The MONY Group Inc. is a financial services company that provides an array of business, insurance, retirement and asset management products and services. Responsible for educating some 1,200 field sales associates annually, including 200 first- and second-line managers in the field, MONY also provides training and evelopment support to one of its affiliates, Trusted Advisors, that has more than 300 tax professionals.
MONY recently expanded its e-learning platform and the accompanying courseware to focus on providing training that will emphasize quality financial services and advice so that clients will benefit from a uniform, high-quality experience. The new e-learning platform will feature customized curricula for individuals or groups and highlight industry-specific continuing education and professional designation courses.
Jeff Hughes, distribution learning officer at MONY, said that the company uses a full gamut of blended learning approaches with anything from local, instructor-led classroom training to a combination of self-paced e-learning courses. MONY also offers an annual learning symposium, which will take place this month and feature more than 30 workshops, as well as a marketplace where sales associates can interact with vendors and internal service providers.
In what is essentially a bottom-line-oriented business, e-learning has provided MONY with hard cost savings by reducing travel and time off the job. The classroom is no longer only a place to acquire knowledge. Instead, it serves as a learning laboratory where participants are engaged in coaching and joint work and then apply skills in practice. “We’re finding there’s been a real gap in localized, face-to-face training that the e-learning platform is really beginning to surface, and while it’s quite early in the game, we ultimately feel that we will be able to accelerate learner competency around the core processes and products associated with client acquisition and begin to enjoy the benefits of a quicker curve toward productivity, a reduction in turnover, an increase in retention and increase in per-rep productivity. That’s what we’re driving toward,” said Hughes. “E-learning has really created a huge time savings for the manager because initially, he or she had to deliver the ‘what’ as well as the ‘how and when.’ We’ve taken the ‘what’ piece off of their plate, which gives them more time for things that are going to drive revenue.”
Hughes said that budget reductions have not affected MONY’s ability to deliver high-quality training and products and services to the field sales force. Targeted, third-party courseware and in-house custom-developed courseware have been assembled with the help of leading industry financial consultants and have helped transfer a lot of the fixed overhead and development expenses out and strengthen new processes that align performance with individual training and development planning.
Personal accountability for professional development and performance improvement were not initially connected at MONY, but Hughes said that the company’s e-learning platform and learning management system have greatly contributed to and even changed the paradigm of learning. “We have developed a competency-based questionnaire that, when utilized in the business planning process, really allows for the extraction of a learning gap analysis. This leads to prescriptive courseware that the individual can take on a self-directed basis and have it complemented with the face-to-face training that may be going on in the agency,” Hughes said. “Our focus through this process is on closing specific competency gaps that affect performance results.”
The questionnaire leads to follow-up work and a post-training evaluation to ensure that associate training translates to performance. “There is a follow-up procedure in place to make sure that once learning has occurred, whether it’s a very structured type demonstrate, observe and confirm exercise or a dialogue between the manager or coach and the individual: tell me how you will use this course, how you will use this knowledge specifically on the job.”
The MONY Group is at a crossroads. The company may be acquired by AXA Financial, and Hughes said that until a decision is made, additional new development will be postponed. That doesn’t mean MONY will not move aggressively forward with its plan for 2004. “Clearly on our horizon has to be the focus on managerial succession planning and bench-strength building,” he said. “This is on everybody’s mind in this industry, and while we’ve done a great job of providing competency-based learning to our second-line managers, we’ve got to start looking at our high-potential leaders and making some determinations how we can prepare them proactively for their next job up the rung.”