Acuity Insurance CEO Ben Salzmann has a theory about making innovation happen—and it doesn’t involve hiring geniuses who dream up new ideas independently.
“You could take Albert Einstein and Thomas Jefferson, put them in their own dark closet, lock the door, have them stay in there for a year, let them out and say, ‘So, what innovations did you think of?’ They wouldn’t have anything,” he said. Innovation requires stimulation, Salzmann stated during a recent interview with Carrier Management, when he talked about reasons employees view Acuity as a great place to work and how leaders spark imagination and support innovation in their workforces.
In addition to being honored as one of the best places to work in and out of the insurance industry, Acuity Insurance is noted for innovation. Most recently, Acuity garnered top honors from the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies for an innovation with the greatest impact: a chatbot built on artificial intelligence technology to handle common questions from agents and customers without intervention, along with a co-browse system allowing Acuity staff to view an agent or customer’s computer screen.
“They were geniuses,” said Salzmann, referring to the Einsteins and Jeffersons of the world. “They came up with truly landmark ideas, but they were also a result of the productive protoplasm of their time.”
Basically, innovation involves “assimilating what all of civilization is doing and [asking] what does it mean and how can we help civilization,” Salzmann believes. To help the process along at Acuity, the carrier brings in global thought leaders from around the world to the Sheboygan headquarters, allowing employees to listen to their ideas.“Immediately after their sessions, we’ve got a couple of analysts taking thorough notes” so that the profound insights they document can be converted into actionable items and then actionable items formed into a strategic planning process.
According to Joan Ravanelli-Miller, general counsel and vice president of human resources, employees throughout the company—not executives and not just managers—then take on individual strategic initiatives and develop them with teams and stakeholders. “We have folks throughout the company who are leading that charge. They’re empowered to do that,” she said, stressing the direct input of employees into these initiatives.