Learning Executive Briefing: What responsibilities
does your particular job entail at Allstate?
Groff: My job has changed over my five-year
tenure. I was brought in to oversee the learning and development
role. In the first several months, I proposed a focus on managing
talent in general, not just training or developing talent. A
broader set of opportunities was outlined and agreed to than was
These responsibilities included examining the business strategies
to define and develop the capabilities required for key roles at
various levels. To accomplish this, we identified a set of
competencies or success factors that link many of our talent
systems together. As a result we adjusted the way Allstate assesses
people for hiring, promotion, and development. It included aligning
development products and processes to reinforce and build the
capabilities defined by our strategies. We linked together
processes and practices beyond learning that effect performance,
such as performance management, succession planning, talent
reviews, development, and so forth.
LXB: With the swell of talent management, many
organizations' learning functions are working to build synergy
among all aspects of HR rather than coming up with different
angles. Is this the case at Allstate?
Groff: Yes. Increasingly, we focus on a wider
range of dimensions that affect individual performance. It's not
simply about traditional HR functions. It's the broader aspects of
human and organizational performance that can affect an
individual's ability to perform. We're improving human capital
planning, talent decision processes, organization design, change
management, and more. These are some of the key features of a
performance culture that we are highlighting, integrating, and
managing at Allstate.
LXB: What other departments have you worked with?
Groff: There are talent management implications
for many governance functions, for example, accounting, budgeting,
and strategic planning processes. We support initiatives in sales,
claims, marketing, finance, and product development. We work with
human resource business partners on change management, org design,
learning, and development. We ensure that C-level executives are
kept informed of evolving trends in talent management and internal
Advice is key. We don't always do the work. Often, we advise those
who do it. For example, our product operations department develops
our insurance products that are distributed through our agents. We
might collaborate with them in developing online training, learning
tools, and job aids around products. Our role may not be to
actually write the course but to enable the client source
LXB: Do you outsource any of your talent
management or other learning functions?
Groff: We outsource much of the tactical delivery
of our products and services. When I joined Allstate, we were
outsourcing some fairly standard project support activities, such
as instructional design, delivery, and curriculum development,
particularly when demand exceeded internal capacity. Just as we
outsource parts of benefits, we outsource parts of assessment,
staffing, performance management, coaching, training program design
and delivery, measurement, and course administration, among others.
In the past, we had a larger internal staff that actually did all
the design and delivery. Now we leverage partnerships with a number
of companies that have critical expertise in key talent areas. This
enables us to deliver products faster, better, and cheaper than
before. We retain all strategic work, some operational work such as
relationship management and program management, but most
transactional work is in third-party hands. Outsourcing has been
highly successful. This model is also prevalent in many of our
business units. Our education partners in finance, sales, and
claims have been very successful at outsourcing the design,
development, and occasionally the delivery of their training
products and services.
LXB: How do you decide what to outsource?
Groff: We ask the question: "Can we get a product
or service that is fast, competitively priced, and more leading
edge by going to outside firms that do this on a full-time basis?"
After we examine an opportunity, we look at what other companies
are doing. Increasingly, we find that outsourced work is often
faster, better, and cheaper. We do it on a project-by-project basis
until we prove to ourselves that the outsourced product or service
is as good as or better than expected.
Beyond learning and development, we have been outsourcing portions
of many HR functions, including benefits, compensation, staffing,
and assessments. Also, we outsource our learning management system
(LMS) and course administration to a third party.
LXB: How does the use of technology support
Allstate's learning initiatives?
Groff: Most companies now have LMSs that
coordinate the administration and sign-ups for online courses and
classroom events. We have an LMS that manages our courseware,
administration, and related processes.
We're exploring the use of mobile learning and larger learning
technology strategies. Some companies are considering cell phones,
BlackBerrys, and iPods to enable learning on a more mobile basis.
We're exploring this as well in conjunction with third parties.
Given the challenges of doing business today and the various
multigenerational issues, we are always looking to better enable
learning through new products, channels, and networks.
LXB: What kind of challenges are you seeing with
talent management and the multigenerational workforce?
Groff: That's a great question. Of course, we
follow the research on generational differences and make selective
adaptations to internal practices. Understanding generational
differences offers the potential to better react to the needs of
different generations, as well as better harness their performance
potential. We're particularly sensitive to generational differences
in hiring, retention, and engagement processes. Selectively, we
provide flexible work opportunities (through telecommuting, job
sharing, and working from home). Classroom training has expanded to
online and virtual classes. We currently have four generations in
our workforce and expect a fifth soon. A member of my staff, Marsha
Love Morrow, director of learning and organizational effectiveness,
put it this way, "The goal should not be to simply understand the
various generations. To outperform our competitors, the goal must
be to enable the organization and its leaders to engage each
generation to achieve better than average performance."
There seems to be research on both sides of this issue. One side
suggests generational differences are quite significant and best
managed accordingly. The other side holds that generational
differences are less consequential to work, performance, and
management. We attend to some generational differences, but
continue to strike a balance between them and work demands.
LXB: What sort of metrics does Allstate use to
measure the performance of its learning initiatives?
Groff: For our learning initiatives, we start with
the Kirkpatrick model. It's a training tradition and something that
has been around a long time.
We also use the case study method to evaluate learning. In certain
learning solutions, we evaluate the extent to which there is
real-world proof that what someone got out of the event resulted in
higher performance. Three to six months later, through an
interviewing process, we ask the individual who participated in the
training to provide evidence that would suggest that his
performance has changed the business as a result of the changes he
made. Allstate collects that information into a case study and then
uses it as evidence that the learning event actually resulted in a
Another way of looking at measurement is what we call "conditions
of success." For example, "How much of the success of the learning
solution is dependent upon what occurs in the learning event? Often
the answer is: "Very little." What determines the effectiveness of
the learning solution before and after the solution itself? This
gets to a need to understand the conditions that must be present in
an organization to ensure that what is embedded in a learning event
has a positive effect on organization performance. For instance,
people need to have a certain mindset before going into a learning
program. The managers of those people need a complementary mindset
- for example, a mindset focused on performance expectations
before, during, and after the event. What is an individual's level
of involvement in selecting a learning intervention? What is their
manager's involvement? What are the business drivers that warrant
the learning solution? These are typical conditions we measure.
We look at conditions of success for other major processes:
staffing, succession, development, and so forth. For example, the
traditional metrics in staffing have been "time to fill" and "cost
per hire." As is, they don't really offer insight into how well an
organization is doing to make the staffing process work or improve.
We have been evaluating staffing from a conditions-of-success point
of view - that is, examining the quality of the decisions that
occur in the staffing process, i.e., the quality of the candidate
pool, the quality of the selection pool, and the quality of the
LXB: What other things would you like to add about
learning initiatives at Allstate?
Groff: Successful learning and development doesn't
lie just in the jurisdiction of the learning and development or HR
functions. It requires alignment among many factors - individuals,
managers, and organizational infrastructure. As with other
components of talent management, it must be managed as an
A high-performance culture results from the coordination of
multiple systems and processes that directly and indirectly affect
performance. Narrow solutions are usually ineffective in changing
performance. Having a strategic framework for talent management
(including development) has been beneficial. An integrated
architecture rationalizes greater integration, minimizes
redundancies, and improves effectiveness. Importantly, we have to
manage many factors simultaneously to achieve success.