This past month at the Credit Union Leadership Forum’s Edu-Leader Leadership Learning Series we focused on innovation, which can be one of the most challenging issues for credit unions.
A summary of key points that you may find helpful are:
• Be aware that you don’t change your focus from member-centered product development to an approach more focused on financial parameters.
• Avoid a silo mentality where politics trumps innovation.
• Ask whether you are creating a bloated, bureaucracy-laden organization that keeps executives isolated from problems.
• How are employees rewarded and what incentives are you providing that support innovation and collaboration?
We were most fortunate to have as our featured speaker, Christina Mott, director of innovation at Marsh & McLennan Cos. Mott is responsible for innovation management, including strategy, planning, processes, tools and methodologies to cultivate, identify and capitalize on innovation across the four operating companies of MMC.
Mott spoke about MMC’s heavy focus over the past few years getting as much of the costs out of the business units as possible. Now MMC is working on growth as the way to generate value and innovation is essential to growth. She explained that innovation is not just required for growth, but it’s key to just staying in the game. The greatest challenge in managing is both managing the current businesses and building for the future at the same time.
It is difficult for managers to bring a high level of focus on innovation while tending to the current business. This office has been charged with channeling energy and enthusiasm within the company, across all levels, to create and manage meaningful innovation efforts. The goal is to have a culture of innovation permeate the company and have the idea of continual innovation be institutionalized.
Mott had the attendees of the session perform an exercise by asking, What are the biggest obstacles you face when it comes to generating a return on your investments in innovation?
The group identified lack of collaboration as the primary obstacle, followed by a risk-averse culture and difficulty in selecting the right ideas to commercialize, which was very similar to the results from MMC’s executives.
Innovation is hard in general, but it’s especially difficult for large, complex, diverse organizations. It requires dexterity, focusing on execution for the near-term while creating for the future. And by definition, it requires change, and inertia is a powerful force.
Stuart R. Levine is chairman/CEO of Stuart Levine & Associates
Contact 516-465-0800 or stuartlevine.com