April 23, 2011
Chubb Business School Rocks!

NOTE: This is the first in a series of posts about Idea Champions clients who are walking the talk and making great strides towards establishing a sustainable culture of innovation.

When Mary Ann Heenehan became Program Manager of the Chubb Business School in 2008, she knew it was her responsibility to keep the already successful program moving forward with vibrant and cutting edge content.

Precisely what that looked like, she didn't yet know.

The goal of the Chubb Business School had always been a simple one -- to support their business units by offering a "mini-MBA type program" that would broaden the perspective, knowledge, and impact of the company's up and coming talent.

Each year, 140 of Chubb's "high potential, high performers" from all over the world, gathered in Scottsdale, Arizona -- in groups of 40-50 -- for precisely that purpose.

Before Heenehan was on board, the program had focused on business acumen and included traditional modules on ethics, change management, and scenario planning.

The program was very popular and recognized as a hallmark learning event at Chubb. The challenge going forward? To maintain its vibrancy and help participants adapt to a radically changing marketplace.

And so Heenehan decided to focus the program on business acumen and innovation. She wanted CBS participants -- no matter what their function -- to think more creatively.

But even more than that, she wanted participants to be more skillful, proactive, and committed to turning their top of the line ideas into bottom line realities.

Action, not just theory.

Astute veteran of the corporate world as she was, Heenehan knew the program was going to need senior leadership support if it was ever going to get off the ground. She wanted Chubb's senior leaders to support and participate in the program because they wanted to become an integral part of Chubb's still-to-be-determined future.

Enter Jon Bidwell, Chubb's Senior VP and Chief Innovation Officer.

If anything was music to Jon's ears, it was the fact that the Chubb Business School was going to focus on innovation. Jon, quite simply, was on a personal crusade to "increase the value and velocity of innovation" within the firm.

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He recognized a golden opportunity, collaborating with Heenehan, "to better connect all the competencies, levels, and geographies of the company -- and to push ideas closer to market needs instead of only being driven from top-down."

"We needed people to connect with each other earlier in the innovation process," explained Bidwell. "Innovation, at Chubb, had to become more than event-driven. It had to become the way we do business on a daily basis."

Bidwell and Heenehan both agreed that the gap between theory and practice had to be crossed -- not by words alone, but by real-time experience. Hands on was the name of game. And so it began.

Inspired by the emerging synergies, Heenehan proceeded to re-design a seamless 5-day program, in collaboration with three outside vendors and Chubb's senior leaders, each of whom had a vital piece of the puzzle.

Day 1 would continue to feature Franklin Covey delivering a business acumen session -- sharing timeless principles on what it takes to run a successful business.

Day 2 would be devoted to innovation and feature Idea Champions delivering a highly interactive session that would challenge people to think outside the box, ideate, and learn creative thinking skills that could be applied back on the job to foster a culture of innovation.

Days 3-5 would continue to focus on the development and implementation of those ideas, via an engaging business simulation facilitated by PriSim, a vendor who had been a long-time learning partner in the CBS program along with Franklin Covey.

Throughout the week, Chubb's senior leaders would present their thoughts and perspectives on topics such as professional development, marketplace conditions, international operations, and business case development.

Heenehan worked hard to integrate all of these elements, making sure all three vendors were familiar with each other's work and able to reference each other to build towards a greater whole.

At the end of each session, unlike most corporate training programs, the impact of Chubb's Business School did not end when the week was over. No way. Things were just beginning to heat up.

Graduates of the program were invited to participate in the "CBS Challenge" which operated within Chubb's innovation platform, Motivate, Drive and Deliver.

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Innovation efforts moved through idea generation, facilitation and review, and a series of pitches to surface the best ideas focused on profitability and growth.

Ideas selected by each of the idea teams then moved toward business case development and potential presentation to Chubb's Venture Fund Team. (CBS participants soon found themselves presenting a business case in Chubb's Board Room.)

Rebekah Martin, a graduate of the September, 2009 training, is quite familiar with the process.

Rebekah, a Senior CPI Underwriter from Chicago "didn't have any earth-shattering ideas" during her week of training, but five days later, upon reviewing ideas newly posted on the idea intranet, noticed one particular idea that was very relevant to her job.

Relevant and exciting.

She saw a new possibility -- and now that there was an online idea development process in place, had a way to help midwife that possibility.

Before she knew it, Rebekah had become part of a three-person virtual team to further develop the idea and, soon thereafter, prepare to present that idea to senior management, real-time.

"We had the right three people on the team," explained Rebekah, "so it didn't take that much attention away from my day job at all."

In March 2010, Rebekah found herself at Chubb headquarters, co-presenting the idea with one of her cohorts to some of the company's top officers.

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"I was fairly new to the company at the time," Martin chuckled, "so I didn't know who all those people were -- or I might have been really nervous."

The presentation was fast-paced, open and relaxed. Response from senior leaders was quite positive. And Rebekah and her team quickly realized how much easier it was than they had assumed to be a vital part of Chubb's innovation process.

Today, their idea (a way to take better advantage of face-to-face interactions with specific customers) is funded and moving through Chubb's innovation pipeline, along with several other winning ideas that emerged from the Chubb Business School.

Currently, six ideas have been funded through the Venture Fund Team, one idea was funded through a regional program, and five ideas have been pitched directly to the strategic business unit for further development.

Countless other ideas that were not selected for further development within the CBS Challenge are "out there" seeking support through branch or regional channels.

"Graduates of Chubb Business School," explains Bidwell, "come out of the program with a deeper understanding of the mechanics of innovation and how to stage the development of a new idea. Some Chubb employees may think you go from an idea right to a 40-page business case document, but that's not how it works. All new ideas are works in progress. They need to be given a fair hearing, aired out, responded to, developed, and presented in a setting conducive to meaningful feedback."

Adds Martin, "I learned a lot about Chubb from this experience. I learned that I really do have a say in what gets developed and out into the market. I find it refreshing that Chubb is actually interested in my ideas and what I think. My ideas don't have to be world-changing to make a difference. Even the simple ones can make a difference."

The CBS program founder beams.

"I'm really proud of what we've created," explains Heenehan. "People are very intrigued with it. We've taken a good, proven program and taken it up several notches."

What's next?

"Well," says Heenehan, "we're always trying to innovate within the innovation program. Originally, we had the three groups of CBS participants competing against each other. We thought it was a good idea at first, but later found it to be unnecessary. We're all on the same team, after all."

"For the 2011 program we made some changes -- eliminating the competitive aspect and allowed teams to function without the competitive aspect. This year, we're going to be more targeted with our assignments, more collaborative during the actual CBS event, and continue raising the bar for innovation at Chubb in new and exciting ways."

About Chubb

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at April 23, 2011 11:55 PM


Great new column series showcasing the evolution of ideas and innovation through a creative process in an existing business. Wonderful examples of the stages of thought and development. Outstanding!

Always interested in the obsticles and solutions. Especially old guard tactics of digging in heels and the solutions that overcome and unite an organization. I feel a strong shift in the business environment in how we process innovation, so speaking to that would be very helpful. Great post.

Posted by: David Sollars [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2011 07:48 AM

+1 for the Chubb Rock reference in the title.

Mark Alvarez

Posted by: Mark Alvarez [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 26, 2011 02:54 AM

As a graduate of CBS I value how it made me aware of arriving at practical solutions to challenges my audit clients face.
Definitely like the reference about eliminating what didn't work well, such as competition, since it detracts from collaboration and synergy between teams to elaborate on ideas.

Posted by: Yolanda Baker [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 26, 2011 07:20 AM

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