May 18, 2024

There’s No Insurance Against Disruption

Author: Ashley St. John
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Mike Prokopeak
Mike Prokopeak is Chief Learning Officer’s editor in chief.

If you’re rethinking your approach to employee learning, then Nationwide is on your side.

If you’re ready to take out the old in favor of something new, then Nationwide is on your side. If, in the face of rapid change, you’re simply not willing to sit still, then Nationwide is on your side.

That’s a bit of a strange place for a 93-year old insurance company to be. After all, the whole business is built on protecting people, property and businesses from the risk that comes along with an unexpected change in plans.

From their beginnings as a loose band of local traders to their evolution into full-blown global companies, insurers have sought to anticipate bad things that could happen, remove risk and promote stability. Change? Well, that can be risky.

But this year’s top-ranked company for learning and development isn’t letting that get in the way. The actuaries, accountants and number crunchers at Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide have come to a conclusion — one that many others in business should listen to. In the face of widespread change, it’s more risky to do nothing.

Insurance has been around a long time. Ancient traders in China and the Middle East would split their wares across multiple shipments to avoid losing it all should a storm sink a ship or pirates pillage its prize. Lenders in Babylon and Greece offered to cancel the loans of traders who lost their goods in exchange for an extra fee up front.

The modern insurance company came into being in the 1600s and 1700s, spawning a legion of actuaries to calculate risk and offer protections against an increasing number of dangers including fire, property damage and untimely death.

For a long time, it’s been a good business. Profits are steady and customers appreciate the peace of mind insurance offers. But longevity does not equal stability. Past profit is no guarantee of future success. It’s the law of averages. Any actuary can tell you that.

And that’s exactly the conclusion executives of Nationwide have come to. A rising group of tech companies is aiming to upend that comfy business model, using the massive amount of data we create every day via our mobile and internet-connected devices to change the way insurance works. Harnessing the data from your car’s GPS or the fitness tracker on your wrist, they promise to tailor your insurance to your specific needs and save you money. Or charge you more if your idea of exercise equates to a trip from the couch to the fridge.

Add to that what Nationwide’s executives called the “Amazon effect.” Consumers want the shopping experience to be easy and costs to be transparent. They want the buying experience, whether it’s for paper towels or cars, to be as easy as shopping on Buying insurance should be just as easy, too.

There’s comfort in relying on the old ways. Stability and the status quo are like a warm blanket. That applies to the centuries-old insurance business as well as the even older education business.

Learning organizations are risk-averse and slow to change, too. There’s comfort in falling back on a tried-and-true learning model. But there’s no insurance policy saying it will always be effective. At risk is your budget, your prestige and quite likely your job.

Learning organizations like Nationwide’s aren’t waiting to see what happens. Automation, technology and demographic shifts are reshaping the talent pool, shrinking the amount of available people in high-demand areas and dramatically expanding the expectations of those who are there.

To answer the call, Nationwide is infusing technology into the development of their 31,000 employees to drive greater agility and accountability. They’re giving learners more control and supporting leaders of those learners in developing core skills needed for the future.

And they’re ensuring that development is tied to the company’s direction at the highest level. Nationwide’s Talent and Culture Council is integrated into the governance structure of the company and accountable to CEO Steve Rasmussen and the board of directors.

What Nationwide’s example shows is that no matter the industry — traditional or emerging, global or local — the real risk in business is to do nothing.

Read more about Nationwide, Chief Learning Officer‘s No. 1 LearningElite organization of the year, and the other winning organizations here.

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