How Innovators Get Aligned with CEOs and Set Shared Priorities

By Kaitlin Milliken |  November 5, 2020

When it comes to creating alignment with CEOs, Brooks Tingle suggests that innovators make sure they’re talking about the organizational vision and values. 

“I’m always going to listen more to someone that gets that vision, gets that set of values, and is doing work aligned with that,” Tingle says. In contrast to colleagues who want “to talk to me about something cool, maybe, but not connected to that vision or values.” 

Tingle is the CEO and President of John Hancock Insurance, part of $60 billion Manulife Financial. The life insurance company’s primary value, according to Tingle, is to help customers live longer, healthier lives.  

In a recent conversation, Tingle explained the importance of having innovation embedded across the organization and shared tips for setting innovation priorities. This interview with Tingle is a part of InnoLead’s most recent research report, “CxOs & Innovation.” For more data and interviews on the C-suite’s relationship with innovation, visit the main report page.  

Everyone Should be Thinking About the Future

We really try to make [innovation] intrinsic to the business. I think it’s dangerous when a leader or leaders point to some other areas and say, “Oh, they’re doing the innovation. They’re coming up with neat new stuff.” … All of us as leaders need to be listening to the market, looking ahead, and driving it.

Once the innovation opportunity has been identified, I don’t find it works as well if one group sort of hands it off or throws it over the fence to the team that then needs to operationalize it… I find we get much better outcomes when the innovation opportunity germinates collaboratively with the people that are running the day-to-day business, and those that are ideating about change and opportunities. 

I find we get much better outcomes when the innovation opportunity germinates collaboratively with the people that are running the day-to-day business, and those that are ideating about change and opportunities.

We don’t really think about certain people’s jobs being to innovate… I expect all of my leaders — and I certainly expect myself in my role — to be thinking about the customer, thinking about the future, and bringing new ways to add value. 

Focus is Essential

Our innovation teams tend to look at things that are true whitespace — maybe not as connected to the day-to-day as the normal business, but very promising [and] interesting… One of the most prominent ways we collaborate with [the innovation team is to] say, “Okay, one area in particular we’re very keen to innovate and disrupt would be the insurance buying process, trying to make it a lot easier to buy life insurance. One of the great ways we think that can be accomplished is through access to electronic health records… See what you can find. … Go look for startups or other companies that are doing interesting things there.” 

The Impact of COVID on Demand — and Digital Investments

We have a two-pronged strategy, which is making life insurance more engaging and fun to own…and a whole lot easier to buy. So the things we’re going to be investing in naturally anchor around that value that we want to help our customers live longer, healthier lives. So whether that’s science, whether that’s a partnership, whether that’s technology that’s going to inform that… 

That strategy of offering life insurance that [encourages people to live healthy lives] has been fully validated in our mind by COVID. If you just pay any attention at all, like consumers are, to COVID outcomes, you see that your baseline health is a huge determinant of how successfully you battle through COVID. Our demand for life insurance is up, and people are more conscious of their baseline health. So offering life insurance that does both [encourages people to stay healthy while they are alive and provides benefits when they die], we think is spot on. …


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