How an insurance firm learned to create a culture of innovation

Unlike startups that shape culture from scratch, established companies must transform existing norms, values, and assumptions in ways that inspire everyone to innovate, not just at the top of the organization, but at all levels. One company making progress towards this goal is CSAA Insurance Group (CSAA IG). With nearly 4,000 employees, CSAA IG has embarked on a systems approach to create a pervasive culture of innovation, integrating it into its corporate strategy and talent management practices. By providing training to all employees and recognizing all who submit ideas, they encourage a holistic approach that has produced tangible results.

More and more companies are realizing that they need to reinvent their cultures by infusing innovation into their DNA. Unlike startups that shape culture from scratch, established companies must transform existing norms, values, and assumptions in ways that inspire everyone to innovate, not just at the top of the organization, but at all levels.

One company making progress towards this goal is CSAA Insurance Group (CSAA IG), one of the insurance companies affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) with 55 million members. With nearly 4,000 employees, CSAA IG is committed to a systems approach to create a pervasive culture of innovation. The tactics used by CSAA IG are any that leaders of other companies can apply to their own innovation culture change efforts.

From the start, the CSAA IG leadership team recognized that to create a culture of innovation, the organization needed to do more than embrace individual innovation projects. To ensure a truly transformative culture change effort, the team defined a new company-wide organizational strategy to combine with its other market-driven strategies: “Fostering a Culture of Insight and innovation ”. They have also incorporated it into their approach to talent management: innovation has been added to the company’s values ​​statement and included as a core competency to consider when evaluating, rewarding and developing employees.

But they also realized that the term “innovation” was quite vague; if they measured people on it and made it part of their strategy, they should be more concrete about what they mean by that. The CSAA IG leadership team described three specific types of innovation – incremental, scalable and disruptive – to help employees understand their role in fostering a culture of innovation.

Most people focus on the first type of innovation: incremental. Management realistically expects the vast majority of business innovation to involve smaller adjustments that advance the core business. It’s perfectly fitting that most people – from call center employees to field adjusters – focus on continuously improving current business processes, customer experience, and insurance products.

While the company also wants “scalable” (eg, creating new digital customer experiences) and “disruptive innovation” (eg, exploring the implications of self-driving cars for insurance) as part of its innovation strategy, less overall resources are allocated to these greater efforts. It’s all part of CSAA IG’s portfolio approach.

To help employees spot these opportunities, CSAA IG offers innovation training to all employees. Its curriculum provides tools and applied exercises based on design thinking, and makes it clear that anyone can and should contribute creative ideas to improve business processes, customer experiences and product offerings. Employees participate in a half-day program that addresses real-world business issues facing their workgroups and results in a prioritized list of ideas.

This holistic approach to innovation training has not only created a greater sense of belonging and commitment among the CSAA Insurance Group workforce, it has produced tangible results. For example, a team of insurance underwriters analyzed call data and improved voice prompts that reduced phone interactions misrouted to their service by 40%. Other teams have helped streamline the proof of insurance issuance process and are contributing to efforts to prototyping “smart claims” systems, allowing customers to submit images of damaged goods for online appraisal.

There is nothing worse for a company’s culture of innovation than asking for ideas and doing nothing with them. So, to ensure that employee ideas are actually implemented, CSAA IG managers should engage their teams after training sessions to select specific ideas to implement based on what everyone has just come up with. generate. Do employees also have access to CSAA IG’s “Innovation Hub”? Following. The company has also set up an idea management platform, where various departments can post their innovation challenges and where the crowd can contribute, evaluate and develop solutions.

To help generate excitement for the idea management platform, at the first online innovation challenge event, anyone who submitted an idea was surprised by a physical paper light bulb displayed in their space. job. With light bulbs popping up all over the office, employee motivation to participate skyrocketed – and the company’s first online challenge garnered an 80% participation rate.

Creating a culture of innovation is much more than recruiting an innovation director or creating a new department. Culture change takes considerable time and effort, and culture change towards innovation is no different. The process can start at the top, but fundamentally it is about involving all employees.


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