Understanding how to measure your organisations innovation maturity starts with a simple question; what does innovation mean to you? More particularly, is your vision of innovation the same as that of your colleagues, department leaders and individuals across your organisation? To be quite honest, unless your organisation has recently gone through an exercise to build a culture of innovation across the board, I would expect to find differing viewpoints.
In fact, even if your organisation has recently undergone an innovation transformation, you may well still find different levels of innovation understanding and approaches across different divisions. And there’s nothing wrong with that, provided that the different levels of innovation have been deliberately designed into the organisation. For example, you may have opted to introduce innovation ideals sequentially across the organisation or opted for a dual operating model in which the core processes carry on whilst innovative activities take place around them.
On the other hand, if the innovation approach is more scattergun; either because of a lack of understanding about the way in which innovation should be designed into the organisational DNA, or due to a lack of leadership cohesion when it comes to introducing the innovation strategy, then innovation can actually produce a negative effect on the business and its people. For example, the Wazoku Everyday Innovation Report revealed that 79% of employees believe ambiguity around innovation impacts their productivity at work. Other areas identified as suffering due to a lack of innovation cohesion include:
- Improvements to customer service (83%)
- Making cost savings (80%)
- Company Growth and R&D (75%)
- Increasing competitive advantage (77%)
So if ambiguity around innovation can cause so many problems, what’s the solution? The answer, quite simply, is for leadership teams to make absolutely certain that when they set out to build a culture of innovation they do so in a structured manner; one which ensures that everyone in the organisation is not only fully on board with innovation, they also understand the innovation strategy for the organisation and how to contribute to it. But before leadership teams can start to introduce innovation they have to build their own understanding of the way in which innovation can impact the organisation.
Simon Hill, Wazoku CEO and founder says:
“Every organisation seeking to embed a high-performing culture of innovation should be looking to understand their current environment. In doing so, key questions around Culture, Leadership, Management, Strategy and Tools and Processes should be asked and from a broad business diaspora. From our work with some of the world’s leading businesses, we’ve discovered that regardless how formalised innovation is within a business, understanding where the strengths and weaknesses lie and identifying gaps is vital in improving innovation. I’d advise organisations taking this journey to ensure they conclude any maturity assessment with actionable steps designed to improve innovation maturity.”
Key to building an understanding is carrying out a cultural assessment. This will vary from organisation to organisation, but will generally include a review of leadership, management, people and external influencers. Depending on the organisational structure, it may also be advisable to ensure that the cultural assessment is carried out on a division or departmental basis in order to ascertain any subcultures within the organisation.
Whilst the exact nature of the cultural assessment will vary, one area which leadership teams cannot afford to ignore is assessing the level of innovation maturity within the organisation. It is this which highlights innovation ambiguities and it is this which leadership teams need to use as the basis to design their innovation implementation strategy.
So what is innovation maturity? Surely organisations either innovate or they don’t? Well that’s a bit like saying either you swim or you don’t. There is a vast gulf between being able to splash around in the shallow end and successfully completing a cross-channel swim. Moving from one to the other requires a degree of realism, a structured training programme and enlisting the help of those who can support you in your endeavours.
And let’s add a note of warning here; the innovation maturity journey has to be planned and undertaken with your own organisation in mind. If you simply try and copy someone else because it looks roughly similar to yours, then you are condemning your organisation to further innovation ambiguity. That’s one reason why the innovation maturity assessment is so important. To borrow my favourite satnav analogy, if you don’t know where you’re starting from, how can you hope to get to where you want to be?
I’ve shown above some of the problems which can arise as a result of innovation ambiguity and I just want to touch on one further one before moving on to examine the different levels of innovation maturity which an organisation may aspire to. Innovation ambiguity is one thing, ambiguity over innovation leadership is another. The Wazoku report also revealed that 38% of managers believe that innovation was not their responsibility and yet, seen from the workforce’s eyes they are the ones who should be responsible for driving innovation and helping build capability.
With that in mind, let’s move on to look at the differing levels of innovation maturity and the implications which they may have for driving innovation activity within an organisation.
There’s no shame in being an innovation novice. In fact, organisations which have yet to begin the innovation journey have the greatest potential for improvement and for creating disruptive activity which can shape the marketplace of the future. Because they have yet to start their formal innovation journey, these organisations are unlikely to have innovation buy-in or sponsorship at leadership level and therefore innovation won’t form part of the organisational strategy.
That’s not to say that there is no innovation activity occurring. Ad-hoc activity may be happening in small pockets across the organisation. However, as the strategy doesn’t support innovation, these pockets will be operating in isolation with little or no support from other departments and therefore, what activity is seen is likely to die away without reaching fruition.
Worse still, organisations which have yet to step over the innovation threshold may well have a risk averse culture which actively seeks to discourage innovative activities. As a result, those who seek to innovate may quickly become disheartened and either accept the status quo or move on to other genuinely innovation-led organisations.
From an organisational perspective, the innovation novice will be unable to respond quickly and agilely to changes in market conditions and is therefore, open to losing market share to disruptors.
Innovation apprentices may not have Lord Sugar to contend with and it’s hoped that their apprenticeship won’t last the seven years as was common in mediaeval times, but they still have some way to go on their innovation journey. Importantly, they have made a start with the leadership team recognising that there is a need for innovation in order to drive future success.
However, organisations which have measured as innovation apprentices are likely to be dipping their toe in the water rather than committing to innovation transformation. The danger in this is that innovation may be seen as just another culture change attempt which is then dropped due to lack of support.
Having said that, innovation apprentices may have invested in a basic level of innovation training and may be looking to use some of the basic tools which will create innovation activity and much needed momentum. The culture may still be largely risk averse with innovative activity mainly focused on New Product Development or commissioned with an eye to short-term quick wins rather than long-term transformation. Innovation apprentices are still vulnerable to disruption and are unlikely to have developed the collaborative tools which they require to agilely respond to changes in market conditions. In order to move on to the next level, innovation apprentices need to gain full commitment from the leadership and then build a coherent innovation strategy across the organisation.
Innovation professionals ‘get’ innovation. Most particularly, their leadership teams not only understand the importance of innovation as a driver of game changing results, they have taken steps to align innovation to the core strategy and sponsor innovation behaviour and activity throughout the organisation. This will include having defined metrics and KPIs which will enable the leadership team to monitor innovation activity as well as introducing a suite of innovation tools which will encourage innovative contribution across the organisation.
As a result of this, innovation is well on its way to becoming part of the culture and we are likely to see people collaborating to create innovative products and solutions. However, because organisations which have been defined as being innovation professionals are still developing their levels of innovation activity, they are more likely to focus on short and mid-term outcomes rather than long-term transformation gain.
This means they can be vulnerable to investors and stakeholdrs who may be looking for immediate returns rather than buying in to the innovation activities of the organisation. In addition, collaborative activities are still likely to be largely in-house and therefore may not result in the optimum level of return. Moving to a full innovation maturity level will require the organisation to shift its focus from exclusivity to inclusivity; seeking to draw customers, partners, suppliers and other third parties into an innovation mix which will deliver transformative results.
Innovation leaders have taken this final step, transforming themselves into an organisation which sees open innovation as the key driver of business strategy. Leadership teams are fully on board with the innovation ideals and not only sponsor innovative activities but also lead by example, embedding innovation into every action, approach, behaviour and decision.
As a result, not only are metrics and KPIs fully integrated with the innovation strategy, the leadership team actively continually strive to improve innovative activity in the use of training, bespoke tools and innovation methodologies. Collaboration, adaptable and agile responses, and customer insight have become an intrinsic part of day-to-day operations; all with a view to creating products and services which solve a real need, add value to the customer and drive a real return for the organisation.
Perhaps more importantly, innovation leaders not only have long-term focus, their investors and lenders have also bought into the idea of long-term gain. This in itself completely changes the model as organisations no longer have to deliver investor returns on a quarterly or half yearly basis. The leadership team can therefore, move away from chasing the market and towards leading transformation and shaping and creating new markets.
Measuring innovation maturity
When measuring innovation maturity, it’s important to be realistic and to measure what it is rather than what you would like to see. And don’t fall into the trap of measuring for measuring’s sake; creating lots of data, much of which is irrelevant and will only lead to confusion. You may already be using many of the methodologies which will help you to measure and understand your innovation maturity levels. Balanced scorecards, employee surveys, customer surveys can all act as signposts to innovation maturity.
Once you understand your current level of innovation maturity, you can start to create a strategy which will enable you to transform your organisation into one which embraces innovation to deliver game changing solutions. As the Wazoku report says…
“the economy of ideas has truly arrived”.
If you want to be part of it then understanding your innovation maturity level is the first step in shaping the future for your organisation, its people and its customers.