Creating the Conditions for Innovation to Thrive

Throughout our 50 years, we’ve observed that many companies see themselves in the early stages of innovation maturity.  In fact, a recent study, co-authored by KPMG and Innovation Leader, found that of the 270 R&D, innovation and strategy executives surveyed, 43 percent of them defined their company’s innovation maturity as ‘emerging’.

This same survey also acknowledged that success was multi-factorial – requiring leadership support, strategy alignment, and an ‘experimentation-willing’ workforce. Like young plants, innovation thrives in the right conditions. And when the fundamental pillars are addressed and in balance, innovation is sustainable.  

Image of a greenhouse, which represents your innovation environment

We work with organizations to ensure they understand their innovation environment – their greenhouse – and define the conditions needed for success.  Not every organization has a green thumb or a love of gardening, so we tailor our approach and recommendations accordingly.    

Five pillars are core to our approach – strategy, structure, resources, culture, competencies – each of which is essential for sustainable innovation.  These are characteristics and features of an organization that create the environment in which innovation can thrive. 

What are our innovation pillars?

While each pillar is important to innovation success, they are also mutually dependent.  For example, it’s difficult to have good governance or attract the best resources if the strategy isn’t defined or clear. 

Each pillar must be carefully considered and implemented. At the same time, the pillars are not intended to be silos.  Innovation sustainability happens when leaders ensure that there is interdependency across the pillars and that the pillars are managed synergistically. 

To continue the greenhouse analogy, these factors define the temperature, the level of moisture, the amount of sunlight, the nutrients in the soil and the skill and availability of gardeners to work the plants.  If one of these pillars isn’t well-considered and/or implemented, innovation (or gardening) suffers.  If several are faulty, innovation success is almost entirely dependent on engagement from a senior executive and the capabilities of the individuals tasked to complete the work.

How does our pillar framework help innovation leaders and/or other executives? 

The framework 

  • Links corporate strategy and innovation activities and outcomes
  • Establishes  governance models for innovation projects
  • Defines innovation structure and process
  • Allocates the right resources (funding, people and time) to innovation activities
  • Shapes culture to support innovation activities
  • Develops innovation competencies and skills

Assess your innovation greenhouse

Each pillar represents a distinct and vital component of a sustainable innovation function.  At the highest level, the pillars are industry agnostic. However, to make the pillars practical, they must be contextualized for specific business models within specific industries. 

As you can imagine, innovation leaders are curious about how their approach compares to that of peer organizations. We’ve assessed organizations within and across industries, and we found that most organizations need help with the structure and culture pillars.  The structure pillar includes factors that shape many innovation activities —  organizational/program design, approach to open innovation, innovation management processes, and key impact metrics. 

We also know that the culture pillar is challenging to address but vital for sustained innovation success. We identify and address cultural roadblocks to innovation and create rewards programs to foster internal cultures that are more welcoming of innovation activities.



Innovation Pillar


Conversation Starter


Linking innovation to strategic goals; building and managing innovation portfolios.

What does our current innovation portfolio look like?  Will the level of risk we’ve defined enable us to meet our strategic growth goals?


Defining structures – organizational structures, measures and metrics for innovation success.

How do we promote external engagement with entrepreneurs and non-traditional partners?



Assigning the right people, and ensuring they have enough time and budget to do the job well and have access to space and equipment they need.

How are we allocating funds for innovation activities?  Is it effective?


Examining culture to identify attitudes and behaviors that may block innovation (‘not invented here’) and to increase focus on recognition and rewards.

Do the recognition, reward and incentive programs that we currently have in place encourage a broad spectrum of participation across the organization?



Defining the competencies and skills necessary to innovate and introduce the best training to help build new skills.

How are we introducing new competencies, skills, and training, especially in concepts like design thinking, customer experience journey mapping?


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