How Four Different Innovation ‘Engines’ Drive Growth at Allegion

By Lilly Milman |  February 16, 2021

Rob Martens, Allegion

One of Rob Martens’s top five strengths is positivity — which was confirmed by a test he took at the start of his employment at Allegion. Martens — who is Allegion’s Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation and Design Officer — explains that the company’s leadership believes in playing to employee’s strengths. So, employees take a formal evaluation through Gallup to help identify where their talents lie. 

“When you focus on people’s strengths, it’s an amplification factor,” Martens says. “People are more energized when they’re able to use the skills they have. … I fundamentally believe that all of us have a contribution to make in terms of innovation, possibly even in design and other things. The question is: Do we take the time and take the energy to draw that out from individuals? And do we value and truly listen to their opinions?”

This doesn’t mean that employees are discouraged from improving in other areas. Rather, they are not made to adjust their working style to something that doesn’t work for them, and they shape their day-to-day around what they do best. In many cases, employees will even list their top five core strengths in their email signature.

“There’s a pretty big investment there in terms of understanding people’s strengths,” Martens says. 

Martens wears a number of hats at Allegion — a security company with about 11,000 employees. In addition to his Chief Innovation Officer role, he is the Chief Design Officer at Allegion and President of Allegion Ventures. One of his main roles includes being what he describes as “a facilitator” of innovation and creativity. In a recent interview with InnoLead, Martens shared his tips for engaging employees across an organization and keeping communication alive between departments. 

How Separate Innovation Engines Drive Engagement

There are four “innovation engines” at Allegion, Martens says. The first focuses on the company’s core skills and its legacy. The second deals with partnerships, mergers, and acquisitions. The third is Allegion Ventures, which monitors businesses, startups, and disruptive technologies that aren’t at the core of what Allegion does but might lead to important learnings. The fourth is the Pin & Tumbler studio, a rapid product development and evaluation lab where products are developed in less than 120 days — as opposed to the typical life cycle of 12 to 24 months.  

The structure of four very different, very targeted engines is part of what drives employee engagement, according to Martens. Having a clear understanding of where everyone can contribute — and being encouraged to do so — leads to collaboration across departments. 

I fundamentally believe that all of us have a contribution to make in terms of innovation.

While a core team of engineers work in spaces like the Pin & Tumbler studio, other employees are regularly pulled in to work on projects. If a manager is impressed with an employee’s work on a large project, for example, they have the ability to offer that employee a spot on a Pin & Tumbler project for 120 days as a reward. 

“It’s this great perk,” Martens says. “It’s this great opportunity to engage and do something different.”

A Venture Fund Run By ‘Decision Makers’

Another key factor in getting employees excited about innovation is the fact that, for the most part, the people running the engines also have their own “day jobs” in the company. 

For example, the company’s Chief Privacy Officer, its Chief Information Officer, and its Vice President for Corporate Communications all work alongside Martens to run Allegion Ventures. So, when an entrepreneur is speaking to a leader of the venture fund, they are speaking with a decision-maker at the company who has functional responsibilities within the business. This helps keep the fund alive because it prevents the issue of miscommunication, Martens says. 

“When you look at organizations like the venture fund, historically, they…segment themselves from the broader business. Over time, those connections [between the fund and the company] really fray and … [those teams get] killed,” Martens explains. “If you ask people, ‘Why did you kill that [innovation team or fund]?’ … They would say, ‘They were doing science experiments. We couldn’t really relate to what they’re doing and the communication broke down.'” 

From an employee engagement perspective, this is effective because the venture fund is deeply integrated into regular business operations. As a result, Marten says, employees are encouraged to recommend startups they’ve seen or personal contacts to the Allegion Ventures team. 

“The structure of this innovation engine taught us a lot,” Martens says. “By not having full time people on it, and by letting the ‘real’ Allegion employees talk to the entrepreneurs, it just supercharged the value of discovery for us.”