2019 Learning Elite
Nationwide - Diane August, Tishia Damschroder, Aaron Stout, Kathy Smith, Tamar Williamson and Chad Zierke. Not Pictured: Julie Ragatz Norton.

Above, from left: Diane August, Tishia Damschroder, Aaron Stout.

Below, from left, the executive learning leadership team at Nationwide: Kathy Smith, Tamar Williamson and Chad Zierke. Not Pictured: Julie Ragatz Norton. Photo courtesy of Nationwide.

2019 Learning Elite Number 8
Sprinting Toward the Finish Line

At Nationwide, 2019’s No. 1 LearningElite organization, innovation is never an afterthought.

By Rick Bell

As former football great Peyton Manning and country music crooner Brad Paisley banter back and forth on television commercials telling viewers and customers alike that “Nationwide is on your side,” it wouldn’t be a stretch for the pair to riff off the popular jingle by adding that the insurance giant is also on the side of its 31,000 employees when it comes to learning and development.

Learning methods are shifting at lightning speed, and organizations like Nationwide are discovering new and better ways to shift L&D within organizations. What worked just a decade ago has likely seen better days.

“We’ve moved from the traditional training of eight to 10 years ago. Enabling learning is much more a part of everyone’s role here,” said Diane L. August, chief learning architect at the Columbus, Ohio-based company.

Many learning leaders once felt they were the keepers of all L&D content through their learning management systems, August said. Much of that has changed with such innovations as content curation, playlists and sprints.

“Now it’s much more of a push-pull relationship,” August said. “You find what they need. You can’t rely on building it all yourself. The speed of change and knowledge is so rapid that it could be obsolete by the time it goes to market.”

Nationwide exists in the heavily regulated insurance industry, and while competition is fierce, innovation often may be seen as an afterthought. Nationwide, however, relies on its decades of innovation to separate it from others in the industry.

Nationwide’s recent hiring of a chief innovation officer offers tangible evidence of not relying on tried-and-true methods. The company last year piloted a modernized learning delivery strategy to hone in on enabling learning and performance rather than a traditional delivery method. It also shows how Nationwide’s learning leaders are transforming the delivery approach from a focus on in-person and virtual classrooms to digital, on-demand learning.

Over the past three years Nationwide also has focused on bolstering its organizational culture with talent development being a key component. That learning culture is still evolving with innovation playing a vital role.

One new venture is the innovation learning sprint. Launched earlier this year, the sprint is a team-based action learning experience offered to all teams during which they practice key actions of innovation and utilize design-thinking innovation (think problem-solving process) to solve a real-world problem in a unique, creative way.

Technology, of course, is a cornerstone of Nationwide’s innovation push. In fact, Cornerstone has supplied Nationwide’s learning management system since 2015.


Nationwide built embedded learning into its next-generation cloud-based HR system to prepare 31,000 associates. More than 90 percent of learners completed their first-time use of an HR process against the vendor benchmark of 82 percent. Cost savings compared with previous system deployments was significant.

Company size: 31,342
Location: United States

That now includes the playlist feature, which allows a leader or subject-matter expert to create a list of learning objects that can be shared with colleagues. In another pilot project, Nationwide unveiled multiple playlists with an employee focus, including Grow Your Career Through Modern Learning.

Nationwide’s employees can also learn through internal social networks; online learning with virtual courses; interactive job aids; flipbooks; mobile platforms and community project websites.

Nationwide has taken an innovative approach to implementing a next-generation cloud-based HR system, which drives operating efficiency and allows associates to have more time to focus on capability development related to their role. This approach uses a digital adoption tool and embeds learning in the system allowing for on-demand, in-the-moment learning while completing the HR process required. The approach saved thousands of hours of productivity; 94 percent of learners successfully completed their first-time use of an HR process against a vendor benchmark of 82 percent successful process completions for users with embedded learning. Cost savings were also high in that far less virtual or face-to-face learning needed to be designed and delivered compared with past technology implementations.

All this innovation, however, doesn’t occur in a vacuum. There are metrics and reports to be filed. Transparency with the executive team regarding the impact and value of such initiatives is key for Nationwide’s learning leaders.

They report the metrics to the senior vice president of talent, diversity and organization effectiveness, and share learning metrics with Nationwide’s chief human resources officer and HR executive team monthly, and with the CEO and the board at least annually.

Having a new chief innovation officer on board will only help improve learning, said Kathy Smith, vice president, talent management and development.

“Because we’ve had a successful, innovative company for over 90 years, naming a chief innovation officer helps us place an even heavier strategic focus on innovation and the shifts required by our changing customer expectations,” Smith said. “In learning, we are embracing design thinking and agile approaches along with new digital capabilities to provide dynamic solutions for our associates with the goal to increase impact while reducing cost.”

Whether a catchy on-air jingle or an innovative L&D program, it’s clear that Nationwide is on employees’ side.

Rick Bell is Chief Learning Officer’s editorial director. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.