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Insurers engage their workers to spur innovation

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Companies in the insurance sector are employing new and novel methods to try to spur innovation within their organizations.

A panel of industry leaders discussed how to approach innovation in their companies Monday morning at the at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America's annual conference in Hollywood, Florida.

Leadership is an important element of innovation.

“I thought we always did pretty well with innovation; I thought we were pretty open-minded thinkers,” said Randy Ramlo, a partner with the Ward Group in Cincinnati.

“But we found out that our employees felt that we were at times satisfied with the status quo, reluctant to change,” said Mr. Ramlo.

“At that point, I decided that we really had to have a different tone from the top” to spur innovation in the company, he said.

Introducing structure can also help drive innovation.

“We decided that we needed to take some concrete steps to become innovators,” said Donald Southwell, chairman, president and CEO of Kemper Corp. in Chicago. “So we organized an effort to build some innovation tools, and we put together a program which we're just now launching to gather ideas for suitable topics for innovation.”

Over 40% of employees have signed up to monitor Kemper's Web-based system, which collects ideas online and allows employees to build and vote on them.

Kemper's first “innovation challenge,” which Mr. Southwell likens to an “online suggestion box,” drew 97 ideas and 211 votes, he said, adding the company will now move forward in deciding whether and how to use the ideas.

“We're trying to put some structure to our innovation at Kemper, and we're focusing our innovation efforts not on transformative innovation but on sustainable innovation,” said Mr. Southwell.

The human part of the equation is also extremely important.

“When people are engaged, they are by definition innovative, and that's what we're really trying to work on,” said Kristin Wall, president and CEO of the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Corp. in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“Our organization has truly been very, very successful, but there is this desire to be significant as well, especially when you see the new younger people that are coming into the business. They want a mission to follow, and they want to be part of something great,” said Ms. Wall.

Such new blood can be vital to a company's success.

“We really have this fantastic opportunity if we'll just open that up to let them see where they can fit in,” said Ms. Wall.

She said that something her company has tried to do is always have someone 25 years old in the room, “because they really do approach things very, very differently.”

Such newcomers will find their place in the insurance sector “if we reach out, and if we change the way we think about things and become more interested in ideas,” said Ms. Wall.