Aviva/Wazoku Breakfast Briefing notes

Aviva/Wazoku Breakfast Briefing notes

Richard Wilkinson is the Innovation Manager at Aviva. He was also the guest speaker at Clustre’s senior executive Breakfast Briefing on Wednesday 22nd March 2017.

Richard began by explaining how seriously innovation is taken at Aviva and how it is positioned and managed within the company…

Responsibility for innovation sits within Aviva’s Digital business which has its own P&L as part of Aviva’s ‘Digital First’ business strategy.

No trivial challenge

The scope of innovation covers virtually every key area within the business: customers, suppliers, competitors, start-ups and employees. Richard’s primary responsibility is to drive all innovation that delivers benefits to the business and its customers globally. The scale of the challenge is impressive: 40,000 employees serving 33million customers in 18 major markets across the full range of life insurance, general insurance, health, wealth management and retirement planning products/services.

This is no trivial challenge. Innovation lies at the heart of Aviva’s mission to ‘defy uncertainty’ for their customers by mitigating risk and by disrupting, transforming and leading the market. As Richard candidly remarked: “if we don’t disrupt ourselves, someone else will!” To this end, the business has a simple, focused strategy and a clear set of values. It is considered critical that innovation is consistent with this strategy and these values.

1,500 unique and implementable ideas

Aviva’s flagship innovation programme is the ‘Customer Cup’ tournament – an annual competition for employee-generated innovation ideas. Since its inception in 2008, the Customer Cup has generated more than 1,500 genuine (unique and implementable) ideas with the potential to deliver real benefits.

Important elements of the tournament are that anyone can submit ideas (no line-manager sign-off is required). These ideas are assessed by senior management in each market. By selecting ideas to progress to the next stage, management make an implicit commitment to implement them if they make it through to the Grand Final – the ultimate stage when the six best ideas are put before a panel of judges drawn from the most senior executives.

Any individual can submit an idea but, in order for it to be successful, that person must then collaborate with others to develop it for assessment. This fosters a genuinely democratic approach to innovation where anyone can comment on and contribute to anyone else’s idea. This sense of collaboration is a very important element of the tournament and, by the time an idea reaches the Grand Final, it is being presented by a team. This ensures that every member of each presentation team is given a high profile. They get to present their ideas to the most senior people in the business… And, seeing this happen, is a huge motivation for others to submit ideas next time around.

Seven key lessons

Richard shared the seven key lessons he has learnt about maximising the benefit from this kind of innovation programme:

  1. Top Level Executive SupportEmployees will naturally be cynical about the value of submitting ideas if they don’t believe they will be taken seriously or have any real chance of being implemented. In Richard’s programme, there is strong, visible support and commitment from the very top. It is personally sponsored by the CEO and the Chief Digital Officer… a serious level of Board ownership that conveys the importance with which the programme is regarded by senior management. In turn, this creates a vital and very direct link from the most junior employees to the most senior executives in the business.
  2. Icons and StoriesThe Customer Cup is an actual, real Cup. The whole programme is focused around things people can recognise and around the stories of previous successful innovations that have been directly inspired by the competition. A very popular example being the competition’s memorable iconic paper plane…Featured in the invitation to this breakfast briefing, it acts as a metaphor for idea capture and sharing.  Ideas are often initially captured by scribbling or doodling them on a piece of paper.  The surfaces of this simple graphic are covered in thought-provoking words and doodles and matched by the motivating tag-line: “if you’ve got an idea, just throw it out there!”
  3. Great PromotionAn absolutely vital part of the programme is effective internal promotion. Banging the drum, generating awareness and making frequent calls to action are all part of a very inclusive and persuasive marketing strategy that has deservedly won an industry award for best promotion.
  4. Tools and ResourcesThe consistent success of the programme relies on the use of well-honed tools and resources. One of those principal tools is the Idea Spotlight software from Wazoku– a unique platform used to generate and develop ideas, track actions and provide management information on the progress of the competition. Other tools and resources include best practice guides for documenting ideas and ensuring there is sufficient information to enable proper evaluation.
  5. Recognition and RewardInterestingly, motivations for submitting ideas are wide-ranging. They span everything from a self-less desire to solve a real day-to-day challenge to the perception that winning will significantly enhance personal career prospects. All motivations are perfectly valid.However, Richard does not believe in offering direct, personal financial incentives for submitting ideas. He believes that the personal reward of championing an idea through to the Grand Final matched by the kudos and satisfaction of seeing ‘your idea’ actually being implemented is far more of an incentive.
  6. Business OutcomesIt is absolutely key that all ideas must be linked directly to anticipated business outcomes (not necessarily a financial business case). This requirement is a key driver of collaboration – the employee championing the idea has to provide evidence of the anticipated benefits in order to secure the backing of other supporters.
  7. Evolve and AdaptAnd finally, the importance of evolving and adapting the ideation process. In its early form, the Customer Cup was a largely manual and resource-intensive process. It has now been largely automated (using Wazoku) which has significantly streamlined the process to the point where it can be managed by one person (working part time) rather than four full-time people.Perhaps the most important evolution of the programme (again facilitated by the Wazoku platform) is the ability to focus idea generation by posing specific business questions or challenges. Other new elements of the programme include the use of Hackathons focused on some of these specific challenges.As the Customer Cup has evolved, these and other improvements/adaptions have moved the bell curve of ideas – ensuring that more of the ideas are genuine, workable innovations properly aligned with the ‘Digital First’ strategy.
The Customer Cup in action

Here are just some examples of the successful innovations that have been implemented as a result of the Customer Cup:

  • Reducing the time taken to resolve certain types of household insurance claims – from the industry standard of 11 days to just a few minutes – by leveraging Aviva’s relationships with some key suppliers.
  • Creating AI-enabled, always-open Aviva virtual offices that give customers the immediacy of 24/7 service at a lower operational cost to the business. Although this example was not discussed in any depth at the breakfast it was mentioned in the initial invitation.
  • Developing a crowd-funding solution to enable entrepreneurs to buy their own commercial properties. Again, there was insufficient time to discuss this idea at the breakfast session but it was featured in the event invitation.

In the lively discussion that followed Richard’s presentation, several interesting aspects of innovation and ideation programmes were explored, including:

  • The importance of capturing the “smaller gems”. Ideas that may not be serious candidates for the Grand Final are, nonetheless, well worth picking up and implementing. Richard observed that the Wazoku platform was particularly useful here, enabling these smaller ideas to be managed and progressed independently.
  • The question: should the people who come up with the idea be allowed to work on its implementation? Richard’s honest answer was: “It depends”. We have seen people come out of their day job and work on implementation projects.  At the same time, it is true that people often lack the essential responsibility, skills and/or experience to implement ideas. However, where they are fully qualified to steer the implementation, there is obvious benefit in giving people this freedom – with the added bonus of a good story for internal communication.”
  • The benefit of shifting the focus of innovation from an ‘Organisation-out’ (often misleadingly referred to as ‘Customer-centric’) perspective to a genuinely “customer-in” viewpoint. It is crucial to see your organisation from the customer’s standpoint.
  • The challenge of countering the ‘Not Invented Here’ syndrome. Early collaboration is essential to overcoming the reluctance of some individuals to accept improvement and innovation recommendations from people outside their area of responsibility.
  • The benefit of focusing not just on internal problems but also on customer frustrations. Customer dissatisfaction is often the driver of powerful innovations. There was a healthy discussion around the benefits of co-creating the definition of problems with carefully selected customers.
  • The need for speed in delivering the incremental and rapid iteration of ideas. The Customer Cup itself is a flagship programme that is necessarily played out over a longer timeframe (the longest part is actually the initial engagement programme and idea generation). However, it was generally agreed that the time from idea to innovation should be measured in weeks rather than months.
  • The advantage of having an Innovation Playbook to guide people in, for example: formulating an idea properly… running a hackathon etc.
  • The best way to encourage individual employees to generate an idea and then to build a team to champion it. Inspiring people and giving them the opportunity to comment is more productive than attempting to galvanise teams to generate ideas.
  • The danger of letting employees vote on ideas. Idea assessment really should be carried out by senior management using carefully evolved criteria: clarity of concept… customer need… strategic fit… business outcome… match with company values etc.
  • The risks inherent in using an internally-generated ‘customer persona’ rather than seeking input from actual customers.
  • The valuable discipline of getting employees to describe their idea in Tweets… these can then be used to generate, via social media, consumer engagement with the idea and so capture valuable customer feedback.
  • The need to strike the right balance: short-term, rapid innovation vs. longer term, more strategic innovation. A good example was given of an employee (in another organisation) suggesting that money could be saved by reducing the amount of blank space left between printed receipts at check-out. The space savings made on till receipts then paid for a more strategic project to eliminate paper receipts altogether.
  • And finally, never overlook the importance of providing direct feedback to every employee who generates an idea. To combat the negative reaction: “it’s not worth submitting ideas because they are never taken seriously”, it is important to communicate at every stage and to celebrate the success stories. Nothing succeeds like success!


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