Insights on training
Principals need to look inside their agency for trainers
By Dave Willis
For Rhonda Talley, CPCU, facing challenges and finding solutions seem to be everyday occurrences, and ones that energize her. “I love finding new ways to solve problems and work around issues,” she says. This passion—and her ability to deliver—led Talley to her current position as quality assurance manager and corporate trainer for First Horizon Insurance Group, a Nashville, Tennessee-based agency. Or it led the position to her.
Several years ago, First Horizon’s predecessor agency created the role of quality assurance manager. The corporate trainer function evolved from that because, when a problem arises, staff needs to know how to keep it from happening again. “Once workflows are written, someone has to instruct the staff on them and then audit performance and offer follow-up training as needed,” Talley explains.
These days, training takes up about half of her time. Sometimes it’s a full-time job. At other times, quality assurance takes the lead. Either way, Talley is always busy supporting the 150 or so management systems users across First Horizon’s three locations in Tennessee and Georgia.
Still, Talley finds time to volunteer as chairperson of the Applied Systems Client Network (ASCnet) users group Member Relations Committee, secretary/treasurer for ASCnet’s Vision users group, and presenter at ASCnet’s annual Technology, Education and Networking Conference (TENCon). As part of this involvement, Talley has delivered educational sessions to other Applied management systems users, including one titled “Train the Trainer: Moving to More Effective Training” at the 2007 TENCon.
The class, delivered to a packed room—and one that stayed full throughout the entire session—was built around Talley’s experience of converting from one agency management system to another. Many session attendees were smaller agencies, where the person who is doing the training wears another hat—most likely handling a book of business. “For instance, they may handle a book of business and be the system administrator/trainer,” Talley explains.
Talley hasn’t had book responsi-bilities during her tenure at First Horizon. She’s focused exclusively on workflows, quality and training. From her experience, Talley believes agencies should consider having a dedicated trainer—at least one without book responsibilities—if the agency has between 75 and 250 employees.
At the lower end of the spectrum, the trainer can have an additional role—perhaps IT or, as Talley does, quality assurance. Beyond 250, it’s probably a wise idea to free the trainer from other responsibilities altogether, she believes.
In some situations, training responsibilities take center stage, regardless of agency size. “In an acquisition mode—and we’ve been in that position here—the trainer pretty much has to be ready,” Talley explains. “It’s one thing to walk away from writing workflows and quality assurance. Audits can be pushed off. It’s another thing to walk away from a book of business.”
During her agency’s multi-site system conversion, Talley went for months without performing audits. She estimates training took up 85% of her time. Now, employees know the system and workflows; training usually involves only refresher courses or new-hire training. “Once your agency is trained, it’s not a full-time job, even with 150-175 people,” Talley notes. “I can’t pull people from their desks and subject them to training five days a week.”
Talley became interested in training after presenting at a local users group meeting. “I’d never stood up in front of a group of people before but agreed to do a presentation on ‘A Day in the Life of a CSR,’” she recalls. Normally, 20 to 30 people would show up for these meetings. For that meeting, she recalls, “We had more than 80 reservations!”
Rather than scaring her (too much), the episode whetted Talley’s appetite. “It just got in my blood,” she explains. “I found I really liked it, so I did some in-office training. Then they called on me to do online training with ASCnet University. That’s a nice way to break in, if you get a little tongue-tied in front of people. You don’t see your audience, but rather a computer screen.”
Talley encourages principals to look inside their agency for trainers. “Look at the power users, the ones other employees go to for help,” she says. For most agencies, the individual can maintain some current responsibilities. “If you need someone to train your new hires, you could reduce their book of business and let them do the training as the need arises,” she explains.
The transition from go-to person to trainer is rather natural, Talley believes. “They already have the right mentality and attitude,” she explains. “‘That’s why everyone goes to them in the first place. They can convey information in a clear fashion.” Talley notes that they must be willing to help others and be able to communicate in plain, everyday English.
Time to deliver
Once selected, the trainer’s real work begins. It takes more than simply knowing the subject matter. “You need a place to start, a middle and an end,” Talley says, describing an effective training outline. “Look at what individuals need to know, how the training can be streamlined and packaged, and how to get information across in the best way possible.”
For the system conversion, Talley sat down and wrote an entire training program, working to incorporate what the vendor offered. “There were several stages of the plan,” she recalls. “First, users would go through Applied Systems’ tutorial. Next, they’d take Web-based training. Third they’d receive on-site help from an Applied trainer.”
Talley took over from there. “I did as many hours as the vendor did, focusing on our particular workflows,” she notes. After those four phases and a “go-live,” Talley laid back for a month. Then she started with 30-minute, one-on-one refreshers. “I’d go to someone’s desk and say, ‘It’s your turn,’” she recalls. “If they wanted me to, I’d sit down and spend time with them. If not, I’d move on to the next person. Different people struggle with different things.”
Consider the audience
The same thought process holds true for group training. Some people have shorter attention spans or don’t want to take part in training. Others are more detail-oriented.
“With salespeople, for instance, I rarely keep them longer than an hour,” she notes. “They want to be knocking on doors, working the phones—whatever they need to do to make money.” She usually schedules 45-minute sessions. “I don’t move too fast—with them or anyone else who doesn’t use the system regularly,” she adds. Finally, given potential distractions, Talley uses visual tools as she delivers their training.
For the system transition, Talley offered the salespeople 90-minute sessions—compared to the 20 hours of training others got—with no more than four individuals at each, on how to navigate the system. “They’d learn how to look up a client, access policies and, most important, how to find what premium and commission we booked,” she explains. She gave an overview of sales planning capabilities, and then handed out printed material. If they wanted more—how to add contacts, complete an application, add a policy or put a suspense item in—she’d do follow-up one-on-ones.
Sometimes, people are shy about asking questions. “They may leave with more questions than answers,” she explains. Others may think ‘Everyone else here knows how to do this. What’s wrong with me?’ To address these situations, Talley augments group learning with individual sessions. “There’s no reason why, at some point in time, a trainer can’t carve out 30 minutes for a one-on-one at an employee’s desk.”
Talley not only trains on technology; she uses technology when she trains. The agency uses Centra (www.centra.com) as its Internet classroom. First Horizon has what Talley describes as state-of-the-art training rooms at its Nashville and Atlanta offices, complete with large, built-in screens and projectors. “It’s like being at the movie theatre,” she says, with a laugh.
Sessions feature PowerPoint presentations or live management system demos done over the agency’s Citrix server. She generally provides detailed handouts, complete with screen captures that detail the tasks she’s teaching. “I prefer that people not take notes when I’m training, because they tend to miss what’s being discussed,” she explains.
To generate the screen captures, Talley uses software called SnagIt. “I can grab just that portion of the screen I want and zero in,” she explains. “I can also do short video clips with audio that lets me show the screen and talk through the process at the same time.”
For one-on-one sessions with remote employees, Talley can access the individual’s desktop using the agency network and lead the employee through the training right from her own office.
Recently, agency management approached Talley to conduct in-house training on insurance, not just workflows and technology. She immediately thought about what that meant. “I explained that I haven’t looked closely at an insurance form in five years,” she says. “I need to be retrained.” So soon, Talley will be learning while she’s training. But that’s just another challenge to face, which should make her quite happy. *
Dave Willis is a New Hampshire-based insurance writer and frequent Rough Notes contributor.
“Look at the power users, the ones
go to for help.”
—Rhonda Talley, CPCU
Quality Assurance Manager and Corporate Trainer
First Horizon Insurance Group