This Director Says Companies Need to Step Up Their Employee Training and Development Opportunities

Kathleen Kerr of The MEMIC Group says overall support for employee learning and development is inconsistent, but leaders can start changing that tune.
By: | June 24, 2019

Risk & Insurance® interviewed Kathleen Kerr regarding her recent move to the MEMIC Group, as director of organization development and training:

R&I: How did you first come to work in this industry?

Kathleen Kerr: I spent 25+ years working in information technology departments, either training, developing, analyzing or managing the people who did those activities.

Kathleen Kerr, director of organization development and training, MEMIC Group

I was, and still am, always focused on learning and growing. As my career progressed, I found myself enrolled in certification courses with a common theme — supporting people’s ability to achieve more. From process improvement, to change management, to coaching, the theme was consistent.

I finally made the leap and left IT and moved into HR. Talk about putting all my learning to work!

The best part of my job is creating the framework for coaching conversations to happen across the organization.

With their permission, we explore their strengths, passions, blind spots and potential. They set a course and I support them through the process. We review progress, course correct, and I encourage experimentation.

Bearing witness to someone making progress or achieving that which they didn’t think possible is the best part of my job.

R&I: What aspects of your new role attracted you to the position?

Kerr: The idea of being responsible for developing and executing an innovative organizational development and training program spoke directly to my passion for helping people achieve results.

As a coach, one of the greatest thrills of my work is when I see the lightbulb light up when someone realizes they can and do achieve something they didn’t know was possible.

R&I: What skills, talents or capabilities earned you the role?

Kerr: My optimistic, can-do approach coupled with my belief that all people matter and play a critical role in business success comes through when I talk about why developing employees must be a top priority in an organization.

I back up my perspective with the skills, certifications and training to move from ideas to impact fast. I’ve developed an ability to connect with people, listen to their stories and ask probing questions that leave them feeling heard, known and seen.

This creates trust. With trust, people are more willing to move beyond their comfort zone and be challenged to achieve more.

R&I: What are the biggest challenges for you in this new position?

Kerr: I think one of the biggest challenges for me will be pushing the organization beyond their comfort level so we can grow.

With the hyper-growth that MEMIC has experienced in the last few years, we’ve outgrown our way of doing business. Change is required by all our leaders now — because we are bigger and spread across a large geographic area, agility and flexibility are needed to continue successfully engaging our ever growing mobile and remote workforce.

There’s a saying in Maine “you can’t get there from here”— and it means exactly that — what got us here won’t get us where we need to go.

This means focus on continued development of our leadership capabilities, ensuring we are positioned to lead teams through change successfully, navigate diversity diplomatically and innovate in ways that move the business forward quickly and efficiently.

R&I: What are your goals in this new position?

Kerr: Develop a practice that builds the capacity to change and achieve greater effectiveness by focusing on the people, their roles and the systems and culture within the organization.

“Overall support for the investment in learning and development is inconsistent. I think many organizations miss the point of an employee development and training program.”

This includes strengthening relationships and deepening trust by improving our abilities to communicate clearly and effectively, while creating innovative ways to collaborate and solve business problems thus achieving results through teamwork.

Focus on the roles:

  • Align roles with business needs; build career paths to create development opportunities
  • Provide a framework for succession planning and mentorship programs to thrive

Focus on the systems:

  • Build and execute training programs that meet the needs of a flexible and mobile workforce
  • Align training efforts across the organization to ensure consistency in learning objectives and measurement assessments
  • Leverage technology to align processes that maximize productivity and effectiveness

Focus on culture:

  • Refine our culture and reinforce the behavioral norms that define the values, behaviors and shared vision for who we are and how we behave.

R&I: What are the biggest challenges facing your industry or profession?

Kerr: Research shows that the top challenges facing the learning and development industry revolve around time, money and buy-in.

Budgets are shrinking, employees are doing more with less and overall support for the investment in learning and development is inconsistent. I think many organizations miss the point of an employee development and training program.

It is not enough to provide training and development opportunities. We must commit to integrating that learning into our daily lives.

This means finding ways to apply the learning and measuring ourselves against those learning objectives — which requires all of us to change our behaviors—and that’s the biggest challenge.

When we master that, our effectiveness and productivity will increase. Leaders within organizations will then experience the real value of investing in learning and development programs.

They in turn, will make it a priority, encouraging — even demanding — that employees take advantage of these development opportunities. &

Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Maura Keller is a writer, editor and published book author with more than 20 years of experience. She has written about business, design, marketing, health care, and a wealth of other topics for dozens of regional and national publications. She can be reached at [email protected].

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