IdeaScale Nation

Credit Union of Colorado: Innovation is Everyone's Responsibility

April 15, 2020 IdeaScale Season 2 Episode 1
IdeaScale Nation
Credit Union of Colorado: Innovation is Everyone's Responsibility
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IdeaScale Nation
Credit Union of Colorado: Innovation is Everyone's Responsibility
Apr 15, 2020 Season 2 Episode 1
IdeaScale

The Credit Union of Colorado used to be known as State Employees Colorado State Employees Credit Union was founded in 1934. Today, more than 130,000 people, from all walks of life, enjoy the benefits of membership in a credit union that is worth over $1.53 billion in assets. With over 80 years of experience, Credit Union of Colorado continues to innovate to keep up with the rapid changes in the financial industry. Kelly Wagner, the director of innovation, talks about her experiences and how the Credit Union of Colorado continues to innovate and compete with larger financial institutions. 

Show Notes Transcript

The Credit Union of Colorado used to be known as State Employees Colorado State Employees Credit Union was founded in 1934. Today, more than 130,000 people, from all walks of life, enjoy the benefits of membership in a credit union that is worth over $1.53 billion in assets. With over 80 years of experience, Credit Union of Colorado continues to innovate to keep up with the rapid changes in the financial industry. Kelly Wagner, the director of innovation, talks about her experiences and how the Credit Union of Colorado continues to innovate and compete with larger financial institutions. 

Kelly Wagner:

Innovation is everyone's responsibility. It's not just a team of people. It's not just the leaders in our organization. It's all of our responsibilities to be looking forward, looking up and saying, okay, what's possible.

Jessica Day:

Welcome to the ideascale nation podcast, everyone where we're talking to change makers, innovation program leaders, futurists and other intrapreneurs. This month we have Kelly Wagner, who is the director of innovation for the credit union of Colorado. Kelly leads a team of innovation navigators and innovation ambassadors who are focused on both creating new value and improving their existing systems. But we met Kelly at the beginning of that journey about a year ago. And in that time she's been able to build some consensus and some innovation leadership and improve the credit union of Colorado's overall member experience. So we're looking forward to learning from her specifically about some of the innovation team building that she does and how to conceive of an innovation roadmap for the future. So Kelly, welcome to the podcast.

Kelly Wagner:

Good morning.

Jessica Day:

Can you , uh , tell us a little bit about yourself and also, you know, you've been in financial services for a long time. How did you end up in innovation?

Kelly Wagner:

Absolutely. Good morning, Jessica. Thank you so much for having me. Uh, yes, my name is Kelly Wagner girl. Um , I am , uh , with credit union of Colorado for the past almost 10 years. Um, and my story is unique in terms of just the financial sector. Never really thought I would land here , um, but couldn't imagine my life now anywhere else. Um, specifically in the credit union industry space because we are so member centric , um , which fits in so nicely with , um , the ideascale , um, solution and the way that we innovate at our organization. Um, in terms of, you know, financial services, bumping heads if you will, with innovation. Um, the industry is really primed for disruption. Um, you have, you know, legacy systems , uh , traditional business models, usually some slow to change, you know, adoption to change occurs and you have a lot of fintechs and non traditional players really wanting to break down the walls and be part of that conversation. Um, and so, you know, they , uh, things like, you know, T-Mobile coming in and offering checking services or the Walmart Bluebird card. Um, or even the future if Amazon were to decide that they wanted to be a bank. Uh, all of these things really force, in my opinion , um, the financial sector, specifically our organization to try to think and do differently, to continue to be relevant , um, uh, within our space. And that we're part of that conversation, whether it's right now or what's going to happen in five years or 10 years when all these business models are changing.

Jessica Day:

Right? Yeah. I mean, I can see that, you're like constantly scanning the horizon, you know, if seen it , you can see a future where Amazon is a bank. I , I bet they see that future too . Yeah. So , uh, but you're one year into your , uh , journey of employee empowered innovation. Where did you start?

Kelly Wagner:

Oh gosh. So, you know, we, we started with wanting to define what innovation meant for our organization. It's, you know, words matter. Um, your journey matters with, you know, it's not just happenstance. So we created a definition of what innovation was going to look like for us. Uh, and we began really with a commitment to a culture of experimentation. We knew this wasn't going to have a roadmap that had an end in mind that it was going to be this kind of fluid journey. Um, and so we really kind of banked on three things. One was, you know, we got some really strong executive sponsorship , um, with two of our executive leaders who really took hold of this and said, Hey, we're going to support this. We're going to put resources toward towards it. We then began to define a strategy which did include the idea of scale product that we, new idea internal idea generation was going to be so critical for both our employee engagement and for the future of what our employees see and need from our member seats. Right? And then finally, we really had to, you know, bank on some good old fashioned guts , uh, patience, perseverance, and resilience that this was not going to be an easy road. Um, and so for us, that journey really helped us. Our journey was really defined by, you know, just this commitment to say we're going to think and do differently. And one of the things that resonated with me is Albert Einstein has a quote that , um , is in my, on my office wall and that says you can't solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them. So to be able to write, think and do differently, we had to commit to say, we don't know the end in mind, but we're willing to try.

Jessica Day:

Right. And , and the like, that's, that's hard for a lot of people to say, you know, this is comfortable or this is the way we've always done that to change that up. Absolutely. I'm curious too, I love that you started out by defining what innovation was and what that meant for you. How'd you go about choosing that definition? Was it collaborative or did you put it out there first and get reactions ?

Kelly Wagner:

So our uh, our executive leadership team, along with our manager team , um, we , uh, we sat down and did a lot of brainstorming together. We picked out key words, things like, you know, willing to experiment the definition around , um , being willing to make sure it adds value, not to innovate for the sake of saying we innovate.

Jessica Day:

Just because there's new tech doesn't mean that we have to do it.

Kelly Wagner:

Absolutely. And so really making sure that, you know, the culture again, of experimentation or the culture of saying we want our minds and our actions to align with thinking forward. Um , and so it was a very much a collaborative effort and then we were able to cascade that down to our frontline team members and have them be able to also say, well, I can see how this applies to me in my role. And in fact, we created a core competency, which essentially a write a document or a documented , um, statements of what our cultural behavioral expectations are. So that helps too, because innovation is everyone's responsibility. It's not just a team of people. It's not just the leaders in our organization. It's all of our responsibilities to be looking forward, looking up and saying, okay, what's possible.

Jessica Day:

And was that like, did you, your team members already feel that or is that something that you had to really help them see it for their responsibility?

Kelly Wagner:

So it's a , we're lucky we have , um, a very member-centric culture and employee centric culture. So , um, them having a voice and uh , and being able to use it is really that the turn we made by using the ideascale product is to be able to say, not only do we say we want to hear you, we actually took a step forward to hear them and to be able to show them that their ideas matter. Um, and so , uh , our team members have been extremely excited by the opportunity to participate. We do a lot of training around design thinking. So we offer that to our employee level , um, to come in and learn the, the model around being, you know, rooted in empathy, rooted in defining problem statements. We often leap so quickly to solutions that you end up solving problems that either don't really exist or you don't identify the root cause. Right . And it just masked by a different solution.

Jessica Day:

Well, that does lead very naturally into sort of one of the other questions that I had for , for you, which is about your focus on member experience and you're getting to that through your employees and you've talked a little bit about the tools and training that you give to help you , you know, to help them develop that customer empathy. Do you do that in a workshop format or in, you know, assigning resources? What does that look like?

Kelly Wagner:

Absolutely. We , uh , so going back to kind of our journey just for a moment is being focused on that strategy. That strategy really had four tenets to it, if you will. And those four tenets were rooted first in research and development. We were going to be a culture that was better at researching and developing our ideas and trying to get to deployment a little bit quicker than we were doing before. We also, as I mentioned, built that competency. So a competency that everyone's responsible for. Yeah , we did do a , you know, define some leadership and executive leadership expectations that helps, again reinforce the culture or embed this in our DNA. Um, and then also we did a toolkit and one of those things of the toolkit we built, it's called our innovation toolkit. It was devised from our and and , uh, emerging leaders, which was a group of people that came forward. Um , and we defined and refined their skills as potential leaders in our organization and they brought forward educational trainings in the form of , um, again, organizational on-sites , some self paced items, a collection of blogs or links or podcasts just like this to listen to and expand your mind. Um, we also again worked on , um, a process , uh, through , um, what we call our, I explore tours and our, I explore , um, what they do is their quarterly sessions that we host and we take about 15 of our employees or so, and they're everywhere from our executive leaders down to say, our newer team members that have joined the organization. And we find creative FinTech startups , uh, you know, coworking spaces , um, uh , competitors that will speak to us and we do what I like to call intentional collision. And intentional collision is where you put yourself in someone else's path that you wouldn't normally cross. And what happens when you do that is you expand your horizons just naturally and maybe something that they're doing, although it's completely different industry based, you see how it could apply to your industry and allow you to think and do differently. And the final tenant that we work through in that strategy was something that we called our ambassador superheroes or innovation ambassadors. Um, and they really are a group of people who help us take our really good rich ideas and transform those to the design thinking process to actually be executable. Um , and this, you know , people , um, has really made all the difference for us in our organization.

Jessica Day:

I love that you co-developed that toolkit with your emerging leaders. So it's like they're, they're leading their own professional development as it's happening, but also paving the way for people to come after them. Um, so who are some of these innovations superheroes at your organization and what have they done so far?

Kelly Wagner:

Oh, absolutely. So that we started our ambassador program in the spring of this year as our, I'll call it first pancake or , uh , ambassador 1.0 and we took a , an application process and we recruited , um , we were looking for up to 20 people to join. We ended up moving forward with 16. They are some of our top talented individuals. They range everything from uh , again frontline individuals, their cross departmental representation and they're broken into teams , um, to allow us to focus on those more. Um, again, those rich ideas that we get from our ideascale platform. And we use the design thinking to break those down into the empathy, define ideation, prototyping, and then testing. Um , and so they help us move much more nimbly than maybe previously because again, they're , they are the people doing the work. They're the people who are closest to our members. And so their insight is so incredibly important. We also recruited four of our, what we call innovation advisors. These advisors are leaders within our organization that we asked to come in and lead , uh , horizontally instead of just vertically. So traditional, right? Leadership models. You're my direct report, do these things and collaborate. Exactly. Suitland this allows our leaders who participate as advisors to lead horizontally to say I would normally not be able to, I would normally not lead this individual and now in leading them in a different way. And so we see some great leadership skill building. Well that happens. Uh, and so we run 12 week sprints with these ambassadors. Um, they , uh, have been able to deploy about 50% more quickly than before. Wow. That was one of your like core goals, right? Is to start delivering faster. Absolutely. And so , uh , we work heavily with some of our key departments like Irit team, our core services team , um, our marketing and eCommerce teams to really help get insight into making sure, again that we're solving these right problems. Um, and we really are rooted in empathy trying to get in the seats of our members or our employees to say what causes you problems and teaching this skill to these ambassadors, not just help serve this kind of immediate focus of like, what are we trying to solve with this idea? We're building a skill and these employees as well that we see translate into the way they do their jobs, the way they communicate. Um, and hopefully the stickiness to our organization that they can see how they make a difference everyday that they come to work.

Jessica Day:

Right. Can you talk about some of the ideas that they've delivered on or...

Kelly Wagner:

absolutely. Absolutely. So , uh, some of our ideas, again, we , uh, we operate on a , um, a model that we, if you will learned or borrowed from soar and Kaplan called the invisible advantage. And that has produced , um, what , what we call is our 70, 2010 model. And the 70% is that you focus 70% of your time on incremental innovation . So things that are like, Hey, I really wish this happened in the back , you know, or this happened in the break room or this happened, you know, can we have this idea fixed on our internal intranet? Right? So, again, those are just as important as your big ideas, but it really shows you that they, that the value of innovation is really in the small details, not just in those huge, you know, gigantic ideas that sometimes people who say innovation resonate too , right ? So we have a team working on that. We have a team working on our sustaining innovation, which is where we would hope to spend 20% of our time in our model. And that really is about those kind of higher level thinking. I really think we should revamp this whole product suite. I really think we should evolve the way our , uh, you know, our members feel when they come into our lobbies. We want to evolve the , um, the green footprint that we have. So what can we do from an ecofriendly perspective? They're much more, these sustaining ideas are larger and more robust. And then we have one team who we call our , our future focused team. And this is the team that's intending to work on things that are not part of our conversation today. What happens when, you know, autonomous vehicles possibly , um, replace our, our , our vehicles we all drive today. How might we compliment the subscription model society that we live in where there's this subscription for pretty much anything you want. Right? Um , and so can the financial space also offer something similarly? So that team's working on some gamification components, how that might work. Um , so we've done a , a gamut of, of kind of our run the gamut if you will, of trying to do small innovations but also really test our model for R and D and being able to say, okay, are we going to practice what we preach and try to put some things ahead of ourselves that maybe we normally wouldn't have looked at until it was right in front of us.

Jessica Day:

So , um, people talk a lot about the role of failure as it relates to innovation. And one of the things that I loved talking to you is that you've invited , um , a lot of conversation around the concept of failure and you have a lot of pride and excitement around that concept. So what do you think about failure and what are some of the failures that you're proud of?

Kelly Wagner:

Oh, good question. Uh, so failure, I prefer language more around like experimentation learning. And my kind of favorite word right now is pivot. Um , cause I really do find that even when you quote unquote fail, either you needed to have adjusted your lens of success. Uh, you had to look for those quick wins and you really can learn lessons in any capacity, right. And any opportunity to try something. And so for us, I really believe , um, the word failure to us is about experimentation and that although, yeah, we have done some things with R and D that we were going to create a library, you know, but all of a sudden it was like, Oh yeah, the , the web is a library. And so why would we retain our own documents? Right . Um , but that process was fabulous for us. We learned a lot about how we research, we learned about how we went on to retain information, how we share. It was a lesson learned. Um, and so most of the time I guess as I reference , we fail in a lot of cases because we try to define problems without really knowing root cause. Um , and so being able to be empathetic to your end user or your end customer and member , um, really does allow you to say we're going to solve problems that matter and we understand what caused them. Um, and I do love Bernay Brown . Um, one of the things again that , uh, kind of as an individual steers me is that there is no innovation and courage and creativity without failure because that's where you get your great, that's where you really get your great goods, right? Is in that moment of like, Oh my gosh, this is not going well. What do you do to pivot and learn and then go, boom, there's your idea, right? There's your solution.

Jessica Day:

Helps you find your edges, right?

Kelly Wagner:

It does. Absolutely much better way of saying it.

Jessica Day:

Not better than Bernay Brown.

Kelly Wagner:

That's true. It's true.

Jessica Day:

So one of the questions that we ask everybody on the podcast, because it's kind of like a roar shack test for innovation professionals is what does the word innovation mean to you and how does it relate to your job?

Kelly Wagner:

So innovation, I mean a, it's part of my title. Uh , so that's makes it a little easier, right? That , uh , my organization expects from me to think and do differently , um, stir up the pot as much as I can. Uh, and so obviously innovation resonates with me just as a human being. Um , cause I feel like it invites you to , uh, say, how can I add value to this scenario? How do I , um, inspire hope or the conversation to say , um, what's possible? And that's my favorite part is to constantly say why, why can't we do that? What if we did this? Um, it is a good buzzword and certainly I think comes with a lot of weight to it. And so as I mentioned earlier with our innovation model, it's really about tweaking processes that you already have and making those refinements in small steps and not always just looking for , uh , you know, the huge , um , we're going to change the world, we're going to introduce the next iPhone, right ? Some of those things really were rooted more in that incremental component of we can take baby steps that really are meaningful and make a difference.

Jessica Day:

So it gives you permission to ask questions too .

Kelly Wagner:

Absolutely. And for my role , um, I believe that, you know, one of the key things I'm able to offer my organization is to set the tone to continue to ask questions, to keep the dialogue open , um, reduce friction where I can or where we can , um, and really make innovation more tangible then kind of this huge elephant in the room , um, that we can eat one bite, bite sized piece at a time. Um, and so that's been one of my favorite parts about my role.

Jessica Day:

Right. It doesn't have to remain an abstract concept.

Kelly Wagner:

It doesn't, that's correct.

Jessica Day:

So let's see where it's been fun to get to know you over the course of the year. So if you could go back in time to a year ago when you were first launching your employee empowered innovation program, what advice would you give to yourself?

Kelly Wagner:

Gosh, so you know, certainly hindsight is always 20, 20. Um, and patience is not one of my virtues by any shape or form. So , uh, certainly having patience that you, you have to do, whether you're onboarding ideascale, whether I'm a year in, whether I'm five years in, it needs to be a fluid ongoing solution that you continue to evolve and build as your knowledge grows. And so patience, I think having the right structure set in place that you can have a team of people like we did that we built some competencies in and allowed them to build the solution that it's not just a one person's job to devise how an organization's going to innovate, that it really is everyone's responsibility. Um, and then keep the momentum going would also be keep the momentum going. Um, to really say, okay, this is going to be something that you're going to have to inject some excitement into on a very regular clip. Um , cause innovation can easily be, Oh, we'll do that tomorrow. Right? Oh, it's not how does it compete with your normal, keep the lights on work. Um , and really then finally is just enjoy it, right? Hopefully everyone's enjoying life. You take those moments. You, you know what, I'm here now. I'm going to try our best to do this. We're going to put our best foot forward. If it works out, awesome. If it doesn't work out, pivot, figure out what should , uh , what you can do next. And then celebrate those. Um, celebrate those small wins and then you'll end up finding that you're ended up celebrating and you're celebrating a really big one.

Jessica Day:

Yeah. Those victory laps matter, right . Even for the small ones.

Kelly Wagner:

Yes, enjoy those small moments.

Jessica Day:

Well, thank you so much, Kelly, for taking the time out to talk to us and tell us about your program. I'm sure it's gonna continue to evolve as it, you guys get even better as the years go on. So maybe we'll have to have you back.

Kelly Wagner:

Wonderful. Happy to come back. Thank you, Jessica for having me. And , uh, hope you enjoy ideascale's uh , open nation this week.

Jessica Day:

Thanks a lot, Kelly.