How Farmers Insurance Cultivates Talent: An Interview With Farmers CLO

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Due to its popular University of Farmers commercials, Farmers Insurance is arguably the public face of corporate learning. The commercials are not just smoke and mirrors though; Farmers has won an impressive array of awards for its learning initiatives.

Leading this success is Annette Thompson, Chief Learning Officer of Farmers Insurance, who spoke at our Corporate Learning Summit.

CLN: Farmers Insurance has received just about every accolade possible for its learning initiatives. Have you become jaded after all of these awards? Is there one particular award or ranking that sticks out as the one you're most proud of?

Annette: I hope we haven't gotten jaded by the industry recognition. While it's nice to be recognized, our primary objective has always been to use these industry programs to benchmark ourselves against the best in the business.

This assures we push ourselves and are always focused on continuous improvement to deliver for our customers and the business. In such a changing and fast paced marketplace, I think we always have to be learning and growing.

I have to admit the Training 125 recognition has been one that has come with a great deal of work. We have been recognized five consecutive years and in the top ten the last four years, including recognition as number one. It was just announced last week that we will be recognized in the Hall of Fame as well.

The reason this award probably stands out is because it is the most far reaching and comprehensive in scope, global in nature, and scored quantitatively and qualitatively. Top 125 assessments reach deep within organizations, exploring a holistic view on how they engage and develop their people.

CLN: Can you discuss some successful strategies you employ to make sure that key stakeholders and board members are fully committed to learning initiatives?

Annette: A couple of things we do are as follows:

We align closely with the business to assure they are a part of the strategy from the beginning. My team sits both in business and in learning; this assures they are present in business meetings and in the operations to assure they internalize the business needs.

The business units we support are also a part of our design process from the beginning. This assures that together we determine what the business challenges are, how we will ultimately define success, and some of the shortfalls in current performance that need to be addressed through a learning solution, or more broadly an integrated business solution.

We keep score with the use of a scorecard that highlights programmatic learning solutions against desired outcomes. Business leaders have access to our results.

We hold our learning professionals accountable in their performance reviews to the business metrics we expect the learning and development solutions to deliver.

We leverage an internal learning council made up of business leaders to assure we are focused on the right strategic imperatives. The council also has input to both our needs and the direction of our learning and development solutions.

CLN: Are new technologies fundamentally changing the way the University of Farmers operates?

Annette: Absolutely!! I believe the future is in creating an environment for others to learn versus always being the developer and deliverer of content. This means new technologies like social and also new skills for our teams.

I also believe the future is in continuous learning and away from traditional linear design. Learning needs to occur on demand and in the moment. Again, this points to better use of pad and smart phone technology as well as much better content management. We have and are growing in our use of pad technology here at the University of Farmers.

We're exploring these new technologies like everyone. Are we there way but we continue to pilot and test to take us into the future.

CLN: Is there an aspect of learning and training that you think corporate America doesn't emphasize enough?

Annette: I think developing the leader of the future is quite challenging. This is especially challenging given the fast pace changes in our employees, technologies, and the world market. Also I believe the economic downturn has really shaped the face of organizations for the future, on a permanent basis.

CLN: What do you think the future of the University of Farmers holds?

Annette: I alluded to a few of the things above but the future of the University of Farmers will be about new technologies and delivering new skills to our team to develop the capabilities in these new tools as well as how to deploy them in development of their solutions.

The future will be about transitioning to being the curators of learning versus the designer of learning. The structure will need to continue to be agile and proactive, while driving costs out of the L and D business. Lastly it will be about delivering development solutions that assure we can attract, empower, engage, and retain great employees.