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5 steps to build a successful innovation group

13 June 2022

With the right focus, insurers can channel the creativity of their employees and develop a strong innovation culture, says Nay Wynn, Research Actuary at Hannover Re UK Life Branch.

Every company must respond to new market forces and changing customer demands. If your business fails to adapt and evolve, it may be overtaken by brands with more innovative products and services. So how do you become a successful innovator?

We are often told that employees are a company’s greatest asset. Indeed, their value transcends individual job roles and responsibilities, as every employee is a potential innovator, a person who can devise new products or services and implement them with the help of colleagues.

This is where innovation groups can make all the difference. Here are five tips to build your group and ensure you harness internal talent in the most productive way. 

#1 Begin with a clear purpose and focus

Although innovation occurs when you push boundaries and think in new ways, it’s a mistake to start with a playing field that’s too large. Innovation must be directed and purposeful, which requires a framework – the ‘how’ – for creative thinking. For example, if the innovation group is simply told to gather and filter new ideas every quarter, it won’t have a clear purpose and focus. Innovation groups need precise terms of reference so that members can address a specific problem or need. It could be for fraud prevention, better risk assessment, or smoother claims handling. The important thing is to have a concrete aim for innovation, with the aim backed by several iterations of ‘how’.

#2 Define SMART objectives for each project

Once you’ve identified a concrete innovation project, maintain the focus by defining SMART objectives. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely. Having a SMART mindset will ensure that your innovation group stays on track, can measure the progress of every project, and that projects reflect the needs of the business and the expectations of all stakeholders.

#3 Create a representative innovation group

When team members are drawn from different parts of an organisation, this promotes broader thinking and the cross-fertilisation of ideas. When the group is too narrow, and composed of like-minded people, it will not have the breadth of vision and understanding to explore all possibilities. Just as organisational silos are an obstacle to communication and the free flow of ideas, under-representative innovation groups will be too insular and lack the creative collaboration that comes from more diverse and fluid groups.

#4 Ask for a trial period

Sometimes it can be difficult to launch an innovation group because of the rigorous approval process. One way around this is to ask for a trial period so that decision-makers can assess whether the initiative should continue after the trial. Although it may be easier to gain approval for a short trial, bear in mind that meaningful change often takes time. At the end of the trial, identify the lessons learned and assess the knowledge gained, then present the findings. This may be enough to gain approval for the group to continue.

#5 Go beyond the group and draw on the wider organisation where necessary

Don’t be restricted to the group if you need to draw on wider resources and knowledge. If you have other offices, perhaps overseas, enlist the help of other teams if they can deepen your understanding and support the aims of any project. Innovation champions and creative thinkers can be anywhere, so innovation groups should tap into the collective wisdom of the company. The aim of innovation is to unlock latent talent, and innovation groups can drive change by harnessing ideas and feedback from across the organisation.

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