The Talent Experience Market Is Real: And HR Tech Vendors Are Scrambling

As I talked about in the article From Talent Management To Talent Experience, the market for corporate talent management software has changed.

Companies are no longer happy with end-to-end talent management systems designed for HR – we now need platforms that help employees (and contingents) manage their own talent experience at work.

While this may sound easy, it’s not. It requires a wholesale rethinking of how HR software is designed, and it’s challenging vendors in all markets.

What are these employee talent experiences?

They’re easy to understand because we’ve all been an employee. Employees want to…

  • Start a new job and get to know the company, team, and work.
  • Build a reputation, meet people, and share their interests with others.
  • Assess their skills and take training and development to grow.
  • Find cool projects and take gig projects in the company.
  • Understand what they need to do to get a raise or promotion.
  • Look for new positions and apply for a promotion or transfer.
  • Share their goals and aspirations with managers and peers.
  • Assess their current skills and see how they fit with their team.
  • Find learning opportunities to upgrade skills and get credit for their achievements.
  • Take time to teach others, publish ideas, and mentor peers.
  • Join groups that focus on similar interests, fitness programs, or goals.
  • Give feedback to management and leadership on various topics.
  • …And more.

As you can see from this list, these are things employees want to do, and they may or may not need HR’s role. In fact in many cases these are programs “enabled by HR,” not “managed by HR.”

Think about it this way.

“Talent Management” platforms are for HR. “Talent Experience” platforms are for employees. 

Talent Experience vs. Employee Experience

Now before I get into examples, let me try to show you where this all fits. What’s the difference between “talent management,” the “talent experience” and the “employee experience?”

I would suggest the HR tech market is shaking out like the following:

talent experience platforms
  • At the bottom, we need core HR platforms (Oracle, Workday, SuccessFactors, ADP, etc.) that provide foundational applications for HR. They store job levels, pay, benefits, and other vital information and serve as the “system of record” that manages employee data.
  • At the next level, various talent management systems help HR design and administer the talent programs we need. This includes recruiting, hiring, onboarding, goal setting, performance management, training, development, succession management, compensation, and more. Much of this functionality comes from core HR vendors, but since talent management is so complex, most companies have a variety of these talent management tools. (Learning Management and Applicant Tracking, for example, are frequently specialized systems).
  • At the next level, a new set of talent experience systems deliver the employee-facing tools that help employees manage their life at work. Employees don’t care about 9-box grids but they do care about their next scheduled raise and what they need to do in order to perform well. They care about what jobs are available and how they apply for them, but they don’t care about how many candidates there are or what job advertisements are working well.
  • Finally, at the top level we have employee experience platforms (workflow, communication, self-service, case management portals) that handle ongoing questions, cases, issues, and communications we have with employees. 

I know this feels confusing and we wish this functionality was all in one place… but unfortunately, it just isn’t. Consider the following:

  • Learning Experience Platform (LXP) vendors simply ignored the LMS market and built employee-facing tools that make it easy to learn. LMS vendors are reacting as fast as they can, while LXP vendors are being asked to build LMS features.
  • Performance Management Vendors (PM) built feedback, goal setting, and year-end review tools, and are being snatched up by buyers because core HR platforms do this so poorly. While core HR vendors serve as the system of record for this information, they have been unable to build compelling employee experiences.
  • Employee Engagement Vendors built survey design and analytics tools initially focused on HR. Now, with a focus on the employee, they are building tools for managers and teams (read From Feedback to Action, and look at Glint’s new Manager Empowerment system, Humu, and Perceptyx’s manager dashboards).
  • ServiceNow, focused on case management and workflow tools to simplify the employee experience, are competing with ERP vendors for value, forcing the HCM vendors to build better portals and case management systems.
  • New vendors focused on employee career management (Bridge by Instructure, Fuel 50, Gloat) are challenging the LMS and LXP market, with a focus on the career experience at work.
  • A new breed of recruiting tools (PhenomPeople, IBM Watson Candidate Assistant, Mya) are revolutionizing the candidate, job-seeker, and internal job search experience, ignoring the core need for an ATS.

All this comes down to the fact that vendors built systems for different users. Workday, Oracle and SuccessFactors focus on systems used by IT and HR managers. Talent management systems like Cornerstone, Saba, and SmartRecruiters are designed for heads of recruiting, learning, and talent. The new breed of talent and employee experience tools sit on top of all this.

talent experience, talent management, employee experience

While this feels disruptive, this is how innovation takes place. In the early 2000s we were enamored with integrated talent management (we called it “prehire to retire”), as we tried to stitch these HR practices together. Next we became enamored with the cloud. Now the big issues are the employee experience, productivity, and building a better career experience at work. Vendors react to these customer needs, and most have a hard time moving from where they started.

By the way, the other paradigm shift is the transition from “processes” to “journeys” and from “forms” to “interactions.” These new platforms are designed in a different way, reflecting the new ways we use interact with phones, voice, text, and chat.

Let me give you some examples.

Bridge by Instructure:

The first example I want to cite is a fast-growing company in Salt Lake called Instructure.  Instructure, a publicly traded company, developed Canvas, now the most popular learning platform used by schools, colleges, and universities around the world. I’ve spent a lot of time with the company and this is a savvy design and engineering company which has turned their focus toward the corporate market.

Bridge, the product previously known as an LMS (in use by more than 500 companies), has been completely redesigned as a talent experience platform (they call it an employee development suite). The head of product strategy, Steve Arntz, has an amazing vision for this market and has worked very hard to build something I know many companies will want to see.

The product is a new generation talent experience system which includes tools for performance management and goal alignment, career development, self-driven learning, engagement and feedback, employee communications, and internal social networking. I’ve seen the system in action and it’s among the most elegantly designed on the market.

Let me share a little of what it does. First, it is a true social platform, and like HiBob (mentioned below), it does away with the traditional hierarchical management structure. Yes, you can see the organization chart, but you can also create teams, groups, and view lots of information about your peers. Instructure uses this system internally and it has become the “Internal LinkedIn” that many companies want.

bridge, instructure

One of Instructure’s goals for this system was to go beyond LMS and LXP to the important problem of career management. So Bridge has elegantly designed a toolset for career exploration, career assessment, performance enablement, and learning management. (All with a focus on the employee, not just HR.)

The system uses a “journey” concept so it follows a left to right timeline, which is an important paradigm that really makes sense to me. Rather than build software based on tabs and panels (which is more like a transaction flow), Bridge takes you on journeys – and you move from left to right as you assess your strengths, develop your career, find opportunities, take courses, have conversations with mentors, and look for open positions.

Bridge has integrated assessments available right in the journey (similar to Fuel50, mentioned below). Rather than go to the “assessment page” (as you may see in a traditional talent platform), the assessments appear when you need them, and you can see immediately see how your skills compare to your team (a feature called “Skills Coverage”).

Note: as companies become more and more agile, the need to assess team-wide skills become even more important. Building a self-assessment and team assessment tool into the talent experience platform is a novel idea, one which I think others will copy.

As you move into development and career planning you can always look at courses and select them just like you can with any LXP (Bridge has an LXP and LMS embedded).

Bridge’s Employee Timeline: Important New Idea

When you think about the world of an employee, you move beyond “processes” to “journeys” or “timelines.” So Bridge introduces the idea of your “talent timeline,” which I believe is an important new concept.

When you want to update your goals, track the progress of projects, or provide feedback (or assess and support your team), you can see where you are and what you need to do next. These events are constantly updated and are easy to navigate, unlike more traditional tab based systems.

Many companies tell me their talent management platforms are hard to use because employees can’t find what they need. The reason is not that the functionality is missing, it’s often because it is buried in tabs and menus, and was never designed to follow “employee journeys.” This is what Bridge does well, and clients who’ve looked at it are pretty impressed.

When you schedule 1:1’s, give feedback, or take employee surveys, the interface is simple and easy to use. For performance discussions, the system creates a 1:1 agenda and integrates goals, feedback, and discussions into the timeline. It schedules the meeting, manages the process, and you can go back to the timeline at year-end to see what you discussed earlier.

For employee engagement and organizational feedback, where I recently discussed the shift from “feedback to action,” Bridge has an integrated experience as well. You can create a survey, analyze the survey, and summarize results by team. While most of the talent management platform vendors (SAP, Workday, Cornerstone) are building surveys into their systems, doing it within the employee experience is difficult. Bridge’s approach rivals Glint and Perceptyx, which is a direction other vendors should consider.

The system includes easy to use analytics, also focused on the needs of the employee. Managers can see dashboards for their teams, and senior managers can easily see sentiment and progress among groups. The CEO of Instructure Dan Goldsmith uses this tool to manage the company, and he has shared with me how it helps me see management issues and culture changes as the company grows.

As with other feedback vendors, Bridge has built technology to analyze comments in surveys and employee feedback. This is a feature I know companies want, and typically they need fairly advanced systems (Glint, IBM, Kanjoya, CultureIQ) to do this. Now that this is integrated into the experience platform, Bridge customers get it out of the box.

Instructure is a well-run company and they’re making a major push into the corporate space. While they are not the biggest LMS vendor in the market, I believe this new offering will create a stir, and it shows the rest of the market what an integrated career, development, learning, and performance management system can really look like. 

Other Hot Vendors in this Market:

I’m highlighting Bridge in this article because I think it’s a great example of what “talent experience” platform means. But they’re definitely not the only company moving this way.

Fuel 50, one of the pioneers in career management, has built a complete career experience platform, including career exploration, career mapping, and career development. The company has more than 100 large customers is growing at a rapid pace.

InnerMobility by Gloat, an impressive company from Israel (formerly Workey), has built an AI-based platform for internal mobility, gig work management, and “future of work” career management based on enormous amounts of data in the job market.  I’ll write more about them in a future article, but they’re definitely a new talent experience platform to watch.

PhenomPeople:  This company blows my mind. Phenom started as a company focused on building mobile candidate career portals (to attract candidates to your career opportunities). They’ve now built out an entire talent experience platform that not only handles candidate experience management but also recruiter experience and internal employee experience.

The impressive thing about PhenomPeople is not only the user experience, but also the way the company uses data to make the employee experience (and candidate experience) richer. Like Gloat and others, a great talent experience includes getting suggestions, nudges, and notifications about what to do. What jobs am I most suited for? What skills am I missing? What people should I meet and who should I look for as a mentor? How am I underpaid or overpaid?

All these data-driven employee experiences are critical to these platforms going forward, and the vendors that can best use data to give us nudges and suggestions are going to be the most successful. 

(I”d suggest you watch this video to see what the company is doing.)

Remember that internal talent mobility and external talent acquisition are essentially two sides of the same coin. Phenom People understands this and has built a journey-based, experience platform that recruiters and talent acquisition buyers are snapping up. 

BetterWorks BetterWorks, a company that pioneered the automation of OKR and agile goal management, has now morphed into a talent experience platform that manages all aspects of performance management, performance development, and feedback. This category, which has many vendors (Reflektiv, Lattice, Impraise, 7Geese, Workboard, and SuccessFactors) is hot again, as companies now want scalable tools to deploy next-gen performance management. The product user experience is also journey-based and looks more and more like a “work management” tool then ever before.

HiBob: HiBob, which is a fast-growing end-to-end HCM platform also built on “employee experiences” is another example of a disruptive player in the market. The company now has more than 500 customers and is one of the first talent platforms I’ve seen that really addresses the needs of team leaders, managers, teams, and managers directly. It may not seem like the most comprehensive HR tool, but it more than makes up for its newness with its incredibly well-designed experiences for employees.

Talent Management Has Not Gone Way, But Disruption Is Ahead

Let me conclude with one final thought. HR-driven “talent management” is not going away, but these new platforms are already reshaping the market.

Yes, HR still needs to look at long-range workforce planning, succession pools, overall skills gaps, and the leadership pipeline. And we need tools that analyze pay equity, diversity, distribution of performance ratings, the candidate pipeline, and turnover. But what good are all these tools if employees don’t use the systems?  How do we truly make employees more productive and improve their career, development, and growth at work? 

That’s where this market is going.

Can you replace all your technology with one of these new tools? No, and maybe you never well. The average large company now has more than 11 HR systems of record. But the big message is clear: systems that focus on the “talent experience” are going to be the future – and all the HR tech providers have to get there.

Finally let me add one more important point. As important as core HR and talent software has been, the biggest ROI will be systems that transform the employee experience at work. I’m starting a big research project on the adoption of HR technology and despite the hype of the cloud, most companies are still frustrated that these systems are hard to use. If you buy new tools that employees really use, the improvement in engagement, productivity, and growth will be huge. 

Focus on building a great experience, and you’ll always be a hero. Luckily a new set of vendors is here to help.