7 Steps to Unlocking Innovation in a Conservative Culture (Case Study)

7 Steps to Unlocking Innovation in a Conservative Culture (Case Study)

What does it take to spark and sustain innovation at the heart of one of the world’s most conservative industries?  That’s the question I recently asked Harvey Wade, who has helped pioneer strategic innovation initiatives inside global finance giant Allianz.

During our interview he shared seven insights that have helped Allianz UK make innovation part of the day job for its 4,500 employees.   Michael Diekmann, Chairman of Allianz recently, described the company as the most innovative in the global organisation that spans over 80 countries.

But first, a 30-second rewind.  I met Harvey three years ago when Allianz was putting in place an ideas system.  The vision was simple but bold: to create a practical, team meeting format that would encourage all employees to suggest and implement ideas that would positively impact team performance.

“We wanted to demystify innovation for people,” says Wade. “We knew that our people were capable of bringing a lot of creativity to the issues facing their teams, just so long as we got the format right.”

The team-based ideas system took off and in parallel, the Allianz UK innovation team launched other initiatives designed to address some of the more strategic, company-wide challenges.

But an ideas system on its own is never enough to engage an entire workforce with innovation.  So what lies behind Allianz’s success in stimulating an appetite for ongoing innovation?

Tip #1 – Boardroom or bust

Harvey: “Innovation lives or dies in the boardroom.  If there isn’t a real belief in the strategic value of innovation at that level you will never get the support and resources that are needed to make it succeed in a sustainable way. ”

Elvin: “So how do you test whether leaders are simply paying lip service to the value of innovation?”

Harvey: “Money talks the loudest in terms of real commitment.  Our senior team showed its belief in the importance of innovation by committing to a certain level of investment that was ring-fenced, regardless of what was going on in the economy.  That’s pretty rare in my experience.”

Elvin: “What else do leaders need to do?”

Harvey: “Let go of the perception of needing to have all of the answers to all of the organisation’s questions.  At best it’s naïve and at worst it’s arrogance.  When leaders and managers start to ask their people to help solve the biggest challenges facing the company or team it really starts to drive employee engagement around innovation.

Interview with Harvey Wade, Allianz

Tip #2 – Focus, focus, focus

Harvey: “When you’re starting out with innovation it’s really important to know where to focus your efforts.  For maximum return on investment, innovation needs to focus on the key sources of value that the organisation creates.  That ensures that innovation is always strategically aligned and is contributing to the bottom line.”

Elvin: “So avoid the temptation to have too broad a focus and to spread your innovation resources too thinly?”

Harvey: “That’s right – and also give yourself the best chance of generating some ‘quick wins’. Because the inherent nature of innovation is change, there will be plenty of people in the organisation who want initiatives to fail.  That makes it crucial to get some early successes to build positive momentum behind innovation initiatives.”

Tip #3 – Disruption not eruption

Elvin: “What’s your take on how to stimulate disruptive innovation?”

Harvey: “The big lesson that we’ve learned is about speed of ambition.  When you’re trying to develop a culture in which people are more comfortable with creativity, change and new ways of working you need to avoid the temptation to try too much too soon. “

Elvin: “But without squashing people’s creativity?”

Harvey: “Yes, actually it’s more around what you do with great new ideas that emerge.   Being very focused on ideas that are aligned to strategy and launching small scale pilots made sense for us – both in terms of efficiency but also as a message to the rest of the organisation:  when people became familiar with pilot projects happening all around them it helped normalize the idea that innovation is just part of everyday life around here.”

Tip #4 – Follow the energy

Elvin: “In really practical terms, how did you get people involved in innovation initiatives around Allianz?”

Harvey: “To begin with we decided to follow a path of least resistance:  we took innovation to where the people were and the places where their conversations were already happening.  We made use of team meetings, existing forums and the communications platforms that worked most effectively.  That helped remove the idea that innovation was something extra that people had to do on top of their day jobs.”

Elvin: “What about subject matter?  Did you find that everyone was equally motivated by all of the initiatives that you wanted to engage them with?”

Harvey: “We quickly learned that people responded better to initiatives that had most relevance to them personally.  In many cases that meant that tangible, local issues drove much higher levels of innovation engagement amongst employees.

Tip #5 – Metrics that matter

Elvin: “So how are you tracking innovation inside the organisation?”

Harvey: “We’re a financial services company so unsurprisingly metrics, data and figures drive most of our conversations.  From Day One we decided to measure three key metrics:

1)   Number of ideas generated

2)   Number of ideas implemented

3)   Financial value of ideas implemented

“This data was very powerful for us as it meant that at any point we could quickly and easily demonstrate to the board the current return on investment.”

Elvin: “Can you share any of those figures with us?”

Harvey: “Sure, since launch out into innovation, over 25,000 ideas have been implemented ideas that have delivered an annualised financial value that exceeds £12.5m ($19m).  We aim to keep increasing these figures but we’re pretty happy with the curve that we’re on, based on 4,500 employees.”

Elvin: “And are you able to track those metrics down to a team level?”

Harvey: “Yes, and that’s been helpful to engage our senior managers. We publish an innovation league table on a regular basis that shows the relative performance of each division.  No-one wants to be seen at the lower end of the scale so it tends to have a positive side-effect in terms of motivating leaders.”

Tip #6 – Fuelling the innovation tank

Elvin: “So how do you reward people for their innovation efforts?”

Harvey: “We have two main approaches.  The first is simple.  We say ‘thank you’.  We’ve found that the mere act of recognizing innovative behaviour is usually enough for people to feel that their contribution is valued and for them to continue to be engaged in future innovation initiatives.

“The second approach is to run an annual innovation awards ceremony.  It’s an ‘Oscars-style’ event during which the people behind the best ideas of the year get recognized by the senior team.   We have found this to be hugely motivating for people – not only because of the company-wide profile that individuals and teams receive but also because we treat the winners like stars for a day and it’s huge buzz for them.

Tip #7 – Engage tomorrow’s leaders

Elvin: “Most people will be familiar with the idea of having a network of ‘innovation champions’ on the ground to help give momentum to initiatives across the company – and I know that’s and approach that you use.  What other groups can help embed the culture of innovation?”

Harvey: “We’ve found that the ‘talent group’ – the potential leaders in 5 years’ time – is a very important community.  They have the energy, desire and ability to kickstart innovation amongst the people around them.”

Elvin: “Absolutely.  These are the guys who are usually motivated to shape the culture that they are going to inherit in a few years’ time so they are usually a key audience to engage in strategic innovation initiatives.”

Parting Question

What experience and ideas do you have of stimulating innovation in conservative organisations?

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7 Steps to Unlocking Innovation in a Conservative Culture (Case Study)


5 Steps for a Successful QR Code Marketing Campaign

Hamilton Chan is CEO and founder of Paperlinks, which provides the leading QR code infrastructure for businesses. Codes generated through Paperlinks app can be scanned by the free Paperlinks iPhone app or by any QR code reader on any smartphone platform.

While the debate rages on whether QR codes are a passing fad or a marketing phenomenon, those little suckers continue to pop up all over the place. From product packaging to retail signs and even to food, almost any surface in the universe seems fair game for a QR code.

However, if brands deploy QR codes merely to claim they are using the latest social media marketing tool, then QR codes are doomed to fall in the “fad” bin, never to realize their full potential. The task for marketers is to use this interactive tool to deliver useful and meaningful experiences to their users.

SEE ALSO: Why QR Codes Are Here to Stay

So, how can you assess whether you are using QR codes to their full potential? Although very few QR marketing statistics exist, here are a few tips for businesses looking to deliver a meaningful QR code experience.

1. Define Your Purpose

The first thing to realize is that QR codes can be as much about utility as they are about marketing. The more your QR code enhances or streamlines the lives of customers, the more engagement you can expect. As such, the most important step in making your QR campaign a success is to think clearly about the purpose of your code.

  • Is the purpose to provide an instructional video, a photo catalog of products, contact information or product suggestions?
  • Or are you looking to incentivize mobile purchasing behavior through coupons and loyalty rewards?
  • What is the advertiser hoping to garner – an email address, social media engagement, a phone call?
  • Are you seeking to provide information about a single product or about the entire brand line?

The clearer you are about the purpose of your campaign, the easier it will be to discern whether your goals have been achieved.

2. Call On Your Customers

Now that you have defined your purpose, craft a customer call to action. Think of your QR code as a doorway, only you need to explain what’s hidden behind the door. The brief text sitting next to your code should be the world’s shortest elevator pitch.

For instance, you’ll see high scan rates if your code says, “Scan this code for an exclusive gift” or “Scan this code for our lowest price.” Be sure to explain any incentive associated with the code truthfully — it will increase trust, consumer interaction and the overall return on your campaign.

3. Design and Usability Is Key

Understand that looks matter. Ideally, opt for a designer code rather than a black-and-white checker box. Designer codes earn higher scan-through rates, look better on your materials, and even provide an element of security to assure users that this is indeed the brand’s QR code (and hasn’t been somehow covered over).

SEE ALSO: 5 Big Mistakes To Avoid in Your QR Code Marketing Campaign

In addition, the design of the mobile landing page is critical. The cardinal sin in QR code campaigns is directing users to your desktop website. Not only does a desktop site provide little added value over what a user could have obtained without the code, but the site usually looks and functions terribly on a mobile phone. If you do not have a mobile-friendly version of your website, consider using one of the many available tools to create one. Using one of these platforms makes it easier to update content in real time and track campaign analytics.

4. Measuring Scans

The most important metric of a QR campaign should not be the number of daily scans. Rather, the length of engagement time that your code is generating should be a marketer’s primary indicator of campaign success.

If people are spending two to three (or more) minutes on a link, the campaign is a success. The power of a QR code is to transform the user experience from a “quick glance” to a “deep dive.” When users spend a lot of time on your QR site, it shows that you have developed something captivating — a brand worth the interaction.

On the flip side, having a low number of scans should not discourage the advertiser, although generating zero scans is a definite red flag. If no one is scanning the code, it’s likely that something is wrong its scanability, or that its placement is not conducive to scanning (think high-up ads on the subway).

Another thing to keep an eye on is the number of scans over time. If your QR code has been constant displayed (e.g., in your retail window or on your cashier counter), you should see a long tail of interactivity as people continue to engage with your code. Achieve this by providing fresh content and incentives. Unlike other marketing vehicles (TV commercials and newspaper ads) that typically only generate one big spike in impressions, QR codes allow businesses a consistent promotional tier. If the number of scans drops to zero after the first week, this is a sign that there wasn’t enough allure to the experience.

5. Social Metrics

Finally, businesses should look at the points of interaction beyond the QR code experience to judge the success of a campaign. Did a business receive more hits to its website, more followers on Twitter, more fans on Facebook? While trying out the latest high-tech marketing tools is fun, we must ultimately be driven by results.

The QR code experience is limited only by your imagination. The more creatively you can provide a meaningful customer experience, the more interaction your QR code campaign will enjoy.

QR codes provide metrics by tying real-world marketing (outdoor signs, magazine ads, etc.) to the mobile web. By being imaginative, purposeful and experimental with campaigns, advertisers and consumers alike can reap rich QR rewards.

Image courtesy of iStockphotoyoungvet

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How to Retain Your Startup Workforce

Morgan Norman is the Founder and CEO of WorkSimple, putting an end to performance reviews by providing a better way for coworkers and teams to share goals, work together, get and give feedback, and make each other shine. Connect with him and WorkSimple on Facebook and Twitter.

Startups provide a unique and exciting atmosphere for employees because they have a more hands-on approach to building a company and a brand. Instead of working for an established company, startup workers have the chance to be a part of a team that shapes the brand through every part of its development and launch. The team must possess a more entrepreneurial spirit as they are not always large in size or have big budgets to fall back on.

At many startups, every employee is a partner. It’s normal to help outside of the traditional role they were hired for. They get to dive into areas that aren’t necessarily part of their job description, and because of this lack of titles and hierarchy, being a part of a startup is a feedback culture. 

Startup employees have to be flexible and knowledgeable in several different industries, and possess a variety of skills, while the employer must work even harder to hire and train the right employees because he cannot be in constant hiring mode. 

Entrepreneurs often fear losing employees to competitors and larger corporations. Workers today often see more job security with established companies, and if given the chance to work for a well-known Fortune 500 company, will likely accept the opportunity. 

So, what can employers do to retain hired talent and show the benefits of staying with their startup company?

Proper Orientation and On-Boarding

While many startups hire people who know the job, you still need to help new employees understand your vision, values, direction, gaps and product. As with a new company or product, there is a greater need for employee education and that can only come at the beginning of the job. 

Startups tend to have more work cut out for them (and less staff to get it done), so a new hire may not always feel comfortable asking questions or being trained on the job. Block off a few days at the start of a new hire’s week and have someone teach that person the ins and outs of the company and position. Giving employees the tools to succeed from the beginning should be seen as a necessary investment. 

To understand how they can make good decisions on the job, startup employees need an orientation of what every team is trying to accomplish. This can help new employees assimilate into their new environment quicker and start making real contributions right away.
Once you have given new hires all the tools and resources at your disposal, it will then be up to them to succeed at the job. If you do not train them, there is the risk they will feel lost and get fed-up quickly, which can lead to employee dissatisfaction and turnover.


Being recognized for a job well done may seem trivial and unnecessary — after all, that’s what you’re paying your employees for, right? Shouldn’t they always go above and beyond for a project and blow everyone’s expectations out of the water? 

Unfortunately, always expecting employees to kill it may be pushing your luck. Encourage employees to set personal goals. Start with lightweight goals with no firm end dates. Ask new workers, “What do you think we should do?” Then, work on prioritizing these goals as a team. Once these goals are set, an employer can monitor and recognize an outstanding job on an as-needed basis. 

This does not mean check up on your workers every day. Instead, when you do come across an exceptional project or proposal, take the time to send a quick email or stop by the worker’s desk and personally thank them for their hard work and dedication. Employees appreciate recognition for their hard work and it means a lot coming from supervisors and managers. 


In addition to recognizing achievements of candidates, offering more feedback for employees in startups is necessary. Startup workers tend to have higher responsibilities. They are expected to be self-starters, so helping them improve and learn from mistakes is important. 

This can only be done when sufficient feedback is given on projects and overall employee traits. Instead of simply fixing their mistakes — and not offering some light into the decisions made — tell the worker what worked and what could use improvement. Employees will have a hard time growing and becoming independent without learning where their work stands in the company. 

Ditch performance reviews until you have hundreds of employees. They have limited value in your startup culture, and can’t keep up with the pace of the work that is going on. Instead, feedback can consist of a quick email or chat on a project-by-project basis. When offered in a constructive manner, criticism from supervisors and co-workers will be appreciated by employees as their expectations will become more clear. 

Professional Reputation

A good employee will give 100% to work hard and fit into an organization, but also turn to outside resources for connections and learn about the industry. Being perceived as an all-star is important to most, as a strong professional reputation will open many doors for employees. 

Provide employees with the resources to better their professional reputation by endorsing additional reading, joining relevant groups and participating in forums to keep them informed. 

Encouraging (or paying for) relevant seminars, networking events and literature can help guide employees to professional success. Local industry and professional groups, along with startup-specific groups, are a great way to learn about industry trends and success stories. It also gives workers the chance to participate as speakers, positioning themselves as thought leaders in the space. Whether an attendee or speaker, investing in seminars for employees will give them a chance to grow and help advertise your company’s name. 

Similarly, providing books about your company’s industry and general self-help or career books are also good ways to invest in employee growth. 

What are some things you have done to retain your startup workforce?

Image courtesy of iStockphoto/Yuri Arcurs

More About: hiringhow tosSmall BusinessStartups

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Exploring Apple’s supply chain secrets

One of the unsung heroes in the success of Apple over the past ten years or so has been the ability for the company to take control of manufacturing, procurement, and logistics of its products in ways that are completely innovative. In a Bloomberg Businessweek post yesterday, writers Adam Satariano and Peter Burrows did a deep dive into what makes Apple so successful in terms of operations — an area where Apple CEO Tim Cook excels.

According to the article, Apple has “built a closed ecosystem where it exerts control over nearly every piece of the supply chain, from design to retail store. Because of its volume — and occasional ruthlessness — Apple gets big discounts on parts, manufacturing capacity, and air freight.”

The supply-chain management success story apparently began when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. At that time, most computer manufacturers shipped their products by sea, which was much less expensive but also slower. Jobs wanted to ensure that the translucent blue iMacs that had just been introduced would be available for Christmas 1998, so he had the company pay $50 million to buy up all available holiday air freight space. Companies such as Compaq later tried to book air transport for holiday shipments, only to find that Apple had monopolized the space.

Apple’s ability to manufacture a product and ship it right to a customer’s door began with the iPod era, and an ex-Hewlett Packard exec recalls that an HP staffer bought one and received it a few days later, watching its progress from factory to home on Apple’s website. Mike Fawkes, who was the supply-chain chief at HP, recalls that “it was an ‘Oh s—‘ moment.” By doing this, Apple was able to avoid keeping large inventories of product on hand

Apple also buys up speciality equipment, including customized lasers that are used to poke the almost-invisible holes that are used to emit a green dot of light on many of the company’s products, including the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, as well as the Wireless Keyboard and Magic Trackpad. Those machines cost about $250,000 each, and Apple has bought literally hundreds of them to add a touch to its products that few people may notice.

The Bloomberg Businessweek article is a good read, and fascinating for anyone who has an interest in what goes on behind the scenes at Apple.

Exploring Apple’s supply chain secrets originally appeared on TUAW – The Unofficial Apple Weblog on Fri, 04 Nov 2011 15:00:00 EST. Please see ourterms for use of feeds.

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