With 5.8 million medical members mainly concentrated in the Midwestern and Southern regions of the United States, Humana Inc. is one of the largest publicly traded health benefits organizations in the country. The company provides health insurance coverage, as well as additional services such as dental, life and disability plans, to individuals and employer groups in 15 U.S. states and Puerto Rico. These achievements seem even more significant when one considers that for most of its 43-year history, Humana was focused on managing hospitals and nursing homes.
A few years ago, the company initiated a sweeping transition from its existing managed-care business plan to pursue a consumer-centric strategy based on health benefits, said Ray Vigil, chief learning officer and vice president of Humana. As a key instrument of transformation, the learning and development division at Humana was tied closely to the radical shift in the company’s commercial focus. Consequently, the changes that took place at an enterprise level, in terms of structure, objectives and philosophy, were analogous to the modifications in Humana’s corporate education. Vigil added that when he arrived at the company two years ago, he witnessed major changes from the outset, one of which was the establishment of his own position.
“(The chief learning officer) was a newly created position,” he said. “We have approximately 13,000 associates in our company, and in the role of chief learning officer, I have oversight and responsibility for all the learning activities and training activities in the company.”
In order to make learning more efficient and collaborative throughout the organization, Vigil and his team pulled together all of the sundry, separate learning organizations at Humana under one umbrella. “We have what we call a learning consortium that is comprised of all the learning groups and training groups in the company that work together,” he said. “You might think of our role as providing the shared service, the common platform and the enabling infrastructure, as well as the budgetary oversight and strategic direction, but we really operate more as a networked organization. There were some early savings we were able to generate by bringing all of these various groups together under one common consortium. We were able to identify duplication and eliminate it. We also were able to identify common needs and provide (learning programs) on a shared- services basis.”
To successfully contend in the competitive market of health benefits, Humana had to adopt new approaches to educating its workforce. The changes started at the top of the organizational hierarchy, where new initiatives would have the greatest impact. The process has continued from there, as learning needs have been identified and addressed, in a sort of trickle-down fashion.
“Our view is that we need to address, with appropriate modality and content and engagement, all the levels of leadership,” said Linda Davis, director of learning strategy at Humana. “We have had a long-running front-line leader academy experience. It’s discovery-based and simulation-based, and we are evolving that into an experience that spans six to eight months. We’re in the middle of design now for our mid-level leaders. Once we complete that mid-level and continuously evolve all the others, we’ll have a full spectrum of the leadership chain.”
“The approach is to look at how we can best compete in the marketplace,” Vigil said. “We’ve taken the approach that creating a talent mindset, with the whole concept of having the right leaders with the right skills in the right positions, really gives us a competitive advantage. If you take a look at this from a human capital point of view, you really have to first install a talent mindset among your leaders.”
However, the evolution in corporate education at Humana has hardly been limited to programs for the highest stratum of its workforce. “That’s where we started, but in addition to that, we looked at the competencies that we need in the entire workforce,” Vigil said. “We’ve embarked on a very ambitious human capital strategy that took all of the job structures we had–we had more than 1,500 job categories–and we converted those into a role structure, which means that we greatly simplified how we look at the work that our associates do. We simplified that into 250 roles. Each role in the company has a clear definition of competencies that we’re going to need to compete in the future. We’ve been building our learning infrastructure and our learning approach around developing those competencies.”
Another part of Humana’s new learning strategy has been to utilize sophisticated technology to deliver learning. For leadership development, Humana developed a simulator with BTS, which specializes in designing customized business simulations. This advanced tool affords company leaders the experience of operating the entire business over a three-year cycle. During each of those “years,” participants have to make more than 50 decisions about running the company, and are issued an annual report detailing the consequences–good and bad–of the choices they made. “What we wanted to do with this program is to begin to build the process skills and the enterprise-wide capability of our leaders,” Vigil said of the simulation.
Following the implementation of the simulation, Vigil and his team discovered early on that most of Humana’s top leaders did not fully realize the upstream and downstream impacts of some of the decisions they were making. Fortunately, the business simulator did more than merely identify the problem; it helped correct it. “That’s been a huge success,” Vigil added. “An outcome of this was an increased knowledge in business acumen. During the past year, since running the simulator, we have been able to observe a significant change in the way our leaders are interacting, a significant change in the way they are looking at collaborative kinds of endeavors, and a significant change in the thinking around end-to-end processes and appreciation for the need to work more effectively upstream and downstream. It’s been really gratifying to see that. We asked each of the participants at the end of the simulator to identify ways that they could implement the learning they had just achieved and things they were going to do differently, and we asked them to quantify what the impact of those changes would be. After following up in about a three- to four-month period of time, we were able to identify something in the order of a 14-to-one return on investment for the entire program. Within a short period of time, we more than justified the expenditure.”
The business simulator is just one way in which Humana has utilized high-tech tools to transform its corporate education strategy, Vigil said. “When I came on board, we were just beginning to look at e-learning. One of the first things I did was really focus our attention on building the infrastructure to connect a robust e-learning platform and curriculum to support the competency infrastructure we needed. What we’ve done is we’ve created a common core of a learning management system. We’ve linked all of that e-learning to the competency structure that we have. That forms the foundation of what we’re offering and from that, where we’re moving to is having each of the learning groups build off of that foundation. We’re aggressively pursuing e-learning in each of the functional areas.”
Through e-learning programs, Humana employees of all stripes have been able to steer their own professional development. “One of the things we’ve done is built upon our human capital infrastructure and our competency platform,” Vigil said. “We’ve been able to use our e-learning infrastructure in our corporate curriculum to create learning maps for each professional area. Each of those areas has a three-year learning map to guide them in the e-learning courses that they need to take, as well as the classroom and blended learning experiences they need to have.”
E-learning programs have been especially effective for delivering compliance training, Davis said. The company also reinforces its corporate values through e-learning, with an online “Ethics Café” that features simulations and examples for employees. “This is required for every person in our company, regardless of the role they are in,” Davis said. “We found this was the most convenient way to have a consistent message for everyone in the company, and the most efficient way for them to gain that information.”
Even though he has pushed e-learning a great deal, Vigil said he favors using a calculated combination of learning modalities to provide users with a complete educational experience. “We’re very committed to a blended learning approach,” he said. “We’ve converted our management training offerings from classroom to a fully blended approach. That is the methodology that we want to take forward into the future. We know that much of what we do will need to be in the classroom. We’re striving to achieve something like a 40/60 (percent) balance in terms of classroom to e-learning, and converting our curriculum throughout the company to more of a blended approach that isn’t event-driven, but process-driven.”
So far, this system has been a resounding success: Humana has decreased its learning and development expenditures by 20 percent, while increasing its course offerings by 300 percent, Vigil said. “The overall approach I take is to link learning to the business strategy. Part of our business strategy is to be cost-efficient, and to make sure that we target whatever investment we make in learning and tie that back into a specific business outcome. By embarking on an aggressive e-learning approach, we were able to enable each of the groups to offer basic support training at a much-reduced cost. The effect has been that we’ve been able to, over the past couple of years, greatly reduce expenditures in learning while greatly increasing the access, availability and coverage of our learning efforts.”
Central in all of Humana’s successes in changing its approach to employee education, as well as the objectives of the organization as a whole, has been direction provided by CEO Michael McCallister. “One of the key decision points for me was the fact that the CEO really identified the need for a chief learning officer,” Vigil said. “You really can’t be very successful in the learning arena unless you have the CEO fully committed. We’re fortunate to have a CEO who is committed to developing people and developing associates. I just can’t say enough about how important it is for companies to have this kind of leadership support.”
Brian Summerfield is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.