Building Top-Notch Leaders

With the U.S. wrestling with the Affordable Care Act and a radically changing health care industry, Aetna Chairman, CEO and President Mark Bertolini called for a dramatic shift in the way his company does business. But he faced a major challenge: as the leader of one of the nation’s most prominent health care benefits companies, he knew it was essential that his senior leadership team adopt an entrepreneurial orientation and risk-taking mindset to position the company for future growth.

Bertolini turned to Aetna’s talent development leader, Ted Fleming, and his colleagues to reinvent the company’s corporate university programs to better prepare Aetna executives to lead the charge of transforming the next generation of health care. A new Aetna University was launched in May 2012 with two primary goals: (1) build a top-notch leadership team; and (2) change the way it does business. Aetna needed to think differently. Leaders needed to respond at the speed of business and drive critical change initiatives across the enterprise. From a learning perspective, Fleming knew he needed to look beyond single-point solutions or traditional modes of talent development to find a way to develop leaders holistically, reinforcing the learning while making it relevant. People needed to engage at a high level for a long period of time in a way that is enticing, got to the point, and was easy to use.

So Aetna partnered with CorpU to transform its leadership development program to a connected learning environment. “Technology is revolutionizing talent development the same way it has revolutionized every other aspect of the corporation,” says Fleming. “Now we can connect a group of leaders and help them get to the future faster than ever before. We’re educating them in a new way of thinking. We’re facilitating their practicing, experimenting, learning and adapting.” A Connected Learning Solution With the need to grow general managers and profit-and-loss (P&L) leaders quickly, Aetna and CorpU designed a two-year program crafted in modules that were rolled out on a connected learning platform and a virtual learning community. Through deliberate practice during a seven-week period after the formal learning session, participants are empowered to embed the learning into their work and implement their own business plans. They’re aligned with business advisors and mentors to gain valuable perspectives as they work on their plans. Built-in interaction points can accelerate growth by presenting to the senior leaders who provide feedback, offer their words of wisdom, and monitor the progress. “We’re taking 30 people at Aetna on a two-year journey,” says Fleming. “We’re not just teaching them new things we’re having them do new things — based on their own performance objectives. It’s highly interactive. It’s leaders teaching leaders, which research shows, is one of the most effective ways of engaging people.”

Real Business Impact In the program launch, Aetna has successfully engaged people at all levels. With a strategy in place to measure results and engagement, Fleming is enthusiastic about potential outcomes: “We’re looking for that secret sauce. If we can develop a learning model and approach that works and accelerates growth, it has application across a broad range of opportunities.” Fleming says that the magic of a connected learning platform happens when people stop calling it training and realize that they’re connected to industry and subject-matter experts, methods and models, and the right tools to help them achieve aggressive goals: “If we do it right, they should see the ‘ready now’ successors of roles increase. We should see the time of getting from one level to another decrease. We should see a difference in the financial performance of people who participate and those who don’t. “This is a complex business and a difficult time for this industry and for this country. All of our senior leaders are taking this new approach to learning very seriously. If we train people effectively and provide the right support, they can have a tremendous impact on making the world a healthier and more economically vibrant place.” —For more information on CorpU’s products and services, visit the website

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