Definity Financial Corporation had a $1.6 billion IPO in November of 2021, making them the biggest Canadian IPO of the year and the second largest in the history of the Toronto Stock Exchange. Though they just went public, their roots run 150 years deep, dating back to 1871 when a community of people in Kitchener, Ontario, composed a plan to protect each other during hardship.
Since this local founding 150 years ago, they’ve expanded into Canada's sixth largest property and casualty insurance company with some 3100 employees. Still in a period of rapid growth since going public, Marc Viola, the VP of Organizational Development & Talent at Definity, is on a mission to foster and uphold their culture of continuous learning and development.
Central to Definity’s learning and development culture is the Definity Employee Promise of CARE and providing an employee experience that is Collaborative, Ambitious, Rewarding, and Empowering.
C-Collaboration: Contribute to a team that values what you bring.
A-Ambitious: Challenging the status quo to deliver better results.
R-Rewarding: Achieving personal growth and learning.
E-Empowering: Making a difference every day in a collaborative values-based environment.
The Definity Employee Promise serves as a clean and concise entry point to a culture of learning, and Viola and his team magnify the framework’s strength by showing that the promise is a two-way street. To support each of these components of the Employee Promise, they’ve been deliberate about their investment in development so that it’s both deep and broad.
Development for All Employees: On-Demand Learning, A “Learn at Work Month,” Individual Development Plans, and cultureU
To support all employees (and uphold Definity’s end of the Definity Employee Promise), Viola and his team have built four foundational programs that serve to enable this:
First, they have an LMS called “Definity Learning.” It’s open to all employees for self-directed, on-demand learning. The LMS includes both content designed in-house and externally. Employees leverage the platform for everything from compliance, employee, leadership, and technical training content.
A second major offering for all employees is an annual “Learn at Work Month,” where they integrate key learning opportunities across the organization. In 2022, for example, Learn at Work Month included “Wellness,” “Inclusion,” and “Hybrid” learning opportunities along with curated content and social learning. Popular amongst employees were Panel discussions, ‘Learnle’ puzzles which are a take on Wordle, and a ‘Community Picks' channel where employees and leaders could share their favorite learning content.
Third, they have cultureU, a change and learning program led by nominated Culture Champions at Definity. Viola shared how they built and rolled out their cultureU program, which is unique and breaks the mold of typical employee development opportunities: “To activate our values and behaviors, and to ensure our culture is well-articulated and understood, we created a two-hour required program for all employees that we call cultureU. What's unique about this program is that it’s led by business leaders we call Culture Champions. The Culture Champions are selected based on their conviction to make a difference, their courage to help change and transform teams, and the communication skills needed to clearly and persuasively articulate why culture change is necessary. Being selected as a Culture Champion is an incredible leadership development opportunity. The Culture Champions also love doing it. We initially asked them to sign up for 12 months, and many have now been facilitating it since 2020.”
Led by these Culture Champions, the cultureU sessions draw on practical examples to deep-dive into how to successfully reinforce their culture, values, and key behaviors. The program also integrates with how all employees set up their individual performance management plans with their leaders.
Lastly, every employee creates a performance and development plan with their leader that includes personalized goals for their development. These individualized plans usually back elements of each of the above offerings into their action plans and objectives.
Leadership Development from the Frontline up to Executives
When it comes to leadership development, Definity offers three major programs that extend from the frontline level up to the executive level.
- Leadership Essentials: This front-line learning and development program is operationally focused and helps support new leaders as they learn how to lead other employees.
- High-Performing Leader Program: This program is for existing leaders who are a level above the frontline. It focuses on enhancing the skills of people leaders. Viola described how the 2022 version of this program was rolled out to fit the changing work environment: “In 2022, the focus has been on how to best lead hybrid teams in this evolved environment. It’s about cultivating curiosity in a hybrid environment and how to create more impactful and effective connections with your teams. We’ve also covered leading change and coaching skills for leaders. Moving forward, a large part of this program will remain the same and serve as the foundation, but other elements will change to match the needs of 2023.”
- High-Performing Executive Program: Their newly added program at the executive level aims to enhance executive-level capabilities. Like any program, it’s a learning journey. Viola said it seeks to build executives’ awareness in a few key areas: “We build executives’ awareness of where we are in our organizational journey, and we prepare executives for radical growth as a newly public company. It's about challenging traditional thinking and sustaining all this learning through intentional, intersession learning.”
More on Definity’s Frontline Leader Program: A Blended Approach to Learning
Their Leadership Essentials program equips their leaders with hands-on practical knowledge and skills to lead employees, but it also offers people leader practices. Modules they cover include talent acquisition, diversity and inclusion, unconscious bias, performance management, recognition, planning, and budgeting.
To reach their frontline leaders, their program strikes the right blend of self-directed learning, facilitated learning, and learning panels. Viola emphasized how even though their offerings are digitally robust, high-quality facilitators are essential. “Great technology doesn't mean you forget about the value of facilitated learning. There is still a valuable, meaningful place for high-quality facilitation in the hybrid working environment. Learners, as a whole, always make meaningful connections with strong and passionate facilitators. Facilitators enhance the learning experience and add more credibility to your learning programs. It's really important to build connections—physically and virtually—as new ideas are introduced.”
The learning panels are a unique component of Definity’s frontline leader program, and Viola shared that they are a crucial driver of interest. Viola’s team selected senior leaders from the organization to share their expertise and experience about a specific topic. The panels are virtual and offer an opportunity for frontline leaders to get to know senior leaders and to get to know each other.
Viola’s Advice for Leadership Development Pros: Get as many Data Points and Perspectives on Your Learning Road Map as Possible
Looking back on his last few years of work, Viola’s advice for leadership development pros was this: “As you build a learning roadmap, it's important to be very deliberate about sharing that roadmap with not only key stakeholders but also with employees. You'll be surprised by how interested they are and the value of the ideas they have. At the end of the day, they are your biggest consumers of content. I see sharing your roadmap as a great engagement lever and an opportunity to leverage real-time insights. It's a way to gather additional data for how you think about and design your learning programs.”
Viola’s Biggest Priority: Building for Engagement and Connection
Everything circles back to the Definity Employee Promise and supporting a high-performance, high-engagement organization. When asked what he sees as the number one priority moving forward, Viola pointed out that the changing landscape of workplace learning supports these goals: “What we've learned from the pandemic is how to reset learners' expectations. How to change and evolve the way that learning is designed to ensure we build for engagement and connection. It's also about creating equity in the experience. We now have many different modalities to deliver and make meaningful connections.”