Glint And LinkedIn Learning Get Married: What A Great Couple

In November of 2018, LinkedIn acquired Glint, an emerging leader in employee engagement and survey technology. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, and now the romance has paid off. Glint and LinkedIn Learning have gotten married.

Let me try to explain.

Glint is a fast-growing company in the employee engagement and survey space, a multi-billion dollar market that focuses on employee surveys, listening, and analytics. Once dominated by companies like Gallup and Kenexa (now owned by IBM), the market was originally focused on delivering complex annual engagement surveys. The vendors were primarily led by Industrial and Organizational Psychologists and operated as technology-enabled consulting firms. Their survey tools worked well, but tech was not their core strength.

Since then the techies have taken over. Companies now expect vast amounts of information and feedback from their employees, so a new industry of technology vendors has emerged. I first wrote about this in 2015 (“Feedback Is The Killer App“) and since then dozens of tech firms have built tools for pulse surveys, employee listening, natural language processing, and software that senses mood, culture, and disparate behavior from internal communications.

Glint, which was founded by Silicon Valley tech executives, set out to rethink the problem. Through a shrewd, technology-focused approach, Glint built one of the most scalable survey and feedback platforms in the market, with all the features large enterprises expect (advanced analytics, enterprise reporting, security, ERP integration).

The timing was perfect. Not long before Glint launched, IBM acquired Kenexa, essentially killing the company’s enterprise survey business. Not only did Glint hire many senior consultants from other vendors, the company’s aggressive sales and marketing immediately put them into competition with high-end vendors like Perceptyx, Willis Towers Watson, and Gallup. 

Because the founders of Glint (Jim Barnett and Goutham Kurra) are technology executives, they immediately understood that innovation was key to success. So Glint’s analytics, natural language processing, manager dashboards, and ability to cross-correlate surveys through the employee lifecycle became highly differentiated features. To address the needs of I/O psychologists, the company hired senior consultants (like Justin Black) as well. 

At the time of the acquisition, Glint was roughly a $40M company, and LinkedIn liked what they saw. LinkedIn, which had accelerated from a significant business in recruiting to a fast-growing business in learning, could see the writing on the wall. LinkedIn wanted to sell end-to-end corporate talent software, and Glint’s technology was a perfect fit. And with all the employee career, job, and learning data already in place, adding surveys, analytics, and performance management software was a natural next step.

It turns out Glint was focused on this from the beginning. The very first day that Jim Barnett and Jim Bell (Glint’s head of marketing) came to my office (it was about five years ago) to meet with me, they talked about building a “people success platform.” And that’s what they did. It’s intended to be the “dashboard” for people success, similar to the way the ERP system is a “dashboard” for financial success. And they’ve done a very good job.

Glint’s platform lets managers and executives (not just HR people) find out what’s working and what isn’t by letting employees and teams answer surveys and provide feedback in a myriad of ways. While surveys are one of the core features, Glint goes much further – it picks up signals from employee-manager conversations, open text comments, and goals managed in the system (more on this below).

And as a natural extension to its survey and listening platform, Glint has now introduced performance management (goal setting, employee conversations around goals, development plans), tightly integrated into the feedback and survey system.

I like to think of Glint as a “People Success System” – one which goes from goal-setting to feedback to conversations to development.

Performance Management

But before I get to LinkedIn Learning, let me talk about performance management.

Employee performance management is a complex, “red-ocean” of solutions (many vendors and tools) that help teams set goals, collaborate and share feedback, give each other kudos and rewards, and keep track of the projects, plans, and development needs of individuals. The problem is complex, and vendors that figure it out have become big companies.

The pioneer in this market was SuccessFactors (now part of SAP), which developed technology to build top-down hierarchical goal systems, a popular solution in the early 2000s. Since then an army of vendors, (including BetterWorks, Lattice, HighGround (owned by Kazoo), Zugata (owned by CultureAmp), Reflektiv, Standout (owned by ADP), 15Five, Workboard, and dozens of others have entered the market. These newer vendors focus on “team-centric” goal and performance management, and they’ve all been growing. 

Why have they been growing? Because the problem companies face today is to create agile, team-based goals, encourage collaboration on goals, and empower teams who are remote, project-oriented, and agile in nature. My daughter works for a software company that has regular standup meetings, focused on monitoring “status against goal” for leads, opportunities, and new customers. That type of performance management is far different from the annual review software developed a decade ago, so new vendors have thrived.

Glint now does this too, with the added benefit of integrating performance with engagement so managers can try to improve all aspects of the work experience.

Through a two year development effort, the company now offers enterprise-wide performance management which leverages a model called ACT. (Acknowledge where we are, Collaborate on where we want to go, and Take action for next steps. It’s a cute and easy to understand model, and Glint has automated it through its platform.

ACT from Glint

For example, when managers receive feedback in Glint, the software encourages them to have a conversation with their teams (to Acknowledge), brainstorm idea on how to improve (to Collaborate), and then create a goal they can work on together (Take a step) to move ahead. This is precisely what good managers do, and Glint guides managers through the process.

Of course, all the other software products have similar features to these, but they aren’t put together in this integrated framework and experience, so companies pick and choose features based on their level of management experience. Glint gives their customers a set of guidebooks and tips teaching them how to do this well.

performance management

From Action Plans to Action Taking

Performance management has many purposes. Ideally, it institutionalizes good management, helping team leaders and executives run their organizations. But it goes well beyond this. As we discuss in our Josh Bersin Academy Program “Performance Management Reimagined,” this is a process that helps companies decide who should be promoted, it helps differentiate people for pay, and it helps individuals and leaders develop themselves. And when the system is used well, it captures data to help the process stay unbiased, fair, and trusted. (The old days of a manager just “giving you a rating” are going away.)

But ultimately it’s here for one purpose: Performance Management should make the company perform better. And that’s why feedback tools have been merging with performance management. Not only do we need to set goals and talk about them, we need to ask people how things are going. So nearly every performance management product now has some form of survey, conversation, or feedback tool included. (BetterWorks acquired Hyphen, Lattice introduced surveys, CultureAmp acquired Zugata, and the list goes on.)

But what about actually acting on the feedback? Can we assume that employees and managers know what they need to do? 

No. Enter the world of “action plans.”

Let me give you an example. Suppose the feedback says that “people in team C believe their manager is micro-managing them 30% more than anyone else in the company.” When the manager sees this in his dashboard, he starts to get upset. “Wow that’s not good, what should I do about it?”

In a traditional, I/O Psychologist-driven system, the engagement survey points the manager to an “action plan” dashboard. You can browse around in the system and find a few tips on managing teams, and it may tell you something about how to empower people, give people open assignments, and coach them to learn on the job. 

These action plans are common in most survey platforms, but unfortunately, they don’t really work. Why? Because most managers don’t have time to use them, and this “plan” doesn’t really get you to act. And this is what Glint is trying to address.

Glint’s approach is different. The company agrees that action plans are simply not enough, so Glint built another framework (called the Action Taking model) that goes from “Insights” (“my people think I’m micro-managing”) to “Conversations” (“am I really micro-managing you and if so how?”) to Goals (“I’m going to shorten our staff meetings and do more listening.”) to Learning (“Maybe I should watch a video on what empowering managers do, and maybe listen to some guru on the topic.”)

It’s a more complete, end-to-end, development-focused approach to improving performance and engagement.

Glint Action Taking

And then Glint is adding Nudges, to help remind you what to do.

Nudges, by the way, are an idea (now becoming quite popular) that came out of behavioral economics to “encourage, remind, and suggest” to help change behavior.

The Nudge was popularized by behavioral economists like Daniel Kahneman and Dan Ariely when they looked at how governments spent their money. Rather than penalizing people for over-using their electricity, for example, they found it’s much more effective to tell consumers “your electricity use is 30% higher than your neighbors.” Now you feel “socially responsible” and the nudge reminds you what to do. Glint is doing the same.

Humu pioneered this type of solution and other vendors are now adding nudges to all sorts of HR products.

The Marriage with LinkedIn Learning

Which gets me to the big story: the integration with LinkedIn Learning. At the end of all this performance management, people end up asking themselves “how can I perform better?” What do I need to learn?

Well, LinkedIn Learning has tens of thousand of hours of learning, all organized by topic. So in this new, black-tie marriage between Glint and LInkedIn Learning, the platform suggests specially curated learning modules (for free, taken out of Linkedin Learning) right there on a column in your screen. 

How does it know what to recommend? First, Glint synthesizes survey feedback and uses AI to identify an individual’s most pressing areas for development, and then recommends learning. Over time the company will start to use NLP (natural language processing) to look at the goals, feedback, and conversations and personalize learning even further. It’s exactly what we’ve wanted for years. (James Raybould, one of the senior data engineers at LinkedIn, is now helping to lead Glint.)

This is a big deal. While the LXP vendors have wanted to build recommended learning for several years, now you can get learning which is specifically targeted toward your own personal goals. This is a vision many vendors have tried in the past (Saba, Cornerstone, Workday, SumTotal), but none had access to learning content. LinkedIn and Glint have put it together.

LinkedIn Learning for Glint? Or Glint for LinkedIn Learning?

Glint describes this as “LinkedIn Learning for Glint,” positioned as “the ultimate action taking tool to complement surveys, feedback, and performance management.” 

LinkedIn Learning for Glint

But I actually think it is really more.. This is really “Glint for LinkedIn Learning” too!

Let me explain. Today more than 12,000 companies now license LinkedIn Learning for their people. People love to use it and they often browse around and take courses on software (excel, programming), AI and technology, and all sorts of soft skills. 

But as I talk with LinkedIn Learning Customers, I often hear phrases like “it’s a large investment and we want to make sure people will use it.” How can we get people to find and consume the right content?

Well, why not just “buy Glint” and turbo-charge your whole investment in Learning? For the first time in many decades, a company really has a solution that directly links performance management to learning in an easy-to-use fashion.

Imagine The Result

Glint has come a long way in a short time. When Jim Barnett and his team first came to see me, they told me “we want to build a people success platform” I warned them it was more complicated than they thought. Well now, seven years after its founding, Glint has pulled off something pretty cool – and they’ve stitched most of it together.

There are still a lot of amazing systems out there for employee feedback, performance management, learning, and analytics – but Glint, through its deep integration with LinkedIn (and Microsoft has yet to come), has just emerged as a leader. Let’s watch them closely and see where this goes next.