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Cornerstone evolves the talent experience for a changing world

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright November 12, 2019
Everyone has to continuously adapt in a fast-changing world - here's how talent experience is evolving at Cornerstone

Heidi Spirgi CMSO Cornerstone presents in London 2019-11
Heidi Spirgi, Cornerstone

The modern world is changing faster than ever, and those who fail to adapt are at a disadvantage. That's just as true for individuals as it is for companies, and therefore change is especially pertinent for a talent management vendor like Cornerstone OnDemand, which has been holding its EMEA user conference in London today.

As well as adapting to technology change and a shifting market, Cornerstone must also help its customers and their employees adapt to a world that's changing like never before, as CEO Adam Miller explains:

Today the game is changing in a very real way. And this time, it's not being changed by the industry, by companies competing in the space ... this change is happening by macro economic forces.

The bottom line is that we are now in a world where the skills divide is real.

A lifetime of continuous learning

Echoing sentiments that were a big theme at the recent UNLEASH conference in Paris, he outlined an epochal shift, driven by ever-faster technology change, away from initial qualifications that define your working life in favor of a lifetime of continuous learning:

The only way companies and individuals can stay ahead of technology, or at least stay afloat with all the technological change, is to keep learning, keep training. It's no longer a one-time occurrence.

It was for a long time, for centuries, that you were able to learn how to do your job, and then that was it. You knew how to do your job the rest of your life. Not true anymore.

In fact, right now, people that have been in their job for a long time are being questioned as to whether or not they have the skills to do the job that they've been in for 20, 30, 40 years. Exactly the opposite of the way it worked for the last two or 300 years. The longer you're in the job, the less likely you are to be good at that job. Kind of a bizarre statement, but that's actually what's happening right now.

And so, our belief is that skills have become the new digital currency. This is a literally the way people are being able to trade to create value, to have value. Against this backdrop, we're all witnessing what I'm calling HR tech 2.0.

Evolving talent experience

This puts a renewed focus on learning and development, which has always been a core part of Cornerstone's offering. But in today's world, organizations can't manage talent in a top-down, enterprise-centric manner. Skills are such an important asset that each individual wants to manage their career proactively — especially the most talented millennials and Gen-Zers. That demands a new approach from talent management software, Miller concludes:

It's very clear that talent experience is now the priority. So it's no longer just about what the company wants and the company needs ...

The people that have skills are in short supply. And so companies are feeling like the employee matters a lot. We really need to be paying attention to the employee, we need to be paying attention to how the employee is feeling, how they are doing, what their experience is like — and ensure that they stay, and ensure that they keep learning.

This is different than the way the market was for many years, where it was really about the company automating processes that they had, the company optimizing how they operate, and the company looking to save money. It's much more about driving productivity and driving retention in the client base.

These trends have redefined the market for Cornerstone and other talent management vendors, and the company has been adapting its offering accordingly. It's been two or three years since I last did a deep dive with Cornerstone, and four themes stood out for me after attending yesterday's EMEA analyst day.

1. A growing focus on employee experience

Employee experience is the big theme running through virtually every aspect of what Cornerstone is doing now. People management has to come out of its HR silo and become available wherever people happen to be — Cornerstone is now able to deliver many capabilities on mobile, on Slack, or from within a day-to-day business application such as Salesforce. It is moving towards serving learning and development content on-demand, personalized to the employee's situation and needs.

Performance management is no longer a once or twice-a-year encounter with a manager, but a continuous dialog that's interwoven with skills development planning. That's tied into a philosophy of retaining staff by helping them move on to new roles within the same company — typically less costly than recruiting outside applicants.

Heidi Spirgi, who joined Cornerstone four months ago as Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer, says that the shift from talent management to talent experience heralds "a really exciting era in workforce technology." Tools must "meet employees where they are" and offer highly contextualized experiences if they are going to capture their attention and retain their interest:

Talent management really is based on hierarchical, top-down, HR-led processes that very often are mandated by the business ... Talent experience, you have to flip the focus around.

2. Continuous performance development

The introduction of Cornerstone Check-in — originally launched in June as Cornerstone Conversations but now renamed — brings a more continuous model of performance measurement and development. It allows employees to have regular check-ins with managers and to exchange feedback with team colleagues at any time. It includes templates to help guide conversations and as well as tracking performance against goals, it encourages coaching to provide individualized development and career development advice.

The tool also connects with Cornerstone's learning content and provides inline course recommendations based on the employee's role, goals and feedback. It integrates with conversation tools such as Outlook and Slack to get updates and provide meeting reminders.

3. Learning content aggregation

In the past couple of years, Cornerstone has gone big on learning content, signing up with a growing ecosystem of online providers whose content maps to professional learning and development goals. These are available on subscription through its Content Anytime service. More recently, last year's acquisition of Grovo Learning has given it a library of short, easily digested 'micro-learning' content along with in-house capacity to produce its own material.

The latest addition to this stable is last week's launch of a new series of what CornerStone is calling 'nanolearning' courses. Designed to appeal to Gen-Z digital natives, these courses are delivered as fast-paced videos of two minutes or less to be viewed on mobile phones. The series is called Digital Native Advancement (DNA) and, appropriately, they aim to show Gen-Z digital natives how to behave and succeed at work. Some customers already want to include the courses in material that they make available to new recruits before they start work.

4. Moving to microservices on AWS

The final theme concerns the technology infrastructure underpinning many of these new capabilities. Cornerstone is moving to a microservices architecture and is in the process of moving its entire infrastructure to run on Amazon Web Services (AWS). New products such as Check-In are entirely built on the new architecture, older products will lift-and-shift to AWS over the coming year and functionality will gradually migrate to the new architecture over time. At the same time, it's also improving extensibility in order to integrate more closely with third-party and partner products.

Running on AWS has significant cost benefits, such as making it far more cost-effective to launch new regional or in-country data centers, and being able to take advantage of built-in AWS functions as soon as they become available. But irrespective of the underlying IaaS provider, the move to a microservices architecture allows a continuous delivery model that means Cornerstone can iterate more quickly and get feedback from clients as it introduces new capabilities in more frequent incremental changes. At a time of continuing rapid change, that's invaluable.

My take

I'm impressed by how much Cornerstone has been able to adapt and modernize its offering — and its underlying architecture — to adjust to these big changes in its market. Its move into on-demand content is I believe particularly astute, as people become more proactively engaged in planning their own development, and look for more on-demand content that they can fit around their schedules. Tying that back into performance goals and skills sets makes this a joined-up proposition that I'm sure will continue to evolve in its ability to help people plan their career and skills development.

But for all the employee experience focus, this is still an offering for employers, and although Cornerstone can point to a lot of experience working with the extended enterprise and contract workers, this does stop short of an offering that individuals can take with them when they move from one employer to the next. That seems to me the next frontier in this market.

However that's more of a futures thing. For now, there is plenty of demand, especially from midmarket businesses where Cornerstone has traditionally been strong. Its offering is still very successful where businesses perhaps have an existing core HR system that they don't want or can't afford to replace, says Miller. Adding Cornerstone allows them to offer a more modern employee experience that integrates well to other systems and often acts as a centralized reporting and management resource across multiple systems of record. At a time when every business needs to do a better job of finding, nurturing and retaining talent, there is plenty of opportunity for Cornerstone to continue its growth.

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