A- A+

3 Key Building Blocks of One Company's Innovation Program

Innovation Team at EMC

March 2, 2021

Innovation is a big buzz word today. And it's no wonder — innovation can lead to enhanced products and services, better processes, engaged employees and improved top and bottom lines.

A lot of organizations ask themselves how to foster innovation in their workplaces. And there's no easy answer. It's a long process to create a culture of innovation. But at EMC Insurance Companies, we've had a lot of success doing just that.

The Innovation Team at EMC was formed in 2017. And in the last 14 months, EMC has been recognized with awards for innovation from the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, innovationIOWA magazine and Plug and Play Tech Center, the world’s largest early-stage investor, accelerator and corporate innovation platform.

I thought I'd share three key building blocks of innovation at EMC. These are things any organization of any size and in any industry can implement to prioritize innovation, make inroads and keep it top of mind for employees.

Purposeful and Intentional (Strategic Alignment)

Our innovation strategy was developed with purpose and intention. Each of our innovation goals aligns with a company goal.

The EMC Innovation Team selects and prioritizes work by determining the strategic fit. We collaborate with business units across our organization to understand their strengths, challenges and strategic goals. This enables us to analyze ideas and evaluate solutions to create meaningful, innovative value for our business partners. In 2020, our team levered in-house programs and external partnerships to evaluate 56 startups who were offering potential strategic solutions for our company.

By aligning innovation efforts with the overall company strategy, you’ll find ways to demonstrate how innovation can boost your business — whether that be new ways to collect payments, market your products or meet staffing needs.

Transparent and Cross-Functional (Collaboration)

We are creating a culture that embodies transparency, focuses on communication and embraces cross-functional collaboration:

  • We engage with a cross-enterprise innovation team comprised of 25 members from other departments. They provide expertise and insight that guides innovative work and ensures alignment with business objectives.
  • We host enterprise-wide programs that include a monthly series featuring innovative work at our company and in our industry, including pitches from up-and-coming startups. In 2020, 30 team members presented at these monthly events, which averaged 225 live attendees.
  • We communicate frequently about our work, including opportunities to join innovative events, through newsletters and articles. In 2020, we distributed 11 innovative newsletters that were delivered to over 270 team members and released 132 other internal and external communications about our innovative efforts.
  • In 2020, our cross-functional and collaborative innovative environment led to 11 new partnerships, six new pilots, four proofs-of-concepts, seven new tools for EMC to leverage and four new and innovative programs for policyholders to benefit from in 2020.

By encouraging new ideas and providing outlets for communication, you can increase awareness of innovation at your company, find ways to encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing and discover new, valuable opportunities.

Embrace Change and Take Risks (Accountability)

Our culture enables team members to embrace change and take risks, most notably through our quarterly innovation labs.

Our labs create opportunities for team members to explore innovative ideas and trends outside — but relevant to — their daily roles. All team members are invited to apply to be part of a lab. This ensures our lab is a cross-functional team with different viewpoints that contribute to the overall creativity and success.

We’ve hosted 11 labs so far, and topics have included augmented and virtual reality; behavioral economics; diversity, equity and inclusion; and climate change. From our four labs in 2020, we identified 34 business opportunities and shared our findings through company-wide showcase events that featured 73 team members from 19 departments, with over 740 team members attending.

I hope these insights into EMC's innovation program have spurred some ideas that could be implemented within your organization. I think you'll find devoting some time to fostering innovation will pay big dividends.

Find these tips useful? Learn more tricks on how to maximize the potential of your business through The Partnership’s Small Business Resources Hub.

Angela Noble

Angela Noble is vice president - innovation for EMC Insurance Companies. She joined the company in 2018 and is responsible for leading corporate initiatives to differentiate EMC in the marketplace through innovation, to collaborate with leadership on innovation-driven strategy and to manage partnerships with accelerators and start-up incubators.