Medica: Talent and Learning Management to Support Growth

Medica, a nonprofit and independent provider of health plans in Minnesota and a growing number of adjoining counties in the upper Midwest, continues to be one of the United States’ fastest-growing health plans.

Medica, a nonprofit and independent provider of health plans in Minnesota and a growing number of adjoining counties in the upper Midwest, continues to be one of the United States’ fastest-growing health plans. In 2004, Medica’s membership grew 12 percent to more than 1.2 million, and revenue increased to $2.1 billion from $1.9 billion in 2003. However, with this substantial business growth, Medica realized that internal challenges were likely to occur “We are in a growth period and it is very exciting, but with that excitement challenges arose,” said Dawn Baker, director of training and development at Medica. “We know that we have to get increasingly sophisticated leadership, and in order to do that, the first step is to assess where we need talent in terms of skills, abilities and knowledge.”

Medica is implementing its first comprehensive talent management program for the organization’s directors and officers, as well as a new learning management system. According to Baker, the goal is to directly tie these two programs together. “With this new application, employees will be able to actually identify areas on their performance reviews where they maybe had a couple of competencies that were rated lower than the rest, and they will in turn be able to target those areas through learning,” Baker said. “Employees will actually develop an individual learning plan in that application so they can go ahead and set up goals, register for classes and participate in other learning opportunities as well.”

During the beginning of the talent management implementation, Medica’s leaders assembled to assess their direct reports to identify high-potential employees and place them into a Nine Box Placement, which systematically helps identify an individual’s potential, dedication, strengths and weaknesses. Once the leaders identified talent pools, Medica performed in-depth gap analyses to identify what skills, abilities and knowledge were absent from the different business sectors. Baker said this is a critical step because the purpose of a talent management program is not only to fulfill the current requirements, but also to meet the future requirements.

“The gap analyses are helping us design and develop what we need to do in terms of programs and initiatives,” Baker said. “We are planning out what we need to do in order to accomplish a very ambitious and aggressive approach for the next couple of years, which could look like mentoring, job rotational assignments, seminars and other kinds of strategies to get our talent to the next level.”

The Medica Learning Center already offers a leadership development program called Talent Builder, a nine-class series on core supervisory skills called Managing for Excellence, soft skills development classes and a four- to five-week technical training curricula to acquaint new and current employees with up-to-date industry-specific health plan information and computer software knowledge. Although almost all learning and development at Medica is delivered via instructor-led sessions, the learning center also offers an e-learning self-study program, which will align with the organization’s LMS and talent management program.

According to Baker, the new unified processes are important because change management is a consistent challenge for Medica’s workforce. “On the horizon for us is that we are shifting our big legacy software platform, the entire claims management, eligibility—everything that employees need to be able to view, look up, and perform research and data crunching from,” she said. “This is going to be huge for our employees. Everybody is going to have to learn a new system, and we are probably looking at doubling up and offering training on both systems during the transition.”

Technical training is a very important part of Medica’s learning curriculum because its health insurance products and customers’ needs are continually expanding and evolving. “We really need to help employees with the learning and stress that accompanies rapid change. We have launched probably 10 new health insurance products in the last three or four years, and it has not been easy getting people knowledgeable so that they can sell them and also service them,” she said. “We are already struggling with that, and the products are just getting more complicated.”

Nevertheless, because employee development is valued and leadership has been the foundation of Medica’s success, employee satisfaction and retention have been continuously high. “We have gotten excellent ratings from employee exit interviews, and people really felt that our learning and development opportunities were really a benefit for them and a resource,” Baker said. “We feel that anecdotally people tend to stay with Medica because those types of benefits are offered and available.”

–Cari McLean,