Storytelling About Talent Health Index By Cornerstone With Mike Bollinger

Welcome to our jazzy conversation with Mike Bollinger from Cornerstone, the brains behind the innovative Talent Health Index. This global research project is transforming the way companies understand and bridge the skill confidence gap between employers and employees. We’re taking a deep dive into the four-level maturity model. Sounds complicated, right? It’s an enlightening framework that guides organizations from foundational to transformative levels. Excitingly, we’re also unraveling the seven dimensions of a healthy talent program! We touch base on key areas like culture, skills strategy, and learning and development under the spotlight.

As the conversation progresses, we take a closer look at how top-tier organizations are leveraging the Talent Health Index to reassess their skills strategy, content strategy, and gig assignments. We stress on the need for a holistic approach, employee confidence, and the role of technology in doing away with talent hoarding. The conversation then takes a futuristic turn with a riveting discussion on the inclusion of AI and machine learning in talent development. Join us as Mike unfolds how HR leaders can utilize the Talent Health Index to identify their organization’s strengths and areas of growth, equipping you with insights that can revolutionize HR and talent management!

Thanks, William

Show length: 25 minutes

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Mike Bollinger
Global VP of Strategic Initiatives Cornerstone

Executive with over 20 years of experience in organizational development and implementing innovative procedures by utilizing strategic leadership and processes. Extensive expertise in human resources, performance management, and process improvement. Leads initiatives to establish effective programs and implement streamlined processes. Proud member of the Cornerstone People Research Lab.


Storytelling About Talent Health Index By Cornerstone With Mike Bollinger

William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today we have a good friend of mine, Mike on from Cornerstone, and we’re going to be talking about the Talent Health Index. They’ve created a new product, a new bid, and they’re always innovating at Cornerstone. I’ve known Mike forever.

And I absolutely love them. So this is going to be a fun bit. Buckle up and let’s have fun. Mike, would you do a favor? Cause your title sometimes changes. I can’t keep track of it. So tell the audience, introduce yourself and tell them what you do at Cornerstone. And then tell us a little bit about what Talent Health [00:01:00] Index is.

Mike Bollinger: Mike Bollinger, Global VP of Strategic Initiatives, which sometimes means that I do stuff, but in a variety of different ways. And at Cornerstone now, I’ve had a couple of different roles. I founded our advisory services group and so on. I also founded the Cornerstone People Research Lab, which is what we’re going to talk about today with the Talent Health Index.

And then I also work in a capacity for our chief product officer on. Strategic parts of the Cornerstone portfolio, primarily skills and end to end experience and those kinds of things. The Talent Health Index. When we founded the Cornerstone People Research Lab in 2020, we fielded some very specific findings around just skills in particular, and it was both an employee and an employer perspective, and what we found, and it was global over 1, 500 employees, over 800 employers, and what we found was something we called the skills confidence gap, and I think you and I have talked [00:02:00] about that already, which was a statistically significant difference in perception between the employee and the employer in terms of the investment that they were trying to make and the ability of the employee to consume.

that investment. In 2022, we repeated that research and added an additional dimension the high performing organization which was 16 different kinds of dimensions around, not just HR kinds of things, but profitability and customer satisfaction and those kinds of things as well. So 16 dimensions and that confidence gap persisted.

So as we got ready to field this year’s research, one of the things that I’d always ask as we did the research was what goes into it? What are the trends? What are the techniques? What are the things that we know? And we knew from the research that high performing organizations Did several things well, laggard organizations did not do them, but what we did was we built our own maturity model, like a classic maturity model, [00:03:00] but in most maturity models, there’s not individual diagnostic around dimensions.

And so what we did with the Talent Health Index is We built the index on an overall maturity model, everything from foundational to transformative, but then we took it into seven additional dimensions of a healthy talent program, everything from culture to skill strategy to learning and development to reporting and mobility and those kinds of things.

So the notion of this then is that we did this globally again with over 1, 400 employees, over 700 employers. But we also are making it available to the to the HR tech community so that you can take it for yourself and get your own

William Tincup: analysis. And does it ultimately give you a score? It does. All right.

Tell us a little bit about that. So

Mike Bollinger: the score itself is an overall score of the individual dimensions. So that overall score is related to. The overall maturity model, what was really interesting was we found that as you do any kind of research, [00:04:00] everything falls on a bell curve, right?

What is my average? What are my deviations? And we found that the global Talent Health Index average fell in the administrative, and it’s four levels. Foundational, administrative, sophisticated, and transformative. But when it came to the high performers, they were 25 percent higher than the laggards and 11 percent higher than the average organizations.

But overall, only 2 percent landed at the transformative level, which is a perfect score. That’s at the overall level, but then in the individual dimensions, there are individual placements as well. And the whole point of the Talent Health Index is not just the overall score, but using the dimensions to diagnose where to go next.

William Tincup: So if I’m seeing it correctly in my head it’s a heat map of where you’re doing things well. And where the gap, where things are not being done well, does it provide any action layer or is that kind of something to be determined where it’s okay, now, [00:05:00] you have a problem in this area, a particular area of learning and development.

Now, how do you solve it?

Mike Bollinger: It, yes, the answer is yes, there are some suggestions around that, but two things that I call out there, maybe nuances, and one of those is it’s not us doing that, it’s the individual organization, which is a good thing it’s not when you stand there. The other thing is, not only is it, I’m, maybe here are areas where I can improve, but also here are areas of my strength, so it gives me directionally things to think about in that regard.

William Tincup: I can see consulting firms using this. To help them guide what, to help a company get better again, they need to have a baseline and understand where the company is currently, and then be able to okay, guiding them towards transformative. Cause again, you might not ever get to transformative, but at least do not.

Yeah. But at least you should have a clear path, like an idea of what is transformative and how to get there.

Mike Bollinger: Exactly. And when I [00:06:00] built this index late last year, I had that in the back of my mind. How do you create a conversation internally or externally around here are things that I could be doing next.

Yes, absolutely.

William Tincup: The, obviously with more people taking it and getting more people to you can aggregate the data or you can start looking at baselines for size of company. Industries geography, because it’s global, you can start looking at some of the things to see where things are similar or different based on, again, it’s a 5, 000 person healthcare company in Tampa, okay is that similar or different to a 5, 000 healthcare facility in San Diego?

Mike Bollinger: Agreed. And that’s one of the reasons, obviously, the old the old joke if you’re not paying for a product, you are the product, obviously, as you take this survey, we’re anonymizing data, but we’re capturing it as we build out. We’ve got this baseline that we can explore, but some of the interesting parts of that research also are where, what are high performing Thank you.

Organization is doing well, [00:07:00] and how do the employees feel about that? So those are other interesting areas to explore. I’ll give one quick example, which is when we looked at the high performing organizations, one of the questions that we asked is Are you making an investment in house? What kind of investment and how soon?

And the high performing organizations said, yeah, 91 percent of them said, I’m already started or I’m doing it this year. Laggards was 51%. Those are important call outs as well.

William Tincup: If not now, do you feel cornerstone proper using the Talent Health Index for itself not just its clients and things like that, but for it to use it itself to find out where y’all are doing well and where you need to you, you’re a big company too, so you’re going to need to, are you eating your own garbage, Mike?

Mike Bollinger: Drinking your own champagne, using the better way of phrasing it. Yes, there you go, because it’s Bollinger champagne, right? No, the answer is yes. We think of our [00:08:00] HR organization and what we do at Cornerstone in some ways as customer zero.

And so absolutely, as I did this, the first thing that Karina said from our HR organization is we want to do it too, and they’re going to use it as an input to some of their future planning. Absolutely. So

William Tincup: where do, when they when people get the, when they, obviously they test out, they do the talent health index, where do they start?

Like what’s the kind of some of the basic things that, they might. When they get their scores and they look back at their scores, I would assume there’s a little bit of shock and awe, or maybe they know that they have these problems, and maybe there is less shock and awe, but like, where do you advise them to start in terms of, okay, you know what, Rome wasn’t built in a day, you’re going to undo some of these things in a day let’s start with some quick wins.

Here’s some things

Mike Bollinger: that you should do. In a really awesome question, and one of the things to, to recognize is based on the index, obviously, in the dimension, it’s going to be a little different by organization. But there are [00:09:00] some big key takeaways. One of those is the notion of a skill strategy. High performing organizations scored very high in that particular regard.

And then even more interesting was the the content strategy in line with that, that they were connected. That’s one. A second thing to think about is that it’s not just one thing. High performing organizations have a tendency over the laggard, significant tendency to do many things. In other words, to recognize that you’re not just pulling one lever, but it’s an overall lever.

And that’s reflected in the fact that 96 percent of the employees in a high performing organization had confidence that the organization was developing them, so that confidence gap was literally… statistically insignificant, as well as they believed that their organization had their back. They believed their employer cared about them and were able to communicate that.

That’s the second thing. The third thing is that high performing [00:10:00] organizations, again, high difference between those and laggards, allowed for Gig assignments. And when I say gig assignments, I just mean internal kinds of exploratory kinds of things, something we do at Cornerstone as an example as part of the overall remit.

So they allowed for some of that exploratory kind of, of an approach whereas laggers didn’t even have it on their radar screen. And then the last thing that I’ll say, and it’s a piece of research also in our talent mobility, but One of the things that we found was that employees wanted to explore with the technology first, tier zero, before they entered into a conversation with their manager about what they were going to do next.

And we found that as a unique proposition to helping leaders, managers in particular, who have an awful lot of work on their shoulders, and it has a tendency to eliminate. talent hoarding. Last thing I’ll say is that there were [00:11:00] two things where everybody had a room to improve. One of them was this culture of complete support for employees.

That’s an area where everybody should invest not just on their development, but for their support, because of all the things that we’ve, All had to go through. And the other one, which is really interesting is now I’m not talking gen AI, but AI and machine learning, only 51 percent of high performing organizations are using it and leveraging it, not just using it.

Leveraging it for very specific use cases. So an opportunity is there for everybody. So

William Tincup: we’re both of a certain age and men of a certain age should get certain tests, right? Let’s just say a colonoscopy being, being one of those said tests, right? You would pick colonoscopy. It’s, I’m dark like that.

So there’s guys you and I know. That don’t get caught, they don’t, they haven’t gotten one, then they won’t get one. And so what the question is [00:12:00] why, I know a lot of HR leaders like yourself we run in some of the same circles. I can see some HR leaders.

Not wanting to know, like if I just don’t ask the questions, then I can say, I really don’t know the answers. So how do we get them to overcome that and go, it’s better to know where your deficiencies are so that you can fix them, to fix all of them at once.

Mike Bollinger: What I really like, and it’s a good question, and one of those is I always think about it around the what’s in it for me. And if I’m an HR leader, I’m looking for, obviously, areas of disagreement within my org. Those are potential areas of improvement, but I’m also looking for the commonality and where we’re, where we are in agreement, and I want to leverage that.

The opportunity for me to identify those things where I think I’m doing well and double down on those, And then to be able to understand areas where I [00:13:00] might be able to improve and work through that with my staff, I think is a very significant way for somebody who might not necessarily want to have their colonoscopy.

They could start with some initial findings where, yeah, there’s a few, we’re going to go dark here, William. There’s a few polyps, but they’re

William Tincup: not as bad as you think. That’s right. That’s right. You know what? That’s okay. That’s okay because you now know, once quick wins. I like the way that you put it in them towards or put it in their court and say, Hey, listen, you can actually be the hero here.

Yeah. Let’s not get blindsided by these things because they’re happening with you or without you. So may as well have an idea of what’s going on and then be able to adjust. I love actually, that’s just really smart. And it’s, I think there’s less barrier. for them to feel like a, there’s an affront.

I don’t want you to know how things are, how bad things are at our company. It’s a we’re not in the business of judgment. B, it’s bad at every company. [00:14:00] So let’s just get through that. And C, you need to know so that you can do some of the quick things so that you can be the hero that you

Mike Bollinger: are.

Agreed. And remember only 2 percent of the organizations globally. Found themselves transformative. Everybody’s got room for improvement.

William Tincup: Oh, yeah. And I would assume that of those 2% that’s at a moment in time. I would agree. Fast forward six months, nine months, 12 months, 18 months, et cetera. Things change.

They might not be as transformative as they once were. This all kind of gets me to this idea of talent as a competitive advantage. And this is a C suite, and you and I have talked about this in the past in different ways. It’s OK, we talk to HR, we talk to the talent and development people, learning and development folks, we talk to recruiting, and at a certain point, they tap out, because the conversation is It is a much more significant conversation or should be, I should rephrase that, it should be a more significant [00:15:00] conversation for the board and the C suite to think of talent like product or services as a competitive advantage.

And so what I like about this, what I like about what you’re doing is you’re giving them insight into where they are and how to adjust, how to fix, all of those types of good things. But also, if those 2 percent that are transformative, they are absolutely. In my mind, I don’t have the empirical data to prove this, but in my mind they’re thinking about talent as a competitive advantage.

Mike Bollinger: Oh, absolutely. That, and the employee sentiment on those organizations and we anonymize, so I can’t tell you. Which organizations, but the 2 percent are high performing. The employees in the high performing organizations are in violent agreement and clearly aligned with some of the employee data we have.

So if you think about what you do with talent as a competitive advantage, Think about where it impedes the commitments that you’re making to your board [00:16:00] or impedes the commitments if you’re public that you’re making to the street. So it’s not just a competitive advantage. It’s also an enabler for the business outcomes that you’re looking for.

And you know me, William, that’s like the second love of my life in terms of talking business outcomes. But to me, this is a way to. Indicate to yourselves that you are making progress and to speak to those outcomes, particularly when it comes to the investment component in this research.

William Tincup: So let’s go back to once they’ve done this, they now have some insight and, also some action and there’s an action layer.

Where does the data need to feed? So I’m always curious about, okay, we do something here, then we learn something, which is great. How does that inform other decisions and other systems? So how does it inform succession or performance or comp or, like I could go through the list, all of your products, actually, we can just go down the list, but it’s I can see this informing.[00:17:00]

Different systems or different areas of the companies in different ways. I think

Mike Bollinger: there’s a couple of things in there. One of those is clear, there’s a clear line between what’s going on in skills and the skills based succession planning and the skills based workforce planning that’s going to come with that.

That’s one. The second thing is there was a very clear call to action inside the research that said high performing organizations saw a doubling down as an investment on their on insights and analytics as their next big round of investments. And I think about that from a have, want, need perspective, if you’re thinking transformation.

They’re focused on how do I get around the, what do I have? Visibility is key here. You can use these. These outcomes to think about those kinds of investments, and I’m not just talking about money here. I’m talking about the processes and being able to feed back to the [00:18:00] organization.

William Tincup: So some by side questions just for a couple of moments, when you and the team show a talent health index to somebody for the first time.

What do you, what’s your favorite part, like your you just can’t wait to get to this place and show them this bit and what are they what’s that aha moment for them when they see it and for the first time and they’re like, oh, okay, the world just changed, got it.

Mike Bollinger: I think a couple of things. One of those is the employee sentiment that’s so clearly aligned from the skills gap perspective now, come out of the Talent Health Index for a minute, on the confidence gap, the clear alignment between high performing organizations, and I’ll give you some quick numbers. In the confidence gap, the question is really pretty straightforward, which is how do I feel confident in the ability to develop my employee skills?

And the countervailing question to the employees, I feel confident in my [00:19:00] employer’s ability to develop my skills. So that gap is 29%. But the confidence in both those cohorts, even though the gap has remained relatively significant and clean across three years, it’s just very consistent. The.

Cohorts themselves drop little by little every year, indicating to me a little bit of fatigue. Even more important is in the laggard organizations, the confidence of the employers is actually less. The gap is a little bit smaller, but it’s only half of the employers feel like they can do it. This notion of high performance being clearly aligned with their employees, one.

Two, that this confidence gap is not only persistent, but the cohorts are shrinking, indicating that we need to be better about communicating the what’s in it for me. And then three, that the laggard organizations who, by the way, aren’t investing in the next three to five years, we know that from the other pieces of [00:20:00] research, have no confidence in their abilities at all.

So that was one really interesting finding for me. One other,

William Tincup: go ahead. Okay, I don’t know, finish your thought.

Mike Bollinger: Then there was one other where the employees are saying the UK’s results were really interesting in that regard. The employees were saying several things were important to them around learning and around development and around the content and so on, solutions kinds of things.

But the employers in that particular region, and this is a region by region phenomena, Had not made those investments at the level that the employees were asking for it. So again, there’s very, what I really liked about this, that particular point was it confirmed what we’ve been finding all along.

It’s a great report and it’s, and over the last three years, globally, it’s gotten some very very good, statistically significant and confirmation that the model works.

William Tincup: As you mentioned communications, to [00:21:00] think of, okay, once they’ve done this, they’re going to learn some things. How do they communicate internally?

Is that, does that go over to kind of employee communications? Is it something that HR takes on and communicate some of the findings? Because again, it’s, The insights there. Now, how do you get, how do you get people to understand what they’ve got? Where the, a roadmap and a plan and all that other stuff, like what are you seeing the transformative firms doing in terms of they’re doing this well in communicating internally?

Mike Bollinger: Do you ever read Crossing the Chasm? Yeah, of course. I should have written the darn book because I invented Bollinger’s 20 20 40 20 rule of adoption before the book came out. The first 20 percent, they’re the high, they’re the high performers, they’re the achievers, they’re early adopters, they’re all over it.

The next 20 percent, they’re very competitive and they don’t want the first 20 percent to get ahead of them. The next 40 percent? Yeah, that’s the way the world’s going. We’ll do it, too. [00:22:00] And it makes sense. And the last 20 percent, they’re never going there. Just accept that. So the trick is, get that first 20 percent.

Celebrate them. And often they exist within business units or within particular teams. Celebrate them. Celebrate them publicly. Celebrate their leaders publicly. And let the snowball take effect from there. I

William Tincup: love it. Okay, last question, which is a question about questions. What, if they’ve never bought something like this, or they’ve never, been down this path, let’s say, what are the questions they should be asking of Cornerstone?

When Cornerstone reaches out and says, Hey, we have this thing, blah, blah, blah. What are the things that, if you could script it, the questions that they should be asking of your team? I

Mike Bollinger: think they should be coming. First with, I have a pain, because just you and I both know, and Cornerstone will probably fire me for this, I’m teasing but technology for technology’s sake is just technology for technology’s sake, so why are you [00:23:00] calling that individual?

Be very specific into why you’re calling first off, and then expect Cornerstone to say to you, what is it that you’re trying to accomplish, and how does that move the needle on your back? Business. That’s the first thing. Or organization, should you not be in a for profit endeavor. The second thing that you should ask Cornerstone is, where do you see very specific advantages in the organizations that are using you from a process perspective?

Talk to me about some of the significant use cases that you’re seeing. That’s the second one. And then the third one is, Really related to the relationship that you want to have with your with your supplier. There’s an old joke, vendors sell hot dogs, suppliers are partners. So ask the Cornerstone people how they will engage.

What is the customer engagement process? It’s not just about the software that you acquire. But it’s about the software and the relationship from there. If you come [00:24:00] prepared and you ask those two questions, you should get, yield some very interesting answers that directionally give you the opportunity to go further.

William Tincup: I could also see people that are either new to the organization. So a new CHRO at Company X or I can’t say Company X anymore. Cause it’s anyhow, Acme. Corporation. I can see someone new or even someone that’s stumped, maybe they’ve been there for a while and they’re just stymied or stumped, not knowing where to start and not even knowing where they have the problem.

Like I could see, especially in that new position, you just take over Acme Corporation, a CHRO, you’re like, I have no idea. I have no idea even where the problems are. I can see them using this as a way of trying to figure out where they should focus their energy.

Mike Bollinger: That was its intent.

Absolutely. And, give yourself a break too. It takes a little time to understand. So use this as a directional compass and go from there as you dig in deeper.

William Tincup: Absolutely. Drops Mike, walks off stage. [00:25:00] Mike, thank you so much for carving out time for the audience. I absolutely appreciate it.

Mike Bollinger: I’ll see you at HR Tech. I

William Tincup: know, I know. It’s right around the corner. Thanks for everyone listening, by the way. And until next time. Always a pleasure.

The Use Case Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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