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Thought leadership, insights, and success stories

Cultivating a Culture of Innovation in 2023

Working with life insurance carriers and our partners to identify and solve industry challenges is what RGAX is all about. Our global accelerator team, that I oversee, helps explore and execute those ideas. Recently, I had a chance to chat with RGAX’s CEO Dennis Barnes to capture his thoughts on cultivating innovation and bringing great ideas to life. His comments couldn’t be timelier as insurers are ready to kick off exciting initiatives in the new calendar year.  I plan to follow-up this article with a second one next month that is focused primarily on the area that my team and I drive forward: execution.  But first, let’s dive into setting the scene for innovation. 

Creating a Culture of Innovation

Innovation is like gardening. You can start with some great ideas (seeds), but if you don’t have the right soil and environment (company culture), most ideas will never take root. Dennis brought up three must-haves I’d like to call out. I also included a fourth that I feel cannot be overlooked. At first glance, they may seem obvious, but I’m going to provide insights based on my experience leading our accelerator team, including actionable advice that can make a real difference for your innovation-focused initiatives in 2023.

1. Innovation starts from the top.

These days, I’d say most insurance executives are on-board with fostering innovation and understand how important it is for them to support innovation efforts. However, it’s one thing to believe you have executive sponsorship, but if your sponsor isn’t involved with the project on a near-real-time basis, then you may have chosen the wrong sponsor. A true advocate for your project won’t have to be asked for their support.

From my vantage point, another mistake that’s often made by executive sponsors is to focus too much on supporting great ideas and not enough on supporting execution. If everyone in your conference room is talking about the next big idea, and no one’s talking about the plan and process to get you there, you may need to rethink your approach to executive sponsorship.

2. Create repeatable processes.

People often think of innovation as having a “Eureka moment.” It doesn’t happen often, and you can’t force it. Others take a more proactive approach by holding frequent brainstorming sessions with contributors from across the organization. We’ve talked about the many challenges of brainstorming in posts like this one. You can come up with lots of great ideas in these sessions, but they often fall apart at execution.

To create sustainable success, innovation must be turned into a repeatable process that goes beyond the initial brainstorming session. Life Design Sprints are our structured innovation methodology, covering the entire process, from problem definition to fast prototyping. Establishing a formal, proven process is vital to creating an innovation culture.

3. Ensure diversity.

Diversity in your team is a must-have in any innovation endeavor but especially in the insurance industry. Carriers trying to reach different population segments benefit tremendously from having representation on the team. For example, it’s tough to target millennial-aged women if no one understands the nuances of how this target group thinks, communicates, evaluates risk, and so on. For years, the insurance industry sold products designed by men in ways that appealed to men. In the last decade or so, carriers have done a lot to diversify in offerings, not only for women but with other target consumers.

Of course, promoting innovation through diversity is about more than target segmentation. At RGAX, our innovation teams include diversity of position in the industry as well. Our projects often have technology companies, carriers, reinsurers, and even innovators, working together to solve a problem which brings all perspectives together.

In our Life Design Sprints, diversity of thought and experience really shows its value in the problem definition stage. This stage answers three very important questions:

    • What problem are we trying to solve?
    • Is it worth solving?
    • What does success look like?

These may be tough questions to answer, and at a minimum, they should spur a dynamic debate. If you reach a consensus easily, it may be a sign that you don’t have enough diversity of thought and experience on your innovation team. (Quick tip: A Life Design Sprints facilitator can help ensure that the debate is productive and the loudest/highest-paid voices don’t always win.)

4. Set goals and track progress.

Finally, you need to know what success looks like and then measure your progress. With a diversity of opinions on the innovation team, agreeing on the objectives of the project is essential. Innovation teams that don’t take the time to gain consensus on the objectives of the project often find themselves working at cross-purposes. Setting key results at set intervals, often referred to as milestones, throughout the execution journey can also help keep the project team motivated and headed in the same direction. For more information, I highly recommend John Doerr’s book, Measure What Matters. His insights on how some of the world’s top companies set OKRs (objectives and key results) can be highly inspirational.

An Experienced Guide for Your Innovation Journey

If you’re relatively new to innovation or struggle with it as an organization, it’s helpful to have an experienced guide. That’s the role RGAX takes on as we co-create with our partners. As mentioned, Life Design Sprints are our structured innovation methodology. If you’d like to discuss how RGAX can facilitate a Life Design Sprint, reach out to us. We’d love to help you reach your innovation goals for 2023 and beyond!

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Written by: Sandi Hubert

Sandi Hubert is Senior Vice President, Chief Operating Officer of RGAX and leads the RGAX Innovation Center of Reinsurance Group of America, Inc. In her role, Sandi oversees the RGAX Global Accelerator and the Ventures & Partnerships teams. She has been instrumental in developing the Innovation Process Methodology, used to advance innovation efforts in the center by leveraging stage-gate funding disciplines.

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