Innovative New HR Tech Vendors Emerge: CultureAmp, Valamis, Lattice, Hitch, Eskalera, and More
It’s Fall and it’s HR Technology time. Not only is the big HR Technology Conference coming up, but I’m starting to finish up my big report for 2021. In the meantime, I want to highlight just a few important innovations in this critically important space.
1/ Amplify: Conversational Microlearning by Culture Amp
The first announcement is Culture Amp’s new product Amplify, a management and team development tool that I call Conversational Microlearning. Built on the vision from Zugata (acquired in January of 2019), this system gives managers and employees a set of small micro-learning messages, organized into an end-to-end learning program. The user gets regular messages every day or so, and they come together with interactions and assignments that take you through a learning program.
It’s a very innovative system and it leverages your email relationships and the 360 feedback you get from your peers. The first program is focused on skills-based coaching and it is designed to help managers improve resilience and productivity in their teams. It essentially teaches you how to be a good coach, step by step.
I talked with Ellucian, one of Culture Amp’s pilot customers, and they are thrilled. Not only is the program badly needed, but their employees love it because it’s so easy to consume. We are about to launch a big program in the Josh Bersin Academy called Coaching at Scale (built in partnership with BetterUp, an AI-based coaching solution), so I know how important it is to teach people how to be a good coach.
Culture Amp, by the way, is one of the most successful feedback and survey companies in the market, having built an enormous customer based on its culture-first philosophy and fantastic software design. I’ve been a fan since the company was founded and it’s fantastic to see the company evolve from feedback to the employee development market.
2/ Valamis: Enterprise Learning Platform to Replace Legacy Systems
The second company I want to mention is Valamis, an amazing Finnish company that has built one of the most advanced end-to-end learning platforms I’ve seen. Valamis is not only an incredibly innovative and quality organization, their customers are some of the most demanding in the world (Bain, Nasa, Boeing, Education Ministry of Sweden, and others.)
Valamis has essentially built the modern end-to-end learning platform every company dreams about. This means advanced LXP, complete LMS, learning record store, development platform, content management, and one of the most advanced end-to-end learning data platforms I’ve seen. And Valamis helps companies with empathy mapping, learning journeys, and role-based learning – which is what Capability Academies are all about.
One of the interesting problems in the learning tech market is how learning data is now sprinkled all over the company. Some data is in the LMS, some in the LXP, some in the content platform, and some in assessment and other talent systems. It’s almost impossible to really deliver a meaningful learning experience when all this data isn’t integrated. Well Valamis has solved this, and I am very impressed with their offering.
The company is just now entering the US market and the company’s Finnish heritage and culture is refreshing, client-centric, and high quality. If you want to understand Valamis, read about Sisu – the Finnish word for strength, endurance, resilience, and caring. We are all looking for Sisu right now, and I encourage you to talk with Valamis if you want to see it in action.
I think they’re going to become one of the bigger players in the years ahead.
3/ Grow by Lattice: Development Solution for Performance Management
The history of learning and performance management is kind of ugly. Years ago vendors like Cornerstone, Saba, and SumTotal pioneered the idea of merging learning management with performance management. But they did it backward: they built complex learning platforms and then added hard-to-use performance management applications on top. Companies bought these products because we were in the age of “integrated talent management,” but the end result was that most performance management programs are too complex and hard to use.
In the meantime, agile, easy-to-use vendors like BetterWorks, 15Five, HighGround, and Lattice were born – and they all grew like crazy. Why did they become so popular? Because companies badly need team-management tools that help teams set goals, collaborate on projects, send kudos to each other, and just keep track of who’s supposed to do what. I like to call it “project accountability software” because it helps you get projects done and helps you decide who’s accountable for what. (Asana also does this.)
Well Lattice, one of the most successful of these vendors, just went into the learning market with their new product Grow. Grow is slightly different from Amplify (above) because it focused on job-related development planning, not learning delivery. For all the Lattice customers who have been trying to find ways to give employees development plans along with their goals, Grow is perfect. It’s easy to use, designed for HR driven development, and will help Lattice evolve into more learning solutions.
4/ Hitch, The Latest Talent Marketplace Company
The market for Talent Marketplace products has been explosive. Every major organization is now looking for one of these and the demand is massive. A Talent Marketplace is a software platform that matches projects (or jobs) to internal employees, helping employees quickly find developmental opportunities, projects, mentors, or new roles in the company. The pioneer of this market was Fuel50 and Gloat (both fast-growing vendors), but a lot of new vendors have entered.
These include companies like Eightfold.ai (one of the most advanced AI-driven recruiting and matching systems I’ve seen), Avature (yes Avature now has a talent marketplace offering), Pymetrics (coming at the market from the assessment side), 365Talents (an advanced and mature solution which is big in France), and new offerings from Degreed, EdCast, and others.
Well, one of the most interesting of these is a company called Hitch, which is a spinoff of one of the biggest mapping companies in the world, Here Technologies. Here Technologies was the merger of a series of German auto manufacturers who ganged up to compete with Google for maps. They merged with Nokia so they are a large global company with more than 20,000 employees.
As the company grew and evolved from its traditional roots (it was originally called Navteq, founded in 1985) the CHRO found that they needed to hire more contractors and build a much more agile workforce to go out and photograph, map, and analyze geography around the world. They built a platform to do this, and then spun this platform out into a software vendor named Hitch.
I’ve spent time with Hitch and it is instantly one of the more mature and advanced Talent Marketplace solutions in the market. I wont belabor all the details here, but it’s worth looking at because the company has lots of experience really making agile work models successful.
5/ Eskalera, a Next-Generation Diversity, Inclusion, and Analytics Platform
DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) is a white-hot market right now and companies are doing everything they can to change hiring, promotion, pay, and ongoing management behaviors to drive inclusion, belonging, and diversity. We are soon to launch a massive research project in this area (stay tuned) but in the meantime there are some pretty interesting new vendors to consider.
One I am particularly excited about is Eskalera, a company run by the ex-CHRO of Goldman Sachs, which has built a very innovative way to measure and analyze diversity and inclusion practices in a company. Eskalera is still a young company, but if you’re trying to put in place a good measurement program for DEI, I recommend you talk with them. SAP and Workday have many analytics and reporting solutions out of the box – Eskalera’s solution is particularly unique because it measures aspects of diversity that aren’t obvious from standard HR metrics.
(Incidentally, the whole area of Analytics has exploded. Some of the other interesting analytics vendors I suggest you look at include ChartHop (a groundbreaking organizational analytics system that makes any types of analytics amazingly easy), new DEI analytics from Workday, OrgVue, SplashBI, Nakisa, and Sisense. These kinds of “visual analytics” systems are able to quickly provide analytics on COVID response and also can be used for scenario planning and workplace redesign.
6/ ServiceNow Safe Workplace Apps: The Workflow Workhorse
I am incredibly impressed (and inspired) by ServiceNow. This company, which started life in IT service and case management, has completely reinvented itself this year with a wide variety of applications for safe workplace attestation, employee location and scheduling, case and knowledge management, and communication.
The big power of ServiceNow is not just the applications and platform, which is now the standard toolset for IT and HR service centers around the world. It’s the company’s “workflow application development” tools that let you build your own workflow applications, employee experiences, and all sorts of “back to work” solutions you need to help people decide which office to go to, which desk to sit at, and a myriad of other things nobody thought about a year ago. ServiceNow pivoted the entire company to focus on this area in 2020 and it has really paid off.
ServiceNow now has almost twice the market cap of Workday.
7/ Emtrain, Scenario-based Diversity and Harassment Training That Drives Change
By the way, another vendor I’m pretty excited about is Emtrain, a training company that now offers some of the most compelling video-based diversity and harassment training I’ve seen. Emtrain has not only built an incredibly rich set of content, the company now lets you benchmark your own employees’ behaviors through some very innovative surveys they include in each training module. The training exposes you to a difficult situation and then asks you a set of questions about how you would respond. Your employees’ responses can then be benchmarked against similar companies and you can immediately see where you have problems. I think it’s a very innovative and powerful way to turn training into a really actionable solution.
There are hundreds of vendors in this market so I don’t claim to be the expert – but Emtrain’s approach is unique and the content is amazing. We are going to be including some of it in the Josh Bersin Academy to help HR teams understand the subtle issues in DEI. (I am also a fan of tenacious entrepreneurs like Janine Yancy who has been a pioneer on DEI training for years.)
PS I’m working on a big article about the Trump Executive Order banning DEI training among Federal Contractors, stay tuned.
8/ Workplace by Facebook
Today the US Congress published a 450 page report describing why Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon are monopolies and they harm our economy. I read it carefully and there are a lot of good arguments in there. But that aside, Facebook is now doing some pretty cool things in HR Tech.
While I am not a Facebook fan, the new platform Workplace by Facebook is quite impressive. Not only is it one of the easiest corporate social collaboration systems I’ve seen (I still find Slack impossible to use, frankly), but it is very popular among frontline workers, retail and hospitality workers, field sales and services teams, and even insurance companies. Why is it successful? It’s very easy to use and it includes almost every feature you could ever ask for.
Workplace offers video conferencing and sharing, groups and content sharing, learning content integration, and all sorts of open integrations with tools that provide employee communications, social recognition, and frankly any employee application that could be delivered through chat (that means anything). Imagine your payroll system, time tracking, scheduling, benefits administration, surveys – all accessible through a chat interface in Workplace. I think it’s going to be big. (Facebook also offers a Workplace Safety app .)
Facebook now understands how big the HR Tech and Learning Tech market is, so the company is rapidly recruiting vendor partners and marketing the solution to HR managers. Given how easy it is to integrate other HR apps with Workplace, I think the ecosystem here could become massive. And new video features like “ambient meetings” and VR will be huge.
9/ Microsoft Teams and Project Cortex
Finally, the most disruptive and possibly earth-changing HR Tech vendor of all is Microsoft. In the coming quarter, Microsoft will be introducing even more applications in Teams, and this will include a learning application, more solutions for productivity and wellbeing, and lots of new vendor offerings. While many software teams use Slack for general collaboration, I think Teams is the winner for business apps and it will turn into a platform that competes well with Zoom, Webex, and most employee communication apps over time.
Teams is not really an “application” but more of a “platform” with lots of APIs and easy ways for various HR and employee applications to plugin. I find that almost all our large clients now use Teams and the AI-based indexing technology (called Project Cortex) will soon be enabled in the back end to help you find documents, people, experts, and contracts at lightning speed. The system has all sorts of features for language translation, group management, and large organizational collaboration that Microsoft understands well.
And the creativity at Microsoft is now switched on. Teams has new features for large group meetings (stadium style seating), commute hours, and my version of Office schedules me “Focus Time” and gives me wellbeing tips in a very subtle and useful way. Remember that Teams is part of Microsoft 365 (Office 365) which includes Microsoft Search, Graph, and many other document and workplace technologies your company probably already owns. And the integration with LinkedIn is coming faster than you think. I’ll be writing a lot more about Teams and Microsoft in a few weeks.
Incidentally, Google’s new Workspace announcement (rebranding G-Suite) is clearly a direct response to Microsoft. While I know Google builds great tools, Google is way behind Microsoft in office productivity (I get lots and lots of Google links from many of you and most of the time they don’t even open) so for business users I think Microsoft is years ahead in their thinking. But competition is always good.
And Many More
I know I am leaving out lots and lots of vendors. This is not intended to be the “end-to-end” story on HR Tech. You can hear my big presentation at the HR Technology Conference on October 27 at 11AM PST, or wait until my big HR Technology 2021 report comes out later this year.
The Big Theme: From HR Tech to WorkTech
As you’ll hear about in a few weeks, the big theme this year is “From HR Tech to WorkTech” – the inevitable shift from “systems that do HR stuff” to “systems that make it easier to get work done.”
The exciting thing is that all this investment is turning HR tech into more useful, powerful, and flexible tools than ever. In fact most great HR Tech stuff today is not only flexible and useful, but also easy to customize, change, and adapt. I think the new breed of HR tech is much more like a “swiss army knife” and far less like a “chain saw.” And that’s good for everyone.
Stay tuned, I’ll keep you up to date on lots more cool stuff to come.