Leading by example

Lincoln Insurance Services’ leadership programme is a true blend of learning methods – and it’s the user who decides which blend is best for them.

In summer 2002, Lincoln Insurance Services, part of US-based Lincoln Financial Group, outsourced part of its administrative operation to Capita. The company was mindful that this development would prompt role changes for Lincoln’s managers, who would find themselves leading a more streamlined operation in the future. As well as bringing about a change in their responsibilities, their positions would also demand more innovative thinking, says Fleur Hobbs, now legal director but then head of Lincoln’s HR department.

“We urgently needed to communicate the change process and the resulting increased responsibilities to our managers,” she says.

Gratifyingly for Hobbs, two years into a blended programme the organisation’s managers now spend 35 per cent of their time on development work, specifically in learning how to manage their enlarged roles. In turn, they are encouraging their teams to access much of the learning material.

“We needed to support managers through training, but were keen to ensure we did not follow a ‘sheep-dip’, approach but tailored the development to individual needs,” says Hobbs.

Lincoln had been aware of the work of Echelon Learning and had seen demonstrations of its low-cost approach to supporting competencies and training via e-learning at an HR forum.

Echelon’s head of consulting Jenny Hill says: “Lincoln was interested in our ideas and how we could apply our work-based tools to a leadership programme. It didn’t have a block training need, but wanted one solution that could be individualised for the managers.”

Lincoln had already carried out a competencies assessment of its managers and the London-based learning provider created the programme based on an analysis of their needs. It took the approach of building a learning market which meant that managers could choose which learning method they wished to pursue. They could, for example, select executive coaching sessions, up to six training workshops, or a range of ‘just-in-time’ development solutions stored in an online library.

“The topics and methods covered a range of learning styles and situations to help people cope with the necessary role shift,” explains Hill. “The hub of the programme is a Lincoln Leadership website, which managers access to select and record their personal development. The objective is to offer continuous learning, taking it beyond the boundaries of formal learning right into the heart of the workplace.”

The key elements of the programme were:

  • Focus and choice – with an online learning market
  • Support with role shift through executive coaching
  • Shared learning and team-building through facilitated workshops
  • Pragmatic, practical self-development, selecting from a range of electronic solutions
  • Continuous professional development, recorded via an electronic learning log.

Lincoln immediately identified benefits of the approach, anticipating a saving of around 30 per cent on course time and 20 per cent on costs.

Hobbs says: “Participants benefited from the carrot of a bespoke continuous learning programme with the capability of tracking personal development.”

Forty managers were selected for the programme, which comprised 70 per cent face-to-face and 30 per cent online. They were able to generate their own online personal development log to record their learning and could then go on to ‘pick and mix’ their learning methods. Workshops were run on-demand and book-ended with pre- and post-course learning downloaded from the Lincoln Leadership website.

Previously downloaded self-development material was used in the workshops and as the participants progressed into the learning, they made their own contributions to this material based on their own knowledge and experience.

“The sharing of experience was captured in revisions to the online material and a shift of emphasis from a learning library to an accessible Yellow Pages-style directory of know-how,” says Hobbs.

Lincoln and Echelon conducted a review, which highlighted some housekeeping matters such as that logging on with an e-mail address rather than a name would streamline administration, and that automatic e-mails could be sent informing users of updates to material. More significantly, it also showed that Lincoln’s expectations of self-development were perhaps too high and while participants completed pre-course work, few completed work after the course.

“Moving from a reactive to a responsive approach to learning might have been more realistic than expecting people to be proactive,” says Hill. “People opted for ‘me-learning’ not we-learning – we called it the ‘selfish gene’ effect.”

Lincoln has carried out a number of changes after the initial evaluation and these have included designing the training materials to be used by managers at work. An example of this is the project management workbook which is a guide to project managing to help managers meet Lincoln’s procedures and specifications in this area.

“Developing and using learning materials this way enables users to access and use them at work as practical recipes,” says Hobbs.

The second phase of the training is also closely aligned to the organisation’s business goals.

“Another example is a SMART [Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Theoretically sound] goals workshop designed to help managers to help their appraisees set SMART goals that are linked to the business plan,” said Hobbs.

The original trainer-led workshops have now been converted into personal learning programmes and many more workshops have been added. An online library of supporting development tools has also been set up and organised around Lincoln’s balanced scorecard of performance indicators.

“This year it includes several dozen new tools, many of them in the form of action-lists on financial topics designed to refresh learning or provide succinct summaries on new topics,” says Hobbs.

Other developments include a career development zone and an e-zine newsletter incorporating links to various areas of the online learning zone. The latter has encouraged people beyond the group of 40 managers to enter the zone and a typical week sees the site accessed by 25 per cent of the user population, says Hobbs.

“Users like the accessibility and respond well to having materials e-mailed directly to them, which is now possible. Experience tells us that new users are not proactive in accessing the site so it needs to be managed proactively via us posting reminders.”

Re-skilling and developing existing managers has cut down on Lincoln’s need to recruit new skills and now that the programme is in its second phase, the drive is to tie the learning in with the organisation’s business strategy.

What will remain a constant challenge, however, is to keep up the momentum of self-development. Like the learning programme itself, its marketing and communication must be ongoing.

“The continuous learning opportunities of a programme of the kind we have implemented requires training and HR teams to continuously market and support self development,” says Hobbs. “The challenge is to create a cultural shift from training to continuous development and to ensure that self-managed learning is measured as part of performance.”

Lincoln’s top tips for getting the balance right

  • Ensure training materials can be applied at work in order to spread the learning beyond the managers attending the courses
  • Get the balance of course and work-based development right for the purpose intended
  • Promote as many development methods as possible. A survey among course members found there are more than 22 development methods currently available and used at Lincoln

In summary
How to fill the skills gap

What Lincoln did Create a blended learning leadership programme that would enable learners to pick and mix their desired learning method.

Why? The company had gone through a number of changes and management roles were being widened. There was a need for more innovative thinking when it came to leadership.

Is it working? Managers spend 35 per cent of their time on development work to extend learning for their enlarged roles and are passing the learning on to teams. Developing existing managers has reduced the need to recruit new skills.

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