When Janice Simmons took on the role of senior leader in human performance at Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan (BCBSM), she realized there were a lot of gaps in leadership and untapped talent potential. Traditionally, training at BCBSM was for entry-level positions, and there was no training program in place for leadership. Most people made their way to leadership roles through moving up in ranks, so there was no leveraged definition of a leader. There were also foundational elements of leadership development that the organization lacked business acumen, coaching, etc.
Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan is a nonprofit mutual insurance company and independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, founded in 1939. Today, it is the largest health insurer in Michigan, insuring 4.5 million people, and is the largest network of doctors and hospitals in Michigan. What Janice discovered at BCBSM is actually a common issue among established nonprofits—programs are often old and outdated, or were weak to begin with because leadership development is not a high priority concern. As a result, it is common for leadership to not reflect a change in business. A crucial step in any organization’s growth is to rethink progressive leadership.
An Unprecedented Strategy for BCBSM
Janice approached SDI with general topics she wanted the program to cover. With these topics in mind, we collaborated to develop position profiles, or detailed accounts of what each leadership position would entail. This step was necessary in leveraging leadership positions and defining which gaps BCBSM had in its leadership staff. During this collaboration process, we recognized that there a bridge between directors and management level personnel was missing, making job roles and leadership unclear. With this in mind, we decided to begin development with the director position in order to establish the roles, functions, and performance needs for the highest-standing personnel. This would cultivate growth at the foundation and reinforce the forward-looking leadership BCBSM was in need of.
Once we narrowed down the scope of the program, we developed behavioral profiles with the most critical behaviors the directors needed to embody. Knowing which resources needed to be built and what they needed to achieve, we solidified which topics would be discussed and the time that would be dedicated to each. We broke these topics down to assess the skill gaps in directors at BCBSM and derived learning objectives for the program. Knowing the learning objectives for the program, we determined which resources we should build from scratch and which ones should be provided by outside vendors who specialize in these topics. SDI then assessed which vendors aligned with the needs of BCBSM and assisted in the hiring process. SDI then went to work designing the program and other resources from scratch.
An Innovative and Immersive Design
SDI began designing the program to be a 5-day conference-like experience. The program started with a 2-hour module about what the role of the director at BCBSM should be, which was crucial in leveraging each participant’s framework for the training experience. After this, half of the time was designated to delivering content, while the other half was dedicated to facilitating information from the outside vendors SDI and BCBSM hired collaboratively. SDI wrote facilitator materials for the vendors, ensuring a cohesive curriculum and delivery of information. We also worked with vendors to narrow down their curricula, adapting them to fit BCBSM’s needs. In this sense, SDI served as a mediator to make sure the vendors were meeting the needs of leadership development at BCBSM.
To maximize user engagement, we also developed participant workbooks to practice implementing concepts and additional worksheets for participants to capture thoughts throughout the week. The program included role-playing scenarios and simulations to ensure acquisition and application. These tools reinforced the program as an experience, rather than simply training. Because senior leaders felt this program should be implemented and developed for upcoming years, SDI also developed a logistical plan for branding and team materials. We created a design template and logo for the course so it was a continued asset for BCBSM.
We also designed the program to be a networking opportunity for participating directors. Since most participants did not know each other and came from a diverse set of Michigan locations, we created a participant directory for continued connection throughout the week. This directory was especially helpful in building an integrated experience. We also put together table structures and evening networking events, encouraging a tightly-knit culture at BCBSM. This eliminated the solo leadership role that many directors were accustomed to; instead, everyone was a peer. With so many moving parts, all facets needed to be completely integrated with each other to ensure a smooth implementation.
Bringing a Comprehensive Program to Life
Prior to implementation, SDI worked with the vendors BCBSM hired to ensure they understood all components and the larger goal of the program. This ensured a seamless program between days and vendors. We also provided them with other materials presented throughout the week and common language used in the company, creating a more incorporated experience regardless of different topics being discussed.
The 5-day program was held at a hotel in Troy, Michigan. Participants checked in, were given informational materials for the week, and then stayed at the hotel for the entire 5-day program. This provided complete immersion experience for the participants and demonstrated that BCBSM was invested in the learning and development process. Because SDI understands that knowledge is not retained without learner engagement, we also hired specific lighting specialists and emcees, providing an engaging atmosphere for participants. The environment also ensured that participants were fully engaged in the training.
Talent Development at All Levels
In the current business landscape, leaders need to be resilient—constantly adapting and able to confront any challenges they are faced with for the betterment of the company. This is especially true for nonprofit organizations, who are faced with additional challenges for leaders whose roles include a range of responsibilities. Ultimately, contributing time to leadership development creates a holistic, cohesively running organization. It increases confidence in the organization from all members of the team, allowing for a forward-thinking platform for growth.
With Janice Simmons’ initiative for talent development, SDI and Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan’s partnership in the managers workshops proved to be revolutionary for the organization. It provided people in the highest leadership levels with the opportunity to develop their talent and skills. After the program, participants remarked on the uniqueness of the program and that they had never received a comparable opportunity for development. Not only did they feel that their talent development was valued; they all experienced a moment that changed their outlook and leadership approach. Six months after the program, almost all leaders reported that they these changes and saw similar changes in their workforce.