The learning mission is fairly universal. It has infinite nuances related to company and industry, but learning should somehow help people work smarter and perform at optimal levels. The structure of the learning organization and how it’s governed, however, are as varied as the products and services different companies produce.
Health insurance provider and care facilitator Health Net Inc. embarked on a discussion and evaluation of learning governance, and it built a model to operate from as a precursor to an enterprisewide learning management system purchase scheduled for early next year. This model will help the company create efficiencies, break down silos and generally leverage learning as a strategic activity, one that will put the right stakeholders in the right place at the right time.
“As a company, we have business units that are dispersed geographically, as well as units that have very specific, different functions, and from a governance standpoint, in order to truly leverage the system in a way that we’re hoping will give us what we want, is we can involve the right stakeholders at the right time,” said Andy Ortiz, vice president of talent management, diversity and leadership development. “Part of that process is selecting a learning governance committee and structure that will enable us to really get the most out of the dollars that we spend on learning.”
Suzanne Rumsey, director of corporate workforce planning, said Health Net also is trying to figure out the best way to leverage talent in the organization.
“Health insurance is a very thin margin business,” Rumsey said. “The dimensions upon which you can effectively compete, they all require very strategic management of core talent. Health Net, in its current incarnation, has only been in business probably seven years. We are like a lot of health insurance companies out there, a product of a lot of acquisitions and divestitures. For that reason we’ve had very distributed models around everything, not just learning but finances, performance and those sorts of things. The last several years have been a process of centralizing and standardizing certain processes where it makes sense. In the past two or three years, we’ve started to really look at the talent management landscape. We’re going off the model that we have to have good leaders in place to create an environment where people enjoy coming to work and giving their best every day. We walk that road, but we’ve walked it as far as we can without putting some key tools in place, and that’s where the learning management system comes into play.”
In addition to governing the LMS when it arrives, establishing a learning governance model has helped reveal learning as a key, acknowledged selling point for performance and organizational growth.
“I don’t know that there has been a universal understanding of that,” Rumsey said. “We do a lot of development work. We just don’t know from a universal standpoint where it all is and what it all is. Part of the other advantage of bringing a learning governance process together is, we’ll say, ‘First, let’s do the view of what we’ve got,’ and that’s helpful. Then we can start leveraging this group to be more of a strategic committee to say, ‘Look, if this is where the business is trying to go, what’s going to be our learning strategy to help support that?’”
Rumsey said Health Net never has had that kind of centralized, strategic learning focus — the company was operating from a tactical perspective, aiming to get the LMS up and running. Health Net subsequently realized it had an opportunity to create a strong learning strategy that will help to realize some of the business strategies it’s exploring.
“We’re trying to make sure that we have voices from all areas of the organization where learning takes place,” Rumsey said. “We need to make sure we’re including folks who, up to this point, probably haven’t even been included in those kinds of conversations. Depending on who you talk to, we have different lines of business that have their own learning group, and they function very well on their own. From a governance perspective, we don’t want to say, ‘Stop what you’re doing — we’re all going to get on the same bandwagon.’ We want to say, ‘Hey, can we tie what you’re doing into an overall company story and then standardize some really basic stuff? Let’s not keep reinventing wheels. If someone’s got a really great vendor that delivers X, why not use the same vendor to deliver X somewhere else?’ By doing some of that, we’ll reap some efficiencies and economies of scale. From a sheer operational point of view, the learning governance model hopefully will help us operate more effectively.”
Ortiz said, essentially, the learning governance model helps learning executives stay closer to the business and refutes the image of the learning organization as an ivory tower disconnected to what’s happening on the ground. Learning also is a safe way to set up the proposed LMS or any type of large scale process implementation.
“Learning is like apple pie,” Ortiz said. “No one’s going to say learning’s bad. Through this process, we’ll be able to leverage it and find ways that we can bring folks across the company together to have deeper dialogue and deeper discussions about our business and how we need to better support our customers. It’s pretty transformative. We’re going through the back door here, but we’ll see far-reaching benefits come as a result. We’ll facilitate a greater degree of learning to the company and our associates, and there will be a lot of bridges built in the process.”