Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity. Practice makes perfect. Success breeds success. Many of us have had these motivational admonitions drilled into our heads since our school days, but they can be applied equally to any endeavor.
If you read popular magazines today, it seems that society still is inclined to believe stories of overnight success. More often than not, though, it’s the recognition of that success that’s sudden. As the stories are revealed, we learn of the hard-working individuals who sacrificed to perfect their craft, to build that better mousetrap or even that better business model.
How often, when confronted with a new idea, do we dismiss that idea by saying, “We never did it that way before”? As insurance agents and brokers, we’re often guilty of that thinking, or of its cousin, HWADI (How We’ve Always Done It). Unfortunately, too few businesses–whether they deal in insurance or not–view operational innovation as a key strategic objective.
Change and innovation
Operational excellence does not occur overnight. The changes take place in two distinct ways.
The first is incremental change–picking the low-hanging fruit of efficiencies. They are relatively easy to identify. And as one after another are implemented, significant efficiencies can be realized. Such changes may include development of standardized workflows, procedures and related quality control processes. Other examples may be desktop faxing, or Internet and e-mail capabilities for all employees. There are many possibilities in every agency for incremental efficiency gains.
The second type of change actually propels organizations into another realm, that of operational innovation. This is where firms stop doing old work more efficiently. Instead, they eliminate that old work and work in altogether new ways. Operational innovation, by necessity, tends to destroy the status quo. But when done properly, it serves as an enterprisewide catalyst that thrusts a company far beyond previous performance levels.
In an industry plagued by HWADI, this can be pretty radical stuff. However, it is the point where good operational companies become great and where returns realized on such innovation begin their exponential climb. And by comparing incremental change and operational innovation, it’s easy to see why.
Incremental change really doesn’t require true buy-in from all levels of the company. If one or two staff members continue to use the fax machine instead of the new desktop faxing software, there probably won’t be much fallout.
When operational innovation is implemented, taking the form of, say, front-end scanning, paper no longer reaches any employee’s desk. There is nowhere to hide. Everyone must change the way they work. They can’t pretend to work by moving paper from one pile to another, because they’ll be asked why they have paper on their desk in the first place.