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(26) Interview with Jackie Smith

" Take time to reflect and intentionally build the kind of leader you want to be "


CareSource University (CSU) is ranked as one of the top training facilities in the country and is unlike most internal education institutions. It provides multiple education and training functions to harness the unique strengths of its talent base to boost workplace morale and performance. Jackie Smith, Vice President of CSU at CareSource explains in a Lean In Ohio interview, how she leaned into networking, which led to founding one of the most fundamental internal infrastructures at CareSource.

Lean In Ohio: What led to your role at CareSource University (CSU) at CareSource?

Jackie Smith : Two key pieces that come to mind for me are networking and delivering on promises. This all came about a number of years ago when I was attending a professional meeting, and met CareSource’s human resource director. We were discussing training and leadership development and she stated that CareSource did not have a training function but could benefit from focused training. Consequently, I was brought on as a consultant doing part-time leadership development training, team building and performance management work. While working as a consultant, I demonstrated my skills, built relationships and delivered results. After about six months I thought it might beneficial for both parties to recommend a more in-depth relationship. On the same day that I was going to share a proposal for creating a part-time position with the HR director, she asked me, " Why don't you just work here? You are here a lot already! ” I stated, “ That’s interesting because I have a proposal on that very thought .”

I came in as part time for about 18 months, and upon demonstrating what I could do for the organization, CEO, Pam Morris, asked me a life-changing question. She explained that she always wanted to have an internal university to focus training resources specifically on what CareSource staff needed and asked if I would be interested in doing something like that. I said that I would absolutely be interested. After creating a vision for what this might look like we agreed to build the university.

Lean In Ohio: CareSource has one of the top training programs in the country according to Training Magazine . Why do you think CSU stands out?

Jackie Smith : CSU has been an actual function for about 12 years, and the thing that really makes us stand out is the breadth of services we offer. We don’t consider ourselves just a training function and we very purposefully do not use the word “training” in the title.
As we moved to a university approach we built four “schools” to address employee needs.

The School of Applications and Systems primarily covers our new hire onboarding and systems training.

The School of Business and Interpersonal Skills that covers things about our industry, interpersonal skills and other forms of communications such as emotional intelligence, feedback, navigating change and assessments such as the Myers-Briggs profile and  StrengthsFinder.

The School of Professional Development is a school that supports about half of our staff, our clinicians and project management team. It provides continuing education resources to employees who have clinical or professional licensure that they need to maintain.

The School of Coaching and Consulting is one of our largest schools. This school includes three full-time, ICF certified coaches that meet with every new leader in the organization for approximately nine months. They support our leaders in getting acclimated in their new leadership position as quickly as possible.

We have 29 staff members that support the work in our schools. This level of organizational commitment is almost unheard of, especially in a nonprofit. This team delivered over 200,000 hours of learning last year. CSU is a hybrid between a human resource function and learning function. We have course facilitators, course designers, eLearning specialists, coaches, performance management consultants, procedural writers, OD consultants and a virtual learning manager. All of these roles work together to provide services to our 2,900 employees.

Lean In Ohio: CareSource is committed to diversity and inclusion . How do you feel CareSource has carried out this mission within its educational programs?

Jackie Smith : The first is our foundational course which is part of a required curriculum. Employees are required to take Dialogue-Effective Communication when they are hired into the organization. In this particular course, there is a piece of content called the “ladder of inference” which really sets the tone for diversity and inclusion as we discuss how people think and interpret things differently based on experiences. It all begins with understanding the diversity of our thinking.

Through other classes, employees are taught various communication styles and learn to use them to work more effectively with their teams.

We also have a program called, “Gotta Have Heart.” This is a cultural program where we talk about not only the diversity of members and consumers we serve, but also diversity within our employee population. As we grow and go into different spaces, you see the differences in the way we deal with health care and the way we each communicate.

Finally, we have a clear focus on identifying and utilizing each employee’s unique strengths and enabling them to make their greatest contribution to the organization.

Lean In Ohio: You have been a Learning and Performance professional for over 20 years. Additionally, you have worked in the for-profit and nonprofit sector . In your opinion, how are the for-profit and nonprofit industries impacting women in areas such as training and development? Is there a difference between the two?

Jackie Smith : Early on in my career, I worked on the for-profit side. The opportunities on the for-profit side were slightly different because there was more funding for program certification and large training functions. As a result, I had the opportunity to receive great training and gain in-depth experience across a multitude of training resources. My experience on the for-profit side helped to set a solid foundation in the content of development work. As I moved into the nonprofit side, I was able to really take that foundation in the mechanics and discipline of training and apply it to areas I’m passionate about.

Jackie Smith : Another nonprofit organization that I'm involved with began to discuss offering business courses in developing countries. What was really appealing to me was that I would get to use not only my teaching and training background, but also integrate my love of traveling and empowering people who would not have these opportunities otherwise. In many of these situations, I have been the only female on the team so I am able to work with business women in developing countries and support them in growing their business and their people. I am able to connect with these women across cultures that face similar obstacles women in our culture face, though some of the details are different by country. I would say the women leaders I have had the privilege to meet in South America, the Middle East, and Africa were all dealing with very similar kinds of business challenges. It's been a great opportunity to connect with and support women around the world and I have learned just as much from them as I hope they have from me.

Lean In Ohio: LEAN IN is promoting a new campaign which celebrates women helping women. In Spite of the myth, women really do support one another. One of the topics the campaign discusses is women advocating for other women in the workplace . How do you think you have been an ally either directly or indirectly for women at work?

Jackie Smith : There is advocacy throughout the work I do and the work that I support. CareSource University has been very focused on working with individuals and helping them develop their strengths. What we are really trying to do is create an environment for employees to identify what their strengths are and create a plan to bring their “best selves” to the table. A statement I have heard from both men and women, but mostly from women in the organization is that “I never thought I could do that” or “I was never told that I could think that way .” I hope my influence is around helping women to think differently about what’s possible for them and letting them know that CareSource facilitates the environment for them to grow.

Lean In Ohio: What class would you deem necessary for a developing leader?

Jackie Smith : The most critical class for a developing leader would be centered on finding out who you are as a person. Leadership development is about developing ourselves. The concept is about being clear about who you are, what you are all about, what your strengths are and certainly what you value. That's the best place for each one of us to lead from. My recommendation would be to take coursework that focuses on being really clear about who you are and taking time to reflect and intentionally build the kind of leader you want to be

Interviewed by Julene Allen

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