Unum is a highly ranked insurance company that protects 33 million people, serving 181,000 businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. They are positioned 258 on the fortune 500 as well as market leader in disability, group life insurance, and voluntary benefits. Unum is 10,000 people strong, with locations in Portland, Chattanooga, Columbia, Worcester, Baton Rouge, the UK, Ireland, and Poland. Their product is constantly evolving to meet the needs of a workforce that includes diverse age groups, growing ethnic diversity, and changing family dynamics.
Design a Manager Training Academy centered around creating leaders and driving cultural change
When Kim Bolton became Unum’s Program Director of Leadership Development, mid 2016, she acknowledged Unum’s need to evolve its manager training program as their market place, clientele, and staff changed. Employees were promoted to managerial positions based on job proficiency and received limited soft skills training during the transition. A large number of managers knew the technical aspects of their job but lacked leadership skills.
The manager training program in place was cumbersome and was not standardized company-wide. While it was helpful to individuals with managing experience, the program’s content had not been designed to train employees whose previous roles did not involve leadership. Unum was at risk of loosing staff, particularly Millennial managers, as a result of this training model.
Unum needed a leadership development program centered on clear goals for corporate strategy, coaching to higher performance, supporting employees through change, and modeling leadership at all levels. Kim describes her inspiration for the new learning model, saying, “When you think about insurance companies, you usually think of words like corporate, rigid, regulated, and risk averse. As our market has changes, our customers and employees are also changing— so our culture has to change.” Kim’s goal was to equip Unum’s 1,200 managers with the skills to lead their company toward a collaborative future. To facilitate this change Unum purchased Everwise, a platform to host the program, but did not have an L&D team experienced with it’s use or curriculum design.
Design a learning system to facilitate the professional growth positioning management staff to drive cultural change.
The creation of Unum’s Leadership Academy began with a team of senior managers, representing all internal functions, which identified four key competencies that related to their universal managing needs. Interpersonal effectiveness, leading change, elevating performance and strategic decision making were defined as the key areas the program would need to address. TTA’s creative team designed a learning system to facilitate the professional growth positioning management staff to drive cultural change. The program was designed to be accessible for learners of varied age groups, skill levels, and management styles.
The Manager Learning Experiment, a prototype of the Leadership Academy, only focused on interpersonal effectiveness. In January of 2016 , the pilot program was launched. 50 managers were selected to take part in the six week learning experience, which divided the core competency into one to two hour long modules. Groups of 7 to 8 people were asked to complete collaborative activities and self study missions. Teams were given access to an Expert Moderator, Kim, who would provide feedback, guidance, and expertise. There was also an experienced facilitator involved to answer general questions and provide Everwise support.
As Unum embraced The Leadership Academy it was clear that the team-oriented nature of the new learning system had fostered a culture of collaboration. Managers in the program were meeting with their supervisors and teams to review their experience. Since the pilot closed, a poll of management staff at Unum has revealed that confidence levels have risen from 45% at the beginning of the program to 70%. The most telling results are reflected in program attendance which increased from 50 learners in the initial pilot to 200 for the first full deployment in 2017. “As I moved into the second cohort demand stayed very high. The response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive,” recalls Kim.
TTA and Unum are working together to evaluate the effectiveness of the program through learner and facilitator feedback. Jerry Gschwind, TTA Learning Strategy Consultant, recalls a recent change made to the program based on this feedback, saying, “Through focus groups we’ve heard a desire for live interaction, and we’ve responded to that by installing live meetings in future cohorts. That way we will be able to facilitate collaboration between managers in Chattanooga, Portland, and even in England that are all in the program.”