The 3 Stages of an Idea Maturity Model

by Jacqueline Zhou

The 3 Stages of an Idea Maturity Model - Innovation ExcellenceRunning a smooth employee idea program is not an overnight project. In fact, based on our experience, getting an employee idea program to its optimal performance takes a few years depending on the size and complexity of organization.

However, at SoapBox, we don’t look at the maturity of an employee idea program by years. We evaluate maturity by using a Maturity Model that uses measurable indicators to show the progression of our clients’ idea programs.

This is important for two reasons. First, it breaks what can be a significant undertaking into manageable areas to focus on. Mastering one organizational skill before tackling the next increases the overall likelihood of success. Second – it creates important milestone’s where you can celebrate success. At the end of six months it’s unlikely you will be able to point to millions in savings through employee ideas, but you can confidently tell leadership that you’re on track to get there because you’re seeing success with key foundational elements that are leading indicators of driving real business value from the program. (Read more about research that backs our experience in the Employee Suggestion Box: 10 Unexpected Factors Separating Failures from High Performers guide.)

But why even bother with measuring an employee idea program?

Each stage of maturity requires a different focus for success and progression into the next stage. If you want to see tangible results from your idea program, your strategy and approach for managing ideas will have to change over time.

To illustrate, you wouldn’t use the same training exercises for both a new swimmer and a pro swimmer. Just like an athlete, employees will develop their ideation and collaboration skills which will in turn require different management techniques.

Maturity Model

Our stages in the maturity model focus on key organizational and idea management skills needed for increased levels of success in the long-term.


For any employee idea program to be successful you need employees to participate. This is the primary focus of the Adoption stage. The key focuses for success are to master consistent communications and training the right individuals to manage and implement ideas.

Examples of key indicators at the Adoption level:

  • Achieved the minimum percentage of ideas that have engaged with your program.
  • Key stakeholders and champions have been trained
  • Execution of a communications plan

Remember that for all of the key indicators, you want to make sure that they are sustained for a set period of time. When you have a significant number of users engaged in your employee idea program, you should begin changing your focus to the next stage.


At the engagement level, the focus is to maintain and grow the engagement from employees through feedback and implementation of ideas. The number one reason for failed employee suggestion boxes cited by research papers is the lack of timely feedback. At this stage, it is critical that stakeholders not only make decisions on ideas but also respond back to the community and implement approved ideas.

Examples of key indicators at the Engagement level:

  • Target level of active employee members using idea software in your employee idea program is achieved.
  • Target implementation and completion rate of ideas is achieved.
  • All approved ideas have received timely official responses to all employees that contributed to the idea.

Once again, these key indicators need to be sustained for a predetermined length of time before mastery is achieved.


The final stage is Embedment where the employee idea program is fully embedded into the organization’s processes and becomes a tool used by the business to solve business priorities. At this stage, both program stakeholders and employees have developed the skills necessary to begin seeing true tangible results from their employee idea program.

Examples of key indicators at the Engagement level:

  • Leaders self-assign ideas crowdsourced by employees.
  • Departments will leverage insight from across the organization to improve their business
  • Tangible results from ideas are measured and celebrated with employees

To learn more about the Maturity Model, read the Employee Suggestion Box: 10 Unexpected Factors separating Failures from High Performers guide.

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innovation excellenceJacqueline Zhou is the innovation expert at SoapBox Innovations, a SaaS innovation management company. An avid believer in tapping into the collective genius of communities, she shares her innovation insights on the SoapBox Innovations blog and @SoapBoxHQ

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