Creating a Culture of Continuous Learning at Virgin Pulse

The Next Practices Weekly call series has become a well-attended and wide-ranging discussion for HR leaders each Thursday at 11am ET / 8am PT. On this week's call i4cp Chief Research Officer Kevin Martin and i4cp Senior Research Analyst Tom Stone facilitated a conversation with special guest Diane (Di) Holman, Chief Human Resources Officer at Virgin Pulse, a well-being focused provider of programs, partners, coaches, and resources. Here are some highlights from the call:

  • Holman has held HR leadership positions at a wide range of organizations, such as Mass Mutual, Raytheon, GE, Wolters Kluwer, Capgemini, AthenaHealth, and Moody's, prior to joining Virgin Pulse as CHRO almost two years ago. She began the conversation by sharing several themes and learnings from across her HR journey:
    • Know the problem you are there to solve
    • Meet the culture where they are
    • Get comfortable being uncomfortable
    • Take risks; learn from failure
  • Virgin Pulse was started in 2004, and has grown both organically and via acquisitions since then. In 2019 they launched a "re-imagined, comprehensive digital health engagement platform unifying health and wellbeing, benefits navigation, and care guidance into "one-stop" member health experience driving outcomes across entire populations." Today the company has over 1,800 employees across 47 US states and 7 countries, over 50% of whom work remotely.
  • We asked call participants this question: "What are hallmarks of an organization that has a culture of continuous learning?" In chat some of the responses included: curiosity, growth mindset, vulnerability, fun, leaders who model learning, accountability, adaptability, psychological safety, and embedding learning and development in the performance management process.
  • Recent research from i4cp found that learning was a top trait of a fit culture, as it was mentioned as a trait 5X more often by survey participants from fit cultures vs. unfit cultures. Several i4cp studies have found the following to be key practices of learning cultures:
    • Learning is an espoused organizational value
    • The organization measures learning effectiveness
    • Managers are rewarded for developing and moving talent
    • Leaders practice active listening and seek to understand others’ points of view
    • Leaders ensure learning and best practices are freely shared across the organization
  • Holman shared some of her core beliefs about what makes for a good learning culture, including:
    • Learning and failing go hand in hand
    • Learning needs to be embedded into the organization's values and behaviors.
    • Leadership needs to set the example--and not just the executive and senior leadership team, but all people leaders and even those who don't lead people but lead through influence.
    • Learning needs to be part of the organization's DNA, such as its tools, training, and processes. Virgin Pulse does this by integrating learning and development into their performance management process, after-action reviews, and by having informal CEO chats, flexible well-being hours, and more.
  • A key part of having a strong learning culture is having strong leadership development programs. Holman shared some details of the Leadership Essentials program at Virgin Pulse:
    • The program is for first line managers and newly hired/promoted into a manager role
    • It has modules such as authentic leadership, developing talent, driving results, and leading change, as well as modules in core areas such as talent acquisition, compensation, future of work, and performance management.
    • The blended program includes components such as a leadership assessment 360 survey, self-paced content and virtual interactive lectures, Ieadership labs (small group/60 min), and personal reflection and practice through application exercises to supplement the learning.
    • Program success is measured by higher manager effectiveness indices on VP’s annual engagement survey, promotion rate of alumni, NPS score on LE feedback survey, and higher performance rating scores
  • The approach to flexible/hybrid work at Virgin Pulse is designed to ensure employees can remain highly productive regardless of their work location and designed to:
    • Improve employee satisfaction and well-being as a result of choice and work life balance.
    • Create a unified and connected culture through their purpose, values, a common set of behaviors, and practices on how people work and interact each day.
    • Increase productivity and collaboration through an intentional mix of virtual and in person gatherings designed for collaboration and focused work time.

Links to resources shared on the call: