Building an innovation culture with Cigna Health Insurance

We partnered with leading health services provider Cigna to build an internal innovation capability geared towards solving business-critical challenges in local markets around the world.


Sustainable change through innovation.

Global health services provider Cigna was looking to better drive innovation within its international businesses. Their operations span markets across Europe, Asia Pacific, and North America, and the central innovation team (referred to as the Innovation Hub) is small group primarily sitting in Belgium. While they saw pockets of innovation throughout the organization, the team wanted to better engage the different markets across the globe in innovation initiatives, thus accelerating the pace and ensuring better sharing of knowledge.

The term ‘innovation’ can mean many things to different people, especially in large global organizations. The team wanted to find new ways to drive value within the organization (as opposed to a capability-driven model), and have a strategic governance process to properly prioritize initiatives relating to short- and long-term goals. And like many teams operating within a highly regulated market, accelerating and scaling new business efforts was an ongoing and real challenge.


A global accelerator.

Together, we worked with Cigna’s Innovation Hub to design the Catalyst program – an internal accelerator that builds a community of practice while accelerating business growth. In this bottom-up approach, individuals with local expertise across the key markets could be activated and act as champions of innovation within their local teams. The Catalyst program served as the foundational base for their innovation strategy, which meant that along with this people-based capability development, we also rolled out an innovation governance structure that focused on value-creation.

The Catalyst network is made up of Cigna employees from various business units across the globe. Catalysts dedicate 10% of their time to innovation and act as a direct link back to the centrally guided Innovation Hub. They champion new product initiatives within their own markets and share their innovation knowledge by word of mouth, structured workshops and focused communications, with the overall aim of contributing to the development of Cigna’s innovation culture as a whole.

To kickstart the Catalyst program, we designed a phased approach to scale across their 3 global markets. In each region, we worked with internal leaders to define critical business challenges, recruited local Catalyst teams, and ran an internal accelerator over a 2-4 month period. During the accelerator, Catalyst teams dedicated 40-50% of their time to the project and collaborated in both remote and in-person formats.


The approach consisted of three phases:
  1. Phase 1 took place in Antwerp, Belgium, where the Innovation Hub team is based. We recruited and then trained 16 team members across Cigna’s 5 markets in Europe and the Middle East. Over the 3-month program, these teams researched and designed solutions aimed to improve Cigna’s clinical-care customer experience. For details on how we recruited this first Catalyst cohort, please click here
  2. Phase 2 took place over 4 months and was tailored toward the Asia-Pacific region. This time, we trained 21 Catalysts with  the teams coming together for 2 intensive business design sprints in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. They designed solutions for regional business challenges that related to customer retention, new market growth, and enhancing broker relationships.
  3. Phase 3  kicked off with Cigna’s North American Global Health Business unit. This time, we built a team of 6 Catalysts that explored a potential new scholastic offering for universities. Check out the video below!


Engaging the C-suite & encouraging momentum through remote coaching.

If you’ve been counting, you’ll see that this team encompasses 40+ people across 14 countries… Not an easy task by any means! Additionally, we had to be sure that our program matched Cigna’s internal values and operating rhythms and, as this was a global initiative, accommodated for regional differences in culture and business practices. To engage the global teams, we held weekly remote coaching sessions where we gave them advice to each team and helped them remain on track. 

At the organizational level, we interviewed internal leaders to better understand the needs of the organization, the market-based challenges they face and the direction they would like to go in the future. We made a very conscious effort to build on top of the learnings derived from the Catalyst program and made a concerted effort to bring this bottom-up approach to the top. C-Suite executives were actively engaged throughout the entire process, a key driver to the success of the program overall.


Innovation champions spearheading new businesses globally.

Rarely do top-down or bottom-up approaches work in isolation. This strategy Cigna took to further develop their internal innovation capabilities has been adopted throughout the organization, with all leaders pointed in the same direction. Markets are aligned on key focus areas, with short- and long-term goals and they have the people to actively drive this change throughout the organization. 

On the Catalyst side, each team learned foundational innovation skills that encompassed; user research, customer segmentation, idea development, prototyping, and experimentation. They explored critical business challenges and designed solutions that will be ready to launch within their respective markets very soon.

There have also been far-reaching knock-on effects triggered within each market. In Turkey and Taiwan for example, they are replicating the success of the Catalyst program to create their own local teams, building off the tools and methods that are already in place. In Thailand, their project around customer retention has been funded into a Proof-of-Concept test which was led by the Catalysts in that market. And in Spain, the team has spearheaded several new business initiatives.

Today, the Catalyst team is growing in strength and has representation in 14 of Cigna’s international offices. The group holds monthly team meetings to share project updates and ask others for help or advice across projects. Overall, Catalysts are bringing a new set of tools and methods that attack problems, big or small, in a new, effective and value-driven way – driving a culture of value-based Innovation into their markets.

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