27 March 2018

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

Stacia Garr
Co-founder & Principal Analyst


This article outlines the 5 talent management trends we see for the calendar year 2018.

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 redthreadresearch.com or make a comment in the comment field below.

Written by

Stacia Garr Redthread Research
Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

Stacia is a Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research and focuses on employee engagement/experience, leadership, DE&I, people analytics, and HR technology. A frequent speaker and writer, her work has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal as well as in numerous HR trade publications. She has been listed as a Top 100 influencer in HR Technology and in D&I. Stacia has an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.

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