Mutual of Omaha upskills staff to meet tech modernization goals

This is a sponsored post paid for by Mutual of Omaha and written by Annette Allen, the company’s senior business systems consultant. How do you stay competitive if you are a 100+-year-old insurance company? First, you gain an understanding of your customers and get in touch with what they want. Next, you identify the capabilities…

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This is a sponsored post paid for by Mutual of Omaha and written by Annette Allen, the company’s senior business systems consultant.

How do you stay competitive if you are a 100+-year-old insurance company?

First, you gain an understanding of your customers and get in touch with what they want. Next, you identify the capabilities your company must put in place to meet your customers’ needs and preferences. Then you get started modernizing your business processes, and, of course, you’ll need platforms and technologies to support those processes. This effort will drive several years of critical change.

On the bright side, you have a tried-and-true IT team who knows the business and has a strong, trusted relationship with business clients. They support your current processes and (in some cases) your aging technology stack. Do you kick them to the curb and bring in a new batch of IT professionals with shiny new skills?  

Not if you’re Mutual of Omaha.  

Instead, you stand up a Talent Strategic Enablement area that pulls together multiple teams performing talent-related work, and you get busy upskilling your existing staff.

The decision to focus on talent development is a differentiator for Mutual. 

Indu Muthunarayanan, Director of IT Talent Strategic Enablement, put it this way: “This is a new position for me. Also, I am relatively new to Mutual of Omaha, so I still have a bit of an outsider’s perspective.  I’ve traveled all over, worked with many clients in a wide range of industries, and I have never seen a company this big invest in talent the way Mutual has.  Even some tech giants cannot boast of that.” 

Indu Muthunarayanan, Director of IT Talent Strategic Enablement for Mutual of Omaha

Mutual’s IT organization is supporting a transformative, multi-year tech modernization effort.  Talent development is viewed as a key enabler of this effort.  

“We may pull in outside resources to assist us with new technologies, but if we are not transforming our staff, how will we provide ongoing support?  Our leaders understand that talent is an enabler of tech modernization. They recommended formation of this new area to focus on talent transformation,” said Muthunarayanan.  

There are two teams in the new area. The Talent Experience team runs a successful, growing internship program that consistently sees high levels of conversion. The team also facilitates a structured program to help IT groups mitigate the risk of being unprepared when skilled associates retire, transfer or leave. The team is also working with Mutual’s Human Resources department on an employee experience initiative that aspires to improve all phases of an IT employee’s career – from onboarding to retirement.

The Talent Accelerator team, as the name suggests, works to provide IT associates with ways to quickly grow their skillset. The team has rolled out popular tech e-learning platforms, coordinated engineering skillset accelerators and tech training classes, conducted assessments, created skill ladders for associates to guide their learning choices, and devised development planning tools for managers. 

“One of our biggest goals is to improve our engineering skillsets,” said Muthunarayanan. “This is both a skillset shift and a mindset shift. We have included every function in our IT operation in this goal, not just developers.”  

Corinna Neff, a Scrum Master on one of the company’s Agile Release Trains (ART), has been with the company for seven years. She believes that including entire teams in upskilling activities is very valuable.  

“My team is currently going through the Software Engineering Accelerator,” said Neff. Because we’re participating together, everybody’s perspective is represented. All of us – project managers, developers, testers – share experiences. As we learn new approaches, we look at the work we’re currently doing, and say, ‘Hey, that’s a great idea, we should do that!’”

While Mutual is starting to see increased skill and agility among the IT staff, there are challenges. The company is asking a lot of its IT employees – upskilling activities must sometimes yield to other competing initiatives. Associates are already working hard to support the business – it’s a little like trying to drop a new engine in a car while driving it down the road. 

At the same time, it’s important that the talent initiatives encourage the evolution of an engineering practice rather than trying to force it. Attending an Accelerator program was required for Faith Rolfsen and her team. Rolfsen, an Engineer on an Agile Release Train, feels strongly that an engineering mindset is key to building good software, but some will resist.  

“Learning how to apply engineering principles to software development is absolutely needed, but some will say, ‘I’m going to keep doing what I’ve always done.’ It’s best if a person has buy-in and chooses to take advantage of upskilling opportunities.”  

In addition to supporting tech modernization efforts, Mutual’s talent initiatives are expected to have an increasingly positive effect on retention and recruiting. The opportunity to work on transformational efforts is a value proposition for both current and prospective associates. IT professionals know that learning and using cutting-edge skills will keep them marketable and they want those kinds of opportunities.

“We are formulating strategies for acquisition and retention,” said Muthunarayanan. “Remote work is here to stay, and we are now offering flexible work options as part of our recruiting efforts. Of course, other companies can do the same. We are partnering with our Marketing team on ways to present our brand and our work opportunities to a larger audience.” 

Aggressive talent goals are necessary for Mutual’s IT staff to enable tech modernization and keep up with changes in the industry.

“Talent is critical to maintaining our competitive edge,” Muthunarayanan said. “We are equipping managers to lead for the future, to lead in the digital space. Investing in talent shows our commitment to our staff. Their knowledge and professionalism are key to our success.” 

 “There are great opportunities at Mutual,” added Rolfsen. We must come to the job prepared to grow, prepared to learn new things. That’s what makes this work exciting.”

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