We’re all in this together: Talking process leaders and successful project implementation with Nationwide Insurance

Craig Sharp

The insurance industry is facing unprecedented financial and regulatory pressures, the key to evolving to meet these new challenges lies as always in process excellence.

Ahead of the Operational Excellence in Insurance Forum this October in New Jersey, PEX Network had the opportunity to speak to Tiffany Hunt, Vice President, Business Transformation Office at Nationwide Insurance about how to successfully launch a new project, what to look for in a process champion and of course how to pre-empt any potential hurdles you may encounter.

Craig Sharp: What makes a process excellence leader? What qualities should they display?

The key to change is buy-in at all levels

Tiffany Hunt: I think there are a number of critical things..

First, I think you have to have strong expertise on the capability and subject matter so that you are able to successfully articulate the benefits of being a process driven organization. The success of a process excellence organization is highly dependent on sponsorship and buy-in, and I think you have to be able to build momentum in this space and garner the necessary support.

Second, I believe a process excellence leader should also be someone who can really earn and build credibility quickly. It may be necessary to go into different areas of the business where you may not have a lot of deep domain experience. Your ability to come up to speed quickly is going to be necessary.

Lastly, I would say a very strong skill set around collaboration and teaming. You are largely in a role as change leader for the organization, and I think it's very important in this space for people to not feel like process transformation is happening to them, but that they are responsible for owning and driving that change.

Craig Sharp: What are the first steps to embarking on a new process excellence project?

Tiffany Hunt: The first step would be to clearly establish how you’re defining success. What does success look like? And how are we going to measure it? On a project, the business may come to you and be able to clearly articulate the pain that they are experiencing, but not necessarily a true understanding of what the root cause of that pain is. So, the first thing is to really define success and establish the approach for how you are going to go about achieving it. Next I’d say aligning on critical success factors -- sponsorship, necessary resource commitments, access to subject matter experts and access to data.

Craig Sharp: You’ve mentioned strong teams and collaboration. Is process excellence best rolled out in a top-down approach or should it begin from the shop floor?

Tiffany Hunt: Both are critical. You cannot have one and not the other. With a bottoms up approach exclusively, oftentimes you can run into obstacles around competing priorities. That said, advantages of a bottoms-up approach include strong buy-in and engagement in the organisation in which the change is happening. As I said earlier, they really need to own and drive that change, as well as investing in building capability within those resources, so that they can sustain the change after the project is complete.

Top-down sponsorship is necessary to ensure that the initiative continues to get prioritised, and prioritised not just from the perspective of ‘we want to continue to work on this effort’, but ‘we're going to continue to allocate resources on this - we're going to continue to dialogue and ensure the approach and objectives are aligned to our strategic priorities’.

In conclusion, you need both. If I had to pick a place to start, I'd say bottoms up, only because the buy-in is so important and the business owning the change is so important, but that alone will not be sufficient. You need that top-down involvement as well. You need both for success.

Craig Sharp: What common challenges and hurdles do you encounter and how can you pre-empt them when implementing a process excellence strategy?

Tiffany Hunt: For large organizations especially, I would say alignment and buy-in. So, at Nationwide Process Excellence is a staff organisation that supports the enterprise. When you support the enterprise and you are looking to build an enterprise-wide process excellence strategy, alignment is going to be the first challenge because each of those respective businesses may have different priorities.

One of the things we’ve done to drive better alignment is to create a Lean steering committee with representatives from each area of the business. This has been beneficial at helping to build a cohesive strategy for Lean that aligns to the operational simplicity strategy of the company.

Craig Sharp: How do you avoid a loss of momentum in your process excellence project?

Tiffany Hunt: I believe you can avoid a loss of momentum by setting clear expectations and milestones, and seeing traction against those milestones. I would also say continuing to celebrate and publicize successes, large and small. Lastly, I would say ensuring that you share the change story with the broader organization to continue to foster support.

Craig Sharp: You’ve mentioned competing objectives, and you’ve mentioned making the process excellence project integral to the executive’s own agenda. How do the two marry up? How do you actually get everybody aligned? How do you stop competing objectives and competing wants and needs?

Tiffany Hunt: There are a lot of different factors in the equation. Organizational structure, as well as objectives play a large part in what type of behaviors are being incented. I also think you have to focus on ensuring you are focused on solving the right problems. Not projects, but being astute as to ensuring we are focusing on the right problems. And continuing to dialogue on the different tools being used to address those problems. It is obviously also necessary to ensure that those priorities are aligned to the broader strategy of the company. And as I said many times, sponsorship. Sponsorship is key.