John Ammendola disrupts the status quo to transform Grange Insurance

“In a sense, they were doing this on their own time and as a byproduct of their roles, and now it’s becoming part of the cultural fabric,” Ammendola says.

The incubator includes an innovation wall to help people feel more comfortable with new ideas that can be shared and crowdsourced. Ammendola was videotaped as the first person to write on the wall.

“Again, in our very conservative environment, we’d say writing on the walls was a no-no,” he says.

Innovation competition events also began, where business problems are proposed to the group. Groups, which have included vendors, come together with unique ideas for the way forward. (Independent agents will be included in future events.)

Ammendola says the first team that won weren’t technologists, but the group came up with a great concept for how to take advantage of chatbots and AI.

“Their idea and thought around what business should look like would never even enter the domain if we hadn’t started to break the culture here and think about the fact that innovation and ideas can come from everywhere,” he says.

The ideas from the innovation incubator, with the help of a software interface, are being collected, sorted and responded to.

“It’s important that ideas are acknowledged, just like our survey gets acknowledged,” Ammendola says. “If we say we’re listening, but nothing happens, then it just becomes noise.”

When to throttle, when to brake

Because Grange has such a long-tenured culture, the changes have been disorienting for many.

There is no perfect way to transform a company, Ammendola says. You start with the basics: Augment your value streams. Communicate the why. Make the case for change. Reinvent your strategy. Connect those together. Align that to people. Begin to bridge that with real events. Then from those events create wins, and then build from those wins.

But CEOs or other senior leaders need intestinal fortitude because change is sloppy, he says. There will be moments when you want to go back to the status quo because it’s easier.

“There’s no question there are nights where I’m sleepless, wondering, ‘Am I pushing too hard?’” Ammendola says.

As the steward, it’s your job to make the tough choices to ensure the company survives, he says. You have to look over the horizon and make bets on things that are changing rapidly, while a lot of people either don’t believe the trends or aren’t exposed to them.

You want to try to get people to understand that you’re not changing the values, strategy and execution to hurt them.

“We’re trying to make sure that the company is surviving and thriving for not only you, but your children and your children’s children,” Ammendola says.

When trying to determine when to apply the gas and when to apply the brake, he uses his experience and listens.

He wants an environment of candor with associates. He and his team hold skip-level meetings, forums where associates share what’s on their minds, what’s working and what’s not. Anonymous opinion surveys also provide feedback. Ammendola says he’s plowing through 1,300 comments of a recently completed survey.

His sense from the surveys is that the workforce breaks into thirds. Some want Grange to move even faster. The middle is worried that they’re lacking in the right skills and waiting for more information. The final third, which isn’t tenure based, are resisting the change.

So far, Grange’s net promoter score, a measure of whether employees would recommend the company, has remained stable, he says. Grange, which has no plans to reduce staff, is working hard to provide associates who are having trouble adjusting with additional training and open channels to ask questions.

“Nonetheless, I think that we will get there because we’re going to be disciplined and persistent about the need for change,” Ammendola says.

But he also recognizes that Grange can be under too much duress. Too much change will feel like change for the sake of change.

“Which unfortunately at times throughout this process, there’s no question that has happened. That then parlays into misinformation, communication that you thought was clear that wasn’t clear.” he says.