Most CLOs wish their CEOs were fully committed to the learning agenda. They hope their senior leaders view education and development as strategic levers for business success rather than as discretionary costs. After all, studies indicate the most crucial issue for learning intervention success is the support of senior leadership.
But what if that wish were magically granted? What if you worked for a CEO who felt the key to organizational effectiveness and financial viability is determined by the learning organization? What if you worked for a president who declares, “The primary job of every vice president in our organization is to develop the capability of their people!” — how would you feel?
If you happened to be Michael Cuffe, assistant vice president, University of Farmers, Claims, you have that good fortune. Cuffe’s boss is Bryan Murphy, Farmers Insurance Group executive vice president and chief claims officer.
Murphy, who provides direction for a force of more than 10,000 field representatives who meet customers face to face on a daily basis and often in difficult circumstances, has said claims representatives are the essence of Farmers’ business and are the face of the company to its customer.
“Our reputation hinges on the knowledge and ability of our claims representatives to care for customers with the highest level of professionalism and judgment,” Murphy said. “The University of Farmers is the place where we grow excellence. It is not a ‘nice to have’ — it’s essential to our success.”
Murphy made it clear he wanted a values-based, performance-driven learning organization that continuously grows the capability of its people, and he depends on Cuffe and his team to make it happen. When Murphy said he wanted the university to become the driving force for ever-higher levels of customer satisfaction and employee effectiveness, Cuffe responded by changing the status and the standards for learning professionals in the university. He raised the pay for learning roles while asking all existing staff members to apply for the redefined jobs if they wanted to be a part of the new university.
Ilene Haber, national manager of claims curriculum and certification, said the criteria for delivery, design and development jobs that Cuffe and his team established was rigorous.
The selection process began with high-stakes tests to establish comprehensive knowledge of learning and development competencies. Candidates who passed the exam next went through a series of behavior-based interviews with subject-matter experts, human resource professionals, learning leaders and their potential manager.
Candidates who made it this far were then invited to go through a large group-facilitation boot camp. The boot camp included sessions in adult learning, sound instructional design practices, intensive presentation feedback — including video critiques — and a final presentation to a tough, but realistic, role-playing audience.
Those who made it through the process with the right stuff received job offers. Members of the senior team said the pride and commitment that these learning professionals demonstrated soared. The university was transformed into the place to be.
Even after instructors were pinned with the honor of their new role, they continued to be tested with pop-in audits and extensive Level 4 evaluations.
Marcy Rothenberg, senior manager of instructional design, said the real evaluation of instructional excellence is claims closure rates and customer satisfaction. Remarkably, customers provide a 30 percent response rate and indicated levels of satisfaction never dreamed of.
Beware of what you wish. Your CEO might exceed your expectations and become the real driving force behind the learning agenda of your organization, as Murphy has at the University of Farmers, Claims. But if you respond the way Cuffe and his team have, it can lead to a remarkable partnership in which you find your line-of-business leaders actually lining up at the door to become a part of the university or to get their people into your programs.
That’s the kind of problem we all want.
Fred Harburg is a private consultant, writer and speaker in the disciplines of leadership, strategy and performance coaching. He has held numerous international leadership roles at IBM, GM, Motorola and Fidelity Investments. He can be reached at email@example.com.