Learning and Development in the Insurance Industry with Kevin Farrell – Episode #15
Evan speaks with Kevin Farrell, Director of Training and Knowledge Management at Liberty Mutual Insurance. Kevin is a learning and development leader with a proven track record of managing and implementing successful performance management and sales training programs. He has extensive experience designing, developing and delivering e-learning, instructor-led, virtual classroom and blended training solutions. Find him on LinkedIn here. – View Infographic
Announcer: Welcome to “Training Unleashed,” the show that will help you design and deliver training that’s off the chain and will make a difference. Now, here’s your host, Evan Hackel.
Evan: Welcome to “Training Unleashed.” I am your host, Evan Hackel. We have a fabulous guest today, Kevin Farrell. Kevin is Director of Training and Knowledge Management with Liberty Mutual Insurance. I’ve gotten to know Kevin fairly well. He’s a very interesting guy and truly a leader in training, and as a training professional, happy to count him as one of us. Kevin, do you wanna just tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at Liberty Mutual?
Kevin: Yeah, sure, Evan. Thanks for having me. So, basically, been in the training environment I would say for about 15 some odd years now. Started out as an insurance broker, I spent some time at Fidelity Investments, spent some time at what was Conservation Services Group, an energy efficiency company, various training roles, everywhere from instructional design to consultation, managing, training, performance consulting, and so on. And my role here at Liberty Mutual now, I basically handle the training for all the frontline service and sales representatives, whether it’s third party or internally. In addition to that, the knowledge management side comes in, so [inaudible 00:01:25] we’re thinking about preparing people for the job, right, where knowledge managers felt like real-time support as they’re doing their job, whether it’s, you know, pricing properly, speaking of a product properly, policies, procedures, so on and so forth. And I’ve been at Liberty now for a little over two and a half years.
Evan: Okay. Let me start off, Kevin, with a, you know, just a simple basic question. Why does Liberty bother to train?
Kevin: Because I think they recognize the value of it, you know? I think the companies make a decision about, you know, at the end of the day, what they value, and that value system can vary from company to company. I think some companies like Liberty look at it and say, “Listen, this is an investment and the end product is not just a person but it’s a capable person.” So oftentimes, what I’ll tell our team is that we’re building capability, right? You’re building capability and training is a key part of that. Whenever I get questioned on training, you know, you get naysayer that says, “Well, you know, we can just show them how to do it. We’ll just throw them in there and we’ll get it done.” I often point to the U.S. military, right? I mean, there’s an example of some of the best training in the world, right, that they invest highly in it and they take it very seriously. And if you look at it, those folks are prepared. You see individuals, like, come out, you know, fully capable of performing a variety of tasks and there’s a level of consistency there that’s unparalleled. I think that, you know, really good training builds that [inaudible 00:03:03] it’s an investment, and if you decide to do that, there’s a lot of good things that come out of it.
Evan: There is no doubt. Do you guys have any metrics? Do you measure training and its effectiveness, and if so, how?
Kevin: Yep. So, I started measuring training back in my Fidelity days, and actually, there was a gentleman by the name of Mike Glass that, I think he’s with Thermo Fisher now, but I consider him a really great mentor. He was somebody that was big on metrics, and he was looking at just, like, time people were spending on certain tasks, and that’s where I got the start of, like, looking at things from a numbers point of view. So, for example, you know, how much time are we spending designing a product, a training, how much time are we’re spending delivering it, how much time are we spending preparing it? And it really starts to get a clear understanding of not only the work and time you’re spending doing things but also the ability of people across the board in the training group. And then once you’re able to identify that, then you can coach people more effectively.
The next level is, okay, what’s the impact? And that’s one of the toughest things that I found to measure from a training perspective because the lines of business can change. I know that at Fidelity, sometimes, you know, you could look at it from a standpoint of sales, you could look at a standpoint of…I know, with Liberty, MPS is a big thing, right, and a promotive score. That’s another metric we use. We’ve been able to look at certain metrics, whether it be the amount of sales, and we’ve been able to put, like, a time frame around it that allows training to be accountable for a period of time. And the irony is, often, when you introduce that stuff, training people, and rightly so, they get concerned because there’s a lot of other factors, right, that happen once that person is set out into the wild. But the reality of it is what we saw was the trainer performance improve. We found that people got more effective because they got away from worrying about like an L1 level score, you know, whether somebody, like, thinking or really likes something.
Evan: Wow, a smile test?
Kevin: Yeah. The smile sheets, right? So, they got away from looking at things from a standpoint of, okay, do people like it or not, to a standpoint of, are they getting it and how much are they getting it? And if I’m gonna be evaluated on certain metrics and certain components, then at the end of the day, my focus is gonna be much higher. And I’m gonna look at folks on an individual basis and say, “Is he or she truly prepared, are they truly getting this? Let me sit with them a little longer and work with them.” So, I found that the focus improved as well.
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Evan: You know, what I find interesting is people, for some reason, get insulted when you suggest that they should be trained. Yet, I, myself, constantly am looking for self-improvement, you know? I go to leadership courses, I wrote a book on leadership, I still go, I read books all the time. I go to seminars. I’m constantly looking to how to make myself better. Professional athletes, you know, they practice. It’s called training. Yet, there’s a stigma that people have when you say, “Well, we’re doing this training, we want you to go through it.” They feel like, you know, “Well, you know, I shouldn’t need that. I’m already a top performer.” You know, do you find that in, you know, in your roles and if so, how do you overcome that?
Kevin: I have found it in different places where people tend to, you know, historically and not entirely at Liberty, but in other companies, I have seen situations where they’ll kind of laugh it off and say, “I really don’t need that.” What I am finding though is that there seems to be a mindset shift happening, and I think that shift is being driven by technology. And now, what I mean by that is technology is allowing us to do a lot of things, and that’s a very wide-ranging topic. What I mean, in terms of how technology is influencing, things are moving much more quickly than they have in past. And to be successful or effective, I don’t care what you’re doing, like it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, right? You have to continuously learn, otherwise, within a couple of years, in some industries, you’re a dinosaur if you don’t continuously learn. So, my sense is that at least, I’d say over the past 5 years or so, I’m seeing this shift where there’s less of that reaction that I saw 10 or 15 years ago to your point, where more and more, I’m seeing people expect it and they’re looking for it more. So, it’s almost like this shift of in how fast things are moving or complementing and helping that training factor.
Evan: What’s interesting, I’ve been doing a lot of research on millennials, and the millennial generation values training and personal development at work more than any single thing. They’re expecting it and they want it. I think it’s more a generational thing. But you are right with technology, you can’t sit back and just let it go by you. You become a dinosaur, and it’s tough for people. And, you know, for me, I look and I always wanna be at the leading edge of technology. I’ll share this with you, but I hope all my listeners don’t listen, but anytime there’s a new, like, you know, I was like one of the first 250 people on Twitter because I wanted to see it. I’ve been on Snapchat for years now, and Tinder came out, right? A happily, happily married man, but it sounded like really neat technology so I downloaded the app and I’m looking at it. My wife was not very happy. My wife was not very happy. I said, “You don’t want me to become a dinosaur, do you?” She said, “No, but I don’t want you to have that app.” And so, I did delete the app and I never, never, ever swiped whatever direction that you swipe in to get interest. I just thought this is neat technology, I should know it. You know, I like to embrace technology. How do you just, out of curiosity, how did you train yourself, how do you keep yourself the best at what you are at?
Kevin: I think I have a natural curiosity about things. I know that I could say that the biggest example of where I kinda had to evolve and really kinda taught myself a lot was with back in Fidelity days. I was running a learning technology group for corporate human resources. It was basically, we had an audience of about 10,000 people and it was director-level and above. At the time, the prevailing wisdom was that you can’t use technology. You can’t use online training with this audience. They’re executives. They’ll never want to do that, right? So my job was to make that happen, and at the time, again, the prevailing wisdom was that’s not gonna happen. YouTube wasn’t out yet but video was just starting to come around. Flash had just developed, like, the FLV file so you can put video on there and it could happen in an easier way. And I started to invest the video piece and I convinced some folks to, you know, can we finance some cameras and I’ll teach myself how to use them and I read some books. I started reading news, media, and advertising techniques, and next thing I knew, I was in a room and I was pressing record, and I was doing talking head, and one thing led to another and we started to put some really good-quality video training together.
I think you need to have a natural curiosity about things. I think you need to have a vision for what you want to accomplish and make that happen, but it’s not always a one-man show, so for me, I like to surround myself by people that have had that same curiosity, right? People that, they’re smarter people but they want to see something different, they want to try something new. I think when you get that, that’s kind of the secret sauce and it almost makes that learning a lot more interesting. It’s a lot more fun because you have a goal in mind. And so, I’m not just learning to learn, I’m learning because I know this is gonna get us to another level. And when I say us, it’s not just about me, it’s about the group at a hand trying to do something, you know? I think if you look at it just from a standpoint of I’m gonna teach myself stuff all day, the motivation’s gonna wane, it’s hard, right? Because what are you moving towards? But anytime you teach yourself something, you’re trying to, you know, go somewhere. Now, you just used examples with the apps. You know, when I hear that, and knowing you, you know, like I have in the conversations we’ve had, I can see you looking at those apps saying, “Okay, how do I leverage things, how do leverage this type of format for other things?” And I’ve done the same thing and I think that’s part of that learning process.
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Evan: I live to learn. I mean, and I think most people in training, you know, that’s why they’re in training is because they want learning. Can you tell us just a little bit about your role? How many direct reports or how many people do you have involved in training that you’re responsible for at Liberty?
Kevin: So in our area, we have well over a hundred from a training perspective. We have a really wide audience, you know, because you’re dealing with third parties, so you’re dealing with, you know, independent agents, you’re dealing with your internal employees, that seller service, the insurance policy. So, you know, we have a pretty large audience that we have to manage. And, you know, so we have a decent-sized group when you talk about a hundred folks, but there’s a lot of work to be done. So we keep our…
Evan: Yeah, I knew the answer before I asked the question because I want to give people context for my next question because most training organizations aren’t that large, and how do you percentertize [SP] your time, how do you, you know, what amount of your time is spent directly managing, what amount of your time is spent working with peers, what percent of your time is spent strategically thinking? This might be an unfair question because I didn’t give you any prep on this question but, you know, but give people a kind of a feel of somebody that’s managing that many people in a training department what your day is like?
Kevin: It shifts depending on what we’re trying to drive, right? So, if we were trying to think strategically, then I look at that as a combination of…I usually get in the office really early, and it gives me a couple of hours just to settle and just to have that time to think. So, you know, I would look at that as kind of that strategic thinking space. But normally, that would shift to collaboration with my directs. So, I’m a big believer in…you have a vision and you have a strategy, but if you really wanna get people on board, and this is part of what you have in your book, that was impressive with engaged leadership. The idea is if you want to get people on board, you wanna collaborate with them, right? You wanna get their ideas. I never wanna be the person that has all the ideas. I should have a vision if I’m a leader. I should have a strategy that I think will have…you know, let’s put it this way, I’ll have a piece of clay that can be molded, probably can be made much better by other’s ideas, and thoughts, and feedback. So from a strategy perspective, I spend time, you know, early in the morning by myself, thinking around the strategic piece, then I’ll collaborate with my directs and those things.
When it comes to coaching, a lot of times, you know, in those one-on-ones and those pieces, I would say I spend probably spend about a third of my time in that coaching area, either it’s one-on-one or just collaborating with folks on how to handle things. And what I find, I guess the biggest eye-opener for me in the role I’m in now, it’s a large group, it’s a large scope, we handle a lot of different things. I think the biggest learning for me is just the volume of things that can happen.
So I remember in previous roles, you know, I was in a non-profit and there was 800 people in the whole company. And I had a team of about, you know, 25, 30 people and that seemed huge, you know, that seemed really big. What I found is as the team gets bigger, all these [inaudible 00:16:04] you think are big deals, they become more and more commonplace, you know? You start to redefine, like, what a big deal is. And that’s a big shift because you wanna make sure you’re spending your time wisely and knowing like, “Okay, when should I spend more time with X versus Y and who really needs, you know, support and coaching versus someone who just needs to kinda try something on their own?” That was the biggest shift in mindset for me in terms of how to effectively spend my time.
Evan: Well, it sounds like a challenge and something you have mastered well. We’re gonna run out of time, but I have my last question, which is to share one tip, one training tip, it can be any training tip of any kind that you would like with everyone.
Kevin: If you have a, I guess, a bucket and you have different ingredients, or if you have a cake that you wanna make, and we’ll call that cake training, and you have a bunch of different ingredients you can use to make the cake, I would tell everyone that the most critical ingredient to that cake is engagement, most critical ingredient. And it’s funny because I’ve been a big believer in that for a long time. And going back, like, I’d say about 15 years ago, I remember having talks with instructional designers, like really intelligent human beings, really talented folks that were really big on learning theory, which I agree is completely important, but I’d push on the engagement piece and what I often found was they would say, “Yeah, but, you know, that’s not the most critical thing,” and I said, “In the end, it is because without it, nothing else really matters. It doesn’t matter how good your class is if your instructor isn’t engaging and isn’t able to really get the class involved.”
Your online training, you and I have had these conversations, right, your online training, it’s not engaging. Everything else doesn’t really matter. It’s almost like the first domino that has to fall. So my tip is that whenever you’re thinking about training, and you think of all those ingredients, make sure that engagement ingredient is top of mind and you start there. And as long as you have that, then you can fill in all of the other stuff because without it, nothing else matters.
Evan: Can’t argue with the point as my whole business is around engagement. I guess, I should say this for people who don’t know is that I have two companies, it’s really one, but one is Tortal Training, which is doing these, the other is called Engaged Consulting, engage but with an eye for involvement. And it’s all about engagement and helping organizations create higher levels of engagement so I totally agree with you. And you know, they talk a lot about learning and if there isn’t that think-about stage where you’re engaging that learner to think about what they’re learning, and in some essence, use it, it’s just gonna go from one ear out the other because it’ll sound good, they’ll nod their heads, but they’re not gonna get it, so I think it’s a truly fabulous tip. We really appreciate you having you on the show and thank you, thank you very much.
Kevin: All right, Evan. Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it and I was really honored to be a guest.
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