In 2000, FFIC began a series of dramatic organizational changes to significantly improve its overall operational performance. This included centralizing the company’s training and development function. Because the company has thousands of employees distributed across the nation—and limited resources to deliver training—FFIC needed options that would not only support the current high level of training, but also expand learning opportunities for employees in field locations. Employee availability was also a consideration—they needed flexibility.
FFIC always faced challenges getting management and business skills training to the field. We did a decent job at the home office, but it was tough to get training to field people when they needed it. Business challenges were growing, and employee’s time commitments were also growing. We invested in a number of training capabilities to accommodate this. One was the purchase of a significant catalog of online courses; the second was the development of key instructor-led courses. But that still didn’t address the need for “just-in-time” training. Managers and employees are just so busy that they can’t always set aside two or three days for training. And even if they can find a day, or a half-day, it may not be in time to meet the business need.
After considering several options in December 2002, FFIC decided to deploy a hosted technology service from AthenaOnline, largely because it offered a dynamic system. The other options considered were static systems—they included a limited a number of topics, and they couldn’t change or evolve. Knowledge and best practices around the topics would grow, but you were stuck with what you purchased.
The hosted solution, dubbed internally by FFIC as “QuickCoach,” consists of a vast library of two- to three-minute video segments on general business and leadership topics from top business experts. They contain concise and memorable learning that employees can immediately incorporate into their work. FFIC combines the library of clips produced by AthenaOnline with segments that we developed for specific learning and communication needs. The system includes transcripts of each lesson available for printout, so employees can reference the information in meetings or presentations. It also allows users to send a video or article via e-mail to an individual or a group.
One of the things that got us excited about this was the scope that it covered. We have a wide range of employees doing a wide range of jobs with a wide range of needs, and for them to be able to just type in a topic and receive immediate and relevant information was key. In total, AthenaOnline offers more than 1,200 individual video clips and articles that can be accessed by employees at any time.
While the initial interest in developing a more advanced training solution was to better train managers, FFIC quickly found that the employees across the company—from people in accounting to human resources to claims and underwriting—were benefiting from the solution. This was largely due to the flexibility of the solution itself. The content could be accessed from any computer, and FFIC began using the system to complement standard communication delivery methods.
We posted clips from leadership around key changes and initiatives. There was no need to copy and send videos, reserve rooms or VCRs. FFIC also added a 10-minute, internally developed training video for its middle market group. It includes a quiz, and completion and quiz scores are saved to the company’s learning management system.
The flexibility of the system, accessible to any employee at any time, supports FFIC’s objective of making training universally available to employees. From April to December 2003, 650 FFIC employees viewed more than 2,400 assets in the AthenaOnline library. In the past, only around 15 percent of those employees may have had the time or the option to attend a class or take an online course to get the same information.
Another distinction that led FFIC to choose AthenaOnline over other solutions was the fact that the system is offered on a hosted basis. Fireman’s Fund has branded the interface to contain its own logo and look, but once an employee clicks on the QuickCoach icon on the company intranet site, they are taken to a series of Web pages that exist on hosted servers. Because QuickCoach is hosted externally, FFIC IT and training personnel are not tasked with maintaining that resource and are therefore able to focus on business issues. A conservative estimate on cost savings is $10,000 per year based on hardware and salary that would be required for a part-time IT staffer to maintain the system.
The deployment of the AthenaOnline solution has allowed FFIC to grow its training and development program to include every employee, at a reduced cost, with flexibility to continuously update the lesson library. The savings the company has enjoyed are enhanced by greater productivity among workers because they can access QuickCoach according to their own schedule, limiting downtime and eliminating travel time.
With AthenaOnline and the QuickCoach learning tools, Fireman’s Fund has ensured that its training and development program will enable employees to stay ahead of the changing business landscape. And that’s good business.
Rand Libberton is a management development & business skills consultant for Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. He has 15 years of HR and training experience, and has worked in a variety of industries including retail, technology and financial services. E-mail Rand at firstname.lastname@example.org.