Property and casualty insurer CNA’s knowledge and learning group is charged with bringing learning and development initiatives to approximately 11,000 employees in North America and Europe. As many of these employees are highly specialized, developing and delivering applicable, first-rate educational content can be demanding, but Tom Hilgart, vice president of the knowledge and learning group, believes that his team is up to the task.
“(We) provide the learning solution necessary for the company to fulfill its strategies and objectives,” he said. “The knowledge and learning group is a centralized group that handles learning solutions for the organization as well as knowledge management. Knowledge management could be training, coaching, leadership development—any of those topics fall under our responsibilities.”
Hilgart’s division has spent the past few years leveraging new learning technologies in order to bring corporate education out of the classroom and into the employees’ jobs. The idea behind this push is that workers can apply what they have learned more quickly. “The general gist of what we’re trying to do is move learning into the workplace,” Hilgart said. “We have a strong belief that (employees) have to move from awareness to skillfulness to proficiency. The learning enterprise isn’t over until the person is proficient on the job. That’s why we’re using coaching and technology to push it into the workplace more, because that’s where someone’s really going to get proficient. We’re trying to use technology to do that, but not solely technology.”
Although the e-learning function has been outsourced to a third-party vendor, CNA’s knowledge and learning group has relied largely on internal subject-matter experts–many of whom have extremely hectic schedules–to help develop content, Hilgart said. “Most of the training that we do is taking CNA practices, procedures or knowledge and turning that into either performance support tools or training for people. As a result, we’ve become very dependent on subject-matter experts in our various business operations.
“The real challenge is to get the time of those subject-matter experts to be able to produce the training that we do,” he added. “We’re not using them to train people, we’re using them as sources of information. That information can then be organized into a good instructional design, and delivered via the Web or delivered through a combination of methods. Also, we might use a subject-matter expert as a coach in a collaborative online site.”
The division recently launched a performance management program for employees and managers through the e-learning initiative. The curriculum was aimed at cultivating a more systematic, unified approach to the insurance business in CNA’s workforce, which was comprised of many individuals who were formerly employed at various other organizations, and thus held different views as to how the business should work. “The (initiative) that’s had the broadest impact is the performance management suite of programs, because that affects all employees,” Hilgart said. “We’ve done a whole series on performance, starting with performance planning and moving to development planning, performance assessment, coaching and feedback, and the last will be awards and recognition. That has done a lot to pull the company together around common practices.”
In October 2002, CNA began training 2,319 managers in performance planning through a collaborative online site. Using this Web site, they not only took a Web-based course, but they also wrote their draft performance plans according to the training, posted them on the site and received individual coaching on those draft plans. That was followed, in 2003, with learning programs for development planning, and then in performance assessment after that. “The objective when we started was that every employee in the company would have their 2003 performance plans in place by Dec. 2, 2002, and that was accomplished,” Hilgart said. “As we got into 2004, we moved into coaching and feedback. We did that a little bit differently, in that we used Web-based programs for the concepts of coaching and feedback, and then used face-to-face clinics for the practice part of it. Now we’ll go into the last phase–rewards and recognition–which will be centered around compensation policy and other recognition and rewards to acknowledge good work. We’ll continue to reinforce those each year. It’s a process of bringing company-wide attention to those practices, so that everybody knows at the same time what we ought to be doing, why we’re doing it and the related benefit. We’re going to be expanding some of the concepts as we go through it again. What we’re going to do now is start concentrating on extending it.
“We believe performance management is the foundation of a well-managed organization,” Hilgart said. “You’re not going to get the results you want, nor are you going to get retention or be seen as a good place to work, if you don’t have very strong, positive performance management.”
Brian Summerfield is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.