Lincoln Financial’s Screen Test Helps Set Career Paths

By Sarah Fister Gale

Aug. 20, 2018

Two years ago, Lincoln Financial Group faced a training challenge that will be familiar to learning leaders in many big companies: Employees needed additional training on more topics but they had little time to spend in a classroom. And, resources were stretched thin.

“We saw a lot of change taking place in our industry, but we had a very limited budget for training and development across the company,” said Jen Warne, senior vice president of talent and human resources.

The Fortune 250 insurance and investment management company has more than 9,000 employees in six U.S. locations. Many of them work in siloed business units with little access to leaders in the Radnor, Pennsylvania, headquarters or even with colleagues in other business units, Warne said.
Along with providing easy-to-access training on new technologies and industry trends, the learning and development team wanted to topple the barriers and offer employees more insights into the company and their career opportunities within it.

It was a tall order, but by harnessing the knowledge of experts and using the existing company technology, the team designed a model for learning that highlights the company, the financial industry, and employees’ own skills development needs.

In 2016, the learning and development team rolled out Learning in Action, which features a series of webinars, videos, articles and other online content that employees can access on demand. “It’s all about bringing learning to employees at the right time without a huge financial investment,” Warne said.

The program is segmented into three categories with defined goals for each:

Leaders in Action. This series connects senior leadership to employees by interviewing executives about their career path, current role and business goals through short “studio-style” video interviews and presentations.
Careers in Action. This series educates employees about different areas of the business through interviews with experts, so they understand how their roles fit into a larger picture and the different career paths available to them.
Experts in Action. This series promotes enterprise business acumen and career mobility for employees through articles, presentations and video interviews with internal and external leaders examining industry challenges and current topics.

Cheap and Authentic

The Learning in Action program brings many benefits to the company and its employees, says Pearl Sumathi, vice president and head of talent development. “To begin with, it’s very cost effective,” she said. The content is stored on the company’s existing learning management system and the videos are produced and edited in-house through a collaboration between the learning department and the marketing and communication staff. The live webinars are streamed via the company’s existing intranet to all 9,000 employees, then converted to video and stored on the LMS. As a result, the program required no major capital expenditure on technology, Sumathi said.

And because the content is largely based on interviews and presentations, it also takes relatively little time on the part of experts and the production team to create. The interview subjects are briefed on the theme and goals for the interview, but everything they say on camera is from their own experience. “Because it’s not scripted it feels more authentic,” Sumathi said.

The biggest challenge the production team faced was making sure the experts felt comfortable sharing their stories in a consistent, digestible way that would translate well to an eight-to-10-minute video, said Jeffrey Giacoponello, assistant vice president and talent partner. “In order to overcome this, we created a framework of questions for leaders to answer, which provides a consistent methodology to share business-related content.”

The result is engaging content that captures employees’ attention to make them feel more connected to the leadership team. “Seeing senior managers acknowledge the struggles they’ve had in their careers and how they overcome them is powerful,” Warne said. Employees also like the access to senior leaders who they otherwise may never encounter.

In the live webinars, much of the content is built around a Q&A format, which again requires experts to respond to questions in real time rather than having a formal script. Being able to submit questions during the event causes viewers to be more invested in the presentation and pushes the conversation in a more meaningful direction. “It makes it more engaging,” Warne said.

Unfiltered Access

Warne’s hope is that the interactive exchanges and authentic stories will provide employees with new insights into their own career paths and where learning can help them get to the next level.

That was the response Robert Fisk had when he viewed his first Careers in Action video featuring the company’s chief accounting officer, Christine Janofsky. While Fisk’s job as director of operational initiatives doesn’t directly involve accounting, he is responsible for his team’s budget and he was intrigued by the opportunity to hear her speak about her position. “Having unfiltered access to a senior leader is very enticing,” he said. Hearing Janofsky talk about the financial side of the business and how the company generates returns and positions itself in the industry helped him think about the company differently. “It gave me a better understanding of how things work, and where my team fits into the bigger picture,” he said. Months later he still draws on what he learned from that video when making corporate financial decisions.

He has since watched three more videos from the program, including one on agile project management presented by an expert from the IT group in the shared services division, which has helped him to think about his next career move. Fisk has long been interested in IT and is now considering project management training as a way to move toward an IT role.

“These videos are helping me gain acumen in other areas of the company,” he said. “That makes me a stronger employee, and it makes the organization stronger as a whole.”

Splash, Then Drip

Fisk isn’t the only one impacted by the program. In the first year, the content had more than 6,000 views thanks to heavy promotion by the marketing department and human resources. “It’s so important to involve marketing in promoting these programs,” Sumathi said.

In the week leading up to the launch, the marketing department rolled out a “splash campaign” promoting the program every day via company newsletters, announcements on the intranet, emails and fliers distributed to employees, Giacoponello said. They followed up with “drip campaigns” sending reminder notes and occasional promotions when there is new content to keep the program top of mind. They also created a calendar of new content so there is always something new to see. “We want to keep it fresh so they keep coming back,” he said.

Giacoponello plans content out four months in advance to ensure he can get on leaders’ calendars and still have time for editing and content promotion. To be sure the content is relevant, he meets with business unit leaders and HR to identify the important topics and experts to highlight. “If we want learning to continue to have an impact, we have to stay aligned with the needs of the organization,” Giacoponello said. Talking with business unit leaders and HR ensures the learning team isn’t making decisions in a bubble.

Every 60 days they add new videos and supporting content, and they are confident this program will become a long-term component of Lincoln Financial’s core learning strategy.

“The real power of this platform is that it is generic but impactful,” Warne said. No matter how the industry changes or what new experts come to the company, they can use Learning in Action to share those stories. “It’s a plug-and-play solution that can be molded for any learning need.”

This story initially appeared in Chief Learning Officer, a sister publication of Workforce. Sarah Fister Gale is a writer based in Chicago. Comment below or email

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in Chicago.

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