It’s not uncommon for learning leaders to have roots in disparate areas of the business. Because of that diverse experience they usually have great stories to tell, but few can boast a life journey quite like that of Adri Maisonet-Morales.
Having married into a military family, Maisonet-Morales got her start working in retail in Nuremburg, Germany, where her former husband was stationed. Even though most leaders in the organization were German, Maisonet-Morales said her personality and “spiciness” led to a promotion. It was the first of many leadership opportunities that would come her way.
Her husband’s military career led her next to Kansas, where she worked retail jobs while earning a BA in communications from Kansas State — she also has a bachelor’s in leadership development from Bellevue University, where she is pursuing a master’s in organizational performance. Next, they moved to Washington, D.C., where she assumed a series of leadership positions in retail. Later, they moved to North Carolina, and she held leadership positions in the telecommunications, home and commercial security and software development industries.
In 1997, with no background or expertise in health care, Maisonet-Morales joined Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) as a regional supervisor in operations. This position not only enabled her to interact with customers, but she also got a big-picture perspective of how the organization worked and how every employee could add value.
After holding several leadership positions in operations, she started working in L&D in 2004.
“Being an innate learner, I thought this was a great new opportunity,” she said. “When I came into [the learning] organization, because I had such depth on the business side of the house, I was really able to identify quite a few opportunities where the learning organization could improve interactions with the business.”
From there, she worked her way up to her current position as vice president of Blue University, the corporate learning and development organization at BCBSNC, in 2008.
Maisonet-Morales said she would never have seen herself working in the learning and development space, but her reputation as an innate learner — and her affinity for learning something new or trying something different every chance she got — made her a perfect fit.
“I tend to bore very easily when I get comfortable with things, so I tend to look for opportunities that will continue to stretch me,” she said.
In her current position, she provides enterprise-wide learning and development for more than 4,300 internal employees and contractors as well as the company’s producer community, which includes agents, group administrators and providers.
Using People as Partners
Many learning leaders face increasing pressure to create impact despite shrinking budgets. Maisonet-Morales is no different, but she pushes her team to think in terms of continuous improvement rather than just doing more with less.
“Sometimes we get so hung up on the number that we don’t necessarily think very creatively about how we can still make effective learning available for the people that we serve in a way that is cost effective,” she said.
In the spirit of creativity and cost effectiveness, the company has embraced informal learning to facilitate skill building. Using a variety of delivery platforms from podcasting to mobile learning, BCBSNC offers employees multiple entry points to foster legitimate learning outside of the classroom, at the point of need.
“Health care is just riddled with legislative change — our landscape is incredibly fluid, so what we realized very early on almost out of necessity is that in order for us to maintain any level of relevancy, we’re going to have to give the people what they need much quicker,” she said.
That means understanding that in some instances, stopping in the middle of the day to attend classes may be an interruption rather than a boon to productivity. “[Employees] want to be able to go out, grab what they need on demand and keep it moving,” Maisonet-Morales said.
The company has capitalized on this need by introducing tools that enable employees to search for information on demand. One of these is SharePoint, the primary tool used for content and discussion boards related to classes. This enables information seekers to collect the information they need and get on with their work.
The learning organization is also in the process of building B.L.O.O.M. (Blue’s Learning Opportunities On-demand Learning Media), a tentative name for a series of YouTube-like videos created by the learning function, subject matter experts or other leaders across the organization. The idea is for employees to be able to quickly browse for relevant information on topics of interest.
Proactive, Not Reactive
Both Maisonet-Morales and her CEO advocate learning as a lifestyle, a philosophy suggesting that an individual’s learning journey never ends. In an increasingly competitive business landscape, the workforce must be armed with the knowledge and skills to compete and succeed, said Brad Wilson, president and CEO at BCBSNC.
“When we put new corporate strategies in place in 2010, we defined one as ‘Prepare Our People,’” he said. “Our learning and development efforts are a centerpiece of this strategy.”
During Maisonet-Morales’ tenure at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, the learning organization has achieved a level of strategic alignment that previously didn’t exist.
“There was no consistent understanding that training needs to be a strategic partner at the table at the inception of the project — that was the root cause why so many training efforts were experiencing pretty significant points of failure along the way and low adoption — we were just reacting too late,” she said.
The function has since evolved to the point where it’s no longer seen as an afterthought, but is an active business partner that reacts to business desires as they change. This means the learning organization anticipates business needs and produces the right solutions at the right time “to rock and roll at the point of need and for the right price point,” she said.
The success Maisonet-Morales has enjoyed with this approach suggests that a fundamental paradigm shift for learning professionals may need to occur, where they move outside their comfort zones and leverage a greater level of business acumen.
“As we start to understand the new skill demands, the challenge now becomes: ‘How do we develop those skills and capabilities in a way [that] flexibly, economically and effectively drives business results through human capital?’” she said.
Maisonet-Morales said her peer learning leaders at other organizations often call her for advice on how to achieve better integration with HR and core business leaders. “CLOs are really struggling still with being more of the order taker as opposed to being [a] trusted adviser,” she said.
At BCBSNC, learning reports to HR. The two are closely aligned and work together to accomplish business objectives.
For instance, when talent acquisition notifies the learning organization that a job offer has been accepted, the learning organization is responsible for new hire orientation and on-boarding and ensuring the appropriate curriculum is in place and classes are set up.
As part of the HR leadership team, Maisonet-Morales and two of her peers — Robin Miller, vice president of people strategies, and Latisha Hamilton-Williams, vice president of total rewards and people services — collaborate and report to Chief Human Resources Officer Fara Palumbo.
“All of us at that same table have a strong understanding of what the business need is, what [business leaders are] looking for and work together to solve that problem as a team,” Palumbo said. “It’s not about filling the hiring requests and then expecting L&D to deliver training.”
Changes ushered in by health care reform have prompted BCBSNC to determine that some cornerstone roles within the organization are becoming obsolete, Maisonet-Morales said. It’s now imperative for the learning team to develop new skills and capabilities to prepare employees for new roles.
“It has forced us to reckon with how we are training the organization, how we are preparing people to compete in the organization and with this new legislation,” Maisonet-Morales said. “What has become crystal clear is that in order for us as an organization to survive in this uber-competitive environment … we have to have differentiators, and one of those differentiators has to be the people.”
For the first time, the company has outsourced and out-tasked certain functions. “A lot of the roles that we’ve identified, we’ve strategically started to determine which of these skills are commodities that we can get out of here and what things we really need to hang onto and build out,” she said.
For example, a fundamental shift is taking place within the IT organization. Employees are moving away from a builder role and are now acting as more of a broker. Instead of creating and carrying out every task in house, IT employees must instead develop business acumen so they can work with various vendors to deliver business results.
As the need for outsourcing reverberates across the organization, it requires a new set of skills — even within the learning organization. The company’s learning strategy continues to take on an increasingly complex role to meet business needs, and Maisonet-Morales said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The learning and development function is no longer considered a standalone function — it is considered an integral part of the organization, a key success factor in our ability to compete … that’s a space that all CLOs aspire to be in,” she said.
Want to know how the recent Supreme Court decision on health care reform affects L&D in health care? Click here.