AF Group has always prioritized a culture of innovation but before finding a platform to host and manage the process, garnering employee engagement was disjointed and largely unsuccessful.
The innovation team at the insurance company AF Group adopted the Idea Pipeline platform as a way to encourage collaboration and fresh insights. The result: a problem-solving forum, enterprise-wide change, and a happier, validated workforce.
With Idea Pipeline, AF Group has:
Headquartered in Lansing, MI, AF Group includes eight subsidiary companies primarily focused on workers’ compensation insurance. AF Group prizes innovation and prides itself on keeping costs down and workers safe, working with businesses to find ideal solutions.
As they expanded and branched out, AF Group struggled with interdepartmental communication. The company's multiple brands allowed them to offer tailored insurance solutions, but the variety also led to largely separate spheres within the organization. As the business grew, so did this problem.
Different business units and teams evolved different ways of doing things, threatening the cohesion of the business. Locked within these departmental silos, employees were left to solve the same problems continually. They lacked access to the institutional knowledge their colleagues generated, whether those peers were working across the country or just a few doors down.
Communication issues arose without a centralized idea and knowledge management system as messages moved up and down the corporate ladder but stalled at the manager level. Someone might have a great idea or raise a valid concern, but communication failures hampered meaningful change.
"[AF Group has] always been innovation-driven but needed a better way to manage idea generation and validation."
The Idea Pipeline online tool opens up a transparent communication channel in which employees at AF Group can contribute ideas and solutions, acknowledge issues, and ask questions. It provides a central warehouse to store ideas and a pipeline to validate and move them forward.
Both upper management and entry-level employees benefit from having access to a complete picture of the business and its resources. It’s often hard for decision-makers to see the granular-level details that impact employees the most on a day-to-day basis.
Idea Pipeline’s more democratic exchange of ideas ensures that every employee has a voice and access to other members of the community. Everyone receives a fuller understanding of the company, the resources they have at their disposal, and their place within the organization.
Real change takes time, and the delay between idea and implementation can make people feel as though upper management hasn’t heard their ideas — even when they have.
The transparency of the Idea Pipeline gives people a way to track their contributions and provides a forum for managers to thank employees or explain why they can’t put certain ideas into practice. Ideation and collaboration software validates users and adds to their job satisfaction.
Idea Pipeline also allows employees to upvote or comment on their peers’ ideas. This feature lets management see which ideas or questions represent more widespread concerns and which areas need urgent attention or thoughtful consideration.
Employees can also crowd-source solutions to more individual challenges, asking their peers for advice about handling common concerns. While higher-ups need more details about their employees’ situations, they aren’t always the right people to address an issue. Some problems require technical knowledge that people lower in the organization are more likely to have.
“When people post ideas, [the upvotes] and the comments that [other people] leave really help us understand that certain things need to change or be evaluated. Because it’s not just one person complaining, it’s a group of people that are saying that this really is an issue that I think we can tackle and do better on.”
AF Group continues to grow, and so does its use of the Idea Pipeline. In addition to using the software as a brainstorming tool for previously identified projects, AF Group now sees new projects emerging from the pipeline.
For example, a spirited conversation arose about ergonomics as a loss-control measure. After it gathered attention in the pipeline, the innovation team tackled the issue and came up with a solution that would work across the company. Throughout the long process, they sent updates in the pipeline, allowing people to track their progress.
The innovation team also used the pipeline as a platform for a “tech hack,” during which they challenged employees to come up with ideas that used existing tools to solve given problems. People posted their ideas in the pipeline, and the best entries won prizes. The contest energized participants and familiarized them with the pipeline.
After the success of the trial “tech hack,” AF Group intends to extend the initiative across the enterprise by the end of the year.
“The tech hack had a lot of employee buy in, when typically, I think it would be smaller in the past. As long as you validate their ideas in one way or another, even if they're not possible, it helps keep the flow of ideas coming.”
AF Group can’t wait to see what’s next. The company president is enthusiastic about expanding the role of the pipeline across the enterprise, and the innovation team thinks his buy-in will be critical to the pipeline’s long-term success.
They look forward to encouraging workers to share more of their frustrations and challenges as well as their ideas. They want to hear more here’s-what-keeps-me-up-at-night questions.
For any companies considering investing in Idea Pipeline, the team at AF Group encourages them to “prioritize innovation” and “believe in [their] employees.” Innovation is crucial to any organization, and the pipeline helps organizations attain the wide yet detailed perspective needed for continuous improvement.
“The Idea Pipeline helps to promote innovation….The market is ever-changing — and I feel like this is true for any sector — if you don’t innovate, you can die out. I think the Idea Pipeline helps upper management decide what decisions to make and gives employees a direct line of sight into what’s happening in real-time.”