How Jackson upskills the entire organization through business fluency

Jackson’s learning and development drives business fluency and clarity across the org chart. 

There are many nuances to the business strategy and organizational functions within Jackson National Life Insurance Company, a retirement services provider and one of the largest retail annuity companies in the United States. To help associates better connect to Jackson’s purpose, the internal comms team launched a program that unpacks how the company works through virtual Teaching Sessions. They started with their own team.

“We started the sessions for our team shortly after reorganizing our department,” said Erin Mercer, Jackson’s internal communications director. “Our team included a mix of people who were new to the industry, and others who were entering new roles from different parts of the business. We are a part of a highly regulated and complex industry and to be effective communicators, it’s important for our team to understand how their positions fit into the broader picture of our organization’s goals and projects.”

Teaching Sessions for the internal communications team explore topics such as product fundamentals and ways the organization makes money. They also include segments on how different departments work together and how each role fits into the corporate strategy. This helps orient the team on what to consider in helping other departments frame important stories for employees.

“From that, we thought about how we can help other employees understand that information, too,” Mercer said. “We conducted research to help identify gaps in business understanding and considered ways to address those gaps using content planning and storytelling. We recognized it was important for employees to see themselves as enablers of our company strategy and help them understand where they fit.”

Expanding across the organization

After testing this approach on internal comms, Mercer’s team built a strategy using Jackson’s intranet as a hub to create departmental visibility across the wider organization.

The effort explains what various departments do, identifies leaders in those departments and explains the problems they are working to solve. Each departmental focus is supported by multiple pieces of content: the Understanding the Business series includes feature stories that are longer in length, along with a Day in the Life spotlight of someone from the same team that unpacks what it all means for this one person’s role along with all their ties to the business. The team also publishes special editions based on new workstream achievements, like product launches or awards.

Designing content to address the opportunity for deepening knowledge and understanding around relevant functions or topics has also been successful, as has connecting new projects coming to the team including awareness celebrations like National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. “We challenge ourselves to understand how workstreams and projects connect to business strategy as communicators, then ensure we are helping the rest of our employees understand it as well,” Mercer said.

This upskilling-based approach to business fluency creates a new channel for employee recognition and illuminates the organizational structure all at once. By piloting this with the internal comms function, the team answered questions they were wondering about and positioned comms as a connector and influencer of cross-functional awareness.

The stories live on a dedicated page on Jackson’s intranet, creating a destination resource for new employees to learn more about the different departments. Mercer’s team also created a process to review what stories merit edits, updates or other changes.

Tying it back to learning and development

After seeing early success with their strategy, the team partnered with the company’s learning and development team on a series of accompanying short, two-minute-or-less videos that simplify concepts employees should understand to be more effective in their roles. Dubbed Business Insights, the series repurposes content from the internal comms Teaching Sessions series.

Beyond this, Mercer’s team is also building out a leadership communications hub for director-level and higher employees to house resources for people managers. “Elements from our Understanding series and evergreen resources like key messages and templates are placed in the hub to support more consistent messaging for employees,” she said. “These resources help leaders contextualize what these complex topics mean for their teams.”

To further support leadership messaging, the team worked with HR to launch a communications training designed for managers to improve their communication skills. The course is encouraged but not required for managers. The team has received so much positive feedback on this initiative that they’re already working on a version designed for line-level employees. This version of the leadership training will look at applying effective communication in day-to-day work.

“The modified version will cover ways employees can frame an update for a leader in email, for instance, using our guide of brand standards and principles to help them improve communication,” Mercer said.

As this effort expands into more formal upskilling, the team is careful to think about the level that each resource is for. Some sessions play into dedicated manager trainings, especially when the content gets into how you should be talking about the company.

“The trainings are another way to help employees see how they live our purpose and values every day,” said Mercer. “It’s great to hear that folks were excited about it and wanted their employees to take the training, but we recognize the trainings should be relevant for each audience to help with adoption and application.”

Not wanting to open some tracks up to direct reports, Mercer’s team is building out specific offerings for all levels in the organization. “We’re hoping this will help employees understand where they sit in our company strategy and how they are connected, even if we’re not in the same office,” said Mercer. “We might work in different departments or even remotely, but we’re also working toward the same goal.”

Learn more about how upskilling and business fluency intersect during Ragan’s Employee Experience Conference, Aug. 12-14 at Nashville’s Four Seasons.

Erin Mercer and Jackson are members of Ragan’s Communications Leadership Council. Learn more about joining here.


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