Learn How You Can Innovate and Embrace Feedback from NFP Manager of Digital Transformation for the Central US Kelly Smiley

Kelly Smiley is the Manager of Digital Transformation for the Central US at NFP. She partners with regional and business-line leadership, as well as cross-functional product and marketing teams, to define the vision and drive the roadmap of the NFP’s Digital Transformation Strategy; with the end goal being to accelerate value delivery to business partners, advisers, and clients. 

Here is what Kelly had to say when we asked her about innovative problem solving: 

GenHERation®: How can you embrace an innovative mindset?

Smiley: I think the biggest thing is to be curious and focus on learning, not so much on winning. Innovation and change both involve doing something differently. You won’t always hit a home run. You don’t need to be perfect. Change your mindset from being a perfectionist and transition to embracing the process of trying something, receiving feedback, editing, releasing, compiling more feedback, and so on. I think you should always be working to evolve your product or service, otherwise you’ll be old news. Be open to feedback, and don’t be so set on expecting your first try at something to be the best version. You also can’t do it all by yourself. You need buy-in from your team, and to receive that you need to understand what the pain points are and illustrate how your ideas will help those. I also think a lot of times there is a gap between innovation strategy and business strategy at companies. To be successful, you need to combine innovation and business strategy, which will lead to creative problem solving and better solutions. NFP empowers our team to embrace their innovative mindsets by doing just that. It makes all the difference when an organization supports innovation rather than claiming to allow it. 

GenHERation®: As a leader, how can you cultivate an environment that encourages innovation on a team, in the classroom, or in your community?

Smiley: The most important thing is to have a vision and be clear about what that vision is, but also be open to detours. Communicate the why, and make sure you invite people from various roles with different perspectives to be a part of the conversation. Buy-in and support are the biggest things you need. The more people feel their voices are heard, the more buy-in and support you’ll receive. Effective communication is huge. If someone gives an idea, recognize them and take the time to personally reach out and tell them how your conversation led to implementing their idea. Even if you don’t implement their idea, it is still kind to follow up and thank them, so they know they were heard. The more you do that, the more successful you and your team will be. Supporting innovation is all about the willingness to embrace change and constantly pushing to make things better.

GenHERation®: What are three ways individuals can develop their problem-solving skills?

Smiley: One, make sure you understand a problem from all perspectives. You have to consider all of the pain points and be cognizant of how this change could affect other roles or aspects of the business. Two, as much as possible, discuss the different options and possible solutions with as many people as you can. This may not always be doable because pieces of information can be confidential, but it’s really important to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. Again, the more buy-in you have, the more easily the change will be accepted by various teams throughout the organization. Three, once you think you have solved the problem or implemented the best solution, don’t stop there. Follow up. Do a pulse survey and continue to make changes as needed. Reflection helps problem solving immensely and identifies if the process was truly successful or not. It also helps you learn what went right, what went wrong, and how you can improve next time.

GenHERation®: Asking questions is an important part of problem solving. What steps can individuals take to ask effective questions to advance their goals?

Smiley: Prepare yourself. Make sure you understand what you want to learn. What is your end goal? Listening is equally important. When going into a meeting, you should always have three to five questions ready to go, but listening will empower you to ask better questions that drive the conversation forward and make the discussion more relevant.

GenHERation®: When presenting a new idea, how can you achieve team buy-in when your idea goes against the status quo?

Smiley: I would say celebrate wins no matter how small. At the beginning of a project or even your career, your wins will be small, but having those success stories in your back pocket is huge. Talking about how the change was successfully implemented and sharing why things were done differently will build your confidence and make you more comfortable with change. People typically don’t love change. I think I am strange for how much I actually do love change. Just know you will get pushback, but share your ideas anyway. To be a changemaker, you have to get comfortable with disagreeing with people. If we all agreed, it would be boring. People get comfortable with the way they do things, but if you think there is a more efficient way of doing something, I encourage you to push back and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to challenge the way things have always been done. Another important part of the process is taking time to talk with people one on one. It is worth the investment to have conversations with people outside of your specific team or role. Getting one person’s buy-in can impact the team in ways you may not even realize. It only takes one motion to make waves. 

GenHERation®: What are the best practices for giving and accepting feedback?

Smiley: Accepting is not always easy. It is a skill to accept feedback well. First, don’t take it personally. If someone takes the time to give you feedback, they value you and are helping to set you up for future success. When giving feedback, I like to give specific examples. For example, saying, “You always do this or that,” is not enough. It is normal behavior to that person, and you are not allowing them a fair opportunity to correct their actions. Whether you are receiving or accepting feedback, ask for examples if not given and always follow up. If you follow up after giving feedback, it shows you are investing in that person. If you follow up after receiving feedback, it shows that you listened, internalized what was said, and acted. Following up speaks volumes about your character. Lastly, don’t just bulldoze the other individual with your opinions when giving feedback. Have a conversation. Ask them why they do it their way. See if you can follow their logic. We may not always understand why something is done a certain way at first glance. 

GenHERation®: What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Smiley: The best piece of advice I have ever heard was from the Token CEO podcast. The host was discussing the idea of making yourself irreplaceable by finding where you can add value in any given situation. Approach your project or role with the mindset of, “How can my strengths help make the team grow?” That really helped me to start looking at things differently. You can’t wait (or expect) others to clear the path for you. Clear the path for yourself!  

Kelly Smiley is the Manager of Digital Transformation for the Central US at NFP. She partners with regional and business-line leadership, as well as cross-functional product and marketing teams, to define the vision and drive the roadmap of the NFP’s Digital Transformation Strategy; with the end goal being to accelerate value delivery to business partners, advisers, and clients. She is an advocate for never getting complacent and strives to learn from the talented individuals around her. Kelly began her career in Insurance as a client service representative. The firm she worked at was acquired by NFP in October 2018. From there, she moved into an analyst role and eventually an account manager role, still in the employee benefits division. In all three positions, she was responsible for various aspects of clients’ renewal cycles and ongoing support throughout the year of their benefits packages. Prior to NFP, Kelly was the events coordinator at Karmanos Cancer Institute, where she worked with various committees to plan and execute their fundraising events. During her time there, she met individuals who introduced her to the insurance industry as well as mentors who continue to inspire her to this day. Kelly graduated from Oakland University in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in communication and public relations. In her free time, she loves to read, go to the lake, and spend time with her dog Ace.

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