Recap: UNLEASH 2018 – Heady Enthusiasm and Hearty Skepticism

Posted on Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018 at 7:19 AM    

Earlier this week I spoke at UNLEASH 2018, an HR technology show in Las Vegas run by the folks who used to be known as HR Tech World.

I enjoy shows like this because they give me a chance to check the pulse of the HR technology market. My sense after this week? The market is flooded with heady enthusiasm and has a need for hearty skepticism.

Let me explain what I mean, starting with the enthusiasm part. Everywhere on the expo floor, software vendors confidently described new offerings that feature artificial intelligence (AI), bots, natural language processing (NLP), and the like. Speakers such as Mo Gawdat talked about the vast potential of new technologies. Kathleen Hogan, the head of HR at Microsoft, painted a vision for how culture and technology can transform a company. Josh Bersin discussed the substantial venture-backed investments into HR technology over the last few years and the resulting boom in technology offerings. The Aria was positively humming with all the potential.

Yet, I couldn’t help but feel that so much of it was intellectual – or heady – enthusiasm. It was almost as if people were excited by future possibilities simply because they exist. (Over-simplified) examples of the conversations I heard included:

  • HR buyer: “Can you analyze our data to better predict when someone might leave?” Vendor: “NO PROBLEM! Our machine learning algorithm will learn over time exactly when someone might be ready to leave.”
  • HR buyer: “Can you use our data to tell me exactly what employees are thinking and feeling?” Vendor: “MOST DEFINITELY! We’ve got sentiment analysis that will look at all employee communications to do this!”
  • HR buyer: “Can you help us better understand our employees?” Vendor: “Absolutely! We can compile all your data sources and give you a single score that will tell you everything you need to know about them.”

But the question that was not so clearly articulated at the show was this:

Should we be doing these things at all?

This gets us into the hearty skepticism bit. Under the frothy layer of enthusiasm for all the technological advancements, are questions that should exist in all of our hearts: what makes us human? And as we outsource more to machines, what are we losing? And what are the ethical, moral, and social implications of all this technological possibility?

Some hearty skepticism finally became apparent during Rachel Botsman’s keynote discussion on trust and technology, where she warned the audience of putting too much trust into algorithms, ratings, and machines at the expense of human decision-making and gut. Rachel shared that there is a pilot underway in China to create a single “Citizen Trust Score” that would allow people to rate each other in an “effort to enhance ‘trust’ nationwide and build a culture of ‘sincerity.’” As Orwellian and morally repugnant as that sounds, where, exactly, is the line between that and my third bullet point above (which, to be fair was an extrapolation of some of the conversations I overheard)?

In the onstage Q&A, I asked Rachel what she thought was the next ethical frontier with regards to technology and trust. Her answer: virtual reality. She posits that as bots are able to better imitate us – and especially our best characteristics – real questions will arise with regard to how people interact with each other – and each other’s bots. She gave the example of if her bot was able to do much of what she could do – but without any bad days or personal issues – would her employer (or even her friends!) want to keep engaging with her, or would they instead prefer her bot? In short, is what is human in her more important than what is convenient or expedient for others? She (and I!) would certainly hope so.

I heard some of this hearty skepticism expressed in the hallways and the sidebar conversations of the conference. People asking what are the implications if large percentages of jobs are outsourced to bots? Should there be an employment tax for bots? Should there be a universal basic income? How should we think about developing the skills and capabilities of people who are in the 70% of jobs that Kathleen Hogan said will disappear?

Some of this is overblown worry – I believe that most of this technology will augment people’s work, not replace it – but some of it is not, particularly as we think about the ethics of how data are used. And, to be clear, I am in no way saying that technological advancement is bad. What I am saying, though, is that in the midst of all this change, HR leaders and vendors need to remember to have a conversation about what should or should not be done to our fellow humans. We need to balance that heady technological enthusiasm with the hearts, compassion, empathy, and skepticism within each of us.

Snacking can make you fat (headed)

Posted on Wednesday, May 9th, 2018 at 8:36 PM    

Let me start by saying that I have argued the other side of the case I’m about to make.

Also, I see great value in just-in-time learning, feedback in the moment, and the ability to access the exact piece of information you need at the exact moment you need it. Digitizing and chunking content that we used to put into two- or three-day workshops is wonderful, and, with the use of technology, allows us to build really personalized development experiences for employees. I think it’s great for developing skills and improving performance.

I do wonder, however, about the broad stroke with which the idea of “snackable” learning is discussed and applied. Is there a place for it? Absolutely. Have we relied on courses only for too long? For sure. Is making something shorter the key to solving all employee development problems? Nope.

In the past, we needed employees to complete certain tasks in a certain way in order to increase the efficiency of our organizations. Today, business is moving so fast that we need them to think outside the box, be agile, and improve the system as they go. We need them to think critically. And often, to teach employees to do this, long form works better. Some things need to be presented in context. Sometimes a story works better than bullet points. And sometimes we should encourage employees to spend an hour thinking rather than surfacing an answer immediately.

Ironically, instead of a long form blog about this topic, I’m going to provide a bulleted list reasons that long-form may be a good addition to the L&D quiver of tools:

  • Jeff Bezos says so. In his 2018 annual letter, Jeff Bezos reiterated his rule that PowerPoint is banned from executive meetings. He maintains that “narrative structure” is more effective because stories inspire, bullet points don’t. Instead of presentations, he asks “presenters” to craft a six-page narrative (no bullets and real sentences). The team spends 30 minutes reading in silence and then they discuss.
  • “Snackable” often creates soundbites and echo chambers instead of real learning. So personal example here: I posted an article and quoted a stat this week about organizations that measure learning impact. I didn’t quote it correctly, which gave the impression that the stat was global, not local to India. One person corrected me (bless him). Everyone else shared it. There is opportunity for deeper context and higher precision in long form that isn’t available in the soundbite.
  • There is a case to be made for “effortful” learning. Mary Slaughter and David Rock from the NeuroLeadership Institute wrote an article in Fast Company this week about achieving “desirable difficulty”. They posit that the brain needs to feel some discomfort when it’s learning, much like your muscles need to feel some level of discomfort when you’re training. Long form often requires more effort.
  • Executives prefer long form for business insights. A study done last year by Forbes and Deloitte lists the top two preferred formats of executives for business insights as feature-length articles and reports, and business books. Interestingly, while they are very pressed for time, the C-Suite prefers longer forms for learning. Bruce Rogers, Chief Insights Officer at Forbes Media says: “CXOs need to think and act strategically, which is why they more often opt for longer pieces that take them from hypothesis, through case studies, to conclusion, and are based on credible data.”

I’m interested in your thoughts – how often are you incorporating long form into your employee development plans, and/or are you seeing a resurgence?

Recap: Fenwick & West Diversity & Inclusion Summit

Posted on Thursday, April 26th, 2018 at 11:13 AM    

Last month, I had the privilege to attend a Diversity & Inclusion Summit, hosted by the law firm Fenwick & West at the Stanford Alumni Center. We didn’t yet have the blog live, so I couldn’t write about it immediately. However, I found the opening panel, in particular, especially compelling, so am sharing my thoughts now. Similar to Dani’s blog last week, I have structured this blog around three quotes that especially resonated with me.

Quote #1

“Gender diversity – it’s a man’s job.”

Anita Sands, Board Director at Symantec, ServiceNow, Pure Storage, ThoughtWorks

The Context

This comment came in the context of discussing gender diversity on Boards of Directors and in senior leadership roles within corporations. With this comment, Anita was essentially saying that since men are generally in dominant positions of power, it is their responsibility to find, promote, and support women in moving into more senior roles. While I have heard many people talk about how men need to be involved in supporting women, I don’t know that I have ever heard anyone put it so bluntly.

Why it Matters

If you agree with the quote, then it is up to men in positions of power to make fundamental changes that will get more women into senior leadership roles. One approach discussed was changing the requirements for women on boards (e.g., dropping the requirement for Board members to be a former CEO/CFO) and considering other meaningful experiences that could benefit the Board. Another approach was expanding beyond the existing Board’s network to find future Board candidates and perhaps engaging executive recruiting firms that specialize in finding high-quality female talent. Finally, the panel discussed moving beyond a “token” female member, but rather having a meaningful percentage (e.g., at least one-third) of the Board comprised of women. The idea is to fundamentally shift the culture and make it one where it was hard to ignore the perspective of female Board members and make it a group where the women would want to stay.

Quote #2

“If you’re not intentionally including, you’re unintentionally excluding.”

Michelle Skoor, Director of Programs, Lesbians Who Tech

The Context

Michelle was discussing how Lesbians Who Tech selects its speaker population for its annual conference, and how it should be gender balanced and have a high representation of LGBTQ individuals.

Why it Matters

This quote can be applied to almost any HR process, policy or practice. In particular, one speaker discussed how organizations need to re-examine all of their human capital management practices to identify where unconscious bias may exist. For example, in talent acquisition, companies can identify bias in job descriptions (Textio enables organizations to do this) or make salary offers based on the market value of a job, not a person’s past salary (using salary history especially negatively impacts diverse people – this practice is no longer allowed in California and Massachusetts).

In performance management, companies can begin to identify if certain language is used more often when giving feedback to women or men (Zugata offers a service that can do this), and to then coach people on how to approach feedback differently.

Companies can also, obviously, analyze compensation, and make adjustments, such as what Salesforce did recently. Another speaker mentioned the intentional changes that Harvey Mudd College has made to its computer science program to make it more approachable for young women, which has led to female enrollment increasing to more than 50% women.

Quote #3

“Diversity of thought is a thing, but not the thing we are solving for. Not when folks still struggle to get a cab in New York City.”

David Julius King, III, Director of Diversity and Belonging at Airbnb

The Context

This comment was made in the course of a “debate” about what it means when leaders use the word “diversity.” In essence, David was saying that while there may be value in diversity of thought, the big struggle – especially the one that Airbnb has worked to address on its own platform – remains visible diversity.

Why it Matters

In the course of the conversation, panelists shared that a focus on visible diversity as a proxy for cognitive diversity was deeply problematic. First, one panelist stated that people could all look different, but have attended the same schools and have the same training, making them more similar than different. Second – and this panelist’s comment was even more critical – was that for people who experience discrimination regularly, when companies focus on diversity of thought, it minimizes the importance of the discrimination, which is deeply off-putting.

This debate matters because many organizations today are talking about the value of diversity being in the resulting diversity of thought (and the connection between that and business outcomes). However, in trying to connect diversity to business results, these panelists raised the point that organizations may actually be alienating many diverse people. If true, this is a paradox that organizations need to consider.

Something new, remarkable, or that changed our thinking

Michelle Skoor shared information about, which was new to me. The organization is trying to address the problem that there are many people – and especially people from diverse communities – who may lack a degree or formal education, but have the knowledge or skills organizations need, obtained through community college courses, work experience, “bootcamps,” or the like. connects those people with mentors at corporations, to help them refine their skills and guide them on searching for a job.

The idea is that those mentors can then “validate” people’s skills, after having established a relationship with them. It’s an interesting idea, and may give corporations an actionable step for their employees to take to do good in the world, diversify their network, and connect with new talent pools.

Something I will do differently as a result of the event

Listen much more carefully / research more the topic of visible vs. cognitive diversity and diverse populations’ perceptions of it.

People or organizations of particular note

  • David Julius King, III, Director of Diversity and Belonging at Airbnb
  • Lesbians Who Tech

What resonated with you from this post? We’d love your feedback!

Five quotes from ASUGSV: reputation, integration, and new capabilities

Posted on Friday, April 20th, 2018 at 12:04 PM    

Every year, thousands of educators, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and business leaders descend on a different city, and for three days, share ideas about how to change the world. So far as I know, this is the only conference that intentionally puts these four groups in each other’s spaces and encourages them to solve problems together. It’s chaotic, crazy, loud, crowded, and it’s still one of my favorite conferences of the year because it challenges lots of my thinking. This year, 5 quotes stood out for me as indicators of the way mindsets and technology are moving:

Quote #1:

“Most jobs have been explicitly designed to take judgment out. Once we ask people to quit using judgment, their job can be automated.”

Jennifer Riel, Managing Director of Knowledge Infrastructure Project, University of Toronto

No one is going to argue that the robots are coming. But that’s not a bad thing – as long as we’re still not training people to do a robot’s job. Employee development, education and for that matter, talent strategies in general, should focus on helping humans do what robots can’t.

In many cases, this means moving past the mechanics of any role and focusing instead on the critical thinking and reasoning that only humans can do. It also means a return to the soft skills – leadership, communication, collaboration, and time management (from LinkedIn’s Skills Companies Need Most in 2018) will become increasingly important (robots still can’t feel).

Quote #2:

“Really exciting things in the learning space deal with making personalized learning easier. The problem is that L&D is in charge, and how they’re recruited, trained, incentivized, and promoted are based on a command and control model. Has anyone told them they have a new job?”

Todd Tauber, VP Product Marketing for Degreed

Embracing technologies and new ways of thinking is one thing, but we think many L&D people fail to understand that their job has to fundamentally change – and so do the systems that support the job. Starting now we need to recruit and train different skills and mindsets if we’re going to be useful in executing the business strategy. This idea was further reinforced by a book I read this weekend called Talent Wins, which cites several examples of senior talent professionals partnering with CFOs to move the business forward.

 Quote #3:

“Data about data is important.”

Ramona Pierson, Head of Learning Products at Amazon

I’ve been talking about feedback loops and learning as a part of the work for awhile now, but this conference was the first real evidence I have seen of technologies that can make it happen. Ramona Pierson, from Amazon, spoke on utilizing metadata (or data about data) in order to drive inline learning. She mentioned the goal of never having to log into a laptop to learn – it just comes to you when you need it. I agree with this mostly, although I still do see a need for long form learning, and I’m pretty sure I would like my doctor to memorize anatomy, not refer to an app.

Natural language processing, use of metadata, APIs, and plugins are making this vision much more of a reality. The sheer number of companies pitching on AI this time around was astounding.

Quote #4:

“Content is abundant. Expertise is scarce.”

Leah Jewell, Managing Director, Career Development and Employability, Pearson

There was a lot of talk about expertise at this conference. It was made manifest in everything – from the technology, to the discussions on analytics, to the education panels. Leah spoke on a panel about the future of work, and I found her insights profound, particularly because she changed my mind a little bit.

In a world where the half life of a workplace skill is between 2.5 and 5 years expertise sometimes feels like a luxury. And in fact, I heard arguments for and against it throughout the conference. However, this panel, in concert with several discussions on credentialization and badging has me convinced that expertise can exist peacefully in a world that continuously changes. I also saw several parallels between the discussions on expertise and the rise of reputation – utilizing signals of expertise as a replacement for more traditional indicators such as resumes, degrees, etc. Incidentally, a great article on that can be found here.

Quote #5:

“It is no longer ok to pull people into a room once a year, fire hose them with information, and then expect them to be happy productive employees.”

Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify

What struck me about Carol’s statement was the fact that for so many years, the fire hose approach has been accepted and acceptable. It was a good reminder that the care and feeding we provide for employees when it comes to their development matters – whether it’s more formal learning or learning that occurs on the job. If they don’t like the menu, they’ll find a different venue.

And that’s it. Given the size and the multifaceted goals of this conference, I’m sure if you poll 10 people about what they got out of this conference, they’d say 10 different things. But this is my take. I’d love your thoughts! Also, sign up for our newsletter and every week we’ll send you our analysis of stories that matter to people leaders, notes from our HR Tech vendor briefings, and a summary of events we’ve attended.

Learning Technology, or just Technology?

Posted on Thursday, April 12th, 2018 at 8:28 PM    

I spend one day a week tutoring immigrants who have left their home countries in search of a better life. They dedicate two hours, two days a week to learning English so that they are able to be active members of society. Sometimes I feel like the only two productive hours I spend each week are the two I spend with them. Incidentally, it’s one of the best tutoring programs I’ve been a part of and they’re always looking for volunteers. If you live in the Salt Lake City area, you should volunteer: Guadaloupe Schools Adult Education Program.

But I digress. The thing that constantly surprises me about the time I spend with that group is how much I actually learn. Sure, they correct my horrible Spanish and weed out the Dominican slang I picked up, but more than that, many of the ideas I decide to pursue from a research perspective start with the things I notice with this tutoring group.

One of those things actually made my list of topics for this year: adapting technologies that are not learning technologies for learning. I started thinking about it because of an experience I had with a guy in my tutoring group about 6 months ago. We were working on pronunciation of a particularly difficult word. He’d say it, then I’d say it, then he’d say it, and on and on. Finally, he stopped, pulled out his cell phone pulled up Google Translate, and said the word into his phone until his phone recognized the word he was trying to say.

Of course, it worked. Better than the conversation with me was working. It was a tool he knew was available in his environment, it was familiar to him, and I got the feeling that this wasn’t the first time he had done it.

In the past year or so, I’ve seen the adaptation of technologies that were meant for some other purpose being used for employee development. More than that, I’ve seen tech organizations start to play in the learning space. Google, Apple, Microsoft, and most recently, Amazon, have started to offer technologies geared specifically toward learning and development. YouTube has long been the staple of lifelong learners (I used it recently to change my car headlamps).

In light of that, I have some high-level, totally unscientific advice for organizations trying to figure out what their learning tech stack should look like:

  1. Consider everything. By this I go beyond the technologies that are specific for learning and that show up on your L&D balance sheet. Need some ideas? Start with Jane Hart’s annual Top 100 Tools for Learning list.
  2. Notice what people are already using. In many cases, it makes much more sense to commandeer something that is familiar and accepted than to try to find an learning tech knock-off. Is Whatsapp or Slack a staple when it comes to sharing knowledge and expertise? Embrace it.
  3. Experiment. We talk to lots of companies and the more evolved ones tend to reconsider technology at more frequent intervals. They’re constantly trying stuff out, updating, and sunsetting tech that no longer works for them.
  4. Be flexible. There is absolutely a place for large, enterprise solutions, and most organizations use at least one as a hub for other technology used for learning. But don’t be afraid to piece together best of breed solutions to meet your needs.
  5. Use data. Data exists somewhere in your company that can give you a better idea of what is being used and what is not. Find it. Use it. Make decisions from it.

And finally, the ask. Because this is an ongoing point of study for me, I’d love to hear from you if your org uses something unconventional for employee development. I’m also super interested in how organizations are putting technologies together to provide the right kind of experience and to get the right kinds of results. If you’ve got stories, I’d love to hear from you!

Recap: #WorkHuman 2018

Posted on Thursday, April 5th, 2018 at 12:14 PM    

WorkHuman is everything I love about HR and conferences. Thoughtful and inspiring keynotes. Positive, collective experiences. And conference amenities (free headshot photos!) and food (hello yummy food trucks!) that make me feel human. This year, though, Globoforce upped its game. The company decided to put the #MeToo movement front and center, because, as CEO Eric Mosely said, “If we can’t have a safe work environment free of sexual harassment, we can’t do any of the other things we want to do regarding recognition, trust, and openness.” Yes and yes.

Key Takeaways

Huge appetite exists for a more human workplace.

As you can tell from the above, I am really positive about WorkHuman – I’ve attended three of the four conferences. Lots of others are really enthusiastic too, as WorkHuman has doubled in size since last year and 500% since the first conference in 2015. So, what is Globoforce doing so well with this event? It is incredibly relevant and real. For example, on the #MeToo panel (Tarana Burke, Ronan Farrow, and Ashley Judd, and moderated by Adam Grant), all presenters drove home the message that our society – and HR leaders in particular – have a responsibility to address the sexual harassment and violence epidemic in this country, and not to “waste” the moment talking about things like if it was okay to give someone a hug. Shawn Achor talked about the need for and how to create community and happiness in a time when levels of loneliness and depression are at their highest in decades (and anyone who thinks that isn’t affecting the workplace is not paying attention). Brené Brown talked about vulnerability and courage when apathy – especially among our youngest population, Millennials – is rampant. The speakers talked about real things that matter – both for each of us as humans and as HR leaders who can influence change.

New WorkHuman Cloud brings together software that enables “moments that matter” for employees.

But of course, this is still a conference put on by a software vendor, so we need to talk some about Globoforce’s product launch, the WorkHuman Cloud. In the opening keynote, Globoforce CEO Eric Mosely made a big distinction between software products that track people and those that enable them. He pointed out that the WorkHuman Cloud is designed to do the latter, and combines some of Globoforce’s historical products (Social Recognition, Conversations (performance management product, launched last year), and Service Milestones) with some newer products, which focus on Life Events (e.g., new baby, marriage) and Community Celebrations. I like this way of talking about the products, and think that as leaders increasingly think about putting employees in the center of the work experience, creating software that focuses on the moments that influence them the most as humans (not just employees) makes sense.

Globoforce embracing new data analysis techniques and tools.

Globoforce, like many other HR technology vendors, is beginning to use natural language processing (NLP), social network analysis, and advanced algorithms to help organizations make better decisions, based on the data within their system. Globoforce runs a “shark tank” session every year at WorkHuman, where it presents product feature ideas to customers and allows them to vote on which one they should use. Almost all of this year’s ideas included these new tools.

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) an increasing priority for Globoforce.

I was pleased to see Eric Mosely call out that there can be unconscious bias in recognition (who gets recognized, how frequently, etc.) and that Globoforce is starting to give leaders tools to identify this. Given the depth of Globoforce’s data (recognition plus performance management), I imagine that the tools shown at this conference are only the tip of the iceberg of what Globoforce can offer.

Conversations product less visible than last year.

At last year’s WorkHuman, Globoforce announced its Conversations performance management product, which then properly launched to customers last October. This year, I found there to be less discussion of performance management in the overall conference, which was a bit surprising. This may be because the product is still in that phase between launch and having customers on it long enough to say something new about it. It also may be because the #MeToo topic took up more space.

What changed me

Two speakers, in particular, shifted my mindset. First, Shawn Achor talked about happiness, potential, and the criticality of community in achieving both. He used the metaphor of lightning bugs lighting up together (versus individually) as a way to illustrate the power of us all coming together to achieve our potential. I suggest you check out his book: Big Potential (I have bought it but not read it).

Second, Brené Brown underscored that we can’t be brave without being vulnerable. And being vulnerable means that there has to be real risk and uncertainty. She also talked about how you have to understand and live your values to be authentic. I am about 2/3rds through her latest book, Braving the Wilderness, and strongly recommend it.

The points above especially resonated with me for two reasons. First, having left my previous employer of eight years, in many ways I feel vulnerable and like I have lost my immediate community (with the exception of Dani, of course). I’m sure those of you who had long tenure at one company and then left know that feeling. Yet, the outpouring of support from the HR community – be it other analysts, HR leaders at corporations, or HR technology vendors – has been tremendous. I feel I am now engaging much more with a broader community, and that makes me feel a bit less vulnerable and alone. I could not be more grateful. Shawn and Brené gave me the language to articulate how this feels.

Something I will do differently as a result of the event

Start our Monday meetings with three things for which I am grateful.

People or organizations of particular note:

  • Brené Brown
  • Shawn Achor
  • Tarana Burke
  • Ashley Judd
  • Ronan Farrow
  • Adam Grant

What resonated with you from this post? I’d love to hear from you!

L&D Trends for 2019: The Agile Workforce

Posted on Monday, April 2nd, 2018 at 8:21 PM    

Simply put, L&D’s sole reason for existing is to ensure a skilled workforce. Hard stop.

In a world where businesses change so rapidly, employees move around frequently, and roles are constantly being adjusted, the job is now harder; but not impossible. New mindsets, technologies, and ways of working are creating opportunities for innovation in the employee development space.

Our learning and career research for the next six months will focus on creating an agile workforce. And as we set out to determine what exactly we should study, five fairly significant trends emerged.

  • The rise of reputation
  • Using tech to do completely different things
  • A more integrated breed of L&D function
  • Data as a development enabler
  • Learning organisms

Trend #1: The rise of reputation.

To this point in history, organizations generally determine who needs what training, or who gets what role based on a very one-dimensional view of the employee – generally what can be found on a resume or in an employee profile: level, education, role, tenure, or leadership responsibility. Learning and performance initiatives, not to mention readiness discussions about subsequent roles, are often triggered by one or more of these variables.

However, this is no longer adequate for two reasons. First, organizations are developing more open career models and encouraging movement outside of traditional career paths. Second, employees find development opportunities on their own – both inside and outside of the organization. As a result, most companies lack a good understanding of current skills and knowledge of employees, let alone the direction they’d like to take in their careers.

Organizations are beginning to augment information found on resumes or in employee profiles with other information that indicates the reputation employees have developed. For example, organizational network analysis, or ONA, provides information about an employee’s reach within the organization, which can indicate a person’s influence, the resources they have at their disposal, and what parts of the organization hold their interest. Several vendors, including DegreedPathgather, and Edcast, among others, build transparency about networks into their systems.

Other reputation markers or indicators, shared through other systems like LinkedInGithubYelp, or, if you’re in academia, RateMyProfessor, provide external data about how employees are perceived among their peers, or how they may need to develop to be more successful.

Trend #2: Using tech to do completely different things.

Most organizations use learning technology to automate things that they are already doing. A classic example of this is moving a course online rather than teaching it in the classroom. It’s both cheaper and more accessible, but chances are, there are few differences otherwise.

But we think there is more. In the past three months or so, we have seen organizations and tech vendors break out of traditional learning molds and begin to do completely different things through new technologies or combinations of technologies. While AI, VR, wearables, and the like, were considered too futuristic even a year ago, we are finding applications that help organizations personalize development experiences and build skills that they haven’t in the past.

Additionally, organizations are beginning to leverage technologies originally intended for other purposes for employee development. Slack and other messaging tools, business tools, like O365, (have you seen the resume helper that pops up when it thinks you’re drafting a resume?) are able to integrate opportunities for growth at the point of need. In fact, some of the biggest threats to the learning technology space will most likely come from the outside.

In the next few months, we’ll be talking about these technologies and their applications. Our goal is to help leaders categorize, understand, and make better decisions about the technology they use for development.

Trend #3: A more integrated breed of L&D function.

In the past, L&D functions have tended to be fairly siloed and often internally focused. Many have used vocabulary, metrics, and infrastructures that make sense only to them. This has made progress difficult for the L&D function, but has also hobbled the larger organization. Its tendency to remain separate has slowed down its ability to react to changes in the strategy and align to other business functions.

Lately, however, a new breed of L&D function has (finally) begun to emerge. Often led by leaders without an L&D pedigree, functions focus on alignment to the business strategy and external customer needs.

One way they do this is by integrating more tightly with other people practices. This integration enables systemic solutions – particularly those that result in a culture that supports the strategy. For example, if an organization competes on customer service, how employees are rewarded, trained, recruited, and led, should all be aligned to delivering great customer service.

These L&D functions are also aligning more closely to the rest of the business by viewing learning as something that happens inside the context of the work itself. Using the work for development simplifies the learning process (because context is built right in) and allows the organization to develop individuals at the same time it is improving the work, which leads to a more agile workforce.

Trend #4: Data as a development enabler.

While we’re at the beginning of this movement, we are seeing organizations start to use data to personalize development. Latent data collected from existing work tools – such as email, cloud storage, and calendars provides rich and useful information.

External vendor partners, such as Cultivate AI and Keen Corp are leveraging natural language processing (NLP) to turn latent data into data that can be analyzed. Analysis can determine politeness, engagement between individuals, and even bias. This information allows the system to provide in-the-moment feedback that helps them correct work at the same time employees are being made aware of language choices or biases that may hold them back.

This type of data can be a game changer for L&D. It moves them beyond smile sheets and completion data and helps them create systems that deliver business results, not just fulfill learning objectives. We’ll most likely be talking about this quite a bit in the following months.

Trend #5: The learning organism.

In more evolved organizations, learning has pretty much taken on a life of its own; they have in essence become organisms. that learn, grow, and develop based on their habitat and the ability to make use of it. The more in sync these organisms are with their habitat, the more quickly they are able to react to change, take calculated risks, and evolve as necessary.

We’ve noticed that more evolved organizations view the habitat in at least four buckets: the company’s attitude toward learning in all of its forms, the ability to use work and tasks as the main conduit for development, the infrastructure and technology in place, and the actual, physical and virtual environments. Evolved organizations emphasize alignment of these four areas and make them into a cohesive environment that encourages the organism to find what it needs, when it needs it.

In the coming months, we’ll be exploring this idea further, providing case studies, insights, and best practices for building the right habitat for development.

Do these ideas resonate? Did we miss something big?

Talent Management Trends for 2018: Accelerating Toward a More Responsive Organization

Posted on Tuesday, March 27th, 2018 at 4:06 PM    

With the currently extremely low unemployment numbers, many organizations are searching for a way to respond better to their employees' needs and are increasingly investing in this space. This is important, as this acceleration is driving several other substantial trends. Below are the top five on our radar right now.

  • Converging people practices – but they need to create business results (not just a common employee experience)
  • Designed networks – seeing the world and creating it as we want it to be
  • Diversity and inclusion – now core HR responsibilities
  • A new era in people data – with great power comes great responsibility
  • Leading in a time of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies – developing new leadership muscles and reflexes

Trend #1: Converging people practices that create business results

Many organizations are trying to be more responsive to employees’ needs. However, if talent organizations operate in silos (e.g., separate performance management, learning, leadership, and other talent management activities), it is difficult to adequately understand employees’ needs and respond appropriately. Understanding this, many leaders are talking about “talent management and learning converging” and creating a “consistent employee experience.”

There is a lot good about this approach. Many organizations are trying to holistically understand employees’ experiences and bring together their talent practices in more integrated ways. Companies are using a variety of tactics, such as design thinking and agile development methods, as well as new tools, such as employee listening and pulse survey technologies (vendors include Glint, TinyPulse, and Waggl, among others), to create programs and experiences that are much more holistic, consistent, and responsive to employees. This is good.

This approach can use some refinement, however, when it comes to why organizations are creating a “consistent employee experience.” The purpose cannot be just to “treat employees like customers” or to increase engagement scores or happiness (not that we have anything against engagement or happiness). Rather, the purpose of an employee experience should be to reinforce the organizational activities and behaviors necessary to drive business results. For example, if an organization needs to focus on innovation, then its “consistent employee experience” should focus on driving innovative behaviors. The organization should recruit, develop, assess, promote, and reward for the characteristics that drive innovation. A consistent employee experience should exist to keep the business laser-focused on success.

Trend #2: Designed networks – seeing the world and creating it as we want it to be.

A lot has been written about the importance of networks in organizations, but leaders are beginning to design for them more intentionally. For example, Cisco implemented Team Space to help leaders better understand their teams and how to work with them more effectively. Vendors have also taken up the charge, with organizations such as Polinode, Syndio Solutions, Swoop Analytics and TrustSphere, and consultants such as Rob Cross, offering solutions that help companies understand the networks in their organizations and how to design them intentionally. Some learning vendors, such as Degreed, EdCast, and Pathgather, as well as performance vendors such as Zugata, are also beginning to integrate network data into their solutions to make them more responsive and personalized.

This focus on designed networks will likely accelerate, as new data make clear the impact of individuals’ context on their performance and how changes to networks and teams can drive impact for the organizations. Yet, a focus on networks and teams will force a re-thinking of talent management activities. For example, how should an organization approach learning, succession management or performance management, when the focus is first on the network, not the individual?

Trend #3: Diversity and inclusion – now core HR responsibilities.

Recent social movements, epitomized by the #MeToo movement, have highlighted that many HR departments have not responded adequately to issues of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in their organization. As employees expect their organizations to be more responsive, this will include D&I. Expect to see D&I more integrated into sourcing, talent selection, performance management, learning, leadership development, succession management, and other practices. Given the positive impact of creating an inclusive culture on business outcomes, this pressure to integrate is good. Also, we are at the beginning of a rush of technologies that will help leaders understand opportunities to behave in different ways, not just count representation numbers (for example, ADP, Cultivate AI, Entelo, Limeade, SAP SuccessFactors, Syndio Solutions, and Zugata all have solutions focused in this space).

Trend #4: A new era in people data – with great power comes great responsibility.

People have been shouting about Big Data from the mountaintops so long that it is hard to hear the messages about it anymore. That said, technology solutions are beginning to capture pre-existing data that could not be analyzed before – and organizations are starting to take action on those insights. As mentioned above, there are a host of vendors focused on organizational network analysis. Other vendors are translating text into data, offering natural language processing (such as Fama, Cultivate AI, Glint, and IBM), which can help identify trends in text feedback.

But, as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. While there is a rise in powerful tools to analyze new data types, there is also a lot of discussion about data privacy and ethics. This is even more so the case now, with the recent Cambridge Analytica story — and that company's ability to predict behaviors by combining personality, relational, and activity data — coming to light. Europe is much further ahead of the United States when it comes to data and privacy rules, with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect this May. This topic of data ethics and transparency will likely accelerate dramatically across the next year.

Trend #5: Leading in a time of AI and other technologies

As others have written, rapid changes in technology, as exemplified by artificial intelligence, automation, and cognitive computing, represent large-scale opportunities and disruptions for organizations. Much less discussed is how leaders’ behaviors need to change to be more responsive to employees' needs.

There are at least three questions to examine here. First, how can these advanced technologies enable leaders to be more effective and responsive than before? For example, technology at Cultivate AI and Keen Corporation analyzes sentiment, tone, and response time in email and chat interactions, enabling leaders to understand when there has been a change from historical levels. Other technology, such as that from Bunch AI, allows organizations to analyze historical and current communications in Slack, and compare them to common cultural models and norms. The technology then provides suggestions on how to evolve culture and tools to monitor on a continuous basis. While these tools (and lots of other not-mentioned tools) are potentially powerful, leaders need to understand how and when to use them effectively. Unfortunately, there is currently little information on this topic.

Second, how do these advanced technologies change the experience of leaders’ “followers”? Historically, at least some portions of leaders’ power came from information asymmetry – leaders had information that their followers did not. However, information is increasingly ubiquitous, and with the rise of technologies such as those cited in the paragraph above, information and insights may become known to followers before or at the same time as to leaders. Further, as exemplified by “fake news,” the information followers receive may not be accurate, but followers may not understand this. Finally, with the increasingly sophisticated analysis and communication tools available, followers may create insights or find someone who has knowledge that exceeds that of their leaders.

Third, given these changes, how do leaders need to behave differently? We posit that a big part of the shift will come from leaders diminishing or relinquishing a “command and control” approach in favor of a “curate and coach” approach to leadership. While information is critical, understanding context, mapping potential actions and their consequences, determining appropriate communication approaches, and connecting followers to others within their network, will become increasingly critical to leaders. Doing this effectively will require leaders to develop new muscles and reflexes that many lack today.

This represents our initial thinking on what’s changing with talent management today. What do you think? Is there anything you especially agree – or disagree – with from this list? Are you a vendor offering solutions in this space (if so, let me know!)? What other suggestions do you have? We’ve put together this conjoint analysis survey, where you can vote on the top trends for talent management, make suggestions of others to add to the list, and see what others think. You can also feel free to email me at stacia at or make a comment in the comment field below.

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