Developing Collaborative Problem-Solving in an Online Training Program for Insurance Agents

Developing Collaborative Problem-Solving in an Online Training Program for Insurance Agents

Patrick Connolly (Director of Operations and National Training Manager, USA) and Donna Russell (Arete’ Consulting, LLC, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-878-9.ch013
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This case is a narrative of the design, review, revision and implementation of an online training program for insurance brokers. The goal of the online training program is to develop advanced problem-solving knowledge and skills including communication abilities in trainees. The case is narrated from the perspective of the training manager with the reviewer’s comments included during the review cycle of implementation. The evaluative review is completed using cultural historical activity theory to identify contradictions in the training process. The purpose of the case is to identify the development of advanced knowledge and skills resulting from the online training program. The results of implementing an online training program include 1) reduction in turnover, 2) cost savings and 3) training benefits for the regional branch offices and the trainees.
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The company is a nation-wide service partner in the residential and commercial property and casualty sectors of the insurance industry. Our company has about 1,400 field representatives and approximately twenty-four branch offices, which presented its own unique challenges, since we were greatly relying on manager buy-in and support of any training program. I would estimate that the company’s managers were largely comprised of technology immigrants, many of which could not perform basic functions in Excel. This is not to say that they were not good managers of their prescribed region, they just weren’t very computer savvy.

I think that it’s important to consider the size of the company. Although we are the largest company performing the work for the insurance industry that we do, not to mention the only true nationwide company, we are still a medium sized company. At this point in time, total company revenue was approximately $80 million. I think this is important to share because I felt that we were just large enough to fund a strategic technology solution and also small enough to not have too much bureaucratic red tape that would stymie creative ideas.

Think back to the first day of your job or former job. Do you remember the feelings that you had in the pit of your stomach while you meticulously ironed your clothes and left home early to be in before 8AM? The first day of work can be a daunting experience, especially when your new job will require you to digest a considerable amount of knowledge just to be able to function successfully. Nothing is routine on a first day of work. Many studies show that it can be one of the most stressful times in a person’s life.

“This job will require a lot from you,” I can remember my manager informing me. “Many people work very hard to learn this job, but succumb to the learning hurdles. They just can’t seem to get past the learning curve to become productive, which is important because you will be paid by the hour for every job that you complete – like piece work.” I was challenged by his words of caution, but I have to say that I really just felt that he was describing the performance of the average new hire. Besides, who really considers themselves as being average? Not to mention that I have always been successful at commission based jobs, raising money for non-profits, and I even remember winning prizes for selling the most candy bars in elementary school candy drives. I was quickly deflated, however, as I carried my box of newly assigned training books out to my car. I instantly became overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information that was required for someone to digest and understand to succeed in this role within the insurance industry. The company that I was just hired to work for was a fortune 500 company providing risk management, auditing, and loss control information to the insurance industry.

I was probably one of very few who actually made a valiant attempt at reading the array of manuals, which resembled a few law firm bookshelves. This was prime bedtime reading – the kind of material that dizzied the mind with foreign terminology and new concepts that had to be prescribed to memory. Thankfully, I did manage to learn the job over time and I have since held many management positions in my 14 years of service to the company. Although I was not in a role to directly impact the training and development of an employee, I remained passionately committed to lessening the learning curve and the training experience of my new hires. I was a fan of providing my employees with “cheat sheets” to simplify concepts so that learning would become easier.

Years later as a manager, I watched the company migrate away from the “box of books” training program to a 2-week classroom training session. During the classroom training session, the trainer would literally reviewed a total of about 2,000 text-heavy slides, many with enough text to warrant the use of new paragraphs. The slides were essentially read to the learners, which would have driven the most moral people to a good, stiff drink by the end of the week. I often likened this approach to the movie The Matrix where Keanu Reeves, as Neo, was connected to a computer that downloaded fighting strategy and skills directly to his mind. At the end of the download, Neo opens his eyes and exclaims, “I know Jujitsu.” How much like The Matrix were we treating our new employees as we led them into a class and plugged them into the annals of insurance rules and concepts? We expected to plug them up to the 2,000-slide PowerPoint presentation and essentially hit the upload key. Needless to say, this training platform was not the most effective manner in which to prepare our employees to be as successful as possible and to equip them for their job in the field.

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