Service Corporation International (SCI) is the largest provider of funeral, cremation and cemetery services in North America. More than 20,000 employees across North America compassionately help more than 600,000 families every year through very difficult times in their lives. Pursuing a best-in-class workforce through education helps SCI deliver dignified service.
“We’re in the people business,” said Donna Hastings, managing director of organizational development, Service Corporation International. “That led to our vision for education, and became a top priority and a top strategic focus for the company.”
Creating a positive family experience is critical for SCI, and this centers on congenial and sensitive customer service. “We knew that we had to have more than a training catalog,” Hastings said. “We had to create a learning environment where people can excel at what they do. We came up with the concept of a corporate university, Dignity University, which launched in July of 2004, and we launched a virtual campus to try and reach those 20,000-plus employees that we have all over North America.”
Learning at SCI begins with an accurate job description to identify key competencies, skills, knowledge and attitudes that employees need. Then, curriculum maps are designed for every job function in the company. These maps outline the coursework that leads to certification in a position, and SCI employs a blended learning approach, including instructor- and manager-led, Web-based and on-the-job training, along with e-learning, to provide what’s needed. “We truly embrace a blended approach to training because we want people to learn in the best way possible,” Hastings said.
SCI laid the foundation for Web-based training a few years ago, and in 2004 rolled out point-of-sale system training in virtual classrooms for 15,000 people over a six-week period using Centra. “We estimated that we saved probably $2 million to $3 million over the cost of doing traditional classroom instruction, which is what we’d done in the past with that kind of rollout,” Hastings said. “We also use this technology though virtual e-meetings to reduce the number of conference calls.”
To ensure that learning has impact and that employees are held accountable, SCI has a Dignity Board of Directors made up of senior managers who approve curriculum for all learning initiatives and coursework development. “If we really wanted to achieve a best-in-class workforce, then we had to put some teeth in it,” Hastings said. “We require that employees be certified through Dignity University.” The three levels of certification include associate, bachelor’s and master’s.
Candidates who operate at the master’s level become the talent pool for the next level up, which feeds into SCI’s succession planning model. “In some of our more complex jobs, it could take anywhere from two and a half to three years to complete the program through the master’s level,” Hastings said. “Our long-term plan is to use it as a tool to assess merit increases and promotion.”
SCI has identified specific jobs and key metrics to make sure learning produces impact. There are tests after every course, and employees must score 80 percent or better to receive credit. Employees can test out of some courses by taking a pretest and scoring 90 percent or better.
SCI also has a client satisfaction index with a 50 percent return rate from families, as well as a survey to indicate progress. “We work closely with our operating business units to track key metrics in terms of revenue and productivity, and client satisfaction,” Hastings said. “The heads of those business units are on our board, and we meet every other month. In 2005, we are implementing the DU Dashboard to look at the data to see if we’re making the progress we want to make. If not, then we, as a group, decide on things that we may want to do differently. They’re totally accountable for our success.”
SCI will continue to develop courses and expand Dignity University’s offerings from a human capital management perspective. In 2004, the company implemented 360-degree assessments and development plans for its top 200 managers. SCI also went live with PerformanceLink, a performance management system that links Dignity University courses and activities to personal development plans. “We are now pulling all the pieces together in our talent review process,” Hastings said. “The iPerform platform will integrate performance data collected from PerformanceLink and 360s to our talent review and succession planning process. In mid-August we will be conducting formal talent reviews for our top 200 management positions. Managers will be placed on a 12-box grid for development and placement recommendations. By mid-September, we’ll begin implementation of our succession planning model. We’ve got a lot on our plate between now and the end of 2005.”
–Kellye Whitney, email@example.com