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Stephen E. Scholl: Ensuring Allstate’s Education

Name:Stephen E. Scholl
Title:Assistant Vice President Human Resources
Company: Allstate Insurance Co.
Successes:
Trained 40,000 employees and 13,000 agents and their support staff.
In 2001, delivered 389,000 online hours of education

Learning Philosophy:Surrounding yourself with the right people and implementing the right process with the right technology, you can deliver on anything.

When Stephen E. Scholl graduated from Albright College in 1979, he was armed with a sociology degree and a healthy respect for education. And while he didn’t start out to be a teacher, a provider of educational opportunities is just what he became nonetheless.

Now assistant vice president of performance solutions for Allstate Insurance Co., Scholl took a winding, 20-year path to get him back to learning and the head of his class. He now oversees ongoing educational needs for about 40,000 employees, 13,000 independent agents and countless support staff members in those agent offices.

“I guess I didn’t really start out with the intent of going into human resources,” Scholl said recently, in his office at Allstate’s Northbrook, Ill., headquarters. “Sociology at the time seemed to fit my personality. You’ve heard it a hundred times, “Oh, I’m a people person.” At the time, I didn’t realize that “people person” could also translate into sales and some real revenue generation for myself.”

Scholl started at Allstate soon after leaving college and has been there for more than 20 years now. Knowing a little something about professional advancement himself, Scholl worked his way up the ladder, with posting in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Washington. In January 2000, he was named to his current position, charged with the research, design and delivery of corporate recruitment, education and training. Along the way, he added to his own education by picking up an MBA, along with a wife and three sons. Scholl today leads baseball teams for two of his sons, so he’s proud to say he coaches both at work and at home.

“I’ve always been attracted to that kind of work,” he said. “But I’ve found through the years you have to be really technically proficient as well as have the people skills to be truly successful. So I’ve capitalized on both of those in my career. I’ve found the technical side isn’t really that tough. The people side of business is tougher.”

Scholl learned that the hard way, working successfully in his different positions. One of the eye-opener roles for him was as compensation director, where he worked with company executives and business unit leaders.

“One of the largest capital expenditures a company has is its people power, its workforce,” Scholl said. “That was a great opportunity for me. I’ve always been pretty fortunate in knowing how to surround myself with good people who know what they’re doing. That’s why I think in the past two and a half years things have gone pretty well here, because I’ve gotten the right people in this shop to help me.”

Overseeing Allstate’s enterprise education, Scholl leads a team of 45 people in the Northbrook campus. Overall, Allstate has about 300 education and training specialists, supporting various business units. Scholl leads any company-wide initiatives, including management and leadership development, while the business units often control unit-specific training.

That company-wide focus was at the forefront of Scholl’s mind when he began his position, and he helped develop the tool making it all possible, the Allstate Learning Resources Network (LRN). That online educational network was launched in 1999, with a $400,000 budget. By June 2001, Scholl had delivered LRN to every Allstate employee and agent.

“It exceeded our expectations. Our question was, and the question of leadership here is, what are we going to get for this investment? We knew we would save some dollars in terms of not needing all these classes to deliver education training. We knew we’d save that way, but what we were a little leery of is how widespread the acceptance of online learning would be,” Scholl said.

“We weren’t sure how people would use it, how frequently they would use it, if it would be accepted readily. It blew us away, the acceptance. People jumped on it immediately, so quickly that stand-up facilitated classes just almost literally went away overnight. We were able to deliver all our stuff online.”

The Learning Resources Network today houses about 1,500 educational courses available to all employees, agents and agent staffs. Associates can access the LRN from their offices or homes, making learning available as they need it. Allstate still offers some instructor-led classes, mostly for leadership training or other programs needing more advanced education. Allstate also offers training with various area colleges. But LRN is the heart of training, and Scholl is continually amazed at the breadth of acceptance among Allstate workers.

“The Learning Resource Network has been unbelievable. In 2000, we had about 40,000 hours of usage of the LRN,” he said. “Now granted, not everyone was hooked up. Last year, we logged 389,000 hours. It’s incredible. It just continues to escalate.”

The LRN isn’t just accepted by employees; management loves it. Scholl is happy to report he’s able to provide on-demand education for about $15 per employee per year, a significant savings over the days when instructors and on-site training ruled.

“It’s literally saved us millions in the claims world,” Scholl said. “We used to have claim adjustors fly in from all over the country for their training. They would come in for three weeks in their first year of employment. We’ve gotten that down to one week of in-class training. Keep in mind, we have approximately 18,000 claim adjustors out there. In any given year, we could hire over a thousand, let’s say. Savings are huge when you start adding up travel, and accommodations and facilitators’ time.”

Naturally, savings like that are noticed in the executive suite.

“One of the things we’re looking at closely is the metrics, for the payback. Education training, intuitively we know it’s goodness. How do you quantify that? It’s difficult in a lot of cases to quantify cause and effect,”Scholl said. “For example, on technical training it’s a little easier maybe. Here’s a banking product. Take the course, pass the course, you can now service and sell banking products. You know there’s something there. Some of the leadership and other personal skills, it’s hard to say. It’s only been 11 months since we’ve had full, company-wide implementation of this Learning Resource Network. We couple usage of the LRN and correlate those to business results and see what we have. Or where we have business results in other areas and we’re able to see there hasn’t been usage of the distance learning, what are the results? What are we getting there?”

Part of what they’re getting is just-in-time learning. When a specific need arises, say an employee gets promoted or an agent needs to learn about a new product offering, the LRN has the information needed. Also operating as a learning management system, the LRN allows Scholl and his team to see who is taking advantage of which learning opportunities.

“In a facilitated environment, you just can’t do it when the employee needs it,” Scholl said. “You have to get classes together, get the materials ready for the classes. And we’re a big corporation, we’re spread out over 49 states.”

With LRN, the learning is at every employee’s fingertips.

“So they don’t have to ask Joe at the next desk, who may or may not be right. They don’t have to go to a manual that might be outdated. They can go right online,” Scholl said. “We can update it immediately whenever there’s a change. The rest of the workforce gets it at the same time. That’s a huge competitive advantage for us as an organization.”

All new hires at Allstate undergo standard employee orientation, which includes an in-depth introduction to the Learning Resources Network. Scholl sees the LRN as a tool both to attract new employees and to help retain good workers. When the LRN was first rolled out, the Allstate information technology team was first at bat. At a time other IT departments were experiencing double-digit turnover, Allstate saw only about 6 percent annually.

“When you can talk about the education and training an employee can get with this organization, at their fingertips, on demand, it’s a very intriguing thing for folks,” Scholl said. “Especially when we do college recruiting. This generation, this is their world. When you can offer that kind of reward, it’s a pretty big deal.”

Despite the LRN’s success, Scholl and his team aren’t resting on any laurels. They continue to develop new courses and are looking at new technologies, including wireless delivery, to provide even more opportunities for associate education. And, of course, he’ll continue to review usage and business results to see how the two tie together.

But for now, Scholl is just happy the Learning Resource Network is so well accepted at all levels. He illustrates that with a smile and an anecdote.

“This is a true story. Right before this interview I was walking to the washroom. This lady and this guy come down the hall and she goes, ‘Tonight I have the time to be able to go on the LRN for a couple of hours to get the coursework I need for the project I’m working on.’ I’m like, “I can’t believe this.” I was thinking, “Alright, that’s what I do for a living, that’s what my people do.” It’s a great convenience.”

 

Tim Sosbe is editorial director for CLO, Chief Learning Officer. E-mail Tim at tsosbe@clomedia.com