This week’s Learning and Development action call hosted special guest Roz Tsai, Vice President, Talent, Learning, & Org Effectiveness at Thrivent. A Fortune 500 not-for-profit financial services organization headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Appleton, Wisconsin, Thrivent is over 100 years old and serves over two million members by offering financial products and services including life insurance, annuities, mutual funds, disability income insurance, credit union products, money management, brokerage services, retirement planning, and more. Tsai was interviewed by i4cp CEO and co-founder Kevin Oakes. Here are some highlights from the call:
Working virtually has worked at Thrivent. Like many organizations, Thrivent went remote in March due to COVID-19 pandemic. Tsai was tapped early to bring people together virtually to help drive engagement. They also shifted their academy training program to be completely virtual, and this required some intentional redesign to not only adjust the content and instructional components of the program, but the confidence-building and networking value that participants have always received from the in-person ILT version. Regarding a future return to the workplace, Tsai said that while they are seeing strong productivity while remote, they do have a new building in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and so are eager to use it again. The multi-functional task force working on the plan is being cautious, making sure to preserve the benefits they have found from working virtually.
Taking a scientific approach to change leadership. Tsai noted that at many organizations, change initiatives are often failures because they don’t properly bring the employees along on the journey. She quipped that some companies seem to have more change methodologies that successful changes. At Thrivent, they focus on including and supporting all employees during changes, providing practical job aids, checklists, etc., and leveraging neuroscience findings in how they coach leaders to help employees. For instance, they have learned from recent work on “nudges” to get the desired choices to more often occur. Afterall, many changes are quite fundamental, and can fall prey to what often happens with new year’s resolutions where there is a lot of excitement and inspiration, but poor execution and sustainment. Another key is to have the right governance structure in place to increase visibility across multiple concurrent changes, e.g., to keep the same group from having four changes occurring at once. Leaders are also held accountable to outcomes, and not to simply change activities, an approach that naturally requires that they bring their people along with them.
The pivot to outcome-based performance management. Like many organizations in recent years, Thrivent has been shifting to an outcome-based approach to performance management, a move that has been accelerated and reinforced by the shift to virtual work due to COVID-19. Following the Microsoft transformation case study, their approach has included introducing growth mindset to their leaders and a re-commitment to a high-performance culture. In terms of process, they have simplified their formerly nuanced approach by now having goal setting, a mid-year review, an end-year review, and ongoing coaching. Tsai quipped that in areas like this, if you can’t explain it to your grandmother, then the process might be too complicated. They have developed training for hundreds of their leaders on the new approach, and response has been very positive, with some leaders even requesting more time to go through the scenarios provided. They are taking a practical, problem-solving approach, rather than the traditional lecture followed by application approach.
The importance of guiding principles in talent practices. Tsai noted that across all their talent practices, she makes sure that three principles are followed: Sound (evidence-based), Simple (streamlined user-experience), and Sustainable (strategically aligned). She said these SSS principles can apply to all talent practices, and at any sized company in any industry. As examples of each, she noted the reliance on data and science in creating solutions; the elimination of administrivia; and making sure processes would continue even if a key leader were to leave.
In addition to this recording, please see the i4cp Coronavirus Employer Resource Center for new research and next practices to help address the COVID-19 pandemic.