of you who attended and made our conversation enriching. And as always, we welcome your suggestions and feedback at [email protected]. 

Mobility: Leadership, Messaging, Tech, and Processes

Posted on Tuesday, November 17th, 2020 at 5:52 PM    

In our ongoing search for answer on mobility, we recently gathered leaders together for our third and final roundtable – this one focusing on the systems, processes, and other internal practices that affect how smoothly people move around organizations. Some of the questions we covered included:

  • Leadership: What roles should and senior leadership and managers play in facilitating mobility within their organizations?
  • Messaging: What is your organization’s messaging about internal mobility? To what extent is it effective?
  • Technology: How big of a role do you think technology plays (or should play) in internal mobility? Why?
  • Processes: How does/should internal mobility interface with other groups, such as learning, performance, recruiting, etc.?

Mindmap of Mobility: Leadership, Messaging, Tech, and Processes Roundtable

The mindmap below outlines the conversations we heard as a part of this roundtable.

Key Takeaways

We learned a lot from this conversation. In general, leaders understand the importance of the auxiliary things that affect how well mobility works in an organization, but they also recognized several challenges. Here are 5 key takeaways.

Implications of “owning your own career” message

In conversation around messaging, leaders referred to how the frequent message and theme of “own your own career” by companies can be misleading to employees and even interpreted as lazy.

Leaders emphasized that using this phrase while not aligning internal processes (recruiting messages, manager help, tools, ease of use of internal job boards, etc.) can cause a disconnect, leaving employees bereft of actual power to own their careers.

Additionally, due to the great potential for bias within the companies’ systems, sending this type of message ignores the fact that employees are not always on an even playing field. There may be barriers for some that don’t exist for others (informal communication networks, unconscious bias in performance ratings, etc.).

Changing celebration norms around mobility

Another key component of messaging lies within celebration norms. Celebration norms are most often related to upward movement (promotions) which tells employees to value only these types of movements within the company.

Leaders said that celebrating lateral and downward moves within the organization would encourage different types of mobility, making them not just acceptable, but sanctioned. Leaders mentioned that this should be the case for both full time lateral and downward movements as well as short-term projects or roles before returning to a full-time position.

Fostering psychological safety

Leaders also shared the necessity (and wisdom) of ensuring psychological safety when discussing careers. We are finding that managers have a ridiculous amount of power in determining whether an employee moves to another role, and that stronger organizations are those that ensure that both managers and employees are equipped to have open, honest conversations about career goals and plans.

For the employee, open, honest conversations with their manager or mentor about where they want to go and when helps them to see additional opportunities as well as pitfalls, and to leverage manager networks to move around.

For the manager and the organization, this type of open and honest discussion gives them data about their employees, but also ensures that they can make plans for backfilling, reskilling or otherwise accommodating for that employee when they leave.

Leaders mentioned that for psychological safety to exist, messaging, leadership, and systems and processes must all be aligned and functioning correctly.

Integrating HR processes and other initiatives

Leaders emphasized that while,  in many of their organizations, mobility is often variable by business function or unit, and fairly siloed, they see it as “inherently a shared responsibility.” Instead of belonging to just one area of the company (HR, say) leaders  talked about how mobility requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders across the business.

One leader stressed that HR related processes (e.g. talent acquisition, talent management, learning and development, performance, compensation, DEI, leadership, etc.) should be integrated together to best encourage and support mobility across the organization.

In the course of our interviews, we have seen a few organizations assign a role, or in one case, a team, to steward over mobility. This role has responsibility for working with divers stakeholders to develop interactions and processes that encourage and enable mobility to ensure that it is systemic.

Value of transparency – built into systems and modeled by leaders

Transparency was a fairly consistent theme in our discussion, both as it relates to leadership as well as systems and processes. Lack of transparency into different career options can be a major obstacle to employees making moves that they may otherwise consider. Leaders discussed how systems should be built to provide greater visibility into internal options and continue to make employees aware of these tools.

For example, organizations often have internal marketplaces for employees to find potential opportunities within the company – both short term and long term. However as one leader shared, there is a difference between being able to find these opportunities and being able to move. If employees aren’t empowered to actually move (i.e., they’re hoarded by their managers), movement happens much less.

Which brings us to leaders. Many of the participating leaders emphasized the importance of encouraging employees to move through story-telling and question-asking. Providing employees a view into how leaders got where they are often highlights the fact that many don’t take a direct path – they take zig-zagged ones. It encourages employees to explore and look beyond upward movement as they determine where they’d like their careers to go.

A special thanks

This discussion around mobility, as it related to leadership, messaging, technology, and processes, brought significant insights to the forefront and helped us see into the holistic nature of the processes that affect internal mobility. Thank you again to those of you who attended and made our conversation enriching. And as always, we welcome your suggestions and feedback at [email protected].




The Stats on Managing Better

Posted on Tuesday, November 17th, 2020 at 3:00 AM    

COVID-19 has changed how employees are working and interacting with their managers. Additionally, managers are now expected to be responsible for ensuring employees safety, support mental wellness, and facilitate difficult conversations. As in all situations, some folks have done it better than others. This infographic summarizes our report on this topic, Managing Better: Piercing the Fog of Today’s Uncertainty.

Click on the image below to get the full infographic. As always, we would love your feedback, which you can provide in the comments section below the infographic.


Competencies vs. Skills: What's the Difference?

Posted on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020 at 1:28 PM    


The conversation about skills has exploded in the past year from an almost hypothetical discussion about how to plan for digital transformation to a very real one in which hard decisions have had to be made about what skills were needed to keep businesses intact.

As organizations pivot to different ways of working, it will be even more important that they have a good understanding of the skills and knowledge employees have now, and the skills the organization will need in the future.

As part of our ongoing research on skills, we are focusing our first study on a question we have heard a lot:

What is the difference between skills and competencies, and why does it matter?

What we saw in the literature

To answer that question, we began with a review of the competencies literature. Four themes emerged in response to this question:

  1. Definitional Chaos. There is little agreement about the definitions of “skills” and “competencies.”
  2. Agreement on Goals and Benefits. There is considerable agreement about the goals and benefits of any skills or competencies effort.
  3. Competencies Support Performance Management. In some parts of the literature – mainly written for HR audiences – competencies are clearly linked to how a job is performed.
  4. Skills Leverage Tech. Organizations derive practical value from skills platforms that leverage huge amounts of data.

Definitional chaos

There is very little agreement in the literature about the definitions of “skills” and “competencies.” In some articles, the terms are used interchangeably. In others, skills are listed as one component of competencies – for example, “a competency is a measurable pattern of knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviors, and other characteristics.”1

Often a distinction is made in the granularity of skills vs. competencies, with skills being more granular – although one article suggested the opposite.2 Sometimes competencies are contextualized for a specific job or role (more on this below). The definitions and distinctions vary widely from author to author and audience to audience.

To further confuse the matter, when we compared skills databases to competency models many of the same terms showed up in both places. For example, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s MOSAIC Competencies framework and the U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored Career OneStop Skills Matcher tool both list items like, “Accounting,” “Client Engagement/Change Management,” and “Project Management.” OPM calls these items competencies; DOL calls them skills.

The same confusion plays out in the private sector. Some excellent vendors focus on skills; others on competencies – but if you look at their databases and lists of terms, there is considerable overlap.3

Agreement on goals and benefits

Given how inconsistently the terms “skills” and “competencies” are used, there is surprising agreement in the literature on the ultimate goal of a skills or competency effort: Organizations need to be able to identify what they (and their people) can do now and what they must be able to do in the future. They need to be able to use that information to plan and prepare for the future – to align talent with business goals. Job-seekers (internal and external) need to understand what’s expected of them and what they are good at vs. what organizations need them to be good at.4

Both competency models and skills frameworks attempt to facilitate these discovery and planning processes.

There is also agreement on the benefits of skills frameworks and competency models. Organizations can use skills and/or competencies to:

  • Use the same terminology to talk about what employees should be able to do
  • Understand what employees can do vs. what they need to be able to do
  • Fill key positions quickly and effectively
  • Target employee development to close key gaps
  • Help employees understand their gaps and options5

Most of the literature also agrees that there is no standard, universal set of skills or competencies that all organizations need. Organizations need to identify their competitive advantage, then tailor the models they are using to focus on the key skills/competencies that drive that advantage.

Competencies support performance management

In some of the literature, competencies were clearly linked to the performance of specific jobs or roles. In these cases, skills specified what a person can do, whereas competencies specified not only what but how the task or activity should be accomplished.6 They answered questions like, “How does an individual perform this job successfully?” and “How does an individual behave in the workplace to achieve a desired result?”7

This part of the literature is particularly helpful for leaders concerned with performance management, as it provides standards against which to measure behaviors and results. Skills tend to be decoupled from the performance of any specific job, making skills frameworks less relevant to performance management.

Skills leverage tech

Skills databases and competency frameworks are built and managed very differently. Developing a competency framework tends to be a top-down exercise run by a few people in the organization. It often involves intensive human effort to complete observations, job analyses, interviews, surveys, and document reviews.8

By contrast, skills databases tend to be built from the bottom up, using advanced computing power to glean skills information from job postings, resumes, HR repositories, and other data sources.9

Because they leverage technology to pull in and leverage massive amounts of information about employees, skills offerings tend to provide users with tens of thousands of skills options to choose from. This huge menu of options allows users to be far more granular in choosing and describing what they can do. This granularity lends flexibility and transferability, as it is easier to see how a particular skill might apply in different functional areas or organizations.

Thoughts on the topic

Regardless of terminology, we see enormous potential for vendors that help organizations answer the question, “what can we do, and what do we need to be able to do?” using the massive amounts of data now available about employees and their abilities.

Tech solutions have made it possible for many more organizations to start answering this question by automating many of the processes involved. The pace of change in today’s world will only increase the demand for organizations to maintain a very up-to-date understanding of what they can do and what they need to do. Any tech or methods that can shine a light on this question will bring huge value in the near, medium, and long term.

What caught our attention:

Of the literature we reviewed, several sources stood out to us. Each contained information that we found useful and/or intriguing. Although much of the competencies literature was written 5-10 years ago, it is particularly helpful to review in light of the question, “what’s the difference between skills and competencies?” Interestingly, many of the more recent articles on competencies were primarily written by vendors trying to clarify how their competency offerings fit in the skills marketplace.10 We learned from these perspectives and encourage you to do the same.

Policy, Data, Oversight: Assessment & Selection – Competencies

United States Office of Personnel Management  |, 2020

Competencies specify the "how" of performing job tasks, or what the person needs to do the job successfully.”


  • OPM’s Multipurpose Occupational Systems Analysis Inventory (MOSAIC) methodology for collecting occupational information has been used to build one of the most comprehensive competency databases available, covering over 200 U.S. federal government occupations.
  • The MOSAIC information has been used to develop competency models for a range of occupations, including cybersecurity, grants management, IT program management, and executive leadership.
  • All MOSAIC information is available in downloadable Excel spreadsheets or PDFs for public use.

How Ericsson aligned its people with its transformation strategy

Simon London and Bina Chaurasia  |  McKinsey & Company, Jan 2016

“[W]e literally took every single function in the company and all of its roles, mapped out the stages of each job, and laid out the competence needed for each one. That took a couple years.”


  • A major shift in strategy led telecom giant Ericsson to change skills, technology, and processes on a global scale.
  • This shift also required an overhaul of the HR team, strategy, and processes.
  • The company completed a massive, years-long competency modeling exercise but reports that now every position in the company is mapped out.

The essential components of a successful L&D strategy

Jacqueline Brassey, Lisa Christensen, and Nick van Dam  |  McKinsey & Company, February 2019

“At the heart of this process is a comprehensive competency or capability model based on the organization’s strategic direction.”


  • This article puts competency management in the context of L&D’s responsibility to develop employees in line with organizational strategy and goals.
  • Once a strategic direction is set for the organization, it is critical to verify whether employees are equipped to deliver on that strategy.
  • To make this verification, this article recommends taking a deliberate, systematic approach to capability assessment, starting with a comprehensive competency model.

What’s the Difference Between Skills and Competencies?

Sarah Beckett  |  HRSG, March 2018

“In some ways, a skill and a competency are similar. On a basic level, they both identify an ability that an individual has acquired through training and experience.”


    • Skills define “what” an individual can do. Competencies define “how” they perform a job successfully.
    • Competencies = Skills + Knowledge + Abilities
    • Competencies improve HR processes by introducing consistency, visibility, structure, progression and coordination.
    • Competency management software solutions can ease much of the burden of using competencies to define job success.

Additional readings

  1. Competency Frameworks: Core Competencies & Soft Skills,” Randstad, 2019.
  2. "Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills," Indeed, 2020.
  3. "Return on Leadership – Competencies that Generate Growth," Egon Zehnder International and McKinsey & Company, 2011.
  4. O*Net Resource Center, O*Net, 2010.
  5. "Competency Management at Its Most Competent," Deloitte and DDI, 2015.

Managing Better: Piercing the Fog of Today’s Uncertainty

Posted on Wednesday, October 28th, 2020 at 7:09 AM    

In the face of a global pandemic, a critical social justice movement, and significant natural disasters, we’ve all done our best to manage our workloads, our employees, our home lives, our finances, and our health. As in all situations, some folks have done it better than others.

We wanted to understand what responsive managers and organizations did in the last 6 months – and how those practices are different from before the pandemic. But even more importantly, we wanted to understand:

  • What types of management practices do the most effective managers use?
  • How has HR supported those most effective managers?
  • What lessons can we take from this as we design our organizations and support our managers while moving into 2021?

This research is a culmination of more than a year of research, with new survey data collected and interviews conducted in September and October 2020, to ensure a focus on the manager and organizational behaviors critical to the events of 2020.

Mobility and Learning & Skills

Posted on Tuesday, October 27th, 2020 at 2:43 PM    

This year has been unpredictable (to say the least), and because it has, organizations, internal mobility of employees have changed. had to adapt and reflect on their mobility approaches – and how there are developing their employees’ skills relevant to their jobs and future career aspirations.

Our latest roundtable on mobility explored answers to key questions about mobility models and how they affect skill-building and development. To guide our discussion, we centered questions around 4 models of mobility, as shown below.

4 Models of Mobility

Source: RedThread Research © 2020

Some of the questions posed to leaders participating in our roundtable included:

  • How can organizations help employees understand their career options?
  • How can organizations understand the knowledge and skills they need for current and future roles?
  • What impact does the mobility model organizations use have on how they develop employees?
  • How can organizations encourage employees to build connections and networks within the company?
  • How do organizations keep track of knowledge and skills employees have that may qualify them for other interesting career opportunities?

We broke leaders into 4 breakout rooms to dive deeper into each of the four mobility models. The mind map below captures an overview of our conversation.

Mobility Roundtable #2 Mindmap

Key Takeaways

Below are our key take-aways from our 80-minute conversation with leaders. While much of the conversation focused on skill-building and development, other really good ideas also crept in that helped us to understand differences across the 4 models mentioned above.

Industry, size, and maturity may determine which mobility model is most suitable

Many leaders hit upon the idea that some of the models identified above were more suitable for certain industries. For example, military, law, medicine, and engineering organizations may be more apt to use a ladder model, as deep expertise are more important than breadth. Their associated hierarchical structure may itself to a clearer understanding of which positions hold the highest level of expertise – something that can be vital in high risk situations.

Likewise, technology, creative agency, and service entities may, by their nature, be more suited for a Swarm model, as they generally have discrete pieces of work or projects that can be done, and it makes sense to organize people with certain skills around that work for a time, and then move them to a different project.

One of the most interesting (to us) points raised was the idea that smaller organizations and larger organizations are more apt to adopt a Swarm model. This may be true for smaller organizations because agility and ability to be nimble are required for start-ups, meaning they naturally have less structure and fewer boundaries. It may be true for larger organizations because they have made a conscious and intentional decision to organize in this way, aligning their people processes and systems (performance management, reporting structures, compensation, etc) to accommodate it.

There appears to be aspirations to move away from the traditional Ladder model

Most organizations seem to be at least considering a move from a Ladder-type model to something more flexible. Particularly in light of recent events, agility and ability to understand and move employees with knowledge and skills around the organization has become paramount to many participating leaders. This means both understanding those knowledge and skills, but also having a system or model flexible enough that allows organizations to take advantage of them.

In addition, many leaders expressed doubt that careers could be “controlled” through a ladder-type model. As organizations reach for better employee experiences, employees are naturally more empowered to move as well – either within their current company, or, if flexibility or opportunity don’t exist, outside of it.

Language (and mindset) are changing: competencies to skills

 As a part of the mobility discussion, participating leaders also indicated a shift in thinking – from competencies to skills. Participating leaders mentioned that competency models are time-intensive to validate and “overly rigorous” in addition to being difficult to measure.

Many leaders are finding a skills-type model more sustainable and suggested companies should dedicate their time breaking down tasks into needed skills. Their argument was that this would help employees understand what skills are needed to develop for both current and future roles, and that this approach is more “nimble” and “critical to companies”.

General consensus was that a focus on skills would allow organizations to more agily move employees around the company based on skills, rather than based on competencies, which some saw as contextual to a job role and/or function.

Networking is a necessary skill for new types of models

Networking and reputation was brought up as an important skill, particularly as it relates to Lattice, Swarm, and Outside-In models. Employees with the ability to network and build reputation are more likely to have more control over their movement within organizations. Those organizations are also more likely to understand the skills and knowledge of those types of proactive employees and give them opportunities for development.

This is an important point, as participating leaders pointed out that development and movement are particularly appealing to younger generations (Millennials and Generation Z) in their organizations who tend to see jobs, gigs, and roles as opportunities instead of long-term career decisions.

Culture is important for mitigating resistance to employee mobility

Leaders also mentioned the potential resistance of senior leadership as a real threat to the acceptance of more mobility friendly models. In fact, “management hoarding” appears to be a common problem, with leaders wanting to hold onto top talent. As one participating leader noted, this could “prevent employees from taking non-traditional mobility routes.” The role of culture, particularly one that promotes a growth mindset, appears to be significant in increasing acceptance of more mobility.

A few ideas were mentioned as ways to mitigate mindset and talent hoarding. The first was to monetarily reward managers whose direct reports took a lateral move within the organization. This not only incentivized managers, but created a very strong signal that it was not only acceptable, but required.

Another idea was to (finally) decouple performance reviews from development and career conversations, making one have nothing to do with the other. This would allow manager and employee to have frank discussions about careers and eliminate the subterfuge that often accompanies moves within (or out of) organizations.

Technology plays a varying role mobility models and companies

When asked what types of technology were being used to help make their workforces more mobile, there were few responses. Participating leaders saw the Ladder model as the one that is likely best supported by data and technology, as it is the longest existing model and common to larger, hierarchical companies.

Lattice, Swarm, and Outside-In models tended to have much less structure in most organizations – as again, they rely heavily on employees willing to skills and knowledge data and career goals. While we (RedThread) have seen several news mobility platforms emerge even in the past few months, they have not been widely adopted yet.

And, as organizations continue to flirt with (or marry) the Outside-In model, the problem becomes worse. HRIS systems, learning management systems and LXPs, and other technologies common to W2 employees can collect some data on their goals, skills, and aspirations, they most often do not include contractors, consultants, and gig workers, giving talent functions an incomplete view of the skills available to them.

Thank you again to those of you who attended and made our conversation enriching. And as always, we welcome your suggestions and feedback at [email protected].

Mobility: Talent Sources & Employee Preferences

Posted on Monday, October 19th, 2020 at 9:37 AM    

The unpredictability of this year has resulted in tough talent decisions as organizations work to respond quickly to the pressures and demands of everything 2020. This increased volatility has reinforced that flexibility in all things, including career pathing, will likely be the norm moving forward.

Given the unique opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of our current mobility approaches, we held a roundtable to brainstorm the answers to key questions around talent sources and employee preferences:

  • How do talent sources and employee preference impact organizational structure and strategy?
  • How are talent sources and employee preference related to information seeking?
  • What is the role of technology?
  • How do talent sources and employee preference impact employee enablement?

We broke participating leaders into four breakout sessions to discuss questions diving deep into each topic. An overview of our conversation is captured in the mindmap below.

Mindmap of talent sources & preferences roundtable

Key takeaways from the discussion

Our 80-minute conversation provided rich insights into the current mindsets, challenges, and successes of attendees. Below are our key takeaways from the session.

Short-term vs. long-term thinking on mobility

The increased unpredictability of 2020 has put many organizations into survival mode. Loss of business has resulting in some organizations cutting back on roles, which has moved employee preference to the wayside. As organizations are quickly responding to the pressures of COVID-19, mobility strategies are focusing on redeployment. One attendee called this approach a “human capital band-aid”.

Redeploying employees into more critical roles has moved the focus away from paths and onto skills. While skills can be a critical building block of mobility, attendees emphasized the importance of considering employee purpose, passion, interests, and values. As one participant put it – skills alone results in miserable people, but skills combined with purpose and passion results in fulfillment and a desire to continue to learn and grow. Our conversation revealed an opportunity to re-focus on employee preference as we move towards the “new normal”.

Mobility development opportunities beyond HIPOs and leaders

Attendees agreed on the importance of thinking more broadly about development. Many organizations solely focus their development efforts on high potential employees (HIPOs) or leadership, leaving a majority of individuals feeling passed over and pissed off (endearingly termed POPOs) – a phrase courtesy of Beverly Kaye.

Several strategies were offered to broaden development opportunities outside of the typical HIPO group, including the usual suspects – job shadowing, career interview, etc. Others that were noted included “Desk Swapping,” which allows employees to apply for opportunities they are interested in and spend 6-8 weeks exploring the role., and “Job Testing,” offering similar visibility on a much smaller timescale, with employees exploring roles for a day.

Mobility as a community problem

Mobility is beneficial for everyone. From the organizational perspective, utilizing various talent sources and employee skills helps meet organizational objectives by preparing employees for open or future roles or projects, or moving them into more urgent functions. From the employee perspective, mobility is an opportunity to develop and pursue interests, gain necessary skills, and explore new paths. Organizations with solid internal mobility strategies are looking for the overlap and encouraging movement.

This does not appear to be happening broadly, however. Attendees pointed out that organizations often get in the way of true mobility. A few hints from the roundtable for overcoming roadblocks included: ensuring alignment between employees, managers, and other support systems on career development expectations, in systems, processes, leadership, and messaging; and allowing employees to safely communicate their career journeys. Underlying each of these suggestions is the belief that internal mobility should be fundamentally embedded in the culture of the organization and supported by people at all levels – not just relegated to the HR function.

If you’re not W2, we don’t know what to do

The conversation around the growing gig-economy has been happening for years. Rightly so, as 30-40% of the U.S. workforce falls into this category1 and two-thirds of major organizations are utilizing gig-workers to cut down labor costs2. While these figures are fascinating, what truly surprised us is how much we don’t know about this growing population.

Our conversation revealed that organizations are still searching for answers on how to leverage independent workers, building them into the overall talent strategy. When asked about the career preferences of non-W2 employees, we heard crickets. Compounding the problem, independent workers are not often being tracked in human capital management software, leaving a dearth of information in organizations with large independent worker populations. These findings highlight an opportunity to learn more about this growing sector of the workforce.

Mobility data usage and improvement

There is room to improve the way we collect data for mobility. Some organizations feel limited by data that could help them make better mobility decisions. Many may have mobility data flowing through their tools and systems but aren’t doing an adequate job at capturing it. Those who do have mobility data seem unsatisfied with its thoroughness or depth.

This topic appeared to be a pretty big concern, but one where leaders have few answers as yet. For example, organizations may have access to career path data, or they may have scattered skill, talent, and performance data across various platforms, but haven't yet figured out how those data can work together to provide a clearer picture.

This incomplete or disorganized approach to data collection makes it difficult for managers or individual employees to use – leaving this information underutilized.

We are extremely grateful to the those who attended and enriched the conversation with their thoughts and experiences. As always, we welcome your feedback or suggestions at [email protected].

The Changing Perspective on Mobility

Posted on Monday, October 12th, 2020 at 1:05 PM    

The conversation around employee mobility has changed in recent years – so much so that the words we use to describe these movements differ starkly. While we used to refer to these movements as a “career ladder”, we now use terms like job jungle-gym1, agile careers2, and orbit-ization charts3These modern terms conjure images of employees as trapeze artists, swinging across opportunities within the organization.

This seems a natural consequence of the fact that work is undoubtedly changing. Many organizations have begun to think about how they get work done – and moving from a more structured, assembly line approach (organizing the work around the people) to much more project- and team-based work (organizing the people around the work).

And while we have been talking about career mobility for years now, given COVID-19, an increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the need for pretty much every company to respond more quickly to their market, this conversation has moved to the forefront.

Themes from the literature

In reviewing the current and recent past literature on the topic of career mobility, our goal was to understand the nature of that conversation. We also wanted to understand any models and thought leadership that existed, as well as trends for how mobility was being discussed within organizations.

The text of 45 articles we reviewed resulted in the following word cloud – which doesn’t yield much in terms of insights. However, several themes from the literature emerged as well, which are discussed below.

The Changing Perspective on Mobility

Source: RedThread Research, 2020

We’re at the beginning, not the middle

No one has really figured out mobility. In general, most organizations are still thinking about mobility in terms of moving employees from one role to another role, which suggests that most organizations are still thinking in terms of roles and organizing work around their people.

While this isn’t surprising (the momentum of doing things this way is monumental, making it hard to change direction), pockets of certain industries are making strides. A few that stand out: Healthcare – medical professionals coming together in a team to solve problems; Tech and product development – teams assembling employees with specific skills and talents to build a product; Consulting firms – bringing specialists and subject matter experts together to complete a project. These examples show a more fluid, less structured way of moving employees around the organization.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t still challenges, including: Incorporating workers from all talent pools into talent strategies, not just full-time, W2 employees; figuring out what performance and compensation looks like in this type of model; changing the messaging about what “success” means – that it’s not necessarily a promotion; and figuring out how to support employee development in a different kind of structure.

In short, while the research shows glimpses of light, there is still a long way to go.

Employee expectations are changing

We learned from the literature that currently, at least, internal mobility is generally initiated by employees. Organizations rely on employees to apply for positions discovered through internal job boards or by word of mouth.4

At the same time, turnover data from the Work Institute5 revealed that career development has been the #1 reason employees leave their organizations for ten consecutive years. When asked, workers say they want to be challenged in their role6 and 73% of employees say they would stay at their company if there were more skill-building opportunities.7

As employees gain increasing access to data about the marketplace, they often perceive more opportunity outside of an organization than identify opportunities for growth internally, which increases turnover and upskilling costs.

Increasingly, internal mobility is being seen as an opportunity to improve the overall employee experience. Organizations without solid talent mobility strategies in place are likely absorbing risk in terms of low engagement and turnover.

Data and technology are being leveraged for mobility

In much of the literature, the ongoing and ubiquitous skills discussion is linked with internal mobility. Until fairly recently, the only information organizations had about their employees’ skills was either locked in the minds of those employees or spelled out on a resume or internal profile.

That is changing. As organizations think more about mobility, they also think more about the data and technology that can be used to understand what skills employees have, and where else those skills may be employed.

Data gathering appears to be happening in both analog and digital methods. On one hand, fairly traditional employee surveys, regular virtual check ins between managers and employees, and interest via job portals provide explicit data about both skills and career aspirations. On the other, HRISes, professional networking sites, sharing sites (think Github), learning management systems, LXPs, internal platforms, and external databases are being used to provide a broader picture of the skills profile for both individuals and organizations. As that profile is better understood, insights about skills and career aspirations can help businesses make better decisions8 and remove barriers to more fluid mobility.

Two quick examples from the literature: Both AT&T9 and UBS10 have utilized skills assessment data to create online platforms that cater to the personalized experience employees crave. Employees can assess their skills, openly access information about jobs within the company, match themselves to jobs, identify skill gaps, and link to resources to fill those gaps.

More than ever, mobility is being used as a means of development

The next trend we’re seeing for mobility is the not-so-novel idea of using it as a development tool. While job rotations and stretch assignment have long been used at higher levels of the organization and for those deemed HIPOs, the idea of mobility for development is beginning to trickle down to include a broader swath of the organization.

Organizations are also beginning to realize that mobility for development can be a virtuous cycle. Instead of simply doing a stretch assignment or rotation to prepare employees for future roles, better data and a better idea about an employee’s aspirations allows organizations to take advantage of unique skills and knowledge they have now, while still building their skillset for the future.

The next role is often prepared for by formal development and skill building, but more and more, the roles (and increasingly gigs and projects) are being seen as valuable learning and development experiences.

Internal Talent Marketplaces are hitting their stride

An internal talent marketplace, often called a project portal or an internal gig economy, generally utilizes technology to match employees with short-term projects or “gigs.” Internal talent marketplaces encourage companies to share talents and skills across boundaries in an organization by dynamically matching and deploying skills to work.11

While internal talent marketplaces have been around for a while, the most recent literature touts it as a necessity for organizations – not just to change mindset, but also as a way to offer an innovative and flexible approach to talent acquisition, mobility, and management.12

Internal talent marketplaces can also act as a bit of a workaround – allowing organizations to keep their traditional talent systems in place (which also means fewer effects on hiring, accounting, and performance systems) while allowing employees to “move” around the organization more freely.

Our own observations align with the literature here – not only are we hearing about internal talent marketplaces more from our talent leader friends, we’re also being introduced to more solutions that enable them from our vendor friends.

Articles that caught our attention

While reviewing the literature, several articles highlighted key considerations in the conversation around internal mobility. The articles below contained information we found both intriguing and useful. We learned from their perspectives and encourage you to do the same.

The Best Way to Hire from Inside Your Company

JR Keller

“Frustrated with finding and integrating good external candidates, organizations were beginning to invest increasing amounts of time, energy, and money into developing their internal hiring capabilities.”


  • There are two ways internal hires are primarily made – sponsorship and posting. Sponsorship relies on a personal connection between the hiring manager and the candidate (the “I know a guy” approach), while posting involves listing an open position on an internal job board.
  • The posting method results in better quality internal hires any way you cut it – contributions, competency ratings, likeliness to be rated a top performer, etc.
  • The posting method decreases bias by casting a wider net and forcing hiring managers to create a job description and think about the qualities they want in a candidate.

While an oldie, this article is certainly a goodie. It suggests that adding structure to a company’s internal mobility strategy results in better quality candidates for full time internal mobility.

Why Do Millennials Stay in Their Jobs? The Roles of Protean Career Orientation, Goal Progress and Organizational Career Management

Claudia Holtschlag, Aline Masuda, Sebastian Reiche, & Carlos Morales

The findings suggest that millennials are not necessarily more inclined to switch employers. An important factor to tie them to the organization might be to allow them to advance towards their individually valued goals.”


  • If individuals are not making progress towards their personally meaningful goals, they are more likely to leave. If they are making progress, they are more likely to stay.
  • To retain millennials, organizations should allow them to advance towards their individually valued goals.
  • Individuals who are less proactive in identifying their own career goals benefit from having a structured career management environment in their organizations.

This article highlighted the importance of putting employees in the driver’s seat when it comes to their careers. When employees are able to make progress on goals that are personally meaningful, they are less likely to turnover.

Activating the Internal Talent Marketplace

Ina Gantcheva, Robin Jones, Diana Kearns-Manolatos, Jeff Schwartz, Linnet Lee, & Manu Rawat

“ is expected to extend to providing employees with access to gig work, mentorship, rotation programs, stretch and volunteering assignments, and innovation and skill-building experiences that align with business needs to create a true opportunity marketplace.”


  • The concepts of talent marketplaces are fairly new and are continuously evolving, and if done right, can improve talent organizational responsiveness and agility.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all approach to talent marketplaces. Organizations describe it as “a process of continuous customization and learning with an eye on small wins.”
  • Often, organizations adopt one of three purposes for their talent marketplace strategy: a focus on retention and productivity, a focus on career mobility, or a focus on skills-based growth.

For organizations just beginning to think through the ins and outs of talent marketplaces, this short article provides a wealth of information and several examples about how it can be done. We also think it properly sets expectations for what a talent marketplace can be.

How Matching Creates Value: Cogs and Wheels for Human Capital Resources Research

Ingo Weller, Christina B. Hymer, Anthony J. Nyberg, & Julia Ebert

“Matching is viewed as a complex and delicate challenge. If done well, it creates “economic value of a magnitude that few other economic processes can”; if done poorly, it destroys economic value.”


  • Matching, or aligning individuals with well-suited roles, jobs, situations, and tasks within organizations, benefits both the employee and employer.
  • For the best matches, skill sets must be well aligned with firm needs.
  • Ensuring a high-quality match between organizations and individuals quickly becomes complex as employees bring unique knowledge, skills, and abilities to an organization, while the organization offers a unique employee experience.
  • The researchers created the “dynamic matching lifecycle model”, which suggests that matching occurs during hiring, skill development, internal movement, and firing. The model suggests that organizations should invest in each of these areas to see the most value.

This article highlights the importance of aligning the skills of employees with the needs of the organization. The model suggests that one method of re-alignment is through internal movements.

Now Is an Unprecedented Opportunity to Hire Great Talent

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz

“But when we emerge from this unfolding tragedy, it will be the long-term thinkers who not only survive but thrive.”


  • While it is instinctual to freeze or cut back on hiring and talent practices during times of economic crisis, it can be very strategic to take this as an opportunity to invest in talent.
  • Times of crisis create a window of opportunity to recruit exceptional talent.
  • Organizations can seize the opportunity by checking in with individuals they wish they would have hired over the years, sourcing candidates who are jobless or open to change, and retain and develop in-house talent.

This article emphasized the importance of focusing on mobility and employee development now. Career pathing and employee growth can feel like a back-burner topic when the world is burning around you, but from a strategic standpoint this is an opportunity to ensure that you have the best talent to bring you into the future.

Our review of the literature revealed that we are at the early stages of a mindset shift around how talent is moved in and around organizations. Early adopters of change no longer think only of the roles within the organization and how employees can fill them – instead they see work as sets of tasks, see employees for their skills, and have identified methods to marry the two in more flexible, agile ways. But there isn’t a “best” approach to mobility – and as we continue to research this topic, we hope to learn about the unique characteristics that make one approach more appropriate for some organizations than others.

Additional Reading


Q&A with John Bunch: Holacracy Helps Zappos Swing From Job Ladder to Job Jungle Gym, Bethany Tomasian, Workforce, 2019.

2 Career Moves and Laws of Motion”Marti Konstant, LinkedIn, 2018.

3 Career Mobility? Up Is Not The Only Way, Rodger Dean Duncan, Forbes, 2018.

4 2020 Global Talent Trends, LinkedIn, 2020.

5 “2020 Retention Report: Trends, Reasons & Wake Up Call”, Thomas F. Mahan, Danny Nelms, Jeeun Yi, Alexander T. Jackson, Michael Hein, & Richard Moffett, Work Institute, 2020.

6 Closing the Skills Gap: What Workers Want, ManpowerGroup, 2020.

7 2020 Global Talent Trends, LinkedIn, 2020.

8 Increase Business Agility with an Internal Talent Marketplace, Edie Goldberg and Kelley Steven-Waiss, SHRM, 2020.

9 “AT&T’s Talent Overhaul”, John Donovan, & Cathy Benko, Harvard Business Review, 2016.

10 How UBS Became a Company of Internal Career Mobility, Larry Emond, Gallup, 2019.

11 Increase Business Agility with an Internal Talent Marketplace”, Edie Goldberg and Kelley Steven-Waiss, SHRM, 2020.

12 Activating the Internal Talent Marketplace”, Ina Gantcheva, Robin Jones, and Dianna Kearns-Manolatos, Jeff Schwartz, Linnet Lee, & Manu Rawat, Deloitte, 2020.

RedThread Research is an active HRCI provider