Joshua Kreger joined Pinnacol Assurance two weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020. On top of the new challenge of taking his team virtual, Kreger didn’t lose sight of what he was hired to do — help reimagine the insurance carrier’s safety operating model.
In business since 1915, Pinnacol is a quasi-governmental entity that provides workers’ comp insurance for more than 56,000 companies in Colorado. We spoke with Kreger as part of our IL Member Spotlight series.
Can you describe your role at Pinnacol?
I’m the Director of Safety Innovation Strategy. I lead the overall product strategy and roadmap for digital risk management products. I was hired to completely reimagine the operating model… to build those predictive digital tools for policyholders to be better at predicting safety, [rather] than just simply waiting to be in a reactionary position. The customer has transferred the risk to us as the [insurance] carrier. That’s the innovation piece of my job — going from lost control in an insurance carrier to human organizational performance through digital products.
What have you learned about innovation?
Innovation doesn’t always need to be breakthrough innovation, it can really be about operational excellence, where little changes can pay big dividends. I always came into every situation in my other career just looking for that breakthrough. And those are great when they happen, but they’re rare. Where I think innovation really starts to take a foothold is where you can start to embed it into operational excellence… And understanding the power of those incremental changes that sometimes open up success in a business way more than a breakthrough innovation because there’s only going to be so many ways to reinvent something.
Where I think innovation really starts to take a foothold is where you can start to embed it into operational excellence.
How does the innovation process work within your team?
We have some enterprise innovation portfolio work we do. A lot of that is tied back to the digital side, core operating systems, technology. My team, the way we do innovation is [we] really follow the Google sprint model, [using] Google Design Sprint toolkits. I’m big fan of the Google Design platform, as far as trying to huddle around a problem.
Is there any software that you find especially helpful with innovation related work?
Figma for prototyping. If not Figma, we’ll use Whimsical. Mural for collaboration. We run all our design sprints off Mural. And then Asana. Without Asana, our project management would be rough. So, I would say heavy Asana for project management, heavy Mural for design sprints and just general innovation work, and then Figma for the prototyping.
When it comes to innovation, we want to pressure test and ruthlessly attack every idea, because that’s what our competitors are going to do.
What advice do you have for keeping colleagues bought in?
I cannot undersell radical candor and positivity. The unfortunate byproduct of any positive culture is people are going to feel like they’re personally being attacked when you’re just attacking the idea. So, when it comes to innovation, we want to pressure test and ruthlessly attack every idea, because that’s what our competitors are going to do. And if we don’t play the devil’s advocate, then our competitors will, and we’ll end up losing.
So having to perform radical candor is being able to have truth and accountability with teams, but doing so in a way where people don’t feel like it’s about them, it’s about their idea. But it’s easier said than done…I haven’t totally figured it out. But I’ve gotten to a point now where it’s the first thing I implement [in teams]. Can these folks handle it? Can they handle the ugly process of pressure-testing ideas, and having an open economy of ideas, instead of just rubber-stamping bad ideas because we’re scared to tell people the truth?