Many leaders talk about progress, but overlook simple indicators. One easy measure is the Idea Approval Index (IAI). To get this number simply ask one question:
How many approvals are needed for an employee to deliver on an idea for a customer?
In most organizations it’s a high number.
From committees, to review meetings, to long email threads, most companies inhibit change. There are many people who have to approve an idea before it even gets off the ground. There are always people to convince, cajole, or sneak past, and they should factor in the index. As a rough measure, the higher the number, the harder it is for even a great idea to go anywhere. The lower the number, the better the odds. For example:
A) Marla starts her own company. She does everything herself. Idea Approval Index = 1.
B) Rupert is a middle manager at Bigtech. He has an idea. He runs it past his boss (1 person). They bring it to their monthly senior idea review committee (10 people). The committee suggests they run it by the Innovation task force (8 people), who have concerns they want addressed. Finally they show it to their VP who loves it, requiring them to present it at the next executive strategy meeting (6 people). The idea is praised but must wait for funding due to other priorities. Idea Approval Index (IAI) = 24 .
That means there are 24 chances for someone to kill the idea no matter how good it is. 24 chances for someone to feel threatened or scared or to insist on stupid changes which is often the first response established people have to new ideas.
In large organizations there could be different indexes. One could be to measure how many approvals are needed for an employee to spend an hour/day/week prototyping a new idea to share inside the company.
If you want faster exploration of new ideas lower the Idea Approval Index. If you want more status quo, raise the Index. If you want both at the same time, lower the index for getting projects started, and raise it for getting projects out the door.
(If you dig this kind of thinking: you’ll love the new paperback edition of my bestseller, The Myths of Innovation)
[Originally posted 11/07 . Revised 8/10.]