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Bridging the Innovation Gap:
Let Baldrige Excellence Show the Way
by Craig A. Anderson
November 2005

The future will not be kind to organizations that do not innovate. Yet despite this
imperative, it is evident that many organizations suffer from an “innovation gap”
between their current levels of innovation and what will be needed to thrive in the
future. It is time to get serious about bridging this gap. Is anything more important
to your organization’s long-term sustainability?

Fortunately, there is a proven method for drastically increasing your capacity for
innovation—Baldrige Performance Excellence. The Baldrige system has been
designed specifically to translate strategic intent (e.g., enhance innovative
capacity) into measurable activities across the organization. To help you get
started, we have outlined a six-step approach for achieving rapid improvements in
your capacity for innovation.  

Step 1: Leadership focus
Innovation begins with leadership focus. Leaders must define in clear terms their
expectations for innovation, and, more importantly, how they will manage the
organization consistent with this focus. For example, ongoing performance
reviews should include assessments of innovative capacity. A strong leadership
focus on innovation sends a powerful message to all employees.

Step 2: Plan for innovation
Strategic planning is the method of deploying leadership expectations for
innovation across the organization. Make sure that there is a clear alignment
between the leadership focus on innovation and the priorities you are setting
through the planning process. Keep the organization focused on innovation.
Assess progress and keep plans relevant as conditions change.

Step 3: Focus on customer needs
The ultimate purpose of innovation is to improve your capacity to achieve your
customer focused mission. Without satisfied customers you are nowhere. Assess
your customer systems to see if your efforts to innovate are consistent with the
needs and requirements of your customers. Listen hard to your customers; they
may offer valuable clues on additional areas of innovation.

Step 4: Measure your progress
Yes, it is difficult to measure innovation. At the same time, it is important to make
some effort to measure progress in this area. Your performance measurement
system provides valuable feedback on areas to improve; make sure innovation is
in this mix. Subjective measures based on employee and customer perceptions
are fine as a starting point, until you develop harder measures for the results of
your focus on innovation. Find examples of how competitors measure innovation.

Step 5: Line up your HR systems
Innovation originates with people. Assess your workforce in terms of its capacity to
support innovation. Do you have the technical skills? Do your supervisors have the
knowledge and skills to enhance learning and innovation in their work units? Are
your training and development programs creating real value in the workplace?
Does your organizational culture reward innovation and risk taking? Work hard to
align your workforce and culture with your focus on innovation.

Step 6: Build innovation into your core work processes
Your work processes are where the fruits of innovation are realized for the benefit
of your customers. Assign clear accountability for managing work processes for
innovation. Identify those processes that represent the greatest opportunity for
improvement through innovation.  Create test beds for new approaches. Promote
knowledge sharing across the organization. Celebrate successes, and recognize
your innovators.

Yes, ramping up your capacity for innovation is hard work! Just make sure you
work smart as well as hard. The best way to do this is to utilize a proven integrated
management framework like Baldrige to align and optimize your innovation
activities. Good luck! There is no better time to start innovating than right now.