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Innovation Management

Culture of Innovation: Premera Blue Cross Engages Employees to Drive Innovation

Published By Guest Blogger

As organizations seek to add value to customers and develop new, differentiated products and services, innovation is at the heart of strategy. It starts with creating a culture of innovation from within by tapping into the wisdom of employees.

Premera Blue Cross developed its culture of innovation that motivated 3,200 employees to produce more than 400 new ideas to improve its products and services. And they did it through a complete lifecycle process from strategy to delivery.


Premera Blue Cross provides insurance products and wellness consulting services to more than 2.2 million members from companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Starbucks. The 86-year-old company, with $10 billion in revenue, operates with 3,200 employees whose primary goal is to make healthcare work better for their customers.

Even with the success and size of Premera, the company depends on innovation to keep its services fresh and compelling.

“We all realize that while we work in healthcare during the day, we go home to the 21st century,” said Torben Nielsen, Premera vice president of innovation and strategic investments. “We still as an industry have a lot to learn from other industries in terms of how to put the customer at the center of what we do. To achieve that, we had to look within our company for ideas from everyone to come up with new ways to solve our customer pain points.”

Premera tasked Nielsen and his innovation team to come up with new ideas that put their customers at the center of Premera’s universe. This meant allowing everybody within the company to participate in an innovation process.

Out of this challenge, the Premera Test Kitchen was created. This unique collaboration of hundreds of employees includes three primary categories: Iron Chefs, Recipes, and Ingredients.

  1. Iron Chefs consisted of 14 to 15 employees selected for their specific skill sets in areas such as product design, product development, customer service, and marketing.
  2. Recipes were developed over time covering areas like design-thinking frameworks, pilots and market scans.
  3. Ingredients included issues like consumer pain points or business problems.

Premera Test Kitchen

Premera needed a way to promote the Test Kitchen as a means of invigorating and providing a voice for all 3,200 employees. After surveying the market for a crowdsourcing solution, they selected Planview Spigit and Planview LeanKit .

Premera conducted a soft launch of its Test Kitchen   with three goals in mind:

  1. Transform and innovate its business with innovation initiatives, strategic investments, and pipeline management.
  2. Nurture a culture of innovation through crowdsourcing, workshops, and meet ups.
  3. Build thought leadership and partnerships through sponsorships and strategic partnerships.

The theme of their online campaign/challenge focused on how to surprise and delight Premera customers, stating, “As we make healthcare work better, how might we provide positive surprises to our customers and delight them? – All ideas wanted!”

After a couple of internal pilot runs for a soft launch, the campaign was announced as a six-week challenge to all 3,200 employees across four campuses and 900 remote telecommuters.  Within four days of kicking off the campaign, Premera recorded staggering results including:

  1. 434 ideas vs. the industry average of 20
  2. 9,381 votes on ideas
  3. 1,697 comments, collaborating ideas
  4. 10,759 views

Employee engagement

The entire campaign ran from August to October of 2019, spanning the full range from a soft launch to final selection.

During the ideation and collaboration phase, Premera received a high volume of feedback as employees merged ideas to build better ideas with their peers.

“We saw immediately just a lot of engagement. And we saw our working group and other people across the company really engage on the challenge and encourage each other to promote ideas and collaborate across platforms,” said Patti Brooke, Premera director of client and portfolio management. “And then there was the pairwise phase where people started voting on ideas, leading all the way through to an expert review of the top 30 and down to the final executive selection of the four ideas.”

Promotion and awards

Brooke says Premera attracted participants and ideas through a comprehensive promotion campaign consisting of events and creative signage around the company’s four campuses, in addition to mailers to connect with telecommuters. Incentives included listings of names on cafeteria TVs and Idea Walls featuring people who submitted ideas. Employees whose ideas made it through the pairwise phase received large balloon bouquets. Amazon gift cards were awarded for the 30 ideas that made it to the expert review. And the top four winners received an all-expense paid trip to the Disney Institute Workshop and Theme Park.

Strategy to execution

Premera is an example of how transformational change can occur with Planview by marrying

innovation management and to delivery. Planview helps cultivate and capture great ideas through Spigit and delivers them to  LeanKit for implementation and delivery. It’s all about connecting ideas to impact.

“Planview Spigit and LeanKit really helped bring together the ideas and actions needed to improve services to our customers,” Brooke said. “There is so much excitement among our customers and our employees. Now we have an integration between Spigit and different delivering mechanisms on our development roadmap, which allow teams to operate in their own way toward a common goal.”

For a closer look, on how Premera rolled out Spigit and LeanKit to generate innovation from within, check out the webinar, “The Keys to Innovation Success, Presented by Premera Blue Cross.”

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Written by Guest Blogger