Diversity and Inclusion: What We’ve Been Getting Wrong

Diversity and Inclusion: What We’ve Been Getting Wrong

The workplace is not always a welcoming place for women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups. Differences in career opportunities and wage disparity have led to uneven participation in economic activity. In the U.S., this has been noted particularly in gender differences. Women account for 47% of the labor force but occupy only 17% of the board seats[1]. Of the firms represented in the S&P 500, only 24 have a female CEO[2]. The situation is not much different with respect to race. While Hispanics comprise 17% of the US labor force and have a higher labor participation rate than any other race, they occupy less than 10% of management roles[3]. Race has been linked to unequal access to the most critical drivers of economic success, namely power, privilege, and control. ​

Business and institutions can do more to create a fair and equitable society. A rising focus on diversity and inclusion (D&I) has become a step in the right direction. However, the real impact of existing programs is minimal, primarily due to ill-informed practices or lack of full commitment from organizational leaders. Below is a list of the biggest missed opportunities resulting from making misplaced investments in D&I. ​


Nurturing a diverse workforce is not only a good societal practice but also good for business. As evidenced by a number of studies, a diverse workforce has been associated with superior business performance. According to a McKinsey study, firms that are in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry medians[4]. Similarly, firms that are in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform their industry peers. In general, firms with greater racial diversity are associated with increased sales revenue, a higher number of customers, greater market share, and greater relative profits. Despite the purported benefits of increasing diversity efforts, organizations across the world struggle to attract and retain a diverse workforce. ​


Achieving racial, ethnic, and gender diversity has been a tough challenge. Despite the investments, in many areas advancements have halted or even regressed. In the United States, women’s participation in the labor force had been rising, reaching a high of 60.04% in 1999. However, since the year 2000, women’s participation in the workforce has been declining[5]. Women comprise 47% of the U.S. labor force and 51% of the management and professional occupations. This gender balance steadily declines as we look higher up in the organization, with women holding only about 17% of corporate board seats[2]. Indeed, many researchers and organizations alike have been interested in this “glass ceiling” effect, or the decline of women’s representation as we move higher up the chain of management. ​

The picture is similarly grim concerning race and ethnicity. In the United States, there is an uneven racial and ethnic representation in management roles. Asians are typically over-represented in management and related roles (51%), Hispanics are under-represented (22%). Hispanics work longer hours in lower-paying jobs, such as service (24.4% Hispanic) and construction (32%)[3]. ​

Regarding generational differences, for the first time since the great depression, US parents believe their children will not be better off than them[8]. Furthermore, the workforce is rapidly aging. Retired workers over the age of 55 are expected to make up more than 1 in 4 of all workers in the U.S. by the year 2022[9]. Longer lifespans coupled with economic declines have led many to work beyond the traditional retirement age of 65 years. Such demographic shifts make for new and interesting concerns for organizations as they face the rising tide of diversity. ​


Despite a great deal of talk about diversity and inclusion in many industries, investments in D&I efforts have often been misplaced. Most efforts are narrowly focused. The intervention themselves either lack efficacy or are severely underpowered. Given the scale of the challenge and the inevitability of diversity at work, organizations that lean on evidence-backed ways to promote D&I stand to gain in substantial ways. Here are four practices that have received significant empirical support.

First, organizations must shift their efforts from running isolated programs to adopting an integrated talent management focus, one that addresses the entire life cycle of an employee. The vast majority of diversity programs focus on hiring. In the United States, this is partly due to a legal system where practices are based on precedence. The infamous lawsuit between Griggs vs. Duke Power put a spotlight on the impact of hiring discrimination[10]. Even today, many D&I efforts fixate entirely on avoiding similar lawsuits by solely focusing on hiring practices. A recent survey from the Boston Consulting Group shows that the primary barrier that women face is less related to hiring[11]. A bigger challenge is in finding meaningful advancement opportunities. To fully address the diversity and inclusion challenges, organizations must take an integrated approach, one that addresses the entire employee life-cycle. Furthermore, once an organization has a diverse group of employees, they must invest in engaging, retaining, and promoting these employees, as well as creating opportunities for advancement.

Second, organizations must look to make long-term investments in workplace flexibility programs, a practice that has been linked to affecting substantial improvements in gender diversity. Compared to men, women are more likely to be the primary caregivers and bear a disproportionately higher share of familial responsibilities. As a result, women are more likely to withdraw from the workplace when the challenges of balancing professional and personal lives become difficult. In one of the most influential studies on what works in advancing gender diversity, Australian researchers Kateryna Kalysh, Carol Kulik, & Sanjeewa Perera gathered panel data across twelve years from a random sample of 675 organizations involving over 600,000 employees[12]. They found that organizations that consistently invested in work-life practices for eight years saw an increase in the proportion of women in leadership positions. However, this pattern of the relationship was true only for firms where at least 43% of the employees were female. This study further highlights the importance of taking an integrated talent management approach to promote D&I. Assembling the right bundle of practices is an important consideration. The study found that when company efforts included multiple options such as flexible schedules, parental leave arrangements, and provisions of services for caregiving, it was associated with a higher proportion of women in management. Importantly, this relationship was found only after a time lag of eight years of investing in such work-life programs. Organizations must keep in mind this caveat and prepare to commit to long-term diversity initiatives.

Third, organizations must take a hard look at their programs that emphasize differences rather than bringing people with differences together to work toward a common goal. Many traditional diversity training initiatives focus on what makes us different from each other. There is growing evidence that these traditional diversity training efforts have backfired and increased negative feelings towards certain minority groups[13]. In a way, it’s similar to the adage of “don’t think about pink elephants.” When someone is told not to think about a pink elephant, the very first thing to capture their thought is a pink elephant. Likewise, if organizations tell employees that they are different but do not focus on these differences, it may only increase division[14]. Leading social psychologist, Dr. Susan Fiske recommends a better approach to diversity training. Enabling and empowering employees to work toward a common goal can be a great equalizer. Such efforts enable teams to connect based on similarity in purpose rather than the differences of demographic diversity. Experts agree that for diversity and inclusion efforts to be successful, they must meet four important conditions. First, the effort must result in equalization of status. Second, it must bring employees together to focus on common goals. Third, work must be structured such that is requires cooperation among members of diverse groups to achieve the common goal, and fourth, there must be consistent leadership support using rewards and punishments. In sum, forming diverse but equal work teams and focusing on common goal achievement through teamwork will produce significantly better D&I results than utilizing more traditional training sessions.

Fourth, adopt habit-breaking interventions which bear significant promise in reducing biased thinking[17]. A habit is an implicit bias against another group that has been formed unconsciously over time. Thus, bias and discrimination are like unwanted bad habits. Because these biases, or habits, exist in all of us and are formed without our conscious knowledge, they must be addressed consciously to be altered. Habit-breaking focuses on reducing biased ways of thinking through a combination of techniques similar to learning a new skill. It begins with gaining awareness of the existence of bias in one’s thinking and reflecting upon how it affects minority groups. Once these patterns are detected and made conscious, it requires practicing strategies to reduce the biases. This technique of “breaking the habit” of implicit bias is effective because it requires learning about the contexts that activate the bias and findings ways to replace the biased responses with responses that reflect one’s non-prejudiced goals. The efficacy of this method has been well documented. However, learning to monitor for one’s own biased thinking and replacing it with a non-prejudiced way of thinking requires concerted practice over an extended period. One study compared the hiring rates of women faculty at two departments, one used the habit-breaking method, and the other did not. Over three years, the department that utilized a habit-breaking intervention saw a 52% increase in the number of women hired compared to the control’s 28% increase towards the same goal.

This blog presents a set of well-tested ideas for advancing diversity and inclusion in organizations. While the approaches call for taking a holistic view of talent, the outcomes are not restricted to D&I alone. Companies can expect to reap benefits that go much beyond talent outcomes including better employer branding and positioning with customers leading to the upside of better business outcomes. By writing this blog, we hope to have put a spotlight on those practices that are backed by strong evidence, thereby sifting out the popular and widely available information from those that have a higher probability of driving success. For savvy HR leaders, our hope is that these evidence-based guidelines present a viable approach to managing human capital risks and returns. ​

Author notes

I am grateful to Alyssa Perez for the research support and help in writing this blog.



1| Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.htm

2|   CNBC. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/06/these-are-the-only-women-ceos-left-among-sp-500-companies.html

3|   Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018). Race, Economics, And Social Status. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2018/race-economics-and-social-status/pdf/race-economics-and-social-status.pdf

4| McKinsey and Company (2015). Why Diversity Matters? Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters

5| Brookings, (2017. 10 Facts about American Women in the Workforce. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brookings-now/2017/12/05/10-facts-about-american-women-in-the-workforce/

8| Pew Research Center (2006). Once Again, the Future Ain’t What It Used to Be. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2010/10/BetterOff.pdf

9|   Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017). Older workers: Labor force trends and career options
Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2017/article/older-workers.html

10|  Griggs v. Duke Power Co. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griggs_v._Duke_Power_Co.

11| The Boston Consulting Group. (2017). From Intention to Impact. Retrieved from https://media-publications.bcg.com/BCG-Bridging-diversity-gap-workplace-Nov2017.pdf

12| Kalysh, K., Kulik, C. T., & Perera, S. (2016). Help or hindrance? Work–life practices and women in management. The Leadership Quarterly, 27(3), 504-518.

13| Dobbin, F., & Kalev, A. (2016). Why diversity programs fail. Harvard Business Review, 94(7), 14.

14| Gaertner, S. L., Dovidio, J. F., Anastasio, P. A., Bachman, B. A., & Rust, M. C. (1993). The common ingroup identity model: Recategorization and the reduction of intergroup bias. European review of social psychology, 4(1), 1-26.

17| Devine, P. G., Forscher, P. S., Austin, A. J., & Cox, W. T. (2012). Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention. Journal of experimental social psychology, 48(6), 1267-1278.

How to Fail Less in Making Your New Year’s Resolution Stick

How to Fail Less in Making Your New Year’s Resolution Stick

The practice of setting New Year’s resolutions is most prevalent in the western world.  It can be traced back to ancient Babylonian times more than 4000 years ago. The original practice involved making promises to repay debts and return borrowed objects [1]. In modern days resolutions are more personal.  According to a survey by YouGov, the most popular New Year’s resolutions in the US for 2018 were eating healthier (37%), getting more exercise (37%), and saving money (37%) [2]. The top 10 resolutions list also featured three work-related items –reading more (18%), learning a new skill (15%), and getting a new job (14%).

It’s one thing to make a resolution but a different story to stick to it. How good are people at keeping their resolutions?  Based on the most frequently cited estimates only 8-12% are successful. A study by Norcross, Mrykalo, and Blagys explains what differentiates resolvers from non-resolvers.  The researchers recruited two groups of study participants [3].  The resolver (N=159) group included those who had committed to actively working toward changing behavior.  The non-resolvers (N=123) included those who showed an interest in changing but were not committed. The researcher tracked the participants through telephone interviews for six months.  What they found provides useful guidance for anyone looking for ways to stick with their New Year’s resolution or simply work on changing behavior. Resolvers who were successful in adhering to their resolution in week three and week four engaged in four distinct behaviors.

  1. They exercised greater willpower
  2. They thought about how the problem behaviors were hurting them
  3. They kept things around that would remind them of how the problem behaviors were hurting them
  4. They avoided situations associated with problem behaviors

​Interestingly, the study found that rewarding oneself for changing and positive thinking helped sustain in the initial two weeks but did not contribute favorably to those who were able to maintain beyond the first two weeks.  Whether or not you set resolutions, hope these guidelines are useful for your personal growth. Whether you are looking to lose weight or find new work these four simple steps may make all the difference.


1| Pappas, S. & Geggel, L. (2017). Why We Make New Year’s Resolutions. Live Science. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/42255-history-of-new-years-resolutions.html

2| https://www.statista.com/chart/12386/the-most-common-new-years-resolutions-for-2018/

3| Norcross, J. C., Mrykalo, M. S., & Blagys, M. D. (2002). Auld lang Syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self‐reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of clinical psychology58(4), 397-405.

Performance Appraisal: Getting to the Heart of the Problem

Performance Appraisal: Getting to the Heart of the Problem

Several organizations have done away with performance ratings, and others have made a steadfast commitment to this practice. For those reconsidering their approach – should one scrap performance ratings or work to improve the process? Perhaps the more important question is -are performance appraisals the real problem or is it something else?  We spoke with Dr. Jim Smither, a well-known authority on Performance management.  Dr. Smither’s research has appeared in top-tier peer-reviewed journals. He is also a highly regarded advisor and consultant to corporations and not-for-profit organizations.  This blog post has excerpts of our conversation with Dr. Smither on this controversial topic.

SSB: What’s your reaction to organizations like Adobe and Kelly Services abandoning their performance management processes?

Blog image_1JS: From what I can tell, these organizations are not abandoning their performance management process.  They are abandoning the annual performance ratings.  Those are two different things. I see performance management as something that happens throughout the year and involves a whole series of informal conversations, ongoing feedback and coaching, and focusing on people’s strengths.  It should focus on how to mitigate limitations and how to keep people aligned with ever-shifting organizational goals.  What we are seeing is a shift from an annual event to an ongoing conversation which is what good management is about.

Blog image_2SSB:  Are performance appraisals inherently bad or is it the way they are used that’s at the heart of the problem?It seems like the key players in the performance appraisal process are not getting their needs met.  (a) Employees want to feel that the organization is vested in their growth and well-being, but are not getting the developmental support; (b) managers are uncomfortable or ineffective in distinguishing performance, and (c) organizations are unable to meaningfully distinguish performance through their rewards system.  Do you see these as the underlying issues leading to concerns with the appraisal process?

JS:  I agree with all the reasons outlined but here’s what I would argue.  In some cultures, it does make sense to do an overall rating.  If there is a reward-oriented culture, you can make distinctions in performance, and if there is a significant amount of money on the table, it can work.

SSB: While many organizations are moving away from the rank and yank process (e.g., Microsoft) there are new adopters like Yahoo.  Are there better ways of addressing poor performers

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​JS: I don’t know anybody who likes the rank and yank process. Here’s what happens when you tell people “you have to have someone at the bottom category at the end of the year and we will probably move that person out of the business.” They deliberately keep the weak performers around until the end of the appraisal period, so they have somebody to put in that box. What they ought to do is move the person out of business much earlier. Rank and yank encourages a lot of game playing and creates a lot of dysfunction.

SSB: Given the inherent problems with the rating process, are we ignoring human tendencies that make such ratings flawed?  Studies show that we humans are not perfect, rational decision-makers and our decisions tend to be influenced by all kinds of biases.  Are we asking managers to do something that they are not humanly capable of doing? 

JS: Of course my answer to that is yes.  But everything that managers do is subject to biases, and memory and processing shortcomings, and judgmental problems.  It’s not unique to just the performance appraisal process.

SSB: That’s probably the heart of the problem.  Any other replacement to the current system is likely to be equally flawed as long as manager judgments are involved.   This is probably a great place to implement big-data solutions in HR.  If we had more objective data about performance collected over a period, it would lead to more accurate ratings instead of managers relying on their memory.

JS: I think that’s a noble idea, but I don’t think it’s going to solve the problem.  First of all, we got to make better use of data.  Nobody is going to argue about that.  But for many aspects of work performance, no objective data are available.  Even when we have objective data, that data tends to be deficient or contaminated.  Plus when people figure out the metrics, they try to drive their performance based on the data being captured.  That creates a whole bunch of distortions.  Another option is to get more opinions from many people.  I applaud that idea but that data is also flawed and subject to the same kind of systematic biases.

SSB:  Given all the challenges we’ve talked about, is there a way to have objective and fair appraisals?

Blog image_3JS: Including more opinions than just the boss’s help.  It helps to have multiple sources of objective data, but even all that put together is an incomplete picture but better than a subjective opinion.  The problem is when we think the key thing is to do annual ratings well.  I don’t think that’s the key thing.

High-performing organizations realize that the key thing is realizing what’s happening day in and day out.  It’s the informal conversations and ongoing feedback that are important.  We know when you recognize people for doing good work they do more of it. 
Studies show that when we set challenging goals and people accept those goals, and we give them feedback along the way, and we praise them when they attain those goals- those things engage people, and we get higher levels of performance.  These are the things we should be focusing on.  These are very well-established psychological principles that have been around for a very long time.

Blog image_4The trick is to quit asking the question “how do we make better ratings?”  Accept that we can only do so much, there will always be a problem.  Whether or not you have an overall rating probably ought to depend on the culture of the organization and the goals of the organization.   What’s most important is to deemphasize the appraisal and emphasize what happens every single day. A performance appraisal is an annual event.  It happens once, and it’s a 30-minute conversation.  What about the 51 weeks of the year?  That’s where you are driving behavior.  This is where things like trust in the company, justice, and other things become important.  How many people get up every day and think: this is my rating?  How am I going to react today?  People want to feel their work made a difference and are energized when they get praises and positive feedback.  Why wait to do that only once a year?

Hopefully, this provides greater clarity on the issue.  See the seven-part list summarizing the guidance. The biggest challenge is not with performance ratings (although there’s room to make them more accurate), it’s the missing focus on the ongoing development and keeping employees motivated.  Dr. Smither also talked about the importance of trust and justice to get the full benefit of performance management.  There’s plenty of well-researched evidence-based guidance available on this topic.  We cover these and provide a comprehensive guide in our course on Performance Management.  Follow this link to learn more

Dr. Jim Smither is the Chair and Professor of Management and Leadership at La Salle University.  Previously, Jim was a Senior Manager/Group Leader in corporate human resources for AT&T where he was responsible for developing and validating employee selection programs for management-level positions.  He is currently a Consulting Editor at the Journal of Applied Psychology. He has edited two books (published by Jossey-Bass) that present research/evidence-based best practices in performance management.  He has consulted with over 55 firms in human resources and leadership development.

​Seven practices to boost the power of your performance management process

  1. Focus on performance management and not performance appraisal.
  2. Make it an on-going process and not an annual event. 
  3. Use annual ratings only if you have a competitive, reward-based culture.
  4. Use multiple raters and objective data to increase the accuracy of the annual ratings.  However, don’t expect them to be perfect. 
  5. Set goals that employees accept and provide on-going feedback. 
  6. Recognize and praise good performance and do it often. 
  7. Focus on improving trust and perceived justice between employees, their managers, and the organization. 
Why I Care About Evidence-Based Practice

Why I Care About Evidence-Based Practice

Ten years in business is a long time.  Only a third of small companies make it this far which makes me feel privileged and fortunate.  While I am thankful, I continue to be restless because there is so much more that needs to be done to achieve our mission of spreading evidence-based practice in people management.  Many have asked, why I feel so strongly about this cause.  I certainly do, and every time our journey gets difficult I find myself becoming even more resolved to push harder. In this blog, I take the opportunity to explain how I came to have this firm belief. Perhaps, you have had similar experiences and may become equally passionate about evidence-based practice.

Early experiences: I grew up in a small industrial town in southern India called Shahabad. My dad worked in a mid-management sales role for the only employer in town, ACC Babcook Limited (ABL), an engineering firm that manufactured machinery for cement plants.  Although small, the city was unique in many ways. It was a planned community, pristinely clean with manicured gardens and streets canopied with laburnum trees. Most people believed it was a paradise and left only when it was time to retire. It was the only place I had lived since my birth. As a teenager, Blog image_1I nurtured dreams of going away to college but coming back in the summers to be with my family and friends. Sadly, things were not going so well for the company.  Employees stopped receiving their salaries. I saw first-hand the impact of poor leadership, lack of accountability and the resulting impact on a small town.  With no other options for making a living, people started committing suicide, theft, and crime increased.  What was once a paradise was no longer so. While things were falling apart for the average employee, the leaders seemed to be doing fine, still taking foreign trips with their families, presumably on the company’s dime.  It just did not seem fair.  It was during this time that I learned about the field of Organizational Psychology.  In a women’s magazine, I read how the Tata Group used practices such as testing to bring fairness in the hiring process.  I learned that a US-trained Organizational Psychologist was leading this work. At that moment it hit me that the world would be a better place if there were more fairness and people believed in doing the right thing. At that early age, I had discovered my professional interest.

Becoming an organizational psychologist: My journey to becoming an organizational Psychologist was long and hard.  With no financial means to fund my education in the US, I could only hope for a miracle.  I started working when I was fifteen, hoping to make enough money to pay for the GRE.  My professors and everybody I knew discouraged me from aspiring to study psychology outside of India.  Their rationale was not that unreasonable.  India was known for engineering talent but not psychologists.  Why would anyone want me? I wasn’t Blog image_2quite willing to give up on my dreams, but I did put a plan B in place for safe measures. I applied to several graduate schools in the US and also to a couple of entry-level roles in India.  As it turned out, I was one of the successful job candidates’ at Tata Motors, but they would not offer me the job because the other finalist had a family member employed by the company. I had started to receive rejection letters from graduate schools. Weeks went by when I felt hopeless. And then a letter came in the mail from the University of Central Florida.  It said I had secured admission to their masters in Industrial and Organizational Psychology program with funding.   I remember reading the mail several times to make sure. My dreams were finally going to come true.  I learned another important lesson, meritocracy wins, at least in some parts of the world. My family history, financial means, and connections didn’t matter.  Someone has made a judgment about my capacity using my past performance (e.g., GPA, GRE scores, personal essay) and it was about to change my life.

Graduate school and early career: Coming to the US changed my life. While I had all the motivation and interest, there were things I had never done before like conducting research, presenting, writing reports. I was uncertain about doing well but got plenty of support, feedback, and encouragement – all things lacking inBlog image_4 my prior education experience. I found myself getting better every day.  I was stretched, challenged and most of all led to believe I had what it takes to be successful.  After graduating with a Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Bowling Green State University (one of the top-ranked programs in I-O Psychology), doors opened up to a tenure-track assistant professor position at the well-known Illinois Institute of Technology. The attraction of solving real-world problems led me to leave academia for one of the best corporate roles I could hope for. Yet again, no personal connections, after multiple rounds of interviews I was deemed to have the capability to build all the human capital systems for Dendrite International (now IMS Health).  My reflections led me to conclude that if our development and support systems were based on what works (evidence-based), each of us can have a fair chance of reaching our highest potential.​

Mid-career and doors shutting on me: Life eventually brought me to the west coast, the center of innovation and the epitome of an accepting, free-thinking society. Sadly, that was not my experience. In all my years in the US before that, everyone and everything around me signaled “you can do it.” At work Blog image_4on the west coast, I became “that women” with no name. My voice became invisible, and the work I thought I was hired to do was taken over by consultants and friends of the boss.  When I volunteered to do more, I was told: “no you can’t.” If that weren’t all, the vendors and consultants who ran the show could make bold and baseless statements and be applauded. When I made recommendations for practices for which there was plenty of evidence they were seen as risky and threatening. While it hurt not to be valued for the expertise I had worked so hard to develop, it angered me even more than the organization and its employees were being denied the opportunity for achieving better outcomes.  My journey through these challenging times put a spotlight on the significance of the evidence-based practice. It became abundantly clear that fairness and accuracy in the decisions we make about people should be a business priority. Further, organizations that lean on science for answers derive better outcomes for themselves, for their employees, and for society.  This lead to the launch of Human Capital Growth in 2008.  In 2010 we adopted the tagline Excellence through the evidence to further solidify our foundation.​ I look forward to the next decade and beyond in helping business and people thrive together.​ ​ ​Thankful for the employees of HCG, our clients, and our supporters! Because of you, I continue to believe that the workplace will one day be a place of joy where each of us can pursue our passions and create a world with a little less misery and a whole lot of wonder.

The Future of Talent Analytics

The Future of Talent Analytics

​In the future, we will see talent analytics efforts pivot in three important ways: (a) mature from lending administration support to augmenting performance, (b) transition from describing the past to providing future-focused insights, (c) evolve managerial decision making about people from intuition-led, to one that is more objective and fact-based.

According to a 2013 CEB survey, only 18% of business leaders say they trust their talent data. A staggering 82% don’t believe their talent analytics focus on the right issues, and only 15% of HR leaders say they have made a business decision based on insights gleaned from HR analytics. Not much has changed in 2018 according to a survey conducted by consulting firms, DDI, The Conference Board, and Ernst and Young. Yet, investment in talent analytics globally is upwards of 600 million dollars.  How can organizations derive greater value from their people analytics practice?

Blog image_1​In this article, I present the thesis that organizations that avoid some of the common pitfalls associated with talent analytics, adopt an evidence-based focus, and deliver personalized insights will be better positioned to fulfill the promise that the practice has to offer. If done right, it can offer a significant competitive advantage to organizations.  Imagine a learning plan that is automatically created based on the future skill needs and aspirations of an employee.  How about the intelligent identification of rotational opportunities to grow your future leaders. Imagine automatic rescheduling of tasks for optimal time utilization, and intelligent calendar management to promote work-life balance. The possibilities are tremendous, and the journey for most organizations has just begun.


​Talent analytics is a mechanism to uncover insights from people and business data that might otherwise be invisible through pure observations. To be of utility, these insights must align with the critical priorities of the organization.  Better still, they must not just describe the current state but provide a forward-looking view of what’s to come.  This is the value of predictive and prescriptive analytics. A review of HR practices shows that the vast majority of the people operations such as hiring, development, and performance management have primarily been intuition-led.  This is likely the reason why HR has struggled to earn the credibility of our counterparts in manufacturing, finance, or marketing, who have a long history of data-based decision making.  HR has an equal or better opportunity to be analytics-led.  Ultimately, all HR activities generate data about people – attendance, absence, time spent to more abstract concepts like trust, leadership, and influence. In fact, we have 150 years of quantified science supplying a deep understanding of human behavior in the workplace. However, there has been a limited adoption of this knowledge and understanding. Below I elaborate on some of the most limiting challenges that organizations must overcome.

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    1. Many organizations rely on a centralized analytics function. Given the scarcity of qualified data science expertise, this may seem like a prudent choice. However, such an organizational design has many limitations. To conduct timely and meaningful analytics, it is important to spot and capture opportunities, such that they can be viewed from an analytical perspective. It is also beneficial to combine analytics with experimentation. Organizations that have a centralized analytics function tend to engage these teams when there is data available to be analyzed.  This is often too late.  It offers fewer opportunities to influence the program design and data collection plan. As a result, the analytics are more descriptive than predictive.
    2. The second challenge relates to over-reliance on past company data.  For example, organizations spend countless hours mining their employee engagement survey to understand the drivers of Blog image_3engagement.  In one such exercise, the data scientists found that of all the practices that were evaluated in their survey, only one had a strong association with employee turnover. In particular, the analyses revealed that those employees who took their vacation days were less likely to exit the organization than those who saved their leave.  Based on this finding, the company determined that managers must encourage employees to take all their vacation days within a calendar year.  One challenge with this approach could be a false cause-effect attribution.  It is possible that those who are saving their vacation days are already planning to leave the organization and perhaps are hoping to catch them out. A better approach would be to look at the predictors of turnover, and select interventions that have a higher probability of delivering the desired outcome. In the case of turnover, a combination of five elements has repeatedly been found in empirical studies to be among the most efficacious predictors.  The five factors include satisfaction with pay, promotion, manager, coworker, and the work itself. Basing interventions on prior evidence and designing experiments to find the best solution may be a better use of the analytics functions. The practice of conducting AB testing in marketing leverages a similar idea of experimentation.
    3. The third challenge pertains to the assumption that to perform impactful analytics one requires big data.  This is a fallacy and one plaguing not just HR but the broader business world. With increasing digitization, data velocity and variety is no longer a challenge.  A learning management system can generate 1000 data points per user with just 10 minutes of interactions.  Even when big data is available, the challenge is in finding the signal in the noise. That is, making sense of the data in a way that each stakeholder can take meaningful action. Additionally, to do useful talent analytics, organizations need more than just data (information residing in various systems which can be counted).  They must invest in capturing abstract constructs in a quantitative format. These are called measures.  A measure provides ruler-like properties to the abstract phenomenon (e.g., risk, trust, leadership, making them amenable to sophisticated analyses. For example, in a learning platform, it is easy to capture transactional data about time spent, and activities attempted, but these may not predict learning and skill development. To measure skill one must measure concepts such as knowledge structures and self-efficacy.


​To overcome some of these challenges, it is essential to evaluate the organizational structure and tighten the integration between the talent analytics team and the HR function. Secondly, the organization must invest in developing specialized talent analytics skills that go beyond statistics, data science, and softwareBlog image_4 programming.  Talent analytics team members must have a sound understanding of the science of human performance and evidence-based methods.  They must also have expertise in specialized statistical techniques relevant for measuring and analyzing people’s data such as scaling and hierarchical linear modeling.

​As we look to the future, I see talent analytics efforts pivot in three crucial ways, (a) maturing from lending administration support to augmentation performance through predictive insights, (b) evolving from describing the past to providing future-focused insights, (c) evolving managerial decision making about people from intuition-led, to one that is more objective and fact-based. Next, I elaborate on each of these points.

​Historically, talent analytics have been used to support administrative decisions, for instance, demonstrating program impact and summarizing workforce characteristics (e.g., gender distribution, salary ranges), all primarily designed to support administrative decision-making.  In the future, we will see greater use of analytics to augment employee performance.  The language editing tool, Grammarly, is one such example.  It reviews writing habits andBlog image_5 provides real-time grammar suggestions and learning tips. Imagine similar tools that help a manager prepare for a motivating performance review meeting, or prepare to negotiate with a difficult client. The potential for such methods in unlocking productivity is remarkable. To provide personalized performance support, the analytics must not just focus on the past data but reliably predict what one is likely to do.  This is the benefit of prescriptive analytics which enables one to find the best option across multiple future states. Prediction and prescription are some of the key reasons why focus on measures, and evidence-based science is important. The net result of using analytics that provides performance support and presents a forward-looking view is in creating an equal playing ground where the best can rise to the top.  I am personally most excited about the potential of talent analytics in creating fair and equitable workplaces, where meritocracy can thrive.

In conclusion, I see talent analytics as the third eye and the sixth sense.  It can help you see what’s not readily visible, enable better sensing, and power your abilities with greater intelligence. Finally, I leave you with this question, if this future state were to come true, how would your life be different?

What is Integrated Talent Management?

What is Integrated Talent Management?

In the business world, talent management (TM) has been hailed as a pivotal practice that enables firms to compete, reduce costs, and boost performance and profits.  It often is cited among the top 10 priorities of senior leaders and frequently features among the top concerns keeping the organization from achieving their goals (CEB, 2016).  This is a curious situation considering growing investments to advance human capital.  The persisting challenges indicate that talent management, as currently practiced, has done little to drive business outcomes, employee well-being, or meet organizational goals.  This lack of success may in part be due to an inadequate understanding of what talent management is, how it can be best used, or what constitutes good practice.

Owing to its emergence in practice rather than science, talent management is often perceived as trendy or fad-based practice rather than rigorous decisions making methodology about talent. Considering the parallels in topical focus with research-based disciplines such as management, industrial-organizational psychology, and strategic human resource management, there is significant potential to advance the practice of talent management as a decision science. This blog reviews the current status of the practice, highlighting gaps and opportunities. Based on this analysis, we present a new definition of integrated talent management. By linking the framework to existing bodies of academic research, we hope that the practice will flourish alongside the advancements in the underlying fields.

​Lewis and Heckman, upon reviewing several definitions concluded that the term Talent Management lacks a clear definition and specificity. That is, TM has been used as a sort of trigger word but is rarely given real thought and consideration.  It is mostly seen as a process (e.g., talent acquisition, learning, and development) and fails to adequately address the importance of the employee in the context of the organization’s strategic goals and priorities. Many of the definitions take a narrower perspective about when TM practice should be implemented, essentially leading to an uncoordinated effort in maximizing the human potential. Leading thinkers on this topic have offered useful guidance to evolve the conceptualization of talent management. In 2008, Capelli argued that talent management should involve anticipating and planning for human capital needs in the face of an uncertain external labor market.  Dries (2013) argued for differentiating TM from HR.  He felt that TM practices should be comprehensive in addressing the entire employee life cycle as well as balancing bottom-line performance goals with the interests of the employees. Boudreau and Ramstad (2005) describe talent management in terms of job segmentation and the disproportional impact of certain jobs to the bottom line.

It is clear that even authors who attempt to define TM differ in their focus. The various conceptualization of TM currently available are useful, but none are complete.  Talent management, in fact, needs to account for all of the above, and integrate these varied approaches.  Taking guidance from Capelli and Dries, TM should incorporate internal and external pools of talent and consider the uncertain nature of the business.  It should also link talent to the organizational strategy and goals (Lewis & Heckman, 2006).  Finally, based on Dries’ (2013) review, Talent Management must include all aspects of the employee life cycle and address employee experiences at critical junctures such as during hiring, development, transitions, and performance evaluations.  Addressing these needs necessitates a more integrated approach to talent management. It is crucial to cast talent management as a comprehensive strategy that involves multiple touch points with employees during their tenure in the organization.  The failure to take a lifecycle perspective can limit the types of outcomes TM can deliver. Our review of the current definitions points to the need for an updated conceptualization of talent management and a revised definition.

The gaps identified provide a set of guiding principles of what should be included in a more holistic definition.

  1. It must address multiple touch points with employees along the life cycle including attracting, retaining, developing and motivating the workforce.
  2. It should involve systematic identification of key positions which differentially contribute to the organization’s sustainable competitive advantage.
  3. There must be a consideration of internal and external talent pools to fill the talent pipeline.
  4. There should be a clear linkage to the business strategy with guidelines on the deliberate utilization of resources to achieve business objectives.
  5. It should include considerations to balance bottom-line performance interests of the organization with the interests of employees.
  6. It should take into consideration the uncertain nature of the business and build capacity to adjust and realign while working with the talent that exists in the organization.

These guidelines direct the need to be broad and comprehensive in the approach to addressing matters about talent.  It heralds a similar shift in focus as seen in the medical science. Historically, treatment procedures took a singular focus addressing symptoms or organ level failures. Current day practices are increasingly moving toward holistic medicine where the scope includes mind and body.

A review of the available definitions of talent management against the above guidelines points to the need for a refresh. Many definitions represent an industrial era view of input and output. Pascal defined talent management as managing the supply, demand, and flow of talent through the human capital engine.  Similarly, Wharton Professor Peter Capelli views talent management as inventory management which requires anticipating the need for human capital and establishing plans to meet the needs.  Collings and Mellahi improved on previous definitions by including a consideration of the key position but restricted their focus on the identification and development of high-potential employees. The definition offered by Silzer and Dowell is the most comprehensive till date. It states talent management is an integrated set of processes, programs, and cultural norms in an organization designed and implemented to attract, develop, deploy, and retain talent to achieve strategic objectives and meet future business needs.


In light of the six guiding talent management principles, we offer a new definition:  Talent Management is the systematic approach to hiringmanagingdeveloping, and supporting employees, to aligning employee efforts to business needs, and to enabling employees and organizations to thrive together. 
In the above definition, the term ’employee’ is intended to include individuals on payroll, and contract/gig workers. The word ‘thrive’ is used to indicate a pursuit of joint interests and growth of the people and business. The four elements of hiring, managing, developing, and supporting represent purposeful touch points with employees during their tenure in the organization. Each element bears dependencies with the others which lends to the integrated nature of talent management. For example, hiring new talent must take into consideration the skills gap or development needs of the current workforce and attempt to bring in the required capabilities through new hires. Hiring efforts should also take into consideration future workforce needs and bring in talent that is future ready. Such practices can avoid situations such as laying off talent in one part of the business while attempting to hire similar talent in other parts of the business. 


  1. Boudreau, J. W., & Ramstad, P. M. (2005). Talentship, talent segmentation, and sustainability: A new HR decision science paradigm for a new strategy definition. Human Resource Management, 44(2), 129-136.
  2. Cappelli, P., & Keller, J. R. (2014). Talent management: Conceptual approaches and practical challenges. Annu. Rev. Organ. Psychol. Organ. Behav., 1(1), 305-331.
  3. Collings, D.G. and Mellahi, K. (2009) “Strategic Talent Management: A review and research agenda”, Human Resource Management Review, 19: 4, 304–313
  4. Dries, N. (2013). The psychology of talent management: A review and research agenda. Human Resource Management Review, 23(4), 272-285.
  5. Lewis, R. E., & Heckman, R. J. (2006). Talent management: A critical review. Human resource management review, 16(2), 139-154.
  6. Silzer, R., & Dowell, B. E. (2010). Strategic talent management matters. Strategy-driven talent management: A leadership imperative, 3-72.