Culture of Innovation: What Established Companies Can Learn From CSAA Insurance Group

By Jeremy Brown | Culture
October 4, 2017

Large companies have a harder time creating a culture of innovation than startups – how many times have you heard this?

While there is truth to that, CSAA Insurance Group – a 100 year old $3.5 billion dollar company with more than 3,800 employees – bucks conventional thinking.

CSAA, a Spigit customer, is one of the top personal property and casualty insurance groups in the United States offering automobile, homeowners, and other personal lines of insurance to AAA members through partnerships with AAA clubs in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

CSAA has proven that an established company can in fact transform its culture and turn it into a competitive advantage, which Harvard Business Review highlights in this article.

Established enterprises are transforming their cultures

Before we dig into the Harvard Business Review article and look at key takeaways, it’s important to recognize one thing: there are strategic steps companies can take to help them establish a culture of innovation faster, and it starts with an asset every one of them has – employees.

In fact, Spigit customers have been tremendously successful at creating cultures of innovation by focusing on company-wide ideation among employees.

  • Cambia Health Solutions, for example, started as a health insurer but transformed itself into a health solutions company with over 20 healthcare businesses its portfolio after sourcing ideas from their employees. They’re now a major innovator in the healthcare industry.
  • UnitedHealth Group who has over 140,000 employees is another example. They were named one of the most innovative healthcare companies in the world by Fortune Magazine. Much of this can be attributed to turning their entire workforce into a force of innovation.
  • Polaris, a Minnesota-based manufacturer of ATVs, motorcycles, and other vehicles, became a major disruptor to Harley-Davidson when they released the first ever electric motorcycle and award-winning three-wheeled motorcycle. These innovative products, and more, were ideas from Polaris employees.

Just like Cambia, UnitedHealth Group, and Polaris, CSAA perfectly illustrates how a large established company can reinvent its culture by first rethinking the role employees play in the process.

Here are 4 lessons you can learn from CSAA’s culture efforts as highlighted by Harvard Business Review.

1. Define what “innovation” means to your business

As the Harvard business Review article points out, CSAA felt the term “innovation” was vague based on what they wanted employees to take part in.

Instead of leaving room for confusion and hesitation, CSAA went a layer deeper by articulating what the term “innovation” actually meant in the context of their business.

They broke it down into three categories:

  • Incremental – small improvements to core business functions and operations
  • Evolutionary – dreaming up new products and services
  • Disruptive – big moonshot ideas or implications of future disrupters (e.g. Blockchain technology or self-driving cars)

This was smart on CSAA’s part. By breaking things down, they gave employees the freedom to look at the business from a macro and micro level to find opportunities that could impact growth. Then they gave employees an opportunity to generate ideas that solve business problems, both large and small.

2. Provide innovation training

“CSAA IG delivers innovation training to all employees. Its program provides tools and applied exercises based on design thinking, and makes it clear that everyone can—and should—contribute creative ideas for improvement in business processes, customer experiences, and product offerings.”

If you want your team to excel at marketing, you provide marketing training. If you want your team to excel at sales, you provide sales training.

The same goes for innovation. If you want your employees to provide value in this way, you have to provide the necessary training and tools to maximize their efforts.

CSAA implemented Spigit to provide its employees an outlet where they can share their ideas and collaborate with each other to make them more impactful. Along with the implementation came direct access to Spigit training where CSAA’s program managers learned how to use the software, which then empowered them to teach their employees and act as mentors.

3. Innovation training can’t be overlooked

Implement ideas, don’t sit on them

“CSAA IG’s managers are expected to engage their teams after the training sessions to select specific ideas to implement based on what everyone just generated.”

One of the quickest ways to impede a culture of innovation from being created is to never implement ideas from your employees. Not only is this discouraging from an employee’s perspective, it’s a surefire way to lose trust.

To combat that, CSAA expects managers to implement ideas their team generates. This type of exercise builds a level of trust and understanding with employees. They know that if they generate ideas, there’s an opportunity to see them be brought to life and implemented in a way that impacts the company.

4. Show recognition

“To help generate excitement for the idea management platform, during the first online innovation challenge event, anyone who submitted an idea was surprised with a physical paper light bulb posted in their cubicle workspace.”

Next to implementing ideas, recognizing employees for their contributions is one of the most important things you can do to build a culture of innovation.

It’s an intrinsic reward that incentives employee to want to engage on a regular basis, which is a hallmark for an innovative culture.

Recognition could come in a variety of forms. You can follow in the footsteps of CSAA, or come up with something completely unique to your culture.

Final thoughts

CSAA is proof that established companies can make a significant cultural transformation. With the right mentality and effort you can create a culture that moves fast, provides a competitive advantage, and generates value.

Recommended For You
The Spigit Innovation Blog
The best innovation ideas, advice, and news in your inbox.