Editors' Cuts

When Leadership Gets Out of the Way

Pat Speer
Insurance Experts' Forum, August 23, 2012

Back in January, I had the pleasure of meeting Tsukasa Makino, deputy general manager, Corporate Planning Dept. & IT Planning Dept., at Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co., Ltd. (TMNS). Makino san was honored at Celent’s 2012 Insurance Innovation and Insight Day in Boston for his efforts in offering “One-Time Insurance” products that can be bought anytime and anywhere. Specifically, Tokio Marine’s “One-Time Insurance” program is a series of short-term and small amount policies which can be purchased anytime and anywhere via mobile phones.

Our discussion that day centered less on the technology aspects of the program’s success, and more on the organizational changes that needed to take place within business and IT in order to create the vision of innovation, hold to that vision’s objectives and accomplish the end result, which was to capture an untapped market for small-amount, short-term insurance while attracting a new customer segment that typically does not have an interest in insurance.

The program’s success, said Makino san, was based on disruptive technologies, and bolstered by an organizational culture that had seen some changes over the past few years.

"At Tokio Marine there is no CIO, but they have maintained a disruptive atmosphere through the company's free-thinking and autonomous environment," he said.

If the “no CIO” concept is a tough one to accept, consider that prior year, TMNS was recognized by the Management Innovation eXchange, (The Mix) for its ability to transform its IT area from a bureaucratic, vertically divided and passive organization to one in which all stakeholders are “on the same page” in terms of organizational objectives. Remarkably, these stakeholders learned to believe as a group in the organizational objectives’ validity and purpose.

In its “Beyond Bureaucracy Challenge” contest, The Mix’s second phase of the HBR/McKinsey M-Price for Management Innovation, Makino san describes how, in 2004, a systems engineer initiated an action that triggered a series of transformational initiatives—many of which led to voluntary, grassroots and enterprise-wide activities that broke down organizational silos, used internal social networks to communicate progress, and with some dramatic HR reforms, made innovation “everyone’s job.”

“Today,” notes Makino san in his contest entry, “employees define their own roles and responsibilities, choose where and when to work, launch 'Next Dream' projects to promote a strategic priority, and use social technology to bid out problems internally and connect with the wider community. Board members even open their daily schedules and decision-making process to commentary from the whole organization.”

If you think this is an impossible task for an insurance company looking to improve performance via business and IT alignment, think again.

Consider the rather dated philosophy (from 2003) of two well-known experts in the field of management behavior, Dr. Donald Tosti and Stephanie Jackson at iChangeWorld Consulting LLC, who barely mention a technology component in their discussion of organizational alignment, describing it as linking strategy, culture, processes, people, leadership and systems to best accomplish the needs of a company. “An aligned organization is one whose performance influences are mutually supportive and are focused on effective and efficient delivery of results.”

Mutually supportive doesn’t mean less leadership, it means leadership gets out of the way so teams can function for the greater good. Makino san proved this is possible.

Pat Speer is an editorial consultant for Insurance Networking News.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Pat by using the “Add Your Comments” box below. She also can be reached at patricia.speer@sourcemedia.com.

This blog was exclusively written for Insurance Networking News. It may not be reposted or reused without permission from Insurance Networking News.

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