Does senior leadership in your organization consider you a strategic advantage? Do they think of you and your training colleagues as the go-to people when business challenges arise? If the answer is no (or even if you are not sure), then you may be missing out on opportunities to impact your organization’s success.

The case study that follows highlights a year of activities that a newly formed training department used to get the word out at Pacific Life Insurance Company. When sales training merged with two additional training teams—instructional design and media development in the performance and knowledge services department—we knew we were facing both opportunities and challenges.

The merger of the three training teams offered great opportunities to maximize capabilities across old work boundaries, but we knew that without effort on our part, new opportunities might easily be overlooked. We quickly realized we needed a plan to bring the organization on board with our new charter.

Developing a brand

How important is a name? Very important, we thought. In the past, vague department names like “performance and knowledge services” did little to illuminate our purpose in the organization. This time around, we chose “life division training”—not terribly creative, but it leaves no question about who we are and what we do. Our intent was to communicate inclusivity. We now supported everyone in the division.

We wanted a new logo as well. With talented media developers on the team, we leveraged their graphic design skills to create several prototypes. Members of the team voted for their favorite, and we selected a winner. Today, we use the department logo to brand our training materials and other learning resources. A media developer skilled in After Effects also created an animation of the logo. (Actually, he created three.) We now place an animated logo at the beginning of each of our online courses. This reinforces our brand every time an employee takes an online course.

Getting the word out

As the year progressed, we sought out opportunities to talk with division management and share our new charter. To expedite this process, we came up with an idea for a mid-year event. Using our sales trainers’ experience in working with our company’s event planning team, we planned a formal coffee break and invited all division management to attend.

The coffee break was designed as a mini-expo. We prepared a short presentation that would happen on the “main stage” in one of our large conference rooms. We set up three tables along the sides of the room, staffing each table with members of the team to greet and talk with attendees. We displayed posters, and our instructional design team created handouts to promote several of our flagship training programs and a new training request process.

We created looping video to play on large screens at each table. When creating the video, one team member suggested we go behind the scenes and videotape our team at work. That way, we could go beyond “telling” what we do to “showing” how we do it. So, montage footage playing at the tables included staff at work creating training materials, hosting virtual training, building online courses, and delivering classroom training. Attendees were intrigued with the work behind the scenes required to develop and deliver training.

The coffee break was a huge success. Approximately 60 percent of division management attended. People may have come for the coffee and cookies, but they left with a greater understanding of what our newly formed training department could offer their areas.

A year in review (or Ants in the Garden)

Nearing year-end, our assistant vice president approached the team with a radical idea. On the heels of the successful use of video at the coffee break, could we create a video highlighting our accomplishments for the year? The video would replace the traditional PowerPoint presentation that she would present to senior leadership. She bravely gave the group total freedom on concept and design. The team jumped at the idea to create an animated motion graphic video.

After some intense brainstorming, the team landed on merging two fairly wild concepts to illustrate our year of change: an ant farm and a garden. Sounds crazy, right? We did question whether it was wise to portray ourselves as ants in a video for senior leadership. (And I do remember one particularly unique email string discussing how to draw “cute” ants.) However, once committed to the concept, there was no looking back. Again, we took advantage of talent within the team. Media developers created assets, animation, and edited music. A sales trainer did the voice-over work. The purpose of the video was to tell our story, go beyond statistics, and highlight how each of the three teams—instructional design, media development, and sales training—had contributed to our success.

The day we provided the final product to management, we were a bit nervous. What would they think? We knew all was well upon learning the vice president of business development had shared the video with colleagues at dinner that very evening. Ultimately, the video was included in a presentation delivered on the main stage at our division’s annual marketing meeting, a real accolade. While the official title is 2015 Year in Review, it will always be Ants in the Garden to us.

A final thought

While the department’s first year as life division training was often challenging, it was also loads of fun. Our success can be attributed to a talented team that brings their best to work every day. It is rare today that someone refers to us by an old team name or asks what we do. And when a business partner calls and says, “Hey, there’s a new project starting up, and training is going to be critical,” we know we’re doing something right.