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23 Sep 2018

Blended Learning is Opening Internal Development Paths at Defence Health

“How can we get there if we don’t know where THERE is?” employees of Defence Health were often wondering when it came to their career progression. Although they had impressive levels of staff engagement, development opportunities for internal advancement at the company were often unclear, leaving their people uncertain about how to take the next steps on their career growth path.

It was clear the HR team needed to forge a new path in learning and development.

Kelly Dickson, Head of HR at Defence Health, presented their story at HR Innovation & Tech Fest. Here’s a summary of their new approach to learning and development. It’s an initiative that has seen them transform from delivering ad-hoc, unintegrated training to a blended learning approach that is providing a clear-cut route to success for their people.

Treading a Muddy Career Path

Defence Health supports members of the Australian Defence Force and the wider defence force community to manage their personal and family health care. With 260,000 members across Australia, it is a relatively small organisation with a long, proud history.

After a recent review of the organisation’s strategic goals, the HR team (led by Kelly) spent 6 weeks gathering data through engagement surveys, internal audits, and staff focus groups to discover what the HR team were doing well, and areas where they needed to lift their game.

One area that emerged from the feedback was the importance of building capability and skills within the organisation.

It became apparent to the HR team that role competency definitions, as well as the path to internal career progression were unclear.

“I would see an internal staff member apply for a role, and we weren’t able to clearly articulate why they weren’t successful. A typical response would be “you haven’t quite got the technical skills we need.” And their next question would be “well, how do I get them?”. As an HR team we weren’t able to provide a clear path to building these skills and that is something that really weighed heavy on me,” Kelly said.

The team realised they needed to be able to explain to their people the exact skills needed in a particular role, and provide a clear plan on how to help build those skills.

Navigating Success

The solution was a competency framework to map out the core skills needed for each role within the organisation. The HR team built a library of 22 competencies, and for each role people were asked to choose 8-10 competencies that were applicable for their role. Competencies are grouped under four areas:

  • Business Skills
  • People Skills
  • Leadership Skills
  • Technical Skills



Core Competencies

Each individual role across Defence Health was mapped, and each set of competencies was aligned with Defence Health’s strategic objectives.

Most importantly, it meant that employees now knew exactly what was expected of them in their current or future roles.

“This is not just randomly building capability, it was building the capability we actually needed to achieve our organisational goals,” Kelly said.

Importantly, the competency framework was developed in consultation with their people. “The last thing I wanted to do was come in and say “here’s a framework, use it.” We developed a starting point based on conversations with the Executive Team, and asked our people to fill in the missing gaps. They were, of course, the ones out there talking to our members. As a result of these conversations, we amended the competency framework quite significantly based on that feedback,” said Kelly.

The framework provided a starting point for the HR team to talk to their people about what was needed from them, and provide a clear picture of what great looked like. If they wanted to be a high performer, this is exactly what they needed to put in their development plan.

The competency framework has been instrumental in defining what is expected of Defence Health’s people. It clearly maps out what success looks like, and helps people understand how to take the next step in their career.

“A Powerful Learning Experience”

The next step in their plan was to make a clear link between the new competencies and how people could build the skills needed.

In the past, people would typically be sent off for external training, but there were usually no conversations after the course and the learnings weren’t integrated into daily business. A learning and development box was ticked but was it really effective in getting people where they needed to be?

“For me, it’s not good enough to say “You’re not quite where you need to be for that role” and leave it at that. We needed to say “You’re not quite there, but we’ve mapped out a blended learning approach to help you get there,” Kelly said.

The HR team implemented a 70/20/10 blended learning approach:

  • 70% Learning by Doing: On the job, experiential learning
  • 20% Learning from Others: Working with someone who is an expert in the area to mentor and coach you.
  • 10% Structured Learning: Formal learning approaches


“This has really been what was lacking in the past around targeted development. We had a training budget, we’d send people off to courses, but it wasn’t targeted and it wasn’t aligned,” Kelly said. “We found the 70/20/10 to be far more powerful than external training alone. People are learning in a number of different ways and there’s much more integration and support from the business.”

This approach has had the added bonus of helping to recognise role models within Defence Health. One example of this is within the Claims department: There are a number of people who have been with the organisation for more than 30 years who are absolute experts in claims, but their knowledge was not being used for learning and development. Before this new learning and development approach, the HR team would just send people off externally to build their skills (or recruit more people with existing skills). Now, existing knowledge is being leveraged with the added bonus of recognising high achievers as well.

“It’s made our experts feel awesome too because we’ve started to recognise the intelligence and capability we have within the business and use it to our advantage,” Kelly said.

And as the learning guide is clearly aligned to the competency framework (which is in turn aligned to Defence Health’s strategic objectives), it allows the HR team to draw a clear line between L&D and wider organisational goals, making ROI more evident.

Transparent, Meaningful Conversations

This new approach has allowed Defence Health’s HR team to have meaningful conversations about future roles, helping them to identify competencies, map the skills needed, and put them into their development plan.

Conversations are also now more transparent and upfront. The team are now able to give specific reasons if people were unsuccessful in job applications and can map out a clearly laid plan to get them to where they want to be.

The new approach is a work in progress says Kelly, “It’s been really positively received by our people but we acknowledge that we didn’t get it all right. We continue to get feedback on the system from our people, so it’s a continuous readjustment and improvement to get it working the way we need it to.”

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