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Spreading a Culture of Innovation at US Bank

How US Bank is leveraging its innovation team and collaborative initiatives to make payments innovation a part of everyday business.

While US Bank’s payments innovation team has had success in navigating many of the challenges of innovating in a large organization, it has also worked to support innovation throughout the bank’s different payments groups.

The group has helped with a number of initiatives aimed at increasing collaboration and awareness of innovation practices throughout the payments organization. For example, soon after the innovation team was formed seven years ago, they started to help train “innovation advocates” in other parts of the organization that understood the principles of innovation and could help lead projects, says Dominic Venturo, the bank’s head of payments innovation.

The innovation team worked with an outside partner on developing the curriculum for the advocates that consisted of four days of training over three weeks. Over the past seven years, the program has trained 150 advocates throughout the payments business lines.

“[The training] was learning how to run an ideation session, be able to facilitate it, and learn how to facilitate prototyping and actually build prototypes, and get that experience,” Venturo shares.

[Innovation Lessons Learned from US Bank]

These advocates may then help the payments innovation team on projects and can help foster innovation within their own teams, Venturo adds. Some of the trained advocates may go back to their daily jobs and return to their former way of doing things, Venturo acknowledges. But then some have also gone on to participate in innovation education sessions, such as the bank’s InQ program, which teaches the employees in the payments groups about the latest trends in digital marketing and innovation.

U.S. Bank has also added a dash of competition to its growing focus on innovation. The payments organization held an innovation competition last year, where teams were divided up and then pitched a payments innovation to the top executives, says Lori Seehafer, the bank’s senior marketing manager for marketing innovation.

“It was a chance for teams across payments to bring a business idea to an executive committee and pitch it to them, just like in Shark Tank. We got a wide variety of ideas that could make revenue, or save money through process improvement. They were in-depth business case reviews of a viable idea,” Seehafer relates.

The group that won the competition received $100,000 to develop their idea. “As an ‘intrapreneur,’ or an entrepreneur inside of a big company, it’s kind of the only place you could literally stand in front of ‘investors’ and get them to invest in your project, your idea. So it was really fun. I don’t think that a lot of employees at big public companies get to do that,” says Todder Moning, SVP and payments innovation director, who was on the competition’s winning team that pitched a new prepaid initiative.

The competition gave people from different parts of the organization to work on teams with people they don’t normally work with, and collaborate on new ideas that might not be directly related to their day-to-day work, Seehafer notes.

“It definitely helped bridge the gap between the different business groups and helped them understand their different missions, and say, ‘I might reach out to someone in another team and talk to them about this idea that I have,’” she explains.

A second competition was held in February of this year, and another is one is planned for November, Venturo says. The total number of projects in the competition have also doubled since last year, he adds.

The bank also holds another two-day ideas competition called the “Pitch Factory,” with employees forming impromptu teams to come up with an innovation in 12 hours. They then get five minutes to pitch that innovation to an executive committee, Seehafer shares, and the bank plans on doing another “Pitch Factory” later this year.

Through these cross-organizational initiatives, the bank has broken down silos between different silos and teams, and has started to “develop a culture with a common language” around innovation, Venturo says.

Jonathan Camhi has been an associate editor with Bank Systems & Technology since 2012. He previously worked as a freelance journalist in New York City covering politics, health and immigration, and has a master's degree from the City University of New York's Graduate School ... View Full Bio

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Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Author
5/21/2014 | 4:48:19 PM
re: Spreading a Culture of Innovation at US Bank
Good point, I could see that being a big risk of an innovation lab. This project avoids that problem by offering the opportunity to all employees, so everyone holds some responsibility for innovation within the company.
Jonathan_Camhi
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Jonathan_Camhi,
User Rank: Author
5/20/2014 | 9:00:49 PM
re: Spreading a Culture of Innovation at US Bank
The big drawback that I could potentially see with having an innovation lab would be that all the other parts of the organization stop any efforts at innovation. They think that innovation is the responsibility of the innovation lab. They've done a good job of ensuring that doesn't play out though. Good foresight on their part and the rest of the payments groups.
Jonathan_Camhi
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Jonathan_Camhi,
User Rank: Author
5/20/2014 | 8:59:06 PM
re: Spreading a Culture of Innovation at US Bank
Yes it sounds like a fun way to take a break from the everyday grind and learning how to think differently about the job. I'd bet a lot of the participants come back to their regular job afterwards with a changed mindset that is more open to new ideas and partnerships within the organization.
KBurger
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KBurger,
User Rank: Author
5/19/2014 | 9:08:22 PM
re: Spreading a Culture of Innovation at US Bank
It does seem like Venturo and his team recognized early on what must be one of the risks around these innovation units -- the perception that innovation is only for the "cool kids" and that it's only the "hot shots" that get assigned to these special units and projects. It must be relatively easy to set up an innovation team or lab, but it's much harder to make innovation a way of life for everyone in the organization. It sounds like US Bank has figured out some effective, manageable and motivating ways to make that happen.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Author
5/19/2014 | 7:24:06 PM
re: Spreading a Culture of Innovation at US Bank
These competitions seem like an ideal way to foster collaboration and innovation within US Bank. While the organization certainly benefits from a bunch of new ideas, I also think that the opportunity to be creative, develop new projects, and engage with workers in other departments would prove appealing and exciting for US Bank employees. The "Pitch Factory" seems like the bank's version of the hackathons that often happen in tech and another fun way for employees to develop their innovative ideas.
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