I’ve noticed that, whenever the topic of disruption comes up, the same few examples are used. Publications, books, boardrooms, and the classrooms of business schools all love to talk about the Kodaks and the Blockbusters of the world. These are simple, extreme examples of the fact that standing still is a great way to go out of business.
I don’t particularly like many of these famous case studies about the need to innovate, however. Why? Because many of the stories imply a one-time decision; Kodak ignored digital so they were killed by digital… Blockbuster ignored personal computing… Borders Bookstore didn’t take e-commerce seriously...
The reality of disruption and innovation is that it’s both a constant threat and a constant opportunity.
Oftentimes we see commercial insurance brokerages who are just beginning their innovation journey adopting the mindset that, once they digitize, then everything will be okay. Innovation, however, is constant.
That’s not to say brokers are doing a bad job, as many have stepped up to the plate and swung for the fences. If you are actively working to maintain high-quality data, adopt more flexible systems, and implement innovation-centric processes, then a lot of the heavy lifting is out of the way already. While data, systems, and processes are enablers of innovation, they are nothing without people to drive them.
Your next challenge is keeping up your momentum and enthusiasm surrounding innovation across the whole organization; from C-Level to the greenest recruit.
Reinforcing the Vision
Continued innovation starts at the top. If your employees do not see or feel management is committed to innovation, most efforts will fall flat. Naming a Head of Innovation, someone responsible for the organization’s efforts is a significant sign an organization is all-in. From there, look for opportunities to reinforce the long-term vision of the organization.
Buoying the Buy-In – Context is important when attempting to get employees to change their ways. After all, why change something that has worked for 20 years? To gain employee buy-in, be sure to have frank conversations with them by sharing clear details of how the changes will benefit the company, your customers, and them in a positive way.
Innovation Roundtables – Holding regularly scheduled roundtables are a great way to keep the innovative mindset alive. Every meeting should follow a similar agenda of fostering new ideas, reviewing the status of current objectives, and celebrating both successes and failures.
Openness and Transparency – All employees need to feel safe about sharing their thoughts and ideas. A management team that remains transparent about the innovative activities happening through the organization can help encourage participation. And the more employees who present their unique thoughts, the better your company will be for it.
As with any business function, innovation requires continual guidance to ensure both short-term and long-term objectives are being met. However, because innovation requires creativity, something which cannot be operationalized, extra care is essential to produce meaningful results.
There are a few instances when using a stick can be more productive than dangling a carrot. When it comes to innovation, however, the carrot will always win. In the end, innovation requires a team effort and incentives should reflect this. It is important to first identify what aspects of innovation should be incentivized.
Participation – Simply the act of offering up a new idea takes courage. Seek to reward individuals who take the initiative to not only dream up new and creative concepts but who formulate solutions and present them to the innovation team.
Collaboration – The sum of the parts will always be greater than the whole. Every employee will have a unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities an organization faces. Acknowledge and reward employees who are working together toward finding innovative solutions.
Successes and Failures – It may be obvious to recognize innovation efforts that result in successful outcomes. But it is just as important to reward those who have tried and failed as it is often through failure, we learn the most.
After identifying which opportunities are deserving of incentivization, the next step is selecting the proper method to reward employees and innovation teams. Much has been written on the topic of incentivizing and motivating workforces. There is too much to detail here, but we’ve identified three of the most effective ways to keep your workforce engaged.
Public Praise – More than money or extra time off, the one thing most employees seek from their employer is recognition for their efforts. And it is recognizing the effort, not the result that is significant. In front of their peers and when appropriate, management needs to share how appreciative they are of an individual’s hard work.
Monetary Rewards – While public praise is certainly welcome, a monetary reward will almost always be appreciated. Monetary rewards are certainly appropriate when an individual or team’s effort results in savings or increased revenue for the organization.
Company Congratulations – When an innovative project results in success, the entire organization should celebrate. Companywide luncheons or after-hour gatherings are just two ways to share in the celebration. And by sharing the success or perhaps just a few with the entire workforce, you will be reinforcing your commitment to innovation.
Successful companies like yours who adopt and support innovation will not only reap the financial rewards but will grow a workforce who feels more connected and a part of something bigger than themselves. And isn’t that what most of us desire anyway?
If you’re like me, you enjoy the constant change that comes with innovation. Maybe you’re not like me and you can’t wait to work your way through this phase of rapid change to the way you do business. Either way, things won’t be slowing down from here.
We are in the business of understanding the unpredictable. At its core, insurance is all about planning for unplanned scenarios, so I’m confident the industry will eventually become a motor for innovation like no other. Even if digital transformation feels unnatural right now, the mechanisms of continuous improvement will become muscle memory sooner than you might think.
Keep pushing, it’s worth it.
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