SHRM Spotlight

Katie Ballantyne on Meeting the Demand for Employee Growth Journeys

Episode Summary

In this second episode of SHRM Spotlight, host Mike Frost is joined by Katie Ballantyne, Vice President of Global Learning Strategy and Innovation at Cornerstone, to explore trends in employee growth journeys and discuss how organizations can respond to meet the demand for personalized development experiences. This episode is sponsored by Cornerstone.

Episode Notes

Season 1 | Igniting Tomorrow’s Leaders

During Igniting Tomorrow’s Leaders’ three (3) episodes, hear about actionable strategies for developing the next wave of future leaders from inside your organization.

In this second episode of SHRM Spotlight, host Mike Frost is joined by Katie Ballantyne, Vice President of Global Learning Strategy and Innovation at Cornerstone, to explore trends in employee growth journeys and discuss how organizations can respond to meet the demand for personalized development experiences.

Episode transcript

This episode is sponsored by Cornerstone.

Episode Transcription

Speaker 1:                    This episode is sponsored by Cornerstone. Open the door for flexible career paths, not just traditional career ladders. Discover how Cornerstone's comprehensive suite of learning and talent, experience, solutions can be the key to driving internal mobility and workforce agility. Connect your employees to the skills and growth opportunities they crave. Visit to learn more.

Mike Frost:                   This is SHRM Spotlight, a new podcast series from SHRM, looking at the people and ideas shaping the HR profession. I'm your host, Mike Frost, and this is Season One: Igniting Tomorrow's Leaders. In these three episodes, we'll provide you with actionable strategies for developing the next wave of leaders from inside your organization. Thank you for joining us for this discussion on career pathing. Over the next few minutes, you'll hear how HR professionals can redefine the traditional corporate ladder to help grow their leaders from within. As you'll hear, this new approach to career freedom can help organizations retain top talent and improve the engagement and experience of all their people.

                                    Joining us for this discussion is Katie Ballantyne, vice president of global learning strategy and innovation at Cornerstone. Katie has nearly 20 years of experience in the learning and talent management industry. Throughout her career, she's focused on engaging and investing in talent to drive the strongest outcome for both organizations and their people. Katie and her team are passionate about connecting Cornerstone's global teammates, customers, and partners with the learning experiences that will drive continuous growth and success. Katie, welcome to the SHRM Spotlight.

Katie Ballantyn...:          Thank you, Mike. I'm absolutely delighted to be here with you today.

Mike Frost:                   Let's begin our conversation with Katie Ballantyne as we talk about strategies for nurturing future leaders as they travel along their unique career paths. Katie, what recent trends have you seen as it pertains to employee growth journeys?

Katie Ballantyn...:          When I really look at the trends that are happening right now as it pertains to employee growth journeys, what's so different about the past is the amount of individualization and personalization of those journeys that people are seeking. I think that there are two things that are going on right now that contribute to this need and desire for development. The first one is people are really recognizing that they're going to need to evolve their skills. The US Chamber of Commerce put out a study earlier this year, and it showed that over 70% of American workers are very open to learning new skills, to growing, and to evolving so that they can meet the demands of a future economy.

                                    However, there's a Gallup study that was done that shows only 58% of employees are confident in their company's ability to develop them. We've obviously got a gap there that's going on where people are looking to their companies for development, but it may not necessarily be there. The other thing that's extremely interesting right now is how people are obviously redefining the concept of a career. People are looking for jobs that are going to more ebb and flow with their interests, with their purpose, and with the needs that they have in their life. I think it's creating a very unique situation right now for talent professionals that we get to respond to in creative new ways.

Mike Frost:                   Maybe we were never there, but we certainly are not in a one size fits all environment now, are we?

Katie Ballantyn...:          We're definitely not in a one... Well, one size never fitted anyone.

Mike Frost:                   Well, so in terms of these unique learning needs, what are organizations doing to respond to the demand for development opportunities that will address employee-specific career goals?

Katie Ballantyn...:          One of the things that we're seeing as it relates to companies really responding to this interest and desire for learning is a lot more companies are building development and learning into their employee value proposition. The reason why they're doing it, they're looking to it as a way to attract more people to their business. As we look out into the hiring market and it's still competitive, people are using it as an employment differentiator, and they're also using it as part of the promise to employees to keep them there for a long time. Volvo is known for wanting to have these employees for life, so learning and development is a huge part of their value system within their business in order to be able to keep those employees there and growing and developing at Volvo for their whole career.

                                    Bringing development as a very prominent value within your employee value proposition, that's a very strong trend. But the thing is, Mike, you just can't say that it's important and then not back it up. What we're seeing a lot of companies do now is to really lean into technology that gives employees access to tools and to resources that are going to help them visualize their career and discover opportunities ahead. As employees go, it's what I call the omnidirectional careers, it could go up, down, across diagonal, but we are basically equipping employees with the tools that they can have more agency on the pathway that they want and how we can be responsive using technology to create personalized learning journeys to get them to that goal.

Mike Frost:                   How does that omnidirectional career approach differ from what we used to think of in terms of career paths and career development?

Katie Ballantyn...:          Yeah. I did an entire subject at the university on career pathing, so this new way of doing things is definitely not what I was taught in my many, many years ago studying HR and talent management. I have a friend who is very senior in a global workforce in HR, and I think that she put it the best way. She had a consultant come in and was building all of these career paths and she's like, "Okay, so it took this consultant nine months to map all of this stuff out. Now it's in this document, but next week I'm going to need jobs that doesn't even exist right now." She's like, "What's going to happen to this? I just lost nine months and I've got really nothing to show for it other than a document that's obsolete in a couple of weeks." What we're really seeing these days is that it's hard to anticipate the kind of roles we're going to need in the future at the business level.

                                    We think about what's going on with the CHIPS Act right now and encouraging more people into semiconductor manufacturing, that's something that hadn't been anticipated as many years ago. What we're really seeing is that companies are leaning into this opportunity to have more fluid career pathing within their business because it makes business sense for them. It helps to make sure that you've got a workforce that could adapt to something different and it allows you to be more agile, and then obviously the benefit also translates back to the employee where they've got opportunities to maybe explore directions that weren't available to them in the past. When we set people to only perform in a box, we're missing opportunities. This more fluid omnidirectional development and having career paths that are going to be far more dynamic, I believe it helps us be more responsive as a business and more responsive to our people.

Mike Frost:                   It does sound like that is an approach that benefits both employers and workers. But from the employer perspective, from the HR perspective, what are they doing differently to adapt to this omnidirectional approach?

Katie Ballantyn...:          It is a very different approach that we need to take in order to be able to adapt to a very fluid career framework structure. What we see companies doing is leaning into technology that really helps people understand where they can go within their career. Instead of it being highly formalized by the HR team, the HR team is leaning into the wonders of artificial intelligence in order to be able to scan what's going on in an organization and to be able to present options to employees about where they may want to go. Then as a result of the employee identifying where they want to go, we're able to dynamically assign learning to them that's personalized to where they are in their experience, and it helps them close their learning gaps. What we see a lot of companies doing is expanding the definition of who can be in a project or gig or mentorship.

                                    Why I talk about these very, very specifically is that, in the past, these have been very high lift activities for a talent organization. Now being able to crowdsource a lot of that with some of these enabling technologies really allows us to get more of these opportunities to more people. Once again, it's giving our employees agency to be able to cultivate experiences that will get them to the career path that they want to go to. It's a very different approach. It's less controlled for HR teams, and it's more about leveraging, crowdsourcing, artificial intelligence, and empowering technologies that are going to deliver tools to people so they can really take charge of it themselves.

Mike Frost:                   What can organizations do, and what can HR professionals do to better support employees as they pursue those flexible career paths?

Katie Ballantyn...:          Mike, at Cornerstone, we did a study on some of the expectations of workers of today. We found out in this study that 73% of workers actually want to know about career opportunities inside their organization. We also found out that when a worker doesn't have visibility to career opportunities, they are 61% more likely to have plans to leave. If we flip it to the other direction, when they do have opportunities to explore careers within their company, they are more likely to stay in their jobs. I think that this is really important for us to all understand, as talent professionals, that people want to be in our companies, they want to stay, and they also want to be able to express their career in the way that is meaningful to them. As a result, what we find is that about 80% of people actually want to be able to start a lot of this journey into understanding what their career could be by themselves.

                                    They want to be able to have tools available to them to do this discovery and to figure out what they could do and where they could go and what would work for them right now. When I think about organizations supporting employees, I think it's really important for them to understand that there's a demand for this and that people really, really want some tools to help them figure out what they could do and where they could be. People know they need to retrain. People know they need to skill-in new and different ways in order to stay highly proficient within their work. I think that it's really important that we are helping them with this, providing them those tools and resources, and also being very open to the fact that a career doesn't look the same for every single person, and we shouldn't be imposing those values on all of our employees.

                                    For example, one employee may be more concerned with something very specific to the phase of life that they're in versus somebody else. Someone might be far more aggressively focused on their career at a certain part, we should be able to flex to that need. Someone might be needing to take a step back in their career in a given point in time because they've got something else going on in their life. We really should reflect that careers and jobs need to be as fluid as people's lives. I think it's really important that we are understanding that and we make sure that we are building infrastructure that's going to allow them to embrace what they need.

Mike Frost:                   This does sound very much like it's a long-term strategy. What are some immediate things that organizations can do to implement flexible career paths for their employees?

Katie Ballantyn...:          As we think about things that you can immediately do to support those flexible career paths for your employees, the first one is embrace the mentality of fluid structure across your organization, embrace the mentality that somebody doesn't necessarily have to have the exact skills and experience of a position in order to be successful in that role. You have talent everywhere in your business, and the first step is just to think talent can come from everywhere, talent can come from within our business, and it doesn't have to necessarily fit a certain view or structure in order for that person to be extremely successful in a different role in your company that utilizes similar skills but in a new way. The other thing then, obviously, is you have to communicate that you have to get your business bought in to thinking about new ways to allow people to discover careers and to move across your organization.

                                    Then another thing that I would look to is opening up more projects and gigs within your business, and you'd want to do that in a controlled way that's very relevant to your organization. What I think is really powerful in this kind of open source ability to garner projects and gigs from your business is that it really gives your people a great opportunity to try on new jobs and see if it's going to work for them. I think that those are some really powerful ways that people can get started in this journey. Then when they are ready to embrace some of the technology that delivers those dynamic career path opportunities to employees that create, customized, and tailored totally bespoke learning parts for them, you've got some really great infrastructure that's going to allow you to accelerate your progress as you move forward.

Mike Frost:                   That's an important point, isn't it, that this is a mutually beneficial path to go down?

Katie Ballantyn...:          Absolutely. It's very mutually beneficial. Employees want it, they want that control over their career. For us as advocates for our organization and making sure that we are prepared for any future, it absolutely benefits us to have a workforce that's always ready to embrace any opportunity that we've got available.

Mike Frost:                   It certainly sounds like employees are ready for a new approach. How can talent managers make the case for this new strategy in the investment in learning pathways? How can they address those concerns that workers are just going to leave as part of their natural career journey?

Katie Ballantyn...:          When we're making the case for this kind of investment within the business, I definitely understand that people are worried that it just means that talent are going to leave. However, it's really interesting because in our study we found that all of employees who are planning on leaving companies within the next six months, they're leaving because their manager wasn't supportive of growth within the business. I actually think a lot of this logic is pretty counterintuitive that, "Oh, you develop people? They're going to leave." I believe that if you develop people, they're going to stay within your business. They're not going to take those skills elsewhere necessarily. People are looking for companies that they can stay with for a long time. They're looking for that trust, they're looking for that security. I don't think that we need to be as worried about the skills leaving the business as some people tend to be.

                                    Now, I do understand though why a lot of managers get incredibly worried about people moving around in the business. Let's just say I'm a manager and I work for a company that's incredibly dynamic with career opportunities for the whole business. You can have a situation where someone may want to hoard their talent in order to keep their best people with them so they can hit their productivity targets, so they can achieve their goals, so they don't continue to be burnt out and overworked. Middle managers have so much on their plates these days. We ask so much of them. It's understandable that our middle managers can really feel a lot of fear around these types of programs and, as a result, demonstrate some of those talent-hoarding activities and behaviors. I really believe that talent hoarding is something that we have to respond to as part of our culture, and in order to make these programs work within our business, we have to make sure we're making it okay for managers to recalibrate workload if somebody moves out of the team or to say no to work that is happening.

                                    We have to make sure we have fast recruiting processes that are going to fill up gaps quickly so that they don't have extended time without coverage. We have to give people commitments that if someone moves within the business, that backfill is not going to get collapsed. You're not going to lose a headcount. That can be something that people are worried about. Also, when people are coming into our teams from other groups in the business, how do we help to onboard in a more accelerated way so that if somebody is coming over with any skills gaps, we're able to close those extremely quickly without the onus being on the manager. I really believe the data is there that shows this is actually a great long-term investment in your business. As we think about change management, the place I really focus is helping middle managers feel very safe within these policies and within these programs.

Mike Frost:                   Katie Ballantyne, thank you so much for these insights and the ideas you've shared today on omnidirectional career pathing.

Katie Ballantyn...:          Thank you for having me, Mike. It was an absolute pleasure to be here with you.

Mike Frost:                   Thanks for listening today. This is the second in our series. If you haven't heard the previous installment focusing on building leadership skills, we encourage you to take a listen. To ensure you don't miss out on future episodes, you can follow or subscribe to this series anywhere you get your podcasts. You can get show notes and future episodes at our website, Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time in the SHRM Spotlight.