Growth is an interesting and complex subject in the health care industry, and supporting that growth through learning is also interesting and challenging. As the executive director responsible for learning and development in Health Care Service Corp.’s (HCSC) subscriber services division, my charge is ensure that the learning our team designs and delivers supports 7,000-plus employees who directly interface with our members each day. Given the nature of the services we provide to our customers, we have to be concerned not only with reach and achieving a competitive scale, but also with being maximally effective at that scale. In fact, the company’s vision statement has that sensibility built into it. It speaks of providing excellent service to “as many customers in our chosen markets as is practically possible.”
Nevertheless, there will be consolidation in this industry to remain competitive, and the company’s recent merger with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma is a case in point. The learning and development function is finding growth that accelerates the adoption of the learning technologies an organization might have been experimenting with on a smaller scale. Now the pressure is on to get a new entity up to speed quickly, ensuring that people are familiar with enterprise processes, systems and the customer care requirements that are essential to success.
When your market is as far-flung as HCSC’s—Illinois, New Mexico, Texas and now Oklahoma—virtual technologies are essential to train large numbers of people quickly and cost-effectively. For example, the company recently established the use of “Blue Place,” a virtual webinar platform that enables a great deal of the training that would previously have been done in the classroom to be provided electronically to employees in any location.
Webinars and other self-paced e-learning products do not totally replace the classroom experience. On the contrary, they make classroom time more focused and allow instructors to become mentors and coaches. Lessons from the Web-based training can be reinforced, scenarios of the most common performance challenges can be conducted, and cultural assimilation can be handled in person. The Web-based learning provides the “what,” and the classroom focuses on the “how.” This blended approach has allowed HCSC to shave more than two weeks from new-hire training, with new-hire learning effectiveness at or above previous levels.
The Web-based training serves more than just front-line people. Leadership training is also done in this mode, both for new leaders after the merger as well as incumbents. It doesn’t make sense to offer leadership training only to newer managers and neglect the ones already in place. Everyone has to be working from the same background and learning experiences if they are to achieve common goals.
One innovation HCSC has developed to meet new learning needs resulting from corporate growth is a template for rapid e-learning design. An initial pilot was targeted at a learning need that can be challenging for any training team—processes that are critical to business success but performed by a relatively small percentage of the employee population. E-learning has generally been targeted at common tasks over large numbers of employees. For smaller populations, e-learning development is not generally considered as cost-effective. So HCSC’s learning team came up with an approach for on-site, rapid e-learning development. The company sent a couple of instructional developers and designers to the sites where this need existed and had them work directly with the subject-matter experts. Together, over the course of about a month, they designed and developed Web-based training on the spot. The resulting course has exactly the right content, and the design provides for interaction among participants, even those in remote locations. The course also can be put on the LMS, which allows the learning team to track and monitor who has completed it.
This experience provides a template for future short-turnaround performance issues. These are referred to as “performance interventions,” where employees from a certain workforce might be falling short on a particular performance measure. HCSC employees can now get a rapid learning solutions out on their desktops, so they can view a 10-minute learning snippet to address a particular issue, rather than attending a whole traditional course, taking everyone away from their jobs for a day in a classroom.
Learning and development is moving closer to something we’ve all had a vision of for years: a true continuous learning environment, rather than just “training” people in support of specific skills and jobs.
Mary Jo Burfeind is executive director of learning and development for Health Care Service Corp. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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