Want Innovation? Ask the Right Questions

August 2nd, 2016

Innovation is a hot topic right now, with websites, researchers, authors, and consultants sharing regular insights and revelations about how businesses can be more innovative in an economy that continues to be challenging.

While innovative businesses typically point to famous industry disrupters like Apple, Google, Amazon and Uber for creating new products and services while ramping up the quality of consumer experiences, pioneers do not have to have a household name. Smart, nimble insurance brokerage firms, for example, regularly deliver innovative programs using some of the same principles that made the major disrupters so famous.

According to a study of insurance sector innovation by KPMG International, disrupters and innovators do not necessarily create something brand new, such as a new coverage or new program. Instead, they learn from traditional competitors and other disrupters and they leverage successes and experiences and create new propositions and approaches to “delight customers and create value.” Disrupters, by nature, are always customer-centric.

Here are some examples of what questions to ask to determine innovation.

Contrariness

Innovators do not take the first solution they come up with. Instead, they ask questions: How can I make this better? What can I learn from the past? What approaches can I borrow from other industries/companies to make something old new again? They take an approach that questions all assumptions.

To discover if your broker is being “contrary” enough to benefit your company, ask yourself these questions: Is your broker doing things the way he or she has always done them? Are you being introduced to new ideas such as cross-analyzing benefits and workers’ comp data, trying out data-driven population health management and employee engagement approaches within your company versus the industry static wellness approach? Is your company protected from risks that could have an infrequent but devastating effect on your bottom line, such as social engineering, infectious disease epidemics, and cyberhacking/ransomeware? Is your benefits program “delighting” your company’s employees and improving their health outcomes?

Cross-pollination of ideas

Innovation is built on generating a lot of ideas, learning from successes and failures, and putting together something new through this process. This is the key, according to Wharton professor and author Adam Grant’s book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.

He notes in his blog that “originals learn to see failure not as a sign that their ideas are doomed, but as a necessary step toward success. “A failure signals a gap in knowledge or a poor strategy, and motivates us to go back to the drawing board and get it right. Without failure, complacency can creep in.”

Innovators regularly identify the gaps in their knowledge that may lead to failure. Such experience creates a strong, cross-pollinated breeding ground for new approaches. Is your broker working hard to invent something new in this way?

A recent Wall Street Journal article on innovation reports that “most companies continue to assume that innovation comes from that individual genius, or, at best, small, sequestered teams that vanish from sight and then return with big ideas. But the truth is most innovations are created through networks — groups of people working in concert.”

Choice matters

Innovators identify and try out a variety of ideas to find approaches that work best — and customers benefit from having a range of choices. Is your broker giving you options or just offering the “one-and-only proprietary solution that you’ll ever need?”

For example, a proprietary HRIS/employee benefits module means that companies can be trapped by their broker’s limited offerings. Is your broker offering you several options, instead of just delivering a cookie-cutter product, service or technology? Are the systems truly user-friendly? Can features be added? In short, solution neutrality is key to getting the most innovative product and service.

Keeping up with technology

Basing decisions on strong empirical data and experience instead of top-level claims data is a key hallmark of innovation these days. Is your broker delivering on this best practice of mining data for the insights and innovations it hides? Are these approaches used on the employee benefits side as well as the property & casualty insurance side? How long has your broker used data independent of the carrier and what is their expertise? Any broker can lease or rent a “system” to interpret data, but their experience in developing an analytics system as well as the institutional knowledge developed by using these systems can be a significant advantage for their clients. Today, companies have access to the sorts of modeling tools long used by insurers, giving them the ability to better assess and manage a claim before it has the opportunity to spiral out of control. Is your broker providing you with such tools and do they have the experience and institutional knowledge to offer you the best choices?

Independence

When it comes to innovation, bigger is not always better. One of the most valuable attributes of innovators is their independence, giving them the ability to find and develop the very best ideas, regardless of their source.

How does independence play out in the insurance sector? It means your broker can provide the widest range of program choices that meet your company’s needs. Privately-held, debt-free, independent brokers can also review the entire marketplace to find solution-neutral options that are not tied to any one carrier or to their own ownership interests. In turn, that means you can choose among a variety of solutions and ensure you get the appropriate attention to implement and work with those solutions instead of being forced to accept a broker-centric program that benefits your broker’s bottom line, but may not work for your company.

Solution-neutral options also mean customers can retain them even if their insurer or broker changes. For example, proprietary internal systems for employee benefits and property and casualty programs promise efficiency and cost savings — but they are tied to a specific insurance program and broker. That limits a client’s ability to retain programs and systems if they want to make a change.

Choices also can be limited by brokers who merge and/or acquire other companies. Financing this growth means either incurring debt or paying higher shareholder returns and that can lead to constricting R&D investment and limiting customer choices and services. Knowing how financially independent your broker is will help you know if your interests are being well served.

What do you believe?

Finally, you will be most satisfied if you choose an innovative company whose values resonate with your own. Leadership consultant and author Simon Sinek is often quoted for his insight into why customers choose innovative companies: “People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.”

In the end, customers want their broker to provide innovative solutions that still satisfy the basics of providing the right coverage, controlling expenses, and delivering exceptional, experienced service — all in the name of helping your company thrive in a more competitive economic environment that rewards the innovators of our world.

About the Authors:

Eric Kasen is President of Hays Companies Northeast, Craig Dandrow is the Employee Benefits Practice Leader, and Owen Callaghan is the Property & Casualty Practice Leader. All three are based in the Hays Companies’ Boston office that provides Health and Welfare Brokerage and Consulting, Pension Consulting and Commercial Risk Brokerage and Consulting.

 

  [1] KPMG