by Lynette Bossler | 8/14/15

Innovation doesn’t always have to result in cutting edge products or services. Sometimes simple changes in a process can improve efficiency or make customer interactions effortless. As a case in point, we’ve introduced new products and services such as digital signatures to reduce stresses and pain points for our channel partners. In this blog, we’ll talk about why innovation is necessary to thrive, and ways to kick-start innovation in your organization.

Why innovate?

Today’s economic climate demands that we add value or risk becoming a commodity — defined by BusinessDictonary.com as a reasonably homogeneous good or material, bought and sold freely as an article of commerce. Commodities are bought and sold with little differentiation … think coal or gasoline. With a commodity, price is the only differentiator between competitors — a dangerous path that leads to pricing wars where nobody wins.

So how will you differentiate yourself from the competition and protect your product or service from becoming a commodity? Innovate! How can you innovate? Make it fun!

Introduction to March Madness

For the past two years, GreatAmerica has busted out March Madness brackets to pit some of the finest teams against each other. Not the college basketball teams — these are teams of employees that go head-to-head with their best ideas. It started small, with one business unit and eight teams, expanding last year to 32 teams and the entire company competing for the top innovation title.

How it works

Each team has a tip-off time and brings their two best ideas to be judged by a panel of representatives from across the organization. If their team scores more points than the competition, they advance to the next round and bring two different ideas. Winning teams are rewarded after each round. After five rigorous rounds in 2014, the Treasury/Internal Audit team walked away victorious and earned a happy hour with a GreatAmerica senior leader.

Results

Last year, the competition generated more than 100 ideas, many of which were easily implemented. Some innovations put into place include: the ability to update multiple records in a system with a single button click, clarifying language on approval letters sent to our customers, increased usage of social media as a recruiting tool, and discontinuation of printing (then imaging) unnecessary documents.

What’s next?

We are taking the competition to the next level in 2015.  This year, teams will not present new ideas, but rather the implementation of ideas. Teams are scored on two criteria: the success of the ideas and the implementation process. To give them time to prepare, the competition is moving to the fall. The “Final Four” teams will present in an all-company meeting and every employee will have the opportunity to vote for the winner.

Lynette Bossler is the Vice President, Corporate Operations for GreatAmerica Financial Services. In this role, Lynette leads the Account Support, Documentation, Portfolio Management and Asset Management functions.  She joined GreatAmerica in 2001 and served in a variety of roles including Credit Analyst, Team Leader, National Programs Manager and most recently, Continual Improvement Specialist.  Prior to joining GreatAmerica, Lynette was a loan officer at an agricultural lending institution.