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Maturity Model for Idea Management

“Never forget that, at the most, the teacher can give you fifteen percent of the art. The rest you have to get for yourself through practise and hard work. I can show you the path but I can not walk it for you.” – Master Tan Soh Tin

One of the core principals of Kung Fu or any martial art is that of mastery. You must master one level before progressing to the next. Skills that aren’t adequately honed at one level become compounded as you progress to more advanced levels. There is no defined timeframe for how long it should take for you to master each level. All that matters is that you do — and do so in sequence.

It’s a key problem with our current education system and part of the reason there’s a rise in popularity of self-paced education through institutions like Khan Academy. If you jump to 8:14 in Salmen Khan’s Ted Talk below, he discusses this challenge and how taking the time to master one level of math or science or any topic can have life-changing impact.

Choreographing a bottom up approach to collecting and managing ideas and putting them to use requires skill development and mastery, just like Kung Fu does. We know that there is tremendous value in employee ideas, with some 80% of an organization’s potential for improvement lying in front-line ideas. But to unlock the value it’s important to master each stage of maturity in becoming an idea-driven organization.

This is what our customer success team does. We help our customers understand and progress through the levels — or “belts”, if you will — of mastering our idea management software. It’s important to note that we’ve kept these descriptions high level so they’d be applicable to any organization running an idea management program or using idea software. In actuality, our customer success team spends time with each client to customize goals that are relevant to their culture, norms and complexities.

Maturity Model for Idea Management White Belt: Adoption

The first essential stage is to get users logging into the idea software, voting on each others’ ideas, and adding comments. The key skill to master here is that of consistent communications. Strong communication is the cornerstone of a good idea management program and something that requires steady focus. Effective communications help employees understand how ideas should ladder up to business priorities. The tougher part to master at this level is training various stakeholders and champions. These individuals are key to reinforcing air-cover messaging that comes from executives and program administrators. We’ve seen first hand the impact that a business leader speaking to his/her unit or department has on both the number of ideas and quality of ideas. Your stakeholders and champions should also have a good understanding of their roles in the program to evaluate and respond to ideas.

A few examples of things you might look for to indicate that you’ve mastered this first belt:

  • A minimum percentage of employees have signed into the idea management software, submitted an idea, or voted / commented on an idea
  • Key stakeholders and champions have been trained
  • A communications plan is in place and being executed
  • That the above objectives are sustained for a defined period of time

Maturity Model for Idea Management Green Belt: Engagement

This belt is about providing feedback and seeing ideas move forward. A lack of timely feedback on ideas is the number one destroyer of idea management programs. This is critical because not receiving feedback on what’s happening with ideas not only leads to disengagement from the program, but also creates a perception that employee ideas aren’t important, which can lead to broader disengagement issues. Some studies have shown there is a direct correlation between the time it takes to receive feedback and how many ideas are submitted. Interestingly, even ideas that are denied but receive timely feedback (letting submitters, voters and commenters know why it was declined) fosters engagement and future idea submission. Another interesting finding is that successful ideas beget more successful ideas. Meaning that employees tend to best learn what types of ideas benefit the organization by seeing examples of successful ideas implemented. To build momentum and deepen engagement for an idea management program, the key skills to master are: community involvement (voting and commenting regularly); having leadership provide official responses for ideas that meet a vote threshold; and that successful, implemented ideas are celebrated.

A few examples of things you might look for to indicate you’ve mastered this belt:

  • A target level of the community is active each month,which indicates employees see value in submitting ideas because they’re receiving feedback
  • A target level of ideas that meet the vote threshold are assigned to leaders for evaluation and are meeting standard response times for providing an official response (a challenge in running an idea management program can sometimes be finding the right leaders to properly evaluate and move an idea forward.Creating standards here is an important way to measure the health of the program)
  • A target number or percentage of ideas have progressed through to implementation
  • That the above objectives are sustained for a defined period of time

Maturity Model for Idea Management Black Belt: Embedment

An idea management program is embedded within an organization when a bottoms-up approach to solving business priorities becomes part of the organization’s everyday processes. At this level, the idea management program is a valuable contributor to results and leaders look to the program as a leading indicator and source of ongoing innovation and business value. The organizational skill to master at this level is self-management across multiple stakeholders. Administrators are no longer needed to intervene at each stage, but that leaders and managers are self sufficient in soliciting, evaluating, responding to and moving ideas forward.

Possible ways to measure and understand if you’ve mastered the Embedment Belt:

  • A significant percentage of the community is active each month
  • 100% of ideas meeting vote thresholds are assigned to leaders for evaluation and receive an official response within defined timelines
  • Leaders are assign ideas to themselves (an administrator doesn’t need to perform this task)
  • A minimum percentage of ideas are completed / implemented and the tangible impact of ideas are measured and celebrated
  • That the above  objectives are sustained consistently for a defined period of time


As you look to launch, relaunch or just improve your current idea management program, consider the key skills you’ll need to develop organizationally. Understand how one skill builds on the next and how you’ll measure mastery of each skill before pushing for more advanced outcomes. It’s a mistake to expect to jump from something that is new (or being changed / re-focused on) to a program that is a core tool that’s embedded into processes your organization uses to achieve results. But by mastering one capability at a time you can ensure long-term success.

Harness the power of employee ideas.