Q & A With Tony Triola
As the Director of Strategic Partnerships for Liberty Mutual Personal Insurance Claims, Tony Triola focuses on discovering new ways to do old things. Tony has experimented with several direct repair programs, developed new property appraisal capabilities, estimating techniques and software, competitive pricing models for building materials and consistently worked with industry partners to develop new processes and technology aimed at making the entire industry better, faster and more efficient. In this installment of the Intrapreneurship Alliance Journal, Tony walks us through his thinking on connecting people, helping companies improve and discover new business opportunities.
What does intrapreneurship mean to you? How would you define it?
I understand and appreciate the impact my role has on other businesses, especially businesses that are in the growth stage. I work with a lot of startups; I like helping them figure out who they want to be. As an intrapreneur, I’m in a position where I can help companies improve and evolve in ways they wouldn’t have considered if I wasn’t in the room.
Tell me about your day job: how do you do what you do? What motivates you to keep moving forward?
My current focus is on property (insurance), and finding third-party solutions that will help us do our jobs better, faster, and more efficiently. That’s really how we compete. I often negotiate new deals and support the contract process, making sure the contract and relationships track forward through the cycle. I like the relationship aspect of my work; doing business with all these different companies means I know the major players in hundreds of organizations. And, some amazing products come across my desk. When I can bring these companies in, I can help them, while making my company more competitive. I really owe everything to this industry, and helping smaller companies that support and improve the insurance industry is how I pay it back.
Describe the latest most interesting project you have worked on. What happened? What are the results of your work?
At Liberty Mutual, we’re working hard to develop programs that offer services that restore our customer’s auto, home and life to order, instead of just giving you a check. This means we rarely find anything off the shelf that meets the standard we’ve set for new programs. When we were looking for new ways to do direct roofing repair, I brought in an innovative gentlemen from Denver. A year later, we have an entirely new model: a unique roofing program with benefits we believe are unique and offer value to our customers. I’m proud I helped build this.
What would be, in your opinion, the top conditions for successful intrapreneurship in large organizations that can at times get caught up in established processes?
There has to be a willingness at the highest levels to iterate and follow process. But, by the same token, process can’t get in the way of progress. That means you have to be able to embrace failure. Just like starting a new business, most things you try are probably not going to work. Failure is just that – something that didn’t work out the way you thought, but you learn from your mistakes and move forward. You really need a senior leadership team willing to invest the time, effort, resources, and money, knowing that failure is absolutely okay. Depending on the company, that pendulum swings back and forth; sometimes you have leaders who want a rigorous process to manage risk, but that process isn’t always possible. You may find you take the wind out of yours sails by way of over-analysis.
What are some of the skills and tools you rely on to succeed? When hiring, how do you identify that type of thinking?
It’s hard to find the right people to fill a role; only time will tell if your choice was correct. I think it’s extremely important to find people who are ‘dot-connectors,’ and finding someone who really knows the industry is probably one of the best indicators of this ability. The other skill is relationship-building: Can a candidate listen actively and have the right kind of conversation – can they solve problems? Are they asking a lot of direct questions, as opposed to throwing out open-ended inquiries? First you build relationships, then you put together a business case. So those relationship-building skills are the building blocks of success.
Which company / large organization in your mind is doing innovation well? Who do you look up to and feel inspired by? Who are you mentored by?
I had a long-time mentor who passed away a year and a half ago; I guess I’m still looking to fill that void. In terms of innovative companies, there are several that come to mind, but most importantly, it’s about just doing the work. Just start, you know? A lot of people get into analysis paralysis; how is this going to work, how are we going to get from point A to Z. We’re trained to take a bunch of numbers and use logic, reason, and certainty to come up with answers. But if you know something’s a good idea, even if you don’t know precisely how you’re going to pull it off, the most important thing you can do is just start. Until that time, you’re just sitting dead in the water.
How do you create an environment and culture where innovation projects can move forward and ultimately thrive?
You have to have a leadership team that will take risks, and you need people who have enough experience to connect dots that are seemingly disconnected. People who can ask open-ended questions and have conversations about how things might potentially work, and improve products. If you don’t have all these pieces, nothing happens. You can have a leadership team willing to take risks, but if you don’t have people who can execute on the ground level, you will fail. And, if you go at it half-heartedly, you might get lucky, but you won’t have a process and culture that can repeat these successes with any consistency.
What are the most common mistakes or pitfalls you have seen large organizations make in regards to intrapreneurship? How do you break through and overcome those barriers?
It’s hard to overcome barriers. This is especially when you want to introduce new processes that go very far against the grain of how business is normally done. Somewhere down the chain, there’s an operational manager, who has to figure out how to do their day job and run all these extra, exploratory pilots on the side. The biggest mistakes happen when you don’t budget time, resources, and money for innovative projects. You need to work from the expectation that people will support innovative projects if you put the appropriate resources behind them.
What’s your best advice for the intrapreneurs and companies interested in nurturing the culture of innovation?
If you want to be innovative you need to take innovation seriously. You need to dedicate yourself to it. You should be constantly be coming up with something exciting and executing on it. And – I can’t emphasize this enough – unless there’s a concerted effort to commit money and resources to do that, you’re not going to have much success. It’s easier for companies to get behind projects that are no-brainers, on incremental change, but you need to be taking a calculated risks on big ideas too. So, put the resources against your risks, and don’t be afraid to fail. Because you are going to fail far more than you are going to succeed. Just remember this: Failure doesn’t happen when you lose. Failure happens when you quit.
Is there a quote that you live by that never fails to inspire? How do you keep on top of what’s coming next, that would influence the way you think and work?
My network is invaluable to me; a lot of people I do business with, I consider friends. People have the tendency to call me when they have something new, ask me for advice, and bounce ideas off me. That means, two years from now, when I don’t know the answer to something, I can say, ‘let me call this guy and see.’ That’s what happened with the roofing program. I knew the guy, and what he wanted to do, and I was able to call him up and lean on that connection. The other things is, don’t be afraid to ask questions. The worst thing that can happen is someone says ‘no.’