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Thought leadership, insights, and success stories

7 Lessons from RGAX on Managing Talent for Innovation


Business leaders often talk about becoming an innovator in their industry. But innovation doesn’t just happen. It takes a sustained commitment and a concerted effort to hire people with a talent for innovation.

Recently, I was interviewed by Forrester for their What it Means podcast, where they explore how changes in the market influence executive priorities. While the podcast wasn’t specifically about managing talent for innovation, I wasn’t at all surprised by how often it came up during our discussion. Talent management is vital to innovation.

Listen to The Organizational Architecture of Innovation

Here are a few of the points that came out in the podcast, plus one or two more we didn’t have the chance to get to:

1/ Go where the innovation is.

If you’re using the same talent recruitment strategy you used ten years ago, e.g., posting on hiring boards and asking for referrals, don’t be surprised if your talent pool hasn’t changed much over the years. Finding innovators may require you to look outside your usual talent sources.

For example, while you might prefer to hire experience, universities are a more likely source for people with an aptitude for innovation. Recent graduates grew up with technology in a way that many of us more “seasoned” professionals did not. They are also more likely to see rapid (and sometimes radical) change as a fact of life instead of something that needs to be moderated.

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2/ Diversify your talent.

While you’re looking for talent in new places, consider broadening the scope of skill sets you’re looking for as well. Gamification is being used by insurtechs like yulife to engage consumers and encourage healthy lifestyles. However, to successfully leverage gamification, it helps to hire avid gamers. These people may or may not understand insurance, but they can help professionals in your organization think outside the box.

3/ Break down borders.

It’s easier to look for talent in your home country, but innovation is happening all over the world. Yulife is just one of many examples of innovation happening in Europe. Israel is another hotbed of fintech and insurtech innovation as exemplified by QEDIT, an organization based out of Tel Aviv partnering with major financial services and insurance institutions. If you’re stuck in the ‘not invented here’ mindset, you’re going to get left behind.


4/ Encourage diversity of thought.

Innovation isn’t the exclusive domain of product development. It requires a diverse talent group, including data scientists, marketing strategists, creatives, etc. Despite their differences, they all have something to bring to the table.

That said, you may need to find ways to remove or dissolve natural silos. For example, the gamer and the finance specialist may not have the same hobbies or personalities, so they’re unlikely to exchange ideas over the water cooler. Seating people together in innovation teams as opposed to by job function can help.  

Of course, when your innovation teams are global, seating people together isn’t an option. Thankfully, there are hundreds of tech companies such as Skype, Slack and Zoom Meetings that are focused on helping make collaboration easier across global teams.

5/ Cross-pollinate talent.

Just because an innovation team successfully brings an idea from concept to commercialization doesn’t mean you should keep them together for the next project. Forming new teams can help you spread the lessons learned and skills gained to other projects and people.

6/ Hire change management professionals.

With a diversity of talent on your innovation team, you’re also going to find differences in their ability to adapt to change. This is even more true when you start to roll innovations out to a larger audience. Making room for change management professionals on your team can help you ensure your great ideas are presented in a way and at a pace that the rest of the world can handle.

7/ Leverage your biggest disruptors.

Finally, you need to look for people who are industry disruptors and leverage their perspectives. You won’t find these people inside your company. They aren’t your competitors, either. No, the real disruptors in this industry are your customers.

Nearly everything about the way people buy goods and services has been upended in the last decade. They’re buying more online than face-to-face. They’re increasingly comfortable working with AI enabled chatbots and virtual digital assistants. They like the flexibility and lower out-of-pocket costs of subscription services over having to fork out a lump sum to own a product. The experience of working with a company often matters as much to them as the quality of the products they buy. They’re even willing to share more of their personal data ­– provided they get something of value in return. 

You don’t need to hire your customers to leverage this talent. Listening tours, focus groups, surveys, site visits, and advisory boards are just a few of the ways you can tap into their disruptive influence.

Accelerating Innovation

RGA, our parent organization, has a 30+ year track record of innovation, but the pace of change is faster than it’s ever been. RGAX was created to be the transformation arm of RGA. We practice these talent management strategies daily because innovation is our mission.

But, each of these strategies is also transferable to traditional insurance carriers as well. We know because we’ve seen them work in our partners’ organizations. If you’re looking to accelerate the pace of innovation in your organization, you can learn more about RGAX by exploring our website.

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Written by: Dennis Barnes

As CEO of RGAX, Dennis is responsible for global leadership of RGAX and is a member of RGA’s Executive Committee. Dennis has over two decades of experience as an entrepreneur and innovator in insurance direct marketing. Prior to joining RGAX, he led an integrated healthcare marketing services company which he founded in 1997 and was later acquired in 2010 by WPP. As part of WPP, he was president of Wunderman St. Louis and Chief Client Officer of Wunderman Health, a digital agency for life insurance, pharmaceutical, medical devices and other health and wellness verticals.

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