One of the biggest challenges I have ever faced has been successfully measuring innovation. In an industry designed purposefully to be broad, to live in the gray, and to be ambiguous for the sake of reaching new heights, it can be tough to understand how to measure for success.
Of course, some things are easier to measure, like the impact on sales or new products launched. But when you are truly innovating and you don’t know what the outcome of a test will be, how do you measure for success if you don’t know what success looks like?
This is why I like to measure for effect.
What is Measuring For Effect?
I was in a cross-functional meeting where there was a discussion on how we could increase sales on a new item. As I sat in the room, listening to a bunch of reasons why we couldn’t push the item any further, I sat, pen down on a pad, thinking about how we might be able to do it.
That’s when someone from the sales team used a phrase that knocked me out of my own thoughts and sent my spine straight up to attention. I had never heard this phrase uttered by anyone that was not on the innovation team. “Yes, and… We need to think. Yes, and… here people.” This is something that I had used thousands of times in meetings to change the flow of the “Why can’t we?” mentality to the “How can we?” mentality.
We would require everyone to use the phrase “Yes, and” when responding to someone’s idea to help build on top of the idea, rather than settling for the usual “No, because.”
And now, a meeting that I was not running — that was not about innovation — completely changed with the use of two words that innovation introduced to them. The principle of “Yes, and” was becoming ingrained into the company’s culture.
During this meeting, I sat in the back of the room, not involved. The innovative tools still had an effect on the outcome of the meeting.
There is something even more valuable than the innovative products that the team delivers; it delivers a mindset.
This made me realize that an innovation team’s output — the actual innovation — is only where the team’s value begins for a company. There is something even more valuable than the innovative products that the team delivers; it delivers a mindset. A mindset that helps not just a select few in the company to be innovative, but makes the company as a whole more innovative.
How Can You Measure for Effect?
I knew it was important to measure the effect innovation has on a company — and if we could do it, it’d be a powerful metric.
But how could we measure something intangible? I couldn’t think of a hard data point that I could measure, unless I sat in each meeting tallying on paper how many times somebody used “Yes, and.” Then it came to me: to measure our impact on our customer base, we speak with them. So why not speak with our employees to understand whether innovation is having an effect on them?
To measure for effect I use three simple steps.
1. Align on the effect
Before you begin measuring anything, it is important to align on what effect you want the innovation team to have on your company. Just as we design an innovation initiative to fit a company’s strategy, we should also design what we want innovation to do for our company internally. Do we want to increase collaboration between departments? Do we want to embrace the innovative startup culture that we once had, and somehow lost as we grew? Or do we want to break away from the company mantra of “We have always done it this way” that stops people from challenging the status-quo?
I challenge you to make observations about your current team and assess how the culture of innovation carries over to other departments, if at all. Evaluate whether you are getting that internal innovation effect. And if not, think mindfully about how innovation can help grow the company mindset. Keep it simple, and develop a one-line purpose for the innovation team like, “The innovation team will help drive collaboration through all departments to teach the company that everyone can innovate.”
2. Develop a three-question survey to ask employees
Why three questions? It is simple enough that you will get more people to answer, but just long enough to get information that is useful.
My approach is to take the essence of my one-liner and synthesize it down into a word or two. In the case above, let’s call it collaboration. If I were to just ask the question, “Was your experience with the innovation team collaborative?” I assure you, most people will just check “Yes,” and move on with their day.
Rather, I would break down collaboration, hitting it from three different angles to assess our overall level of collaboration. I would ask the questions on a scale of one to seven — rather than “Yes” or “No” — to make it measurable and comparable:
- How well did you feel heard?
- How well did you feel like you contributed?
- How well did you feel appreciated?
3. Choose when/who to send the survey to
Every innovation team is different, and day-to-day work can vary.
It might not always make sense to send out a survey. Plan accordingly when you believe you need the feedback. I prefer sending a survey out the day after a workshop. Everyone has had a chance to digest the day; not too excited, not too emotional, but also not far enough away from the session to have forgotten about it.
I email the simple, optional, three-question survey to measure the mindset of the group, which helps me determine whether it aligned with our set intention. I also add an additional, optional comment box to gain sentiment on what we are doing well and where we can improve.
The survey also works well when sent out periodically to all internal employees that had an interaction with the innovation team in the previous 6 months.
Why measure for effect?
It might seem like a lot of work to plan out and measure your innovation effect on the company. After all, you’re focused on your innovation initiatives — I get it! But there is a lot of power in measuring for effect.
Here are 5 ways that it can help the innovation team become a more impactful partner to the company:
- Effectiveness of your session.
Have you ever left a session thinking your team played a major contributing role in helping the company meet its objectives, only to find out that no progress was ever made? Or does feedback trickle through the hallways that no one felt the session was helpful? Asking the three questions after each meeting will allow you to understand the true effect the session had on the group.
Iterate your innovation process.
The great thing about knowing how your session went is that you now can adjust what needs to be fixed and can keep doing what works. Tweak the timing, location, activities, and flow to learn what creates the right conditions for your team to meet its objectives and optimize your effect.
The intrinsic value of measuring what others think about your sessions is that it makes you look closer at your process. You start to think twice about what you want to achieve from the session, how your agenda will be most effective to get you there, and how you want everyone to feel after the session. At one time, I would create agenda items just to fill the time. Measuring effect made me think harder about what we really need to do. It brings purpose into your planning!
Shows your team’s value
An earlier article by InnoLead discusses the warning signs of the demise of an innovation team. With company goals and priorities shifting within, your team can lose its worth in the eyes of executive leadership. Sharing metrics that prove innovation is effective and that it makes an impact on company initiatives can be a powerful way to show your team’s value.
There is nothing more compelling than showing how your team has impacted company culture.
Proves you’re influencing culture
Lastly, measuring for effect will give you proof that you are shifting the company culture in a planned direction. If leadership wanted the company to be more agile, creative, open to change, collaborative, entrepreneurial, or anything else, you can plan your interactions around that one value. Once you’ve done that, measure it periodically throughout the organization to check whether the employees are moving closer to that value. There is nothing more compelling than showing how your team has impacted company culture.
Matt Mueller is an innovation professional with over 15 years of experience. He is a former Innovation Strategist for Boar’s Head Brand. InnoLead welcomes contributed pieces from current corporate professionals; our guidelines are here.