About five years ago, LandAmerica Financial Group Inc. changed its historically franchise-based operations style and molded its decentralized structure into a centralized, streamlined corporate entity with standardized processes and procedures.
by Kellye Whitney
December 28, 2005
About five years ago, LandAmerica Financial Group Inc. changed its historically franchise-based operations style and molded its decentralized structure into a centralized, streamlined corporate entity with standardized processes and procedures. That organizational shift, plus the creation and implementation of LandAmerica University in April 2004, forced the company’s employees to get used to many changes.
If you recently bought or sold a home, or if you are in the market to purchase one, you might have worked—directly or indirectly—with LandAmerica Financial Group Inc. While LandAmerica does not buy or sell property, or loan potential homeowners money, the company touches almost every other aspect of a real estate transaction—including home inspections, tax research and conducting a closing. The nearly 130-year-old organization has evolved from a title insurance company into a real estate transaction services provider with 900 offices across the United States.
Carol Anderson, senior vice president and director of talent and learning resources, said that the initial discomfort of organizational change diminished as the company’s mission to use learning as a strategic resource to develop talent, enhance performance and build the capabilities required to deliver results took root. “I’ve got tremendous anecdotal information about managers who grew up in an industry that has not really had a history of doing a lot of training, who are calling us and saying, ‘Wow, I can see now where training is going to help me.’ For us, that is an incredible win.”
Because the learning organization at LandAmerica is still constructing its curricula and course content, the company has enlisted the help of its corporate communications department to ease its managers and general workforce into the training mode, especially since e-learning, its primary learning delivery method, is still so new. “The bottom line is, we’re here to make the business better,” Anderson said. “We’re so geographically dispersed that all but probably six or seven of our sites have less than 50 people. As an organization, we have got to deliver learning content either through e-learning or through teaching our managers how to convey information and train people. One of our objectives as an organization is to learn how to set corporate goals better and then cascade those goals through the organization to managers and ultimately down to all employers so that there is a clear line of sight between what the employee work does and how that drives the corporation.”
A senior group of managers will deliver the training and carry the new message throughout the organization, Anderson explained. A large project team comprised of representatives from Anderson’s department as well as corporate communications and strategy resources will work with an outside consultant to develop a train-the-trainer program, not only to help managers deliver the necessary learning, but also to help gain their buy-in for the process. The manager curriculum currently has three core pieces with accompanying modules: employment law, managing performance and managing problem performance. The rest of LandAmerica’s roughly 12,500 employees are enjoying customer service and sales training. “Our method of differentiating ourselves from our competitors is the way we deliver our products and services,” Anderson said. “We are partnering with our superior service champion and strategy resources to deliver customer service training to about 3,500 to 4,000 employees. It will basically take them through touch points of how to deal with their customers effectively so that we can ensure consistency. In 2004, we launched the first step in this whole process, the Superior Service Guarantee program. It really was the first example of bringing our customer-facing employees together and giving them a tool that they can use to build loyalty with their customer base. It’s been extremely well received. We trained probably about 60 percent of our customer-facing employees, and the only reason that we didn’t train 100 percent is because there are still some states that, from a legal perspective, we’re working through how that guarantee works.”
In keeping with LandAmerica’s desire to create and take advantage of the benefits in a blended learning environment, the Superior Service Guarantee pilot program involved e-learning as well as an instructor-led component, where individuals from Anderson’s staff and the project team developed and delivered a series of classes to customer-facing managers and employees. “The learning itself became, ‘Take the online learning and understand conceptually what this guarantee is about. Come to the classroom, practice how you will share this guarantee with your customers and how you will make sure that you’re learning from the issues that might happen.’ The third step is giving the managers a tool to facilitate a lunch-and-learn environment where they can discuss how they can use the learning from the Service Guarantee to make their processes stronger. The Superior Service Guarantee served as the foundation. Now we’re going to step two, which is what we call Drive for Service Excellence: Part 1, taking each of our lines of business and developing the areas where employees can touch the customer, then defining very clearly how to behave in those environments,” Anderson said.
Delivering tests to gauge worker knowledge and retention has brought its own challenges. “We are trying very hard to incorporate tests in the Level 2 evaluations of learning into all of our e-learning courses, but we haven’t gotten there yet,” Anderson said. “Our goal is to have Level 1 on all of our classroom training. Putting tests into e-learning is a little intimidating, and our employees are still somewhat intimidated by having centralized requirements for doing training. We’re being a little careful putting tests in the classes right now, but we will be phasing those in as we build this out over the next few years.
“The most profound thing we can do to impact the business, which is our reason for being, is to continue to link learning to the business,” Anderson said. “The way that we’re doing that is by linking our talent management program to our learning program. It’s where our whole strategy comes into play. We did not launch LandAmerica University with a course catalog with the idea that people would go look at something, and think, “Oh that’s cool, I think I’ll take it.’ We don’t even have a course catalog, quite frankly. We have a search engine that’s pretty powerful, and if somebody is told to take a class on setting goals, they can easily go into the University and find e-learning opportunities to take.”
LandAmerica University combines its courses on management, sales and customer service with a software tool called the Development Wizard so that an employee can move seamlessly from his or her performance appraisal or 360-degree feedback directly to the Wizard’s suggestions on development offerings. “Softscape’s Wizard suggests classroom learning and online classes. We have a full-service resource library that has information on those three areas where people can reserve a book, we’ll mail it to them and then they mail it back. We’ve also got videos,” Anderson said. “They can actually take the suggestions that the Development Wizard gives them, create an individual development goal, then work with their manager to achieve that goal and evaluate it as part of their performance process. It’s a cycle. If I were to say what’s next and what would be the most impactful for our group, it’s helping our employees and our managers recognize the power of doing effective performance management, taking the time to do effective development planning, holding people accountable for that development planning and then working together to evaluate what’s next.
“Our folks are not used to this. They’re not used to doing performance appraisals. They’re not used to being required to create development plans, but when they get into this and look at that Development Wizard and recognize that somebody’s already put a lot of thought into what are some development things you need to do in order to build this particular competency or skill, they get kind of excited about that, and they can see the link between performance and development,” Anderson said.
“I think bringing Carol on board has really allowed us to take things to a new and different level and focus more dedicated resources to our training programs and developing our employees,” said G. William Evans, chief financial officer, LandAmerica. “We’re very much a customer contact relationship business, so the ability of our employees to interact with customers is extremely important, as is the ability to provide a consistent customer experience throughout our platform. Part of helping our employees to do that is to have the right training programs about the LandAmerica way, how we want to handle customers, how we need to do certain things, policies, procedures and so forth.
“It really is too soon in the program to see a lot of tangible results,” he added. “I think when a company starts a program like this, they have to recognize that they’re making a long-term investment, and the payback is going to be longer-term, as opposed to a very short-term payback. In Carol’s initial phases, she was assessing the landscape and helping to develop the groundwork for our program, so it took some time before we actually had programs in effect. But we expect to see results and we do have measures in place to track these. One benefit that we expect to see is in the sales training programs that we’ve added. We expect to see an improvement in our sales effort, which obviously has a top-line benefit, and to the extent that we have successfully trained our people in customer service programs, that would help with customer retention. If you’re going to commit to a program like this you have to be in favor of long-term results. When you have as large an employee base as we do, and you spend as much of your revenue on personnel costs as we do, its very important to make those investments for the long-term in the employee base, training them and helping them to learn.” ”
–Kellye Whitney, email@example.com