A Strategy to Excel: At Florida Blue, an Emphasis on Talent Development Results in More Than Superior Performance and Engaged Employees-It Wins New Customers

By Harris, Paul | Talent Development, October 2019 | Go to article overview

A Strategy to Excel: At Florida Blue, an Emphasis on Talent Development Results in More Than Superior Performance and Engaged Employees-It Wins New Customers


Harris, Paul, Talent Development


Doing more with less is a continuous priority for every budget-conscious talent development executive--although it's easier to preach than practice. That's why Philip Zoller prefers to take a different route. His motto is to "Do 'more' differently."

Zoller is vice president of talent management at Florida Blue, the Jacksonville-based member company of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. He directs all L&D for the enterprise, including the additional divisions within its corporate parent, GuideWell Mutual Holding Corp. GuideWell is a health solutions organization that operates in 35 states and is focused on transforming healthcare.

Scaling up

Health insurance is a seasonal business that peaks during the annual and open enrollment periods, the selling season for Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. In preparation, Zoller's 80-plus person department must scale up dramatically for a three- to six-month period so it can upskill the various sales and service teams. His operationally centralized but widely dispersed organization almost doubles in size as additional trainers and content designers are added for the assignment.

It is also a time of potential peril for Zoller and his leadership team, because much is riding on their ability to perform--and to do so effectively and affordably. That's where ingenuity is required.

For example, the L&D team could meet seasonal demands for new learning solutions by hiring contract designers or by leveraging outside content partners. A benefit is reducing current team members' workloads. "One of our greatest challenges is meeting the needs of the business while ensuring our team members can maintain a healthy work-life balance," he explains.

And where could he find and quickly train the 4050 temporary trainers needed to upskill new sales and service agents and other temporary employees? Not solely by hiring new people. "That would not be sustainable and would ultimately drive up the cost to the customer," Zoller notes.

He instead has devised different solutions for both. To meet the demands for 40-plus temporary operational trainers, Zoller and his leadership team have turned inward. Five years ago, he and his leadership team proposed to business stakeholders an opportunity to develop future trainers from within the company by tapping the ranks of high-performing sales and service team members. The result would be offering valuable training experience to those who may aspire to join the L&D team, benefiting all at little cost, he reasoned.

Called the Certified Trainer Associates program, it has been a giant success for the company. "We put these team members through a trainer certification program and use them to help us fill the seasonal gap," he says. "We have hired many of them for our team over the years while saving millions of dollars by scaling from within. Even greater is that some become full-time trainers or promote up to roles of greater responsibility."

As for the temporary instructional designers, the L&D department maintains a stable of independent contract designers located throughout the world who are available to fill in when necessary.

The value gained by Guidewell's emphasis on sales-related training is easy to measure. Its revenues have grown from $8 billion five years ago to almost $20 billion today.

But talent development is not only perceived as critical to business success at GuideWell. It is a vital selling point in itself. That's because GuideWell Connect, one of the subsidiaries that the L&D team supports, provides telemarketing services for several other Blue plans. To win new fellow Blue plan customers, GuideWell must first convince them that it hires and trains the best people with help from an award-winning training organization, Zoller explains. …

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