What skills will be most in-demand in 2025 (that’s only 10 years away)?

Imagine being the HR Director at Acme Industries and attending the annual strategy meeting. The theme is ‘What will Acme look like in 2025’ and you will present ‘What skills will Acme’s employees need in 2025’.

Product Development will present on how they see Virtual Reality (VR) becoming part of the design process. Manufacturing, anticipating being seamlessly integrated with Product Design will demonstrate how 3D Printing will replace and change manual production. Marketing will share how Integrated Social Media and the automated analysis of Big Data will revolutionise identifying who, when and how Acme should be communicating with its customers and other stakeholders.

As the HR Director, you have the unenviable challenge of anticipating how such radical changes in technology and the company’s operations will translate into what skills employees should own in 2025.

Skills demand

I have empathy for this HR Directors situation. The question is too broad, and there are too many current possibilities and, even more, future unknowns.

Whenever I pose that same future skills question rather than specific answers such as Sense-Making, Social Intelligence, Novel and Adaptive Thinking and New-Media Literacy as suggested by the University of Phoenix Research Institute in their Future Work Skills 2020  research, I typically receive two polarised broader views:

  • From optimists, I hear that technology and connectivity will continue to improve, political and socioeconomic stability will prevail, and that human ingenuity will figure out the rest and employees will be an integral part of the future.
  • From pessimists, I hear about the removal of the human involvement by automation, a substantial reduction in the workforce and direct social consequences.

In a previous post I asked the question ‘How do you build a future-ready workforce?’ As the roles and the way we work changes, how can an organisation ensure the workforce will thrive?

Along with Acme Inc., Australia’s Federal Government has been asking the same questions and recently released Australia’s Future Workforce? The report shares the view that the key drivers of changes in the job landscape in future are our ageing population, technology and automation, and an increasingly globalised and fragmented workforce.

Our Professional Challenge

As human resource professionals, I believe we should be open-minded and engaged internally and externally with the changing nature of even traditional roles.

Specifically, I am referring to not pulling a role definition out of the HR documents library and requesting ‘same again please.’ Instead, I am suggesting invoking a process that seeks input from the department head as to how and why that role and its function is changing. Reviewing recruitment advertisements for similar positions can also be a valuable input to be presented to managers.

The Evolving Workplace

History presents new specialist skills that are initially sourced externally and over time brought in-house if they become mainstream. However, in part because of the pace of technological change, I believe that this transition will decrease over the next decade, and the ‘on-demand’ workforce will substantially increase.

Evolving workplace

I’ve enjoyed sharing my views about the ‘on-demand’ workforce and how your organisation can make sure you get the most out of them. Many might think of this as simply ‘freelancing’ but this is a fast, evolving, agile new version of the professional services sector.

In their paper Five Trends that are Dramatically Changing Work and the Workplace   Knoll Workplace Research highlight the ‘coming shortage of knowledge workers, the continuing distribution of organisations and the availability of technologies and social collaboration tools’ will cause organisations to utilise the ‘on-demand’ workforce.

Providing ‘on-demand’ services are lucrative and rewarding personally for the individual. Therefore, I think it’s reasonable to assume this new sector will adapt before new skills become mainstream guaranteeing their availability.

A never ending cycle of transition and transformation

I would like to reassure the pessimists that on our path to 2025 you will not hear a technological big bang, rather, the quiet turning of the wheels of a cycle of transition and transformation providing the opportunity for the workforce to hone new skills.

What did an employee learn in the last year?

Employees keep a close eye on the changes in their domain. They will change employers if they perceive their career will stall without gaining new skills that are required.

An employee’s ability to increase their perceived value to an organisation and enjoy the feedback and recognition that brings has a direct relationship with job satisfaction.

Recent history provides reliable medium-term predictions

The pessimists I meet fear that people, can’t or won’t rise to the challenge of change and sit back and watch their roles be consumed by automation. In my opinion, that severely underestimates the tenacity of the human spirit to grow, learn and adapt.

Technology has been evolving since the wheel. Our skills have been developing ever since someone had to manufacture and fit that wheel.

When one occupation declines, it is replaced by another or perhaps by an enhanced variation that’s requires new skills.

To sum up…

Rather than a list of specific domain skills that will be in the greatest demand on our journey to 2025, I believe that those skills are in fact the willingness to accept and embrace change, being adaptive to new workplace structures that combine internal and external resources and a commitment to acquiring new knowledge.

How to build a future-ready workforce

Lately, I’ve noticed a hint of panic from businesses that are wondering whether their failure to adequately prepare for so-called disruptive change might see them painted into a corner, and unable to compete in future.

It’s important to prepare, and in this case that means building a ‘future-ready’ workforce. But, what does that mean, exactly? What is it that’s coming in the future that we ought to take active steps to prepare for?

It’s something I’ve begun to explore before.

In order to make these kinds of predictions, it’s useful to look at what social and technological developments are driving the changes in the way we’ll work. According to the IFTF’s Future Work Skills 2020 report, we’ll see:

  • An increasingly elderly population
  • ‘Smarter’ computers and increasing robotic automation
  • Increased data collection and analyis in decision making
  • An increased use of more slick and sophisticated communication methods, such as graphics, animation and video
  • Greater harnessing of people power through online platforms
  • Globalisation of the labour market

Far from being concerning, this could also be a list of the most exciting developments that are presently emerging from my perspective. The only thing to worry about is that if you don’t pay attention, it will be your competitors who capitalise on these trends more effectively than you do!

Given this optimistic portrait of the future, we need to think about the implications of these trends, and then implement policies and take action to engineer a workforce that will thrive in that futuristic world.

The tools at our disposal are hiring practices, workplace policies and training initiatives. The process begins with identifying the skills and traits best suited to a future workplace where these trends have been fully manifested.

Increased diversity

One broad concept that many of the trends are pointing towards is that of increased diversity in the workforce.

As an example, increased longevity and the globalisation of the labour market suggests there’ll be much greater diversity in terms of age, ethnicity, and the mix of permanent workers versus freelancers and contractors. Many more workers will be off-site, either at home or working from the other side of the world.

Adapting to those changes will require workers to have high social intelligence, and the ability not just to work effectively within a team, but also to lead and manage those teams. Cross-cultural competency, such as linguistic skills, cultural understanding and confidence with working with a diverse team will be vital. This might involve the ability to quickly identify and communicate shared points of connection, such as shared values and goals, in order to quickly build rapport.

The ability to identify and take advantage of the skills, working and thinking styles of the team in order to work together effectively will also be very important for success in the new order of things.

How to prepare

Reconsider hiring older workers – especially those with broad skillsets and evidence that they frequently take the initiative to upskill and adapt to new technologies and operational methodologies.

Getting the most out of freelancers is a topic in itself, and I’ve written previously about this growing trend, as well as how to make sure freelancers feel at home in your business and how learning how to manage freelancers is an excellent first step in building management experience.

It can be taken further, too – consider offering cultural or language training courses to your workforce to increase your workers’ exposure to, and comfort with, foreign cultures and customs. This could lead to collaboration with valuable (i.e. lower cost) offshore contractors that previously wouldn’t have been considered.

Fear of job loss due to increased automation

Rise of the robots… and pie charts 

For many, the fear is that increased automation will eliminate 99% of the job titles we know of today. The first jobs to go are likely to be the ‘busy work’ that requires little brain and even less brawn – like filing and mundane research tasks. Next in line will be manual labour. No one is certain where it’s all leading, but a willingness to upskill and ascend to the next-least lowly post will definitely be an advantage.

Robots aside, cloud-based platforms and enterprise social networking tools will enable us to streamline operations and increase productivity through crowd sourcing.

The rise of big data analytics will mean that we’ll have before us the facts and figures to inform our every decision. While there will be a need for data wranglers, for the most part, future workers will not have to become computer scientists majoring in statistics as some suggest. Rather, it will be the ability to understand and interpret charts and graphs, as well as a little statistical terminology. Being able to work with and intuit useful insights from analytics dashboards will help a lot, too.

Data analytics ties in with new media literacy, too. Data is best presented visually, but so is almost everything else. Communicating with video, graphics and animation will be a core skill in future, so workers who are competent with the software used to create and manipulate graphics-intensive presentations will be in high demand.

In addition, according to CIO, Information Security skills will be in high demand. That stands to reason considering that nowadays barely a week passes without news of yet another big data breach.

How to prepare

If your company is already using data analytics, it might be a good idea to broaden the base of those workers who are able to see, understand and use those insights. That can be through training and granting more than just the manager access to the figures. In hiring, look for candidates with familiarity with statistics or analytics (even if it’s simply Google Analytics) either through previous roles, education or even hobbies.

In terms of IT security, it’s a great idea to introduce policies and conduct training on best practice when it comes to the simple things all workers can do to enhance your company’s defences against cyber attack. The overwhelming majority of hacks and data breaches are initiated through social engineering, such as simply convincing an unwitting employee to hand over the keys to the operation. Getting your workforce up to speed on matters of security will definitely decrease the chances of a big headache in future.

It’s okay to change at your pace, just so long as you do

Remember, addressing such challenges isn’t just about prepping for the future. All of these trends are in motion right now, and the demand for these kinds of changes is real, even if it’s not yet noticeable.

If its done incrementally through hiring policy and a forward-thinking attitude when it comes to training and workplace policies, you should enjoy a successful transition toward a workforce with the agility to adapt to, and capitalise on, the changes as they happen.

How enterprise software is changing the way we work

As you’ll know if you’ve been reading this blog recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the latest tech trends courtesy of the Mary Meeker Internet Trends report.

By far the largest section in the report (some 30 pages) is focused on how technology is changing the way we work. I’ve embedded the report below – if you’re interested to explore the data.

How enterprise software is shaping the way we work

I think the most interesting commentary covers the changing nature of the enterprise software market. It’s summed up well with a tweet from Aaron Levie, the founder of Box:

Enterprise software

To put this into my own words, I think we’re moving from:

Work, facilitated by software,
Work, shaped by software.

Enterprise software used to be about automation of pieces of the workflow. But it’s moved beyond this – enterprise software is no longer just supporting the work itself. The software is reshaping what it means to work (in some cases from the ground up).

This shift has big implications for both developers and buyers of software. As a buyer you’re no longer purchasing something that just makes you more productive – you’re shaping the future of your organisation.

At Cognology, how do we see the role of software shaping the future of work?

Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology’s performance management system to manage talent. It gives us a big opportunity (and responsibility) to think about how our software helps to shape the future of the Australian workforce.

We want to give our users the flexibility to choose the best way to configure their performance management system. In fact, it’s our most significant design principle. So our approach is built heavily on delivering a system that has significant flexibility and configurability.

But we also know that the defaults that we build into the system will have powerful long-term effects in our clients’ workplaces. We think carefully about these effects and try to make sure that they reflect the way we believe work is evolving.

One clear example here is the role of in-application discussion and collaboration. I’ve got a strong view that organisations are healthier, happier and more successful when they promote open discussion and collaboration.

Ultimately, everyone benefits when performance management is a discussion, rather than a decision per se. Our software reflects this, and wherever we have the choice, we’ll try to design to facilitate a discussion, rather than one of those one-way decisions.

To give you an example of how this works in practice, employees using Cognology’s performance management system have the ability to crowdsource their own feedback before they enter the formal performance review process.

This is similar to the way you might have seen a 360-review work – but instead of being pushed by the organization, the process is coordinated by the individual who is seeking additional feedback. We’ve seen this work very effectively in some of our large professional services clients.

I know that our preference for collaboration doesn’t work for everyone (and users always have a choice to use or ignore our suggestions). However, it’s always powerful when we see these design choices start to nudge organisations towards a more collaborative approach to performance management.

Choose software intentionally: The starting point has to be “What kind of organisation do I want to create?”

All vendors have a responsibility to create software that promotes healthy, happy workplaces. But it’s not just a vendor responsibility. Buyers also need to be asking how a product will shape their organisation – whether they’re doing so consciously or not.

There is no one feature-set that will create ‘the perfect organisation’. Just like there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ organisational culture, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model for enterprise software.

For buyers, the key to be intentional when thinking about enterprise software. The starting point must be “what kind of organisation do we want to be?”

Here are some simple examples:

  • Do we want a collaborative workforce? … Does this set of product features make that more or less likely?
  • Do we want a highly flexible workforce? … Does this set of product features make that more or less likely?
  • Do we want your workforce to be able to work from home (or wherever else they are)? … Does this set of product features make that more or less likely?
  • Do we want consensus driven decision-making? … Does this set of product features make that more or less likely?
  • Do we want staff to move fast? To ask for forgiveness instead of permission? … Does this set of product features make that more or less likely?
  • Do we want employees to work with each other? Or against each other? … Does this set of product features make that more or less likely?

If the set of product features (and overall experience) doesn’t deliver the kind of workplace you want, then it’s probably time to look at new enterprise software.

Enterprise software is a powerful tool for driving behavioural change

No business can escape the fact that software is changing the way we work. Because we all spend so much time with our enterprise software, it’s one of the most powerful change management tools available in shaping the future of the organisation.

This means that as a buyer, you must be intentional in thinking about they way you want software to shape your workplace. The enterprise software that you choose now will shape the way your employees work and behave for the next 5-10 years.  We think it’s worth pausing before you write the script (or the specifications) to really ask yourself those questions above, to make sure that your software takes your organisation to a place you want to go.

Achieving your organisation’s goals and aspirations? Who doesn’t want the credit for that.


Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Freelancing is the new workforce megatrend

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m passionate about the future of work. I love thinking about what it means for organisations today, and how we can all prepare for the very exciting changes that we’re likely to face over the next 5-10 years.

In thinking about the future of work, freelancers have recently captured a lot of my attention (as you may have seen last week on this blog). My recent interest has been prompted by the freelance stats published in the latest Mary Meeker Internet Trends report.

Like many people – I was surprised when I saw the numbers on just how many people are currently freelancing. But what I think is equally significant is what this growth means for the broader workforce.

Freelancing statistics

Freelancing is officially huge (and continues to grow)

In the US, 34% of the workforce is now freelancing in some capacity (that’s the equivalent of 53 million people). For millennials, that figure rises to 38% of the workforce.

There’s clearly a range of freelancing going on here – not all of these 53 million people are freelancing full time:

  • 40% are independent contractors – doing freelance, temporary or supplemental work on a project-by-project basis
  • 27% are moonlighters – doing freelance work in addition to a primary job
  • 18% are diversified workers – with multiple permanent and temporary sources of income
  • 10% are temporary workers – with temporary employment through a single employer, client, job or contract
  • 5% are business owners – who employ 1-5 people, to support a growing freelance workload

Perhaps the most powerful statistic here is the overall growth of freelancing as a proportion of the US employment market. Over the past 10 years, the number of freelancers in the US has grown by over 10 million people (that’s the equivalent of nearly 25% growth over the period).

While Australia and New Zealand might not yet be reporting these big numbers in the freelancing market, my guess is these two countries are not too far behind.

There are a number of reasons that freelancing has seen such strong growth:

  • Economic drivers.
    Some of the freelance growth is about the economy. The business environment through the GFC has forced many people to start freelancing as permanent positions have been retrenched.
  • Technology drivers.
    Through ease of finding work and better collaboration, the Internet has had a transformative effect in facilitating the freelance economy. 65% of freelancers said the Internet makes it easier to find and deliver work.
  • Lifestyle drivers.
    I think it’s a telling statistic that more than half (53%) of current freelancers began freelancing by choice not necessity. The numbers indicate that much of this choice is about flexibility – in the same survey 32% of workers under 35 indicated they believe they’ll be working mainly flexible hours in the future.

These growth drivers aren’t likely to go away any time soon – which means that ongoing growth of freelancers is set to continue. And whilst clearly not everyone is going to be a freelancer, this does mean big changes in the workforce and the way we all work.

What does the growth of freelancing mean for the future of work?

I think more freelancing is great news for everyone in the workforce. It has the potential to benefit both employers and employees, whether freelance or more permanent.

Here’s my reasoning on why freelancing has such potential to reshape the workforce (for the better):

Freelancing helps to solve the purpose problem

Freelancing is a naturally healthy way to work. You produce deliverables, and for those deliverables you get paid. There’s a clear connection between what you put in and what you get out. That connection drives purpose.

In today’s workforce, many salaried employees have lost their sense of purpose. I think a lot of this comes down to the lack of clarity around how they’re really adding value.

Freelancers have complete transparency over their value. That’s rewarding and will lead to a working population that’s on average more engaged.

Freelancing makes the trade-offs in full time work clear

For most workers today, full time work is the ‘default’ choice. This is great for many, but it does involve trade-offs. You’re accepting a wage that’s significantly lower than what you’re potentially worth, in exchange for increased security over the medium-term.

Increased availability of freelance work makes this trade-off very clear. For those employees who choose to work in a full time job, this becomes a deliberate choice to seek security. Better alignment between employees and employers leads to healthier, more transparent workplaces.

Employees must take responsibility for their own growth and development

In an economy with more and more freelancers, every worker has to take responsibility for their own growth and development. Whether you’re freelancing or working in a corporate environment, the only person who’s completely got your development interests at heart is you. In a world dominated by freelancers, everyone is their own L&D department.

Freelancing drives better management

As I wrote in this article, successfully managing a freelancer forces any manager to learn effective performance management.

Management of independent freelancers is hard, and requires rigorous and regular performance management to succeed. A manager’s ability to get value from a freelancer depends entirely on how effective they are at setting clear expectations and delivering feedback.

The value of a manager is their freelancer network

You face a lot of uncertainty when you work with someone for the first time. Regardless of how well structured the hiring process is, there’s a lot of uncertainty that’s not resolved until you’ve actually worked together.

Due to this uncertainty, there’s big value in a manager who has worked with great freelancers previously. They have a known freelancer network that’s a known quantity – saving the organisation time and money.

Better systems and processes

Plugging talent into the organisation frequently on a task specific basis means that you need great processes. For example: if the task takes a week, but it takes a week to onboard (and three months to pay) there’s a big disincentive to using a freelance workforce.

Freelancing will force more organisational agility

Organisations using more freelancers will move faster. But this cuts both ways – leveraging a talent ‘cloud’ means the organisation can scale up faster. But there’s also less cultural infrastructure holding the organisation together over the long term. Organisations without great systems and processes have the ability to fall apart quickly as well.

As freelancing continues to grow we’re set for an exciting few years

The ongoing growth of freelancing is exciting. I think more freelancing is pushing us down the road to happier, healthier and faster moving workplaces.

Freelancing is a force for good in the working world. Overall we’re going to have more natural organisations, where more people are connected directly to the creation of value. That’s a great thing.

All organisations need to start thinking about how they’re going to make the most of the freelance revolution. For large organisations, it’s time to start experimenting with freelancers. If you do, you’ll be ensuring you’ve got the right organisational capacity to compete successfully into the future.

I’d love to hear about your freelancing experiences. Jump into the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter (@cognology).

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Joy, data (and performance management?)

Performance management is fundamentally a challenge of learning: How can we make sure employees learn from their successes and failures over time to improve their performance?

This is why I was fascinated to watch the inaugural Australian Learning Lecture, delivered by Sir Michael Barber. Barber is a British educationist who has served as head of the global education practice at McKinsey and advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Barber’s lecture focuses on the idea that more measurement leads to both better outcomes and a happier, more successful learning environment. There’s a lot of powerful thinking here that all of us involved in the space of performance management can learn from.

You can watch the lecture below (or jump down for my key takeaways on better performance management).

I took away four points that are highly relevant to how we approach performance management:

One: Measurement is suffering from an image problem

Barber makes the strong argument that “we need to reclaim data as an ally in improving the human condition…In the modern world, Joy and Data are often seen as opposites; the one creative, spontaneous, warm, and spiritual; the other, scientific, bureaucratic, cold and analytical.”

Performance management take-away: Like in education, badly designed and executed performance measurement processes (i.e. rank and yank) have left some with a bad taste in their mouth.

But done well, performance measurement is an empowering conversation about self-development. That’s a conversation that all employees (and students) can buy in to. It’s up to all of us working in performance management to continue to reclaim and reinforce the humanistic side of performance management.

Two: Hard work without measurement is folly

Rapid learning comes at the intersection of knowledge and data. As Barber states in the lecture: “Many people peddle the myth that data undermines creativity and the joy that may come from it.”  But these people ignore that there’s no creativity unless you have a feedback mechanism to improve your own performance over time. And to be effective, that feedback mechanism requires data.

Performance management take-away: In a business environment, performance management is your feedback loop. It’s the constant cycle in your work that facilitates learning and improved performance.

Measurement is the core of the learning process. If you don’t have a feedback loop built on data to guide your behaviour, you’ll never achieve exceptional performance.

Three: Measurement creates the right circumstances for leaders to lead

Greatness is about much more than just data. But good data and measurement creates the right circumstances for leaders to lead.

As Barber stated in the lecture: “[you] cannot mandate greatness; greatness has to be unleashed …[The] role is to create the circumstances in which success is possible while teachers and school leaders lead the way to greatness. Part of the context has to be good, close-to-real time data at classroom, school and system level.” 

Why can’t you mandate greatness? In Barber’s opinion it’s because: “[every] decision requires more than the evidence. It requires judgment, analysis and ethics too. If you put it mathematically it might look like this: DATA x ANALYSIS x ETHICS x JUDGMENT = GOOD DECISIONS”

Performance management take-away: Like in the classroom, measurement enhances the role and impact of leaders.

Rather than displacing the role of leaders, great performance management increases their impact. With more data, leaders have the ability to take better actions faster.

Four: The problem is never the measurement – it’s how humans use the data

The problems with measurement typically come from how humans choose to use the data (not the measurement itself).

To quote from the lecture: “The risk is that through false interpretation of the data or through a failure to recognize that the data is incomplete, human beings mislead themselves; or, worse, that by manipulating the data or the presentation of it, one group of human beings deceives another.”

Performance management take-away: You can implement the best performance management tool in the world (And yes, we think Cognology is one of them!). But it’s equally critical to make sure your people are adequately trained and resourced.

Performance management is a human process. As such, there’s a huge amount of leverage in making sure your people deeply understand the aims of the process and have the resources they need to complete it successfully.

In conclusion

There’s some fascinating thinking in this lecture on how we can use measurement to improve the learning process across the whole of society (and more specifically in the business context of performance management).

Fundamentally, without measured performance there’s no feedback loop. And without a feedback loop, there’s no learning. This is why growing recognition of the importance of measurement makes it an exciting time to be in performance management. Getting measurement right in schools and businesses worldwide has huge potential to improve global happiness, living standards and productivity.

And as always, I’d love to hear what you think of this article. You can add your thoughts in the comments below, or join the conversation on Twitter via @Cognology.

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

The science of feedback: What is the right frequency for workplace feedback?

New research suggests the right frequency for feedback is monthly. Surprisingly, it shows more frequent feedback (weekly) overloads employees and reduces performance.

What is the right frequency for feedback?

If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you’ll have noticed that I’ve been writing a lot on feedback recently:

Since we published the research piece looking at Is more feedback always better? I’ve been asked a number of times: “How often should I ideally provide feedback to direct reports?”

It seems that there’s a real desire from across the market to understand just how often managers should be giving their individual performers feedback – that is, what’s the optimum frequency to provide feedback.

This hasn’t exactly been an easy question to answer for a long time. There’s been a lot of research, but not much conclusive evidence on the best frequency for providing feedback to your direct reports.

Monthly feedback frequency

Employees want more feedback, but you can overload them. Where is the sweet spot?

In answering this question, we’re helped significantly by a brand new study (March 2015) of 800 insurance professionals.

The study is a relatively comprehensive look at the changes in performance of insurance professionals in response to feedback. Researchers varied both the frequency and detail of feedback that the employees received in order to assess the impact.

As we’d expect, more feedback doesn’t always help to drive better performance (largely because employees reach a state of feedback overload, as we discussed last week on the blog).

The researchers found that professionals receiving detailed feedback on a monthly basis outperformed all other groups involved in the study. Those receiving detailed monthly feedback improved performance on their key complaint measure by an impressive 46% relative to the control group over the course of the study.

For comparison, the performance of the groups receiving the more frequent weekly feedback was not statistically different from those in the control group.

Interestingly, researchers found that the employees receiving weekly feedback tended to overweight their most recent performance. Over the longer term, this hampered their ability to learn. This phenomenon is discussed in detail below (it’s fascinating and worth reading in full):

“The results… suggest that providing more detailed feedback is useful for improving performance. However, that is only the case when feedback is provided sparsely. Detailed feedback loses its usefulness when provided very frequently. Similarly, providing more frequent feedback, even when it is less detailed, does not seem to help professionals improve their performance.

Taken together, the results suggest that professionals fail to process the additional information rationally. The recipient of frequent feedback may fixate on the most recent information, leading him or her to underweight or ignore evidence that is more distant in time and thus limiting the amount of information actually used in decision-making.

This leads professionals to make the wrong inferences, reducing their learning and hampering performance improvement. By providing detailed but less frequent feedback, [The Company] communicates richer information in a single report, allowing professionals to identify true trends and ignore noise in the metric.”

It seems like employees receiving weekly feedback tend to overthink recent results, and fall prey to feedback overload. As the researchers noted:

“As soon as professionals stop receiving weekly information, their performance improves, and the deterioration of performance after receiving a bad report disappears.”

All in all, it’s a comprehensive and well-structured piece of research that has big implications for best-practice feedback and performance management.

Monthly feedback frequency as best practice is broadly supported by current Cognology data

This feedback frequency is supported by the data we have available to us at Cognology (our software powers performance and talent management for over 250 Australian businesses). Looking across our client base, a monthly feedback frequency appears consistent with what we’re seeing from best practice clients.


Frequency of feedback

As a quick reminder, when we most recently looked at Cognology product data on feedback frequency on the blog, we found:

“For the average employee, the number of annual feedback events has risen from just under three in 2011 to nearly nine in 2014. That’s an increase of over 3x in four years! Spreading this feedback out across the year, this increase means that employees received feedback roughly every six weeks in 2014 (compared to once every four months in 2011).”

Whilst the amount and frequency of feedback continues to rise across our entire client base, our best practice clients are on track, hitting an equivalent monthly feedback frequency in 2015 (12 feedback events across the year).

In conclusion: Best practice feedback happens monthly

In the absence of further studies, I think it’s safe to say that best-practice feedback frequency for professionals is monthly. At a monthly frequency, you get all the benefits of enhanced performance through regular feedback, but don’t risk the ‘feedback overload’ that seems to happen with a weekly feedback frequency.

I’d love to hear about your experiences setting the best frequency for detailed feedback. Have you tried weekly, monthly or quarterly conversations? What works best for your team and organisation? Understanding the right feedback frequency to get the most out of every employee is an exciting frontier as we move towards talent management for the future of work – so I’d love to get your input and thoughts.

As always, you can join the discussion in the comments below or on Twitter (tweet your thoughts to @cognology).

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

The psychology behind better workplace feedback (15 surprising facts)

I’ve been writing a lot on feedback recently (See here, here and here for some of my recent feedback thinking). One of the reasons for my recent focus on feedback is because it’s such a simple yet powerful tool for improving performance. As I’ve been quoted saying previously: “feedback is probably the most cost effective performance management tool available”.

Delivering great feedback is cheap, easy to learn, and there’s no shortage of expert advice out there on how to do it well. But still nearly 65% of employees want more feedback than they’re currently getting. So it’s clear that there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

As a result I’ve been digging through some of the recent research on workplace feedback for practical insights. The piece that follows below isn’t a beginners guide to feedback (see here for the 101 guide to giving better feedback), but what I’ve done here is highlight a range of facts on workplace feedback. These are interesting discussion points that you can use to get your managers engaged in a broader discussion about just how powerful feedback can be.

I hope you enjoy reading these 15 feedback facts as much as I enjoyed pulling them together – I’d love to hear which facts have got you thinking in the comments below or on Twitter (tweet to @cognology)

1. There’s no such thing as valuable feedback from someone you don’t trust

When receiving feedback, employees don’t separate the content of feedback from the person delivering it. In other words, there’s no such thing as valuable feedback from someone that you don’t trust.

Before any feedback will be effective, the recipient must see you as a credible source of development advice. Critically, the person you’re giving feedback to must believe you have their interests at heart. If not, your feedback won’t be effective in driving behavioural change – no matter how well intentioned.

Read more: American Psychological Association

2. Struggling employees already realise that they have a problem

It’s easy to think that the role of negative feedback is to educate your employees on issues that haven’t come to their attention. But most of the time, that’s just not the case. In a study of nearly 4000 people who had just received constructive feedback, 74% of respondents indicated that they already knew about the problem and were not surprised to get negative feedback.

Most often, it’s not that employees aren’t aware of the issue – it’s that they don’t know how to respond. So just pointing out that they have a problem isn’t enough to be helpful. To improve performance, constructive feedback must go one step further and provide specific feedback around potential causes and solutions.

Read more: Harvard Business Review

3. The more you listen, the better employees think you are at giving feedback

If you want to give great feedback, the most important thing you can do is listen.
This is somewhat counter-intuitive: Many people typically about the feedback conversation as an almost one-way discussion where the manager provides advice and guidance.

But as the data shows (see below), more time spent listening has a strong payoff. The more you listen to employee views before giving feedback, the better the employee experiences and understands the feedback. It’s all about making sure employees understand and agree with the basis of the feedback, and buy into the course of action.

Listen more to feedback

Read more: Harvard Business Review

4. Most employees prefer corrective feedback to praise and recognition

A majority of employees prefer corrective feedback to praise and recognition. In this survey of 900 global employees, 57% of respondents stated that they prefer corrective (negative/constructive) feedback, whilst only 43% stated that they prefer praise or recognition.

Read more: Harvard Business Review

5. The more confident you are, the more likely it is you prefer negative feedback

Interestingly, the more confident you are, the more likely it is that you prefer corrective feedback. As clearly shown in the graphic below, confident individuals are more likely to prefer corrective feedback relative to positive praise or recognition.

Confident people prefer negative feedback

Read more: Harvard Business Review

6. Almost everyone loves receiving feedback, but hates giving it

It turns out that most people like getting feedback a lot more than they like giving it.

As shown in the visual below, most employees love receiving feedback (especially of the constructive variety). However, the same employees tend to dislike giving feedback (again, more specifically negative feedback).

Negative feedback

Read more: Harvard Business Review

7. Older workers want more feedback than younger generations

Older workers have a preference for both more positive and negative feedback than younger generations. As shown below, older generations were also much more likely to give positive feedback.

Whilst this is interesting and provides a strong counterpoint to the millennial feedback myth, it’s worth noting that the research didn’t control for rank or role – so some of this effect is likely to be explained by seniority.

Older people want more feedback

Read more: Harvard Business Review

8. Star performers need extra affirmation after setbacks

Recent research from London Business School shows that star performers need more positive affirmation after setbacks.

Researchers looked at the performance of top talent after they’ve had a major setback that involves loss of status. The findings show that when previously high performers lose status, their performance suffers. And the very best performers suffer the most. The mediocre performers, by contrast, barely suffer at all.

The research also shows that it was possible to mitigate the effects of this performance drop with targeted affirmation. The academics suggest that this reinforces just how important it is to give your star a break after they’ve bungled something or lost face. As a manager, you have a critical role here in helping your star performer regain status by letting them know how you value their work.

Read more: Harvard Business Review

9. Positive feedback should praise effort, not ability

When giving positive feedback, it’s important to praise effort rather than ability.

Stanford psychology Carol Dweck has showed that focusing individual praise on talent rather than effort leads to poor performance. In a number of studies, Dweck has showed that praising individuals for their natural talent leads to increased risk aversion and those individuals exhibiting being more disturbed by setbacks.

This contrasts with individuals who are consistently praised for their effort (rather than ability). These individuals are more likely to build determination and resilience, leading to better performance over the long term.

Read more: Harvard Business Review

10. Strong team engagement is built on a culture of honest feedback

This recent study of over twenty thousand leaders showed that strong team engagement is built on honest feedback.

In the study, leaders ranking in the bottom 10% of feedback givers saw team engagement scores that averaged just 25 percent.

In contrast, those leaders in the top 10% for feedback giving saw team engagement scores average 77 percent.

Team engagement is built on honest feedback

Read more: Forbes

11. Improving performance requires both specific goals and specific feedback

Most of us know from our own work experience that specific feedback is significantly more helpful in improving long-term performance (compared to general platitudes).

But it turns out that specific feedback isn’t helpful unless you have specific goals as a frame of reference (see the visual below for easy explanation).

Improving performance with feedback

Read more: Journal of Applied Psychology

12. To improve effort, focus on relative feedback

Fascinatingly, the most motivating kind of feedback is finding out you’re just behind someone else. It’s most motivating knowing that you have the chance to ‘win’ (but aren’t currently doing so).

As the researchers in this study stated: “Managers trying to encourage employees to work harder, for example, might provide feedback about how a person is doing relative to a slightly better performer,’ they said. ‘Strategically scheduling breaks when someone is behind should also help focus people on the deficit and subsequently increase effort. This should lead to stronger performance and ultimately success.’”

Read more: BPS Digest

13. Following-up feedback is critical for improving performance

This research study showed the power of following up feedback in improving long-term performance.

With 252 managers over 5 years, researchers found that: “Managers who met with direct reports to discuss their upward feedback improved more than other managers, and managers improved more in years when they discussed the previous year’s feedback with direct reports than in years when they did not discuss the previous year’s feedback with direct reports. “

Significantly, it seems that the more action you take to follow-up and truly understand feedback, the larger the performance improvement.

Read more: Personnel Psychology

14. Withholding negative feedback is really about protecting yourself (not the recipient)

The reason you withhold feedback isn’t to protect the recipient, it’s to protect yourself.

In this research study led by Carla Jeffries, researchers tested how the content of feedback changed based on the medium of delivery (face to face or anonymous) and the self-esteem of the person giving feedback.

As the researchers described: “The findings provided strong evidence that we mostly withhold negative feedback to protect ourselves, not to protect the person we’re judging. If people’s motives were selfless then arguably the feedback provided should have been just as positive regardless of how it was delivered. In fact, students in the face-to-face condition provided the most positive feedback” 

Read more: BPS Digest

15. The more you ask for feedback, the more effective you are as a leader

Leaders who ask for feedback are significantly more effective. In this study of leadership effectiveness across 51,896 managers, there was a strong correlation between the tendency to seek feedback and leadership effectiveness.

The survey results showed:

  • Leaders in the bottom 10% of asking for feedback were also rated in the lowest 15th percentile in overall leadership effectiveness.  
  • Leaders in the top 10% in asking for feedback were rated in average in the top 14% for leadership effectiveness.

Effective leaders ask for feedback

Read more: Forbes

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

What does an ageing workforce mean for performance management?

On 5 March 2015, the Australian Government released the latest, much-anticipated Intergenerational Report. The report predicts changes to Australia’s population over the next 40 years, making it an incredibly useful tool for building workplace systems that are fit for the future.

The data attracting the most attention in the report is focused on Australia’s ageing workforce. This got me thinking about the impact an older workforce will have on performance management.

We know that workplaces of the future will be highly collaborative and fast-moving. We also know that for people to develop quickly enough to keep up, we need a more ‘agile’ approach to performance management. My question is, does an older workforce support this need for Agile Performance Management?’

Agile performance management guide

A quick introduction to the Intergenerational Report

At least every five years the Government produces an Intergenerational Report to test the long-term sustainability of current policies. For Australian businesses, it’s a welcome opportunity to prepare for the future.

The report specifically looks at changes to Australia’s workforce size and age profile. The HR world can use this data to predict challenges (and opportunities) in work participation and productivity levels.

What will the Australian workforce look like in 2055?

The Australian Workforce in 2055 chart

The Intergenerational Report confirms that in 2055 Australia’s workforce will have many older workers than today (the key statistics are included in the graphic above).

As a proportion of Australia’s population, in the future there will be fewer people of traditional working age. (Relative to 1975 there will be 4.6 less working-age people to support each person over the age of 65.)

As a result, the report anticipates a 34% increase in the number of people staying in work beyond the age of 65. Put another way, by 2055 nearly one in five members of the Australian workforce will be aged over 65.

Why an older workforce makes Agile Performance Management even more critical

The report expects that the decrease in the number of available workers will be solved by older generations working for longer

We knew the population was ageing, but this data predicts a much bigger change than many of us would have expected. As a result, it’s critical that our workplaces are future-ready for a changing workforce.

The report expects that the decrease in the number of available workers will be solved by older generations working for longer. If this turns out to be correct, then Agile Performance Management will be crucial. Here’s why:

  1. Regular check-ins
    As we become more experienced, and grow older, it’s natural that we may not find enjoyment in the same things or be interested in doing the same kind of tasks. Regular check-ins between workers and managers will highlight these changes before they become problematic. As a result, workflow and task allocation can be changed accordingly. Excellent talent management is all about having the right person doing the right job at the right time.
  2. Capability development
    Being open to and acquiring new skills is crucial for older workers for two reasons:

    • The rate of technological change means that everyone needs to continually learn new skills to perform their jobs effectively. Younger generations tend to be naturally faster at picking up new skills, so developing the tech-based capabilities of older workers should be a priority to ensure their relevance in the workplace.
    • Roles are set to become broader as work becomes more collaborative. Older workers may need to develop new capabilities to make the most of this dynamic environment.
  3. Coaching and mentoring
    The experience of more mature workers is an excellent asset for any company. There’s a significant opportunity to utilise mature workers in coaching and mentoring roles to improve the knowledge and expertise of less experienced employees. Coaching doesn’t need to go in just one direction either (for example, younger workers could also coach older workers on technological skills).
  4. Frequent feedback
    Older workers may, or may not, be motivated to climb the corporate ladder, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need feedback. Regular feedback isn’t just for long-term development: it also has a major role in improving performance day-to-day. Regular feedback has also been proven to increase engagement, decrease stress levels, improve workplace relationships and optimise efficiency. (All of which translates to higher levels of job satisfaction and healthier, happier employees).

In conclusion

Our workforce is ageing. As a result, over coming decades there will be more people aged 65+ remaining in the workforce than ever before. It’s our job now to make sure these workers stay engaged, productive and happy at work. The fundamentals of Agile Performance Management (including ongoing feedback and mentoring) will be essential in ensuring older workers continue to contribute meaningfully, and at their highest level of performance.

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.

What can Netflix, HubSpot, Zappos and Google teach you about the future of performance management?

At last count, the Netflix culture document had been viewed almost 11 million times. It’s been a viral sensation and has challenged the way that millions of people think about the future of performance management, work and HR.

Since the Netflix culture presentation appeared online in 2009, many other technology companies’ culture docs have attracted similar attention.

What excites me is that performance management plays such a big part in these documents. It’s clear that rethinking the way goals are set and feedback is given is hugely important to these companies and their employees.

In this article we’re going to take a quick look at four particularly popular culture docs and how they’re approaching performance management.


What they do: Provide on-demand internet streaming media
Founded: 1997
Number of employees: 2000+
Glassdoor rating: 3.7
Culture doc views: 10,720,425

Read the Netflix culture doc

Netflix Culture

Netflix on setting goals

Netflix’s performance management is built on the core idea of ‘context, not control’. This means that managers must give employees an understanding of context to enable autonomy and sound decisions.

So rather than setting goals in isolation, managers should make their employees aware of: the link to the organisation’s goals, the relative priority of the goal, the level of refinement required, key stakeholders and the definition of success.

The onus here is clearly on the manager to provide the best environment for employees to excel. Speaking directly to managers, the Netflix culture doc says: “When one of your talented people does something dumb, don’t blame them. Instead, ask yourself what context you failed to set.”

Netflix on feedback and performance reviews

Netflix has also moved away from annual reviews to a more frequent feedback process. In an article for Harvard Business Review, co-author of the Netflix culture doc Patty McCord explains: “If you talk simply and honestly about performance on a regular basis, you can get good results—probably better ones than a company that grades everyone on a five-point scale.”

I couldn’t agree more with Patty on this point. High frequency feedback is something I’m a huge advocate for. And it’s one of the key elements of Agile Performance Management.


What they do: Inbound marketing software
Founded: 2006
Number of employees: 500+
Glassdoor rating: 4.5
Culture doc views: 1,571,813

Read the HubSpot culture doc

HubSpot on feedback

Hubspot on feedback

Like Netflix, HubSpot have moved away from annual performance reviews. Instead they’ve implemented social performance management software to facilitate year-round feedback in real time. As the company put it here:

“If you want to hire and retain great young employees, you have to work the way they live… using social networks to facilitate interactions on a regular basis and to solicit feedback.”


What they do: Sell shoes and clothing online
Founded: 1999 (acquired by Amazon in 2009)
Number of employees: 1500+
Glassdoor rating: 3.8
Culture doc views: 53,000

Read the Zappos culture doc

Zappos on feedback and reviews

Zappos has long been recognised as an innovator in performance management. They’ve done this through heavy emphasis on the importance of values and culture. As Zappos’ culture doc states: “Interviews and performance reviews at Zappos are 50% based on values and culture fit.” 

This introduction of behavioural competencies into performance management does tend to be a characteristic of more forward-thinking companies.

I’ve talked about the difference between behavioural and functional competencies before. My opinion (which I share with Zappos) is that a combination of both is almost always required to be effective.

Zappos Core values


What they do: Run the internet (amongst other things)
Founded: 1998
Number of employees: 53,000+
Glassdoor rating: 4.4
Culture doc views: 1,220,625

Read a presentation from Eric Schmidt on how Google works

Google on goals

Google often gives employees responsibility for setting their own goals. As the following slide makes clear, goal setting at Google is somewhat unconventional in other ways…

Google goals


In fact, scoring too high on completed goals at Google is frowned upon – it means the goals weren’t ambitious enough!

It’s an interesting technique (but one you might want to test carefully before implementing in your business).

Google on feedback and reviews

Google places great emphasis on peer feedback, which is sensible given the approach to goal setting. As an anonymous employee stated on Glassdoor:

“Promotion and work performance is entirely reliant on peer reviews. In other words, to get ahead at Google and to get a positive performance review, you must get positive reviews from your fellow co-workers. Your manager might love you, but if your co-workers don’t like you, you have some work to do.” 

While many companies have adopted 360-degree feedback it’s uncommon to see peer reviews that can actively block an individual’s chance of promotion.

My top performance management takeaway from each #culturecode

Netflix: High-performance people will do better work if they understand context.

Hubspot: If you want to hire and retain great young employees, let them work the way that they live

Zappos: Rather than just measure people on their ability to do their job, also measure their performance against company culture and values.

Google: Let your employees set ambitious (and sometimes unachievable) goals. But hold them accountable with an emphasis on peer reviews.

Have you seen other #culturecode docs with particularly innovative approaches to performance management? Let me know via Twitter (@Cognology). I’d love to keep adding to this list.

Is Holacracy a real management trend?

Part 4 of our data driven investigation into 2014’s real talent trends

Recap: We’re continuing our data driven look into the real talent trends of 2014

Today we have the last part of our data driven look into the real talent trends of 2014.

To recap, we’re investigating these trends using the public data that Indeed makes available about millions of job postings. Using the Indeed data, we can look at how frequently certain terms are occurring in millions of job ads, all the way back to 2005. It’s a powerful way to look at whether HR trends are really changing the way that companies are hiring.

Today, we’re using this data to look at Holacracy.

We heard a lot about Holacracy in 2014. But is it a real trend…or just a good news story?

There was a lot written about Holacracy in the business press over 2014. Many of these articles were focused on Zappos getting rid of all managers and moving to a Holacratic org structure.

Some of the high profile news pieces you might have seen included:

But is this a real trend? Because if you’re signing up to a Holacratic workplace without managers, you’d expect that the job advertisement should mention the fact.


The data is pretty clear here. To seven decimal places, we’re seeing zero job advertisements that feature any mention of Holacracy.

My advice: don’t throw out your org chart just yet! Management isn’t going anywhere for a long time.

As the chart below shows, traditional “management” continues to come up in a consistent 30% of all job posts. This has been relatively stable over the past ten years. What it means to be a manager will certainly change around the edges (through concepts like Agile Performance Management), but traditional management isn’t going anywhere fast.


Interested in the real talent management trends of 2014? Don’t miss the other parts of this series….

If you loved these talent trend insights, there’s plenty more in this series:

  1. Millennials are changing the way we work (part 1)
  2. HR is about to be taken over by data/finance (part 2)
  3. Technology is reshaping the way we work (part 3)
  4. Holacracy is set to make managers obsolete (part 4)

And of course, I’d always love to continue the conversation and discuss this article on Twitter. Tweet @cognology with your take on this research and any other key trends you’d like us to look at.