Tag Archives: collaboration

Does Remote Work Halt Innovation?

Is it myth or reality that remote work is going to halt innovation and collaboration in our workplaces?

We’ve heard lots of insurers express concern about the possibility, especially because they depend on collaboration to help their organizations build deeper and wider relationships with their agents and brokers to develop more business. Deciding whether the concern is a myth or a reality is tricky, because it’s really up to the company and their organization.

Certainly, remote work can make innovation and collaboration more challenging. It removes easy access to that organic, unstructured “white space” where conversations naturally happen: grabbing a cup of coffee, passing in the hallway or chatting and building ideas after a meeting.

Remote work also makes innovation and collaboration even more important. Numerous studies have shown that companies that focused on innovation, both during and after a crisis, financially outperform the companies that do not, both during the crisis and far into the future.

So, it really is important that we do what we can to make sure the concern about remote work stays a myth. 

A silver lining is that the decades-long investments in digital transformation (which, frankly, have happened largely outside of the insurance space) have enabled us to remain connected rather than isolated. We have been able to use tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack and online collaboration platforms like Miro to work together while we are apart. The added benefit is that we can tap into the best resources for the topic, project or relationship, regardless of location.

That said, it’s not enough just to have the tools available. We also need to create an environment that encourages innovation. The fastest way to derail innovation efforts is to have a fear- or shame-based culture in which teams and employees are too afraid of making mistakes to offer new ideas. A courageous and specifically inclusive approach to ideation and doing business is really crucial – one where risk-taking (including the inevitable failures along the way to success) is rewarded. That’s how we get the best ideas and bring them into action.  

Finally, we must make up for the gap in organic connection through a tried-and-true method of driving innovation – creating Networked Improvement Communities.

This approach is widespread outside the insurance space, but it’s something we should deploy here for our benefit and that of our organizations, staff and customers. The objective is to create a community within your organization that is specifically dedicated to solving an identified problem. It can be outside the usual structures, teams and siloes. That community works independently on that problem but collaborates in sharing and building on one another’s solutions and ideas, driving innovation and creating deeper relationships across your organization. A great example is the global innovation effort in the scientific, medical and pharma community to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, which has resulted in the fastest vaccine to market by leaps and bounds.  

See also: Tapping Cloud’s Ability to Drive Innovation

Call to Action:

Here are three elements each company can use to ensure that remote work is NOT the end of innovation and collaboration in your organization:  

One: Assess your culture and eliminate any roadblocks to innovation. Reward risk-taking and curiosity. Make sure that you’ve got an inclusive environment where people are encouraged to challenge the status quo, try new ideas and speak up (even at the risk of failure) to make sure that the best solutions for the situation are sourced and selected. 

Two: Continue to use the many digital tools available for connection to make sure that we don’t stay isolated, even in a remote work environment.

Three: Get explicit about creating Networked Improvement Communities to connect your organization’s employees and leaders across siloes to solve a specific problem. They can work independently but collaboratively to amplify solutions. That will create ripple effects, deepening those relationships beyond that specific project and allowing new ideas to form. (This step might be the most important in insurance.) 

If we take these steps, we can ensure that innovation and collaboration continue in workplaces in 2021. Those are the workplaces we all want to join.   

3 Keys to Better Collaboration

The insurance industry is facing a flurry of challenges as consumer needs and expectations evolve with a new age. Although collaboration isn’t always common practice in the industry, it’s time that teams learn to work together.

Collaboration Is Key

Insurance companies are beset by three major challenges that demand collaboration.

First, consumers themselves are emerging as a disruptive force. They have an on-demand mindset and expect more from their financial service providers. But the insurance gap continues to grow in the U.S., creating new challenges for consumers and the insurers who serve them.

Next, the introduction of insurtech has shifted the nature of insurance itself. Insurtech has evolved to meet the needs of consumers — meaning more tech, more data and more focus on customers — and has received $10 billion in investments over the past five years. Insurance companies that want to adapt to the market should prepare to join forces with new entrants.

Lastly, data security and privacy regulations are top priorities as the digital age progresses. Yet it’s more difficult than ever for companies to avoid regulatory and legal risks because the nature of compliance in the industry shifts almost daily. The General Data Protection Regulation in Europe, for example, inspired a similar privacy act in California. It was rolled out on Jan. 1, 2020, requiring organizations to make changes if they want to stay compliant and keep customers happy.

With market disruptions coming from all directions, insurance organizations must reimagine the industry. Collaboration will be crucial to evolving and meeting these challenges.

Barriers to Collaboration

It seems like collaboration would be a given in such a complex and people-driven industry, but it isn’t. In addition to being a highly regulated industry, insurance has practices that have been in place for years — and collaboration hasn’t always been a priority.

Legacy tech systems, for one, still reign supreme in the insurance industry and are notoriously sluggish at reacting to real-time needs. These systems weren’t built for today’s expectations of immediacy. As a result, they make it difficult for employees to collaborate while leading to less efficient and effective work processes.

Aside from legacy technology, many teams are stuck in top-down structures. These types of organizational structures disable cross-department communication and make teamwork a chore. Even goals and incentives are siloed in these structures, so employees often lack a collective sense of purpose.

Teams need a more modern, dynamic way of working if they want true collaboration. They need to be able to adapt quickly, make decisions based on shared knowledge and transcend departmental barriers so their companies can remain competitive.

See also: Model for Collaboration and Convergence  

Collaboration Starts at the Top

Leaders have a duty to position collaboration as a key tenet of success in their organizations. It can be an overwhelming task, especially if your team has been working within legacy systems and structures since its foundation. Leaders who embrace collaboration will see their companies thrive, though.

Above all, it’s important for leaders to approach collaboration intentionally. Give it time and attention. Make sure you acknowledge its importance and model the way forward for employees by lowering any borders between management and teams. This will enable leaders to put strategies in place to inspire people to come together in the spirit of collective innovation while better positioning their organizations for success in today’s challenging market.

Now that you have leadership’s involvement, here are three other must-haves for a collaborative environment:

1. A set of common goals.

If your departments are going to start talking and working more with each other, they’re going to need a uniting factor. A company vision crafted with a set of common goals helps people unite with purpose. Without this sense of purpose, employees can become confused, misguided and stressed. With common goals, though, they can focus on the big picture: providing the best service to customers.

2. A team-based structure.

As mentioned, legacy systems and structures can inhibit progress. When there’s so much change in the market, your team needs to be nimble and dynamic to adapt. A team-based structure can eliminate company silos that impede collaboration. As a result, communication will be more free-flowing and effective — leading to a more collaborative environment.

3. A shared incentive system.

Once you set common goals and a more open structure, you can fuel teamwork by introducing shared incentives. Use your goals and create incentives to reach them. That way, employees must actively collaborate to succeed. Shared incentives will align every team member — top to bottom — toward goals that reinforce the company’s vision. That said, some people in teams contribute less work than they would individually. To overcome this, you’ll also want to incorporate an individual component.

See also: 5 Ways to Build Team Capacity to Think  

The insurance industry must evolve if it wants to keep up with the growing number of market changes. That means it’s time for a clear out. Rid your team of its limiting legacy systems and break down its siloes. Only then will you discover what collaboration can do for your company — and your consumers.

Agents Must Become ‘Discussion Partners’

The insurance industry is going through a revolution, and too many carriers, brokers, agents and team members are failing to keep up with the rapid pace of change.

Customers have grown accustomed to convenience, a plethora of information and unending choices in whatever they buy, and this applies to the purchase of insurance products and services, too. People expect it to be easy, efficient and understandable.

The insurance industry as a whole is miles behind in the race to deliver unrivaled service to customers. To keep up with the radical transformation, insurance professionals must earn the trust of existing clients and new prospects and become their gateway to everything related to insurance and financial services.

The path to this transformation is for the insurance agent or representative to become a “discussion partner” — a trusted advisor who guides customers toward optimum financial decisions by offering them every possible insurance and financial services product while disclosing exactly how his or her superior advice works.

See also: Important Perspective for Insurance Agents

The goal is to convert everyone into discussion partner clients who do not want to be sold or told; rather, they want a consultant who will advise them on the best products, protection and asset-accumulation guidance they need for their families.

Looking closely at the not-too-distant future, here are just a few ways the insurance industry will evolve:

  • There will be total transparency about coverages and pricing. Customers will know all the details when they purchase property and casualty products, financial services products, life insurance products and more, in much the same way financial services and securities are sold today.
  • There will be a convergence of distribution models. Local storefronts will welcome the use of the omnichannel experience, such as digital, after-hours 800-number call centers; claims service; and 24-hour customer self-service through technology or telephony.
  • Technology will streamline processes. The local storefront housing brokers/agents and their teams will still provide service and sales at the point of personal interaction, but they will also leverage the power of digital technology and call centers.
  • Collaboration will become commonplace. Open architecture — a financial institution’s ability to offer clients both proprietary and external products and services — in both technology and service will force the insurance industry not only to adapt but also to move quickly toward radical transformation.

The key to agents’ survival is that they must provide unrivaled service at the highest level. Nothing else will be acceptable if the local insurance provider is going to be a part of the consumer’s purchasing and reliance on service in the new world.

See also: Use Insurtech to Help, not Replace, Agents  

So how can carriers, brokers, agents and team members evolve to the “discussion partner” model of unrivaled service? Here are eight strategies for making the transition:

  1. Focus everything you do on the customer. The customer is at the apex and the center of every decision, every system and process. Agents must be hyper-focused on meeting our customers’ needs — everything they desire and have every right to expect. This begins with providing unrivaled service as a discussion partner.
  2. Create a team of experts. This is usually referred to as specialization, teaming or collaboration of experts. Agents must build a larger and stronger local team through hiring, mergers and acquisitions and strategic relationships.
  3. Collaborate with expertise partners. Not every broker or exclusive agent is going to have access to every market today. In the future, with open architecture, everyone will have a view into the competition’s coverages and rates. Until then, creating collaborative arrangements is important. If clients do need and want specialized products and services, referring them to someone else will not be prudent any more. Agents must have relationships with experts in many areas. Agents must be quarterback, sitting in on the coverage presentation and purchase. This means getting to know experts in various fields and working with them, although agents might not always make a commission. Build partnerships before you need them.
  4. Embrace and retool all technology. Agents need to assess current capabilities in the area of technology. Everything is moving at light speed due to artificial intelligence. The things once innovative are now commonplace. Agents need to embrace new technologies and use them to create a seamless experience for customers in the front room. Open architecture will introduce new technologies that discussion partner agencies must embrace as they move forward.
  5. Control every step of customer service and the purchasing process. This is the foundation for a successful business model in the future. Insurance professionals need to assume the role of the gateway to everything related to insurance and financial services and guide clients through every step of the process. Agents need to remind clients what they do for them and assure them that they are worrying about the details so the clients don’t have to.
  6. Help clients declutter. Insurance agents must be the only financial adviser their clients will ever need. Professionals don’t just refer clients over to other experts any more; they make everything easier. An agent’s job is to declutter clients’ paperwork, declutter how many people they are working with and make their lives easier. Life is complicated enough.
  7. Be open to change. The tsunami of change happening in the insurance industry is affecting everyone, from the carrier to the broker/agent to the local team member providing service to clients who have never needed it more.
  8. Agents should embrace change, not fear it. Yes, they will lose some clients to technology, such as robo-advisers. But we didn’t lose the entire banking industry because of the ATM. The typical client still wants someone to hold his or her hand through the maze of madness in this world.

Culture Side of Digital Transformation

Technology is changing at an exponential pace, and so are consumers’ expectations of having products and services that come with a digital experience. Perfect example: Our Benekiva team recently rented office space and were shocked by the request of our future landlord to mail two signed copies of the contract. As we were discussing this crazy request and wondering why technology wasn’t used to solve this simple problem, another startup complained to me about the same issue. Did we get the space? Yes. Did we have a bad taste in our mouth about the process?  Yes.

One of the most memorable projects that I led earlier in my career was when I automated cash processing. Previously, a team of 15 took turns printing mainframe screens. Afterward, they had a searchable database with the data at their fingertips.

Before I started digging into this issue, I was advised: “You are working with legacy technology; data is not accessible.” and, “The mainframe replacement project is almost approved. Wait another year.” (Yeah, right. ?)

If I hadn’t rolled up my sleeves to dig into available data feeds, this problem would have continued until the mainframe replacement project was finished, which actually occurred 3 1/2 years later. This project yielded immediate benefits of one full-time employee, not including the money and trees we saved by not printing paper every morning.

Years later, when I came across the Center for Creative Leadership’s direction, alignment, commitment (DAC) model, the reasons for the project’s success became clear.

See also: 3 Ways to an Easier Digital Transformation

Here is a synopsis of the organization I was working for at the time:

  • Innovation was encouraged at the very top of the organization, and it didn’t stay at the senior level. Employees across all salary grades were invited to participate.
  • There was a culture of celebration. If employees found a better way of work, they won awards and were recognized.
  • Technologists were embedded throughout the business. I was one of the first hires of this kind, and we paved the way for others. My role was to learn the business and find ways to improve processes and automation.
  • Data drove decisions. Tasks, people, managers, etc. were measured, which allowed bottlenecks to be seen quickly and a course of action determined.
  • Most importantly, there was a strong sense of DAC. Direction was articulated and communicated to ALL levels of the organization by the senior-most person. This individual would make his mission to get out of his office and walk the floors – get to know people and share the vision. There was clear alignment of goals and initiatives. If something didn’t meet our key objectives or targets, it wasn’t a priority. No sneaking in projects. Finally, there was a strong sense of commitment at all levels of the organization.

Here is how the DAC approach turned into success at that organization:

  • Relationships. You don’t have to be best friends or go out for drinks, but having a good working relationship can make or break initiatives. I was new in the organization but already had started to form a peer group. I was also involved at all levels of the organization – from the cash processor to leadership. After discussing the manual processing with my IT peers, I was introduced to a mainframe analyst who started looking through data feeds that were already being created. She eventually found one that I could use to build a tool that made the data accessible to the cash processing team. Whether you are a startup working with an organization or an employee, learning the organization and the key players (not every key player is a C-Suite executive) is critical to your success. Don’t get fooled into thinking that, if you have upper-level buy-in, you get the golden ticket. Success is involving essential stakeholders at all levels of the organization.
  • Culture. This organization took risks, tried new things and explored possibilities. Technology is often the easy part. Where most failures occur is on the “soft” side of project management. Is your team equipped with the right people to navigate beyond the tech? Digital transformation initiatives are hard. If you are a tech startup working with organizations on their digital transformation initiatives, ensure you have people on the team who can handle the change management side of the house.
  • Questions. When you hear a no, take the attitude that the “yes” is around the corner. Ask questions various ways to collect data and information. Don’t be afraid to poke around – what is the worst that can happen? I’ve never seen anyone get fired for asking questions. If you have, then you were working for the wrong organization.
  • Collaboration. I involved various teams and departments to solve the cash problem. Soup to nuts, we implemented this solution in less than two months – from discovery to implementation. We had so much buy-in and excitement that we won a teamwork award for this project. It was fun to get to know others, and collaboration allowed other problems to surface that some of this team solved quickly.

See also: Innovation Imperatives in the Digital Age

If you are an employee of an organization managing digital transformation initiatives or a startup going in as a vendor, don’t ignore the culture side of your projects. Go in with an open and collaborative mind. As Covey states, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Keep building relationships and asking questions. Finally, seek to build DAC. Without direction, alignment and commitment, no matter how much money or resources you throw at the problem, your car is stuck in mud. The wheels are turning, but you aren’t going forward.

How to Collaborate With Insurtechs

Collaboration has become one of the buzzwords at innovation conferences. Not quite as prevalent as blockchain or AI – but not far behind. Unlike some of the other buzzwords, the benefits of effective collaboration can be seen quickly — as little as a month in some cases and no more than two quarters at most. Incumbent insurers have realized that collaborating with startups is one of the fastest ways in which to bring in unique capabilities, digital skills and mindsets into the broader organization.

Effective collaboration, however, is difficult – especially from the insurer’s point of view. At the start, the benefit of the collaboration is in the future – but the costs and effort are upfront (the startup gets an immediate benefit – validation of a large customer). Generating and maintaining organizational energy for collaborations is a key element of the innovation manager’s job.

I have put together a 10-point checklist (from the perspective of the corporate innovation manager) to improve the chances of success:

1. Buy in: As the innovation manager, you have to ensure that you have the buy-in of the C-suite. Buy-in means paying more than lip service to the company’s innovation agenda. It means a willingness to put your reputation on the line and personally promote startup partnerships. Lack of C-level buy-in is the quickest way to a doomed collaboration!

Top Tip — Struggling to get buy-in? Remind your execs that 75% of the S&P 500 will turn over in the next 15 years. Do they want to innovate or die?

2. Money: Fight for a ring-fenced collaboration budget. Normally, the business unit will not be willing to pay for the pilot from its budget. It will always have a better use for its cash than paying for an unproven benefit. Thus, having a dedicated pilot fund significantly increases the chances of effective collaboration. Being the payer also allows you to demand (gently) effort and seriousness from the business unit implementing the pilot.

Top Tip — Think through the handover of the pilot to the business. At what point will the business unit take complete ownership of the project?

3. Legal: Don’t wait till after you have identified a startup partner to speak to your legal team. Involve them with the process from the start. Get them to draft a standard collaboration agreement. Allow them to be comfortable with terms relating to customer data, IP protection etc. The more lead time you can provide the better.

Top Tip — Agree on the amount of liability insurance your legal team wants. Better yet, budget for it so that you can purchase it on behalf of your startup partners.

See also: How to Assess Bootstrapped Startups

4. Compliance: Another team that should be involved from the start. At a minimum, get to know the documents your compliance team needs and get your startup partner to give those to you early on in the process. Waiting for compliance clearance is a real buzz and momentum killer. Ideally, work with your compliance team to create a sandbox (less demanding compliance) for your partnerships.

Top Tip — Read your company’s compliance manual. It helps to be an expert in your internal processes! Processes like internal risk clearance should be done well before the negotiations reach the contracting stage.

5. Procurement: Beware the Request for Proposal rules. These can serve as the ultimate roadblock if not managed ahead of time (you do not want your hand forced to request for minimum three quotes or ask for a three-year financial history for what should be an ‘innovative’ project). By design, procurement is a risk-mitigation strategy and is not meant to handle startups or innovation. Still, you have to work within the confines of the procurement process – it’s best to be on first-name terms with the head of procurement.

Top Tip — Keep your pilot budget below the minimum that triggers a mandatory RFP.

6. Problem statements: As the cliché goes – fall in love with the problem, not the solution. Always start with the problem the business needs to solve and don’t fall into the trap of chasing the latest shiny technology. Crafting good problem statements is at the heart of good collaboration. In contrast, technology-first partnerships will rarely capture mind share long enough to be successful.

Make sure the problem statement has been approved by the business head; this includes agreeing on the outcomes you are looking to achieve and the metrics that your business sponsor can use to track the success of the project and to link them to her KPIs.

Top Tip — Think through the following points to generate actionable problem statements: (a) One-line overview (b) How do things operate currently? Highlight the pain points. (c) How much pain does it cause (in $ value where possible)? (d) Who are the people/groups of people affected by the problem? (e) What are the barriers to improving the situation? (f) What are the outcomes you would like to see? – the best problem statements stay away from technological buzzwords​​​​​​​​​​​​​​.

7. Evangelists: Successful collaboration requires support from many individuals across all levels of the organization. Research has repeatedly shown that cultural and political reasons derail partnerships far more than product-related challenges. You need to make sure that your business colleagues are invested in making the collaboration work. They must have an upside – that is, the possibility of personal and financial growth. Financial growth is easy – include a bonus for successful collaboration. However, personal growth is the real catalyst and will pay dividends beyond the initial collaboration.

Top Tip — Use the entire gamut of personal growth options — from profiling your evangelists in your company newsletter to giving them visibility to both your company and the startup’s executive teams.

8. Security and IT: You’ve done the hard work of securing a budget, agreeing on a problem statement and recruiting your evangelists and then you find that the APIs required for your project are not ready. You lose credibility internally and externally. You need to know what your IT org can and cannot do and the architectural requirements your organization mandates.

Top Tip — Make sure you have reviewed documentation on all the APIs your organization provides.

See also: Digital Playbooks for Insurers (Part 2)  

9. Sourcing Networks: There are a host of open innovation platforms that you can use. Most come with thousands of startups registered on them (a classic vanity metric). You need quality over quantity and should focus on startups that have raised at least one round of institutional funding. Remember, you are not in the business of incubating startups – you need companies that are able to deliver a product-market fit on Day 1.

Top Tip — Use tools like Crunchbase and Tracxn to vet startups. Look for verified funding and deployments.

10. Due diligence — DD in a collaboration context is a tricky subject. You are not an investor, yet you need to answer some basic questions. Ultimately, your reputation depends on the quality of the startup, so you need to complete a stripped-down DD that includes gathering information about recent sales, ensuring you receive customer feedback from the startup’s customers and seeing an in-depth demonstration.

Top Tip — Speak to at least one investor or customer as part of your DD

Ultimately, successful collaboration is about survival – this is the age of the network, and success lies in building a committed and responsive ecosystem. Insurers quick to leverage the relevant startup services while defining a digital vision for themselves have a better chance of thriving for another century.

Best of luck!