Attrition Rate of Innovation Teams – the staff and skills merry-go-round

Categories: Innovation Insights

Today I found out that one of our contacts at a large client is leaving his firm to become a consultant. He had been at the firm for many years, and his leaving was a surprise to us, and probably to his boss, the VP of New Ventures. This information, though, is not very interesting. My immediate observations are a lot more important.

Many firms have relied on a small number of internal experts to design and manage innovation and creativity programs. Right now, these people are in demand as companies scale up their innovation initiatives. One bank I know has hired 7 Corporate Innovation Officers at very senior level. An outsourcing company has an Office of the Chief Innovation Officer, and a staff of 60 full-time people to manage its work (all goodness, by the way, my official stamp of approval).

The reliance on a few internal experts is dangerous because people leave their firms. I have done some rough research on past clients and prospects (totally well over 700 firms – more prospects than clients as one would expect). Using this dataset I have found:

  • the larger innovation teams have a staff /team attrition rate of around 20% per year (i.e. people get promoted, leave the group, etc)
  • over a three year period the best groups can turn over 65% of their team
  • across all firms, around 25% of innovation managers switch jobs within a 12 month period

These are very important findings, even though the data is not as accurate as I would like. The data is good enough to draw some conclusions:

  • Innovation is like any corporate function that has an attrition rate (often marketing departments have a 15% – 20% attrition rate in a given year)
  • A company cannot depend on single individuals to drive corporate programs
  • A company cannot rely on superman to drive innovation, no matter how powerful the individual is
  • Many innovation teams are staffed with people who lack innovation skills and methods – they are well-meaning amateurs
  • There needs to be more formal training and competence development in innovation teams
  • Innovation needs to be more formalized into adaptable processes, rather than rely on personal moments of genius

Overall, I would urge companies to think very carefully about relying on small groups of internal staff. There are experts out there (disclosure – my firm, Imaginatik, is a great place to start) – use them.


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