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Growth Comes From Within

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Western & Southern Financial Group: 2023 BEST Award Winner, #12

How does an organization keep pace with the constantly changing landscape of its field? The answer comes internally for the talent development teams of the Western & Southern Financial Group, a diversified family of financial services companies. It's all about a company-wide culture to maintain a growth mindset. With that mindset, the organization offers both in-person and virtual learning in addition to development courses to establish a talent pipeline aligning with the corporate vision and values.


"As the rate of change continues to accelerate, we are challenged to keep pace with the development of our associates," says Heather Swensgard, assistant vice president of talent development. "We needed to become more efficient and focus on providing solutions to our associates that enable them to learn in the flow of work."

Efficiency has come in many forms, including competency sprints. The TD teams developed the learning approach to close the organization's five most pressing skills gaps going into 2022: change management, driving results and ensuring accountability, decision quality, driving engagement, and customer focus. Competency sprints are two-month, hyperfocused learning windows that feature a specific skill. The competency sprints also implement LinkedIn Learning courses, with activated licenses increasing from 53 percent in 2021 to 70 percent by June 2022. As a result, Western & Southern saw an increase in the efficient use of training dollars by more than $23,000.

The competency sprints enable associates to engage not only with their fellow associates but also with company leaders. As part of the program, seven of the organization's most senior leaders offer their insights and advice to associates in video messages and knowledge cafés before each sprint.

"Being the ideal place for a career is one of our company's cultural principles. It is core to what our chairman, president, and CEO drives within our organization," explains Swensgard. "Associates are expected to own their development, and managers are expected to create and support the environment where development happens. Across the enterprise, our associates are offered near-limitless opportunities for continued professional development."

To that point, in 2021, the organization filled 38 percent of openings internally, and 28 percent of associate promotions were to management positions. To continue growing the business and developing its talent, Western & Southern implemented skill sensing last year. Skill sensing identifies skills that associates have versus skills the business needs.


The company piloted the initiative with the HR and IT departments. Skill sensing has given leaders an easy and repeatable process to review and update top skills as necessary, and associates are now able to evaluate their current skill levels. The result is that associates have the feedback they need to have meaningful development conversations with their managers. Skill sensing also prompts leaders to think more strategically about the skills they need on their teams.

Western & Southern is on track to launch skill sensing organization-wide by the end of July. It's another initiative that backs up the company's pledge to foster an environment of development and growth.

View the entire list of 2023 BEST Award winners.

About the Author

Bobby Lewis is a writer for ATD; [email protected].

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