A lesson in digital transformation at John Hancock

Recently, a team of researchers led by Gerald Kane of Boston College looked at the traits shared by organizations that have succeeded with a digital transformation, and a common set of characteristics stood out.

At these companies, innovation and transformation is woven into the corporate culture at every level, from the upper echelons to the most junior rank and file. But technology takes a backseat to priorities like developing digital leaders, pushing decision-making deeper into the organization and responding more quickly to the marketplace. The survey of 4,300 executives, which was published by Deloitte and MIT Sloan Management Review, also found that these digitally mature businesses were more likely to experiment than other, less technologically sophisticated companies.

John Hancock Financial Services Inc., which embarked on a digital transformation initiative about two years ago, was one of the companies closely examined by Kane and his research team.

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The process took place in two phases, the first of which focused on transforming John Hancock’s internal operations and business culture. Goals were defined that went beyond developing more efficient processes and technologies. The larger agenda was to become “more innovative, more entrepreneurial, faster moving, more empowered, and more collaborative,” says Kane.

That meant changing the way employees thought about their jobs and helping them break out of the constraints imposed by the insurer’s bureaucracy. To help them progress faster, “Innovation teams needed to be isolated and protected,” Kane says. “They needed to be freed from their corporate shackles.”

Looking outward
The second phase was more outward looking. John Hancock assembled an internal startup to build and roll out a mobile saving and investment app called Twine. The idea was to encourage customers to invest more and help them meet their financial goals by providing an intuitive tool that was fun and convenient to use.

Ultimately, the company concluded, successful transformations and innovation involve employees at all levels in the decision-making process. Does that sound like the culture of your prototypical insurance company?

Food for thought.

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