From left: Diane August, Donald Dennis and Tish Damschroder.

Collaboration, Integration and Leadership at Nationwide

At the insurance and financial services company, building a culture of learning starts at the top.

By Ashley St. John

There are three things that make Nationwide’s learning program elite, according to Kathleen L. Smith, vice president, talent management and development.

“One is that it is a highly collaborative community of learning leaders across the company,” Smith said. “We work together to look to the future, to share best practices, to mature our capabilities. The second thing is the way learning is integrated. It’s an integrated part of all strategic efforts. And I think last, what makes us elite is the level of leadership sponsorship for the work. Our leaders are highly engaged in learning — they participate, they contribute, they strategize with us, they help define outcomes, and they ensure that the metrics for everything that we do are visible.”

Nationwide’s strategic priorities — Strengthen Our Foundation, Focus on Advantaged Growth and Activate One Nationwide — were unveiled in 2015, and in 2017 the organization debuted a learning suite called the NSuite, which focused on corporate values and four One Nationwide Culture Program behaviors (managing change, collaborating, leaning into new opportunities and conscious inclusion) that supported those priorities.

“Our strategy two years ago was focused on making learning more personalized, engaging, accessible and impactful,” said Diane L. August, Nationwide’s chief learning architect. “And we made sure all of our initiatives aligned to that and demonstrated that. We’ve evolved though, now, to using that more as our delivery strategy.”

A blended learning approach was used to ensure that delivery strategy was met. The NSuite consisted of several modules: Nspire and Nspired Leadership (focused on company culture and values and One Nationwide behaviors), Ncharge (focused on managing change), Nvision (focused on leaning into new opportunities), Nvite (focused on collaborating), and Nclude (focused on conscious inclusion).

One of the ways Nationwide ensures its delivery strategy works is through a shared consulting model and intake process. According to its LearningElite application, the successful link of learning strategy and business strategy starts with the engagement of its human resources business partners as liaisons with enterprise leadership. These business partners help identify knowledge and skill gaps and learning opportunities.

The organization also places strong emphasis on leadership development and commitment. By creating a culture of learning among its leaders, Nationwide ensures this culture flows down to all associates.

“There is an enterprisewide structure of leadership teams that guide the strategy called our Executive Leadership Council,” Smith said. “They are aligned to different topics that are critical to our future. One of them is talent and culture. They guide this and are committed to it, and that does cascade down. That tells [our leaders] that this is important, that the strategies we have are sponsored at the very top of the organization.”

Nationwide also maintains leadership commitment by engaging its leaders. The cornerstone of its leadership development program is a three-day Leadership Essentials class that provides new leaders with the skills to create an engaging culture and position their teams for success.


Nationwide’s robust leadership development approach includes a yearlong new leader road map featuring Nspired Leadership: a course on leading within a culture of increased innovation and collaboration. Ninety-six percent of leaders believe their direct report has experienced an increase in effectiveness after completing the program.

Company size: 34,350
Location: United States

Additionally, they are given opportunities to participate as coaches and teachers in the organization.

“An example we have is our Leadership Speaker Series forum,” Smith said. “We provide the infrastructure, but they run it. They are the voice of it, they kick those off, they do all of the content design.”

“There’s a strong link to performance management and career development there also,” August added. “There’s no doubt that leaders feel accountability for developing their associates’ learning. Although we say that the associate owns their own development, leaders are positioned and evaluated on the way that they develop their associates.”

With the pace of change in the industry accelerating, three new strategic imperatives evolved from the prior strategic priorities: improve operating efficiency, expanding reach to serve more members and creating more differentiated value. This transition caused Nationwide to evolve its learning strategy from a primarily delivery-focused strategy to a more comprehensive learning strategy as it moves into 2018. The new strategy is focused on capability development across the enterprise aimed at building three specific mindsets/skill sets: (1) lead — energize and share leadership; (2) innovate — solve needs in ways people have not yet imagined; and (3) flex — anticipate and embrace change.

“In 2017, we did a lot of work around culture, but now we’re really ready to tie that to the future capabilities that we know are going to be needed by our workforce in the next 10 to 15 years,” August said. “We’re modifying our learning strategy to make it more modern and more flexible for our workforce — more microlearning, more on demand, more of a pull versus push strategy.”

According to Miller, Nationwide is getting hyperfocused on the future, on the skills that need to be enabled and on modifying their delivery strategy to increase speed and scale. A Workforce of the Future effort is one initiative that’s on the horizon, she said.

“Traditional learning just isn’t going to work — it’s not going to do it fast enough, it’s not going to be responsive enough, and our associates don’t want it,” August said. “We have a highly millennial organization, and we need to meet them where they are. So, Kathy’s right — not just the content and the focus but also the methods are changing.”

Ashley St. John is Chief Learning Officer’s managing editor. She can be reached at