A few years ago the CEO of a health insurance company asked me to help him set up and launch a high-performing idea system. He knew that his industry was about to go through major changes – Obamacare was just coming down the pike, as were some big changes in Medicaid and Medicare — and his company was going to have to be ready for them. But the problem was that neither he nor anyone else knew what the specific changes would be.
All that CEO could do was to make his company as adaptable and flexible as possible, so it could quickly solve problems and jump on opportunities as they arose.
Over the next several years, under his strong leadership, the company set up a very good idea system. Today this system gets roughly 25 implemented ideas per employee per year, making it one of the best in its region, and certainly one of the best in the insurance sector nationally.
My involvement with the company ended after the first year and a half, andI hadn’t seen the CEO for a while. But just last week I happened to bump into him. I asked him how things were going with the Obamacare implementation issues and all the other changes in his industry, and he said, “You know what? We are doing just fine!”
If only more leaders thought like him!
A few weeks ago, I was asked to help another company in a completely different industry, whose situation reminded me of that health insurance company. This company specialized in printing paper newsletters and bulletins for churches around the United States. Like that health insurance company, it too faced some major changes in its industry – paper-based newsletters of all kinds are declining rapidly in the face on online and mobile options for content delivery, and the demographics of the churches it served were shrinking and aging. It was clear that churches would need to continue to get information to their congregations, but far from clear where the industry was going.
It was clearly impossible for management to come up with a neat strategic plan that would cut through all the clutter and navigate the company to the right place. Whatever strategy brought this company success in the long-term would have to be innovative and emergent, that is, it would be found (probably) by serendipity, and by watching and listening to its more progressive customers very closely, and the company would have to pounce on it and react more quickly than its competitors as the opportunities presented themselves.
What better way to get ready for such a future than to build up its capacity to innovate and improve by working on becoming idea-driven!