Inspiring Productivity With An Innovation Focused Culture

Virgil Miller, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Aflac U.S. and President, Aflac Group
Virgil Miller, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Aflac U.S. and President, Aflac Group

Virgil Miller, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Aflac U.S. and President, Aflac Group

Disruption. It’s become the word of the day as start-ups like Uber and Amazon reshape entire industries and new technologies like robotics and AI rewrite business processes and job descriptions. Companies that sit back and stick with the status quo are at a bigger risk of not surviving. Instead, businesses must disrupt themselves before another company can disrupt them.

As a result, businesses must focus on innovation and how they can meet customers’ evolving expectations. To achieve success, businesses must identify what customers expect today as well as what they will need in the next five-to-10 years. Cross-team collaboration, cutting-edge skills and the ability to make changes quickly are critical to realizing innovation.

With that in mind, here are three tips for empowering innovation in your company.

Embrace agile teams

Improving productivity and innovation starts with encouraging a culture of collaboration. By creating teams that mix business and technology professionals, the company’s encourage knowledge sharing, collaboration, and greater agility. Cross-functional teams also benefit from sharing different perspectives early on in a project, meaning teams can build consensus for a given solution or approach early on in the process.

  At Aflac, we have also developed in-house training programs when we cannot find an outside one that fits our requirements 

Aflac isn’t a company that believes in business execution without innovation. That’s why we launched an innovation lab called “Hatch” that acts as both an accelerator quickly solving problems and an incubator exploring innovations like AI. In the lab, we give these cross-functional teams a real-life business challenge to solve together. The challenge comes directly from our customers and is centered on where they want to see a different experience. The teams come up with solutions that aim to improve the customer experience. These solutions are implemented and, afterward, each team has presented the results in areas such as customer testimonials with metrics around revenue or efficiency improvements. This allows the team to understand how their work is making a difference at the company, building purpose and improving buy-in to our overall innovation goals.

Invest in employee training and reskilling

With technology advancing at a rapid pace, yesterday’s technology skills no longer are relevant today. Therefore, companies must continuously invest in training employees in order to keep their skills up to date. For example, skills around data science, DevOps and Java coding, while not as relevant 10-20 years ago, are now in high-demand and critical to many business innovations today. In the customer experience realm, companies should not lose sight of the fact that technology alone can’t handle all customer requests or interactions; a human touch is often needed. Therefore, relational skills like problem solving and empathy remain invaluable, and these soft skills should not be overlooked in training. 

Consider partnering with institutions like professional associations, technical colleges and universities to find solutions and programs that address the skills your organization needs. For instance, cybersecurity is a common challenge facing businesses today. Many educational institutions have developed training programs like an online course that companies can adopt. In addition to adopting training programs from universities like Georgia Tech, at Aflac, we have also developed in-house training programs when we cannot find an outside one that fits our requirements. Continuously investing in training, supports employee retention and productivity and innovation, mitigating the costs of these initiatives.

Involve employees in your innovation plans

Everyone in your organization has a role to play around innovation and moving the company forward. To inspire productivity and buy-in to your company’s future roadmap, business leaders must make their employees an integral part of the plan creation and journey. For example, when creating future customer roadmaps, which outlines how you’ll evolve the customer experience, pull employees from different levels—from the C-Suite to the front-line call center—to help inspire the design.

Additionally, business leaders need to talk with employees about the role of advanced technology like AI and robots in their innovation plans and how this technology can assist, not replace, their work. For example, what areas of a team’s work can be automized or streamlined? How can robots assist the team in completing routine tasks like claims processing? By bringing employees in on the ground floor, they can see how innovation efforts are going to benefit them, making them less resistant to change.

As we move into the second half of the year, companies need to communicate with their employees about both their short-term and long-term business initiatives and how everyone fits into those goals. By setting a clear path for the workforce and sharing both successes and failures, business leaders create a culture that is comfortable with change, fears failure less and is capable of moving fast. This allows companies to be drivers of disruption, not victims.

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