How does a company cultivate future success when many of its sales leaders are nearing retirement age?
That’s a question The Horton Group, like a lot of insurance firms, has wrestled with lately. Their solution: make sure that new, young hires have the skills they need to develop a productive, lasting career.
According to one report, half of the industry’s current workforce will retire within 15 years. “The No. 1 challenge facing insurance agents and brokers is attracting and developing talent for the future,” says Beth Ottolini, a member of Horton University, the company’s educational arm.
The Horton Group created a customized, diverse learning program to help ramp up the skills of new employees. Over a six-month period, its instructional team developed a sales training program called “Journey to Validation” that’s already made a difference.
The Journey to Validation, received a Gold Stevie Award in the Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service for the Sales Training or Coaching Program of the Year. The Journey to Validation consists of four stages of learning that provide rookie sales executives with the knowledge base and skills necessary to successfully progress from their first day in the program to ultimate validation with the company.
A New Learning Paradigm
Founded in 1971 as a small, family-owned insurance agency, The Horton Group now provides insurance, employee benefits and risk advisory services to a wide range of business clients. Based in the Chicago suburb of Orland Park, Ill., the organization employs more than 350 employees working out of 10 locations, most of them in the Midwest.
Prior to the development of Journey to Validation, most of the company’s training was done through apprenticeships and job shadowing. Whatever formal training the new hires needed was provided by external vendors.
But company leaders realized that in order to overcome the unmistakable demographic changes within the industry, they needed a more robust approach. Journey to Validation was the company’s first internally-developed tool for making sure that every new hire had the knowledge and foundational skills he or she would need to launch a successful career.
In 2016, the company hired a four-member team to help build the program from the ground up. That was a definite departure from the way holistic learning programs ‒ often the byproduct of large development teams and consultants ‒ are typically designed.
And in this case, the development team, led by Director of Training and Development Jay Fortuna, wasn’t much older than the rookie salespeople who would eventually use their modules. The average age of the members was just 30.
But what the group brought to the table was a fresh perspective and forward-thinking approach to the way younger associates digest information. Developed in just six months, the Journey to Validation program would ultimately incorporate newer ideas like gamification and micro-learning ‒ a system in which learners concentrate on small, focused lessons ‒ along with proven techniques like shadowing.
The program consists of four steps, which combine online learning as well as in-person training. One of its strengths is the ability to track the progress of brokers to make sure they’ve developed the basic industry knowledge and sales skills they’ll need in their new role.
Along with the Gold Stevie for “Sales Training or Coaching Program of the Year”at the Las Vegas awards ceremony, The Horton Group also walked away with two Bronze Stevies, including one for “Sales Training or Education Leader of the Year” for Fortuna.
Ottolini says the program was the result of a highly collaborative atmosphere that puts a premium on continuous improvement. “The pride that the team takes in its work and the extreme ownership of training strengths and shortcomings has led to a recognition that is both humbling and motivating,” Ottolini says.
One of the ways the team helps establish a sense of trust is by sitting down for lunch together every day and bouncing ideas off one another, explains Ottolini.
The group also makes it a point to put themselves in the shoes of new hires. Towards that end, all Horton University team members participate in monthly team-building events with rookie sales executives as part of the training program.
So far, the team, which initially had some trouble achieving buy-in for its novel approach, has won plaudits throughout the organization.
“The infectious enthusiasm and passion emanating from the Horton University team has set a new standard within the company and continues to positively influence the culture of the corporation as a whole,” she says.
Now, the organization is building on its success by developing other learning initiatives, like a service training module and a continuing education program that enables employees to hone their leadership skills.
The internal expertise they’ve demonstrated could also provide a benefit to other members of Assurex Global, the network of commercial insurance, risk management and employee benefits agencies to which Horton belongs. “In the coming months, the team is expected to provide consulting services to other Assurex-affiliated organizations,” Ottolini adds.
These latest Stevie accolades will only help give the program further credibility, she notes. Fortuna originally learned about the Stevie Awards while working at a previous employer. When he joined The Horton Group, one of his goals was to help create a sales training program that merited recognition from Stevie panelists.
In a matter of months, their goal has already come to fruition. “Horton University’s recognition at the 2017 Stevie Awards has done wonders to bolster The Horton Group’s culture of learning,” says Ottolini.
Interested in submitted nominations for the top sales awards and customer service awards in 2018? Request the entry kit for the Stevie Awards for Sales & Customer Service and it will be emailed to you in July 2017.