Shortlisted team for the PWA Award for HR Excellence through Technology: Personnel Today Awards 2000
A home-grown computer-based training scheme has transformed learning of technical knowledge for Churchill Insurance’s frontline staff, and saved the company at least £28,000.
As the UK’s second largest direct insurer, Churchill has a customer base in excess of 1.5 million people. It employs more than 4,500 staff in the UK and another 40 in New Delhi, India who are primarily involved in IT programming.
All staff dealing directly with customers used to sit a cumbersome written test every six months to ensure they were up to date on knowledge of Churchill’s products. It was a labour-intensive process involving a lot of paperwork, administration and lengthy marking. It also required staff to spend too much time away from their desks.
In November 1998 IT trainer Stuart White decided it was time to convince senior HR managers and the board that the process could be streamlined and training made more effective using CBT. White quickly realised that no existing off-the-shelf software products would be appropriate to meet Churchill’s needs, so for a small outlay of £2,000 he bought Macromedia Attain Authorware and adapted the content and design.
The new system had to be easy to use, reliable and capable of testing individuals and immediately producing reports. Churchill used existing expertise to tailor the software. The team members involved were diverse and spread across a number of sites, including India, yet the initiative was ready to roll out within four months.
By March 1999 they had transferred all testing to the new system and were beginning to change the way staff perceived testing on the job. Under the old paper-based testing, employees saw it as a performance measure in which line managers were trying to catch them out.
With CBT, staff had to be shown that testing was a developmental tool not a disciplinary one. The format of the tests remained the same but a bank of 60 questions were created for each skill. Each department in Churchill nominated an expert to assist in the writing of the questions and these were then passed to the technical services unit for approval.
While Stuart White was responsible for the design and user experience of the training modules, HR colleague Rita Jeffery tackled the technical content, the tests and the initial pilot.
CBT has reduced the amount of time spent on inductions for new staff, avoided duplication of training, ensured consistency of technical training and streamlined the whole process. So far, just under 3,000 tests have been conducted nationwide.
Now others areas of the business are looking to apply CBT. The company’s key value is “kaizan” – continual improvement – and this is being applied through linking CBT to the intranet, recruitment and assessment of staff and to enhance self learning. White and Jeffery are also keen to add sound and video to their existing modules to make the learning experience more dynamic. Overall, they believe the development of CBT as fundamental to Churchill’s strategy of world-class staff producing a world-class service.
“We now have a system in place which is both quick and fair,” says Rita Jeffery. “Staff no longer see testing as a threat and are now so keen that even if they lose one market they want to know why. Previously they were more concerned with passing.”
“The beauty of this was that it was home-grown and therefore gives us so much more control,” says Stuart White. “We are handling just under 5,000 more customer calls per year now because we saved staff so much time and they are more effective.”‘
This is the second time that Churchill Insurance has been shortlisted in the Personnel Today Awards. Last year, the HR team was a finalist in the Excellence in Training category.
Company fact file
Team Churchill Insurance HR and Training Team, Bromley, Kent
Team leaders Karen Coleman, HR senior training & development manager; Stuart White, IT trainer HR
Number in HR team 30, including IT specialists in India
Number of employees responsible for Over 4,500
Main achievements Huge savings and improved effectiveness of training by introducing a new computer-based system for testing staff knowledge
Priorities for next 12 months Computer-based training is now so popular at Churchill that all areas of the business wish to adopt it. There are plans to link CBT to the company intranet, to use it in recruitment and assessment and to add sound and video modules to enhance self learning
Judge’s Comment “At first sight, Churchill’s electronic testing of customer-facing staff may be seen as a narrow application of technology. However, movement to electronic testing has turned an unpopular, time-consuming chore into a vehicle for fast feedback to staff and management. This particular project is a good example of relevant technology to meet key business goals. The management of the project, using IT staff based in India, is also noteworthy”