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Creating a Lean Machine
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Creating a Lean Machine

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Florida Blue - GuideWell: 2023 BEST Award Winner, #4

Photo of:
Seated: Amy Ruth, Sr. VP, Human Services Group & CHRO; Kristine Ellis, Director, Talent Development

Standing: Vanessa Barnes, Sr. Director, Functional L&D; Philip Zoller, VP, Talent Management; Karmen Spear, Sr. Director, Functional L&D; Chris Parsons, Sr. Director, Functional L&D

Not pictured: Vonda Jordan, Director, Functional L&D; Lisa McKinney, Sr. Program Manager; LaTasha McPherson, Learning Consultant; Scott Fossler, Director, Talent Management
A critical Lean initiative and a hefty new leadership ecosystem highlight TD advances at Florida Blue.


Disruption of any marketplace by powerful new entrants can wear on the space's established players—or it can energize them. Just ask Philip Zoller, vice president of talent management at Florida Blue, a member company of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. He says the perpetual need to innovate keeps his team on its toes.

Formidable competitors continue to enter the health insurance sector with innovative enhancements to the customer experience, including new technologies and lower price points. But for Florida Blue, such encroachments stimulate greater reliance than ever on talent development.

As the company's consistent inclusion on the Association for Talent Development's BEST winners' list attests, Florida Blue's innovation wagon continues to roll. Its latest initiatives have bolstered leadership development, furthered a creative Lean initiative, and enhanced its virtual training environment, among other benefits.

Leaning in

Florida Blue continued to advance a critical Lean Certification System initiative last year by augmenting its three-year-old center of excellence known as Enterprise Optimization. Through a partnership with Zoller's enterprise L&D team, the company created an LCS training program that is developing a cadre of in-house practitioners to adopt Lean procedures.

The initiative is deemed critical to meeting fiercely competitive challenges from tech-savvy competitors. To put it bluntly, failure of the initiative is not an option. The company has carefully engineered the plan for success, starting with the decision to locate the center within the heart of the organization rather than inside TD.

"Typically, health insurance companies are slow to adapt to new technologies," explains Zoller. "That creates challenges. Lean enables us to examine our people, processes, and technologies—and find ways to optimize." That means removing waste or unnecessary financial costs wherever possible, he adds.

Further, the company strategically launched the Lean rollout with a workshop targeted to company leadership. It emphasized the critical need for mindset change regarding people, processes, and technology throughout the organization. Zoller attests that the tactic made a "huge difference" in obtaining critical buy-in of the initiative from senior leaders.

He says the move underscores a vital imperative for TD executives who may be pondering Lean initiatives of their own. "If you launch a Lean program without first obtaining leadership buy-in and mindset change, it absolutely will fail," Zoller contends, because the invitation for managers to stymie any Lean optimization initiative launched within TD will be great.

In 2021, the initiative educated 550 team members, certified 150 with Lean Green Belts, certified two Lean Black Belts, and generated a cost aversion of $12.9 million by eliminating more than 150,000 hours of waste. The Lean footprint also expanded its reach to more than 81 areas within the enterprise.

Last year, Lean Competency System named Florida Blue's Lean initiative the Program of the Year for program sustainability. The program also tallied 575 certified White Belts and 102 certified Green Belts while generating a cost aversion of $7.1 million and eliminating 156,000 hours of waste.

Building a leadership ecosystem

Florida Blue's long-standing commitment to leadership development produced significant strides last year, especially regarding strategic initiatives targeted to high potentials. Initially rolled out in 2016 for high-potential directors, the company's "leadership ecosystem" now embraces every segment, from emerging leaders to executive development. Florida Blue is reaping the benefits of those carefully built leadership development pipelines.


To determine the modalities of its leadership initiatives, the enterprise L&D team meets with relevant stakeholder groups to gather data and make recommendations, following a formal process. The team used that process in 2022, for example, for a new high-potential midmanagement program called Unleashing Leadership Talent.

The goal is to create a more diverse pool of candidates for the company's executive pipeline. The exercise revealed that middle managers needed to learn broad executive leadership skills, including critical thinking and innovation, which the L&D team then delivered virtually in four specific ways: large-group training, small-group training, one-to-one mentoring, and small-group cross-functional virtual teams.

Zoller reports that the multiple modalities were extremely popular with learners. He says results included a jump in cohort readiness from 35 percent to 98 percent, as rated by their business leaders. In addition, more than 55 percent of the cohort has been promoted to greater roles. Overall, Zoller says, the company is enjoying a leadership internal fill rate of upwards of 70 percent.

That's not all. Zoller notes that the company's commitment to grow its own and increase its internal fill rate has doubled the size of last year's cohort. "Over half of last year's class has advanced to director-level jobs," he states.

'You belong here'

Other new TD initiatives include one that underscores with every new hire that they are truly valued within the organization—and have made a wise decision to join the Florida Blue team. "You Belong Here" is the high-priority message senior leaders deliver to every new team member 60 days after hire. Zoller calls the initiative "a small thing with great value," one that is already improving retention numbers.

The TD team has also upgraded on-demand course offerings to include learning journeys and bundles to support critical skills, microlearning, live sessions, and boot camps. As a result, on-demand content learning saw a 62 percent increase in new visitors in 2022, with employees completing more than 14,000 hours of content. Live classes typically have waiting lists, while the Net Promoter Score hovers around 90 percent for employee and leadership development content.

View the entire list of 2023 BEST Award winners.

About the Author

Paul Harris is a freelance writer in Alexandria, Virginia.

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