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Workforce Innovation Readiness: Vital in this Decisive Decade

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Workforce Innovation Readiness—Vital in this Decisive Decade

by Marina Theodotou, Ed.D.


This is a decisive decade of Great Power Competition, as described by the 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS) and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023. The DoD must answer two key questions about workforce innovation:

  1. What are the baseline innovation skills our workforce needs to out-innovate the adversary?
  2. What is our workforce innovation readiness metric?

The ability to answer has been limited by lack of a department-wide common language and metric on workforce innovation readiness for measuring, managing, and ultimately scaling innovation. 

More than 200 innovation cells are active within the DoD. However, they operate in a fragmented, stovepiped, and often underfunded manner. These innovation cells essentially strive within their context and deliver results while navigating one of the world’s largest bureaucracies. 

Given the lack of a competency skills model defining DoD innovation, each cell develops its own innovation definitions, language, skill set, and metrics to train members of its command. Lack of a common framework, an innovation competency skill model, or an innovation readiness metric hampers implementation of several NDS workforce goals and prevents a clear line of sight to baseline, measure, acquire, develop, and retain talent. This creates several unknown unknowns, increases inefficiencies and complexity, and multiplies department-wide overlaps in taxpayer funds spent on innovation learning. 

DAU has developed an Innovation Competencies and Skills Model and an Innovation Readiness Metric that help answer the questions on skills and metrics. The Innovation Competencies and Skills model triangulates academic research, industry practice, and DoD context in defining the baseline innovation competencies and skills needed to cultivate an innovation mindset and innovate to win. 

The model includes an innovation readiness self-assessment for each workforce member based on their individual responses to 48 statements. The Innovation Readiness Metric involves calculating the median of each response aligned to each competency skill and rolling up to the three domains of thinking, collaborating, and cultivating. A workforce member can gauge their own innovation readiness, and a supervisor can use the Innovation Readiness Dashboard to review and report the aggregate innovation readiness of the team based on the individual self-assessments of the team members. 

The competency model and the resulting innovation readiness metric allow the DoD to measure and therefore manage and scale workforce innovation. This enables DoD innovation proponents, groups, and cells to speak the same language and collaborate, engage, and scale innovation. It enables commanders to assess their workforce innovation readiness and make data-driven resource allocations. This, in turn, will amplify innovation and address unmet, and heretofore unknown, innovation skill needs across the department.

Lack of a common framework, an innovation competency skill model, or an innovation readiness metric hampers implementation of several NDS workforce goals and prevents a clear line of sight to baseline, measure, acquire, develop, and retain talent.

The Metric and Why It Matters

Innovation readiness broadly refers to an organization’s ability to develop and launch new products, services, or ideas. But it does not explicitly focus on the workforce, which comprises the people who develop them. DAU’s Innovate to Win initiative defines Workforce Innovation Readiness as a means by which workforce members can assess their own innovation readiness—described as the abilities and skills to create new ideas, products, and services that solve problems and add value for our Warfighters. 

Innovate to Win, for the first time in DoD’s history, has created a metric to measure and therefore manage and scale Workforce Innovation Readiness. This metric can provide individuals, agencies, and commands key insights on the baseline innovation skills in which the workforce is more or less confident. The metric highlights strengths as well as opportunities for further learning and deeper innovation readiness. 

The Workforce Innovation Readiness metric also can provide insights on how the importance of these innovation skills may change in the next five years and illuminate new hiring needs to out-innovate the adversary. 

Figure 1. Innovation Readiness Dashboard​ 
Figure 1. Innovation Readiness Dashboard

Source: DAU Innovation Competency and Skills Initiative 
Note. Names of business units/organizations have been blurred.

DAU developed the Innovation Readiness Dashboard as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Though rudimentary, it is scalable and can become a powerful tool for talent acquisition and development. The Dashboard MVP provides an overall Innovation Readiness Score for the organization, based on its employees’ self-assessment responses (Figure 1). The score is calculated on a five-point scale with 1 the lowest and 5 the highest score. The closer an Overall Innovation Readiness Score comes to 5, the more confident an organization self-assesses its innovation readiness. 

Capt. James Cho, USA, portfolio manager at Army Software Factory speaks at DAU’s Flagship Event: Defense Differently on June 7, 2023. Cho discussed developing an outcomes-first rather than technology-first mindset in order to foster innovation. 

Capt. James Cho, USA, portfolio manager at Army Software Factory speaks at DAU’s Flagship Event: Defense Differently on June 7, 2023. Cho discussed developing an outcomes-first rather than technology-first mindset in order to foster innovation. 

Photo by Debbie Gonzalez

In the DAU example, the overall Innovation Readiness of 4.30 was based on the completed assessment responses of 308 workforce members. The Dashboard MVP also breaks down the score into the three domains of thinking, collaborating, and cultivating innovation. 

Also in the DAU example, Collaborating and Thinking scores are both 4.3, while the Cultivating score is 4.0. The Dashboard also offers the overall innovation readiness score for DAU, based on the 308 respondents’ self-assessments, listed alphabetically by competency skill. Growth Mindset is the highest scoring competency at 4.6, followed by Collaboration and Lifelong Learning at 4.5 each. 

These scores mean that, on innovation, the DAU respondents feel most confident about their growth mindset, collaboration, and lifelong learning skills. The lowest score is 3.7 for networking, which means that, in aggregate, the respondents were least confident in that area. The Dashboard allows for slicing the competency data in various views, such as by organization and business unit. It offers supervisors an opportunity to gauge the strongest and weakest skills by individual workforce members and select those with the appropriate strengths for specific projects.

Benefits of the Workforce Innovation Readiness Metric

The metric helps DoD determine how to develop the workforce it needs and make other sound data-driven decisions. It enables measuring and managing how the workforce navigates technological advances, embraces cultural transformation, demonstrates resilience, and collaborates with our allies and partners to solve wicked problems and scale innovation. 

Navigating Technological Advancements. Technological advancements from artificial intelligence and autonomous systems to cybersecurity and space capabilities are reshaping the defense landscape. The DoD must equip its workforce with the skills and an innovation mindset to navigate these advancements and effectively integrate them into operational strategies. 

Embracing Cultural Transformation. DoD workforce readiness requires a cultural transformation that encourages collaboration, creativity, risk-taking, and out-of-the-box thinking. This readiness to embrace innovation will attract and retain top talent, which gravitates toward organizations that foster growth and innovation. 

Exercising Agility and Resilience. The global security landscape is becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable, with rapidly evolving technologies, unconventional threats, and geopolitical shifts. A workforce with strong innovation readiness and agility will be able to think creatively, develop unconventional solutions, and adapt swiftly. 

Harnessing Data for Data-driven Decisions. DoD must leverage data and analytics in decision-making. Data-driven approaches facilitate evidence-based decision-making and enable the DoD to allocate resources efficiently and effectively. 

Collaborating With Our Partners and Allies. Engaging with external stakeholders and partners—including industry, academia, and international allies—amplifies innovation potential, brings fresh perspectives, fosters cross-pollination of ideas, and accelerates adoption of emerging technologies. Collaborative efforts between DoD and the private-sector can drive technological breakthroughs that benefit both national defense and civilian applications. 

These key benefits define the breadth of value that the workforce innovation metric can bring to both supervisors and teams scaling innovation at the DoD. DAU is developing a playbook that will include seven practical and actionable plays with guidance on how to use the metric to gauge and improve workforce innovation readiness and how to build from there to cultivate workforce motivation and foster a culture of innovation. 

DAU will offer learning and consulting opportunities to supervisors who wish to apply the playbook tactics in their teams. The Innovate to Win playbook will be available to supervisors by September 2023 in time for the rollout of Innovate to Win to 10,000 members of the workforce in Fiscal Year 2024.

By nurturing a culture of innovation, equipping personnel with the skills to leverage technological advancements, promoting agility and resilience, and fostering collaboration, the DoD can ensure that our national defense remains at the forefront.

Prioritizing Workforce Innovation Readiness

In today’s rapidly changing world, DoD workforce innovation readiness is not just desirable; it is vital. By nurturing a culture of innovation, equipping personnel with the skills to leverage technological advancements, promoting agility and resilience, and fostering collaboration, the DoD can ensure that our national defense remains at the forefront. Investing in continuous learning and professional development programs is essential. DAU’s Innovate to Win initiative offers the full learning journey with the Innovation Competencies and Skills Model, the Self-Assessment, and the resulting personalized curated learning pathway to enable each workforce member to embark on their own lifelong learning journey and own their innovation readiness.Workforce readiness includes opportunities for personnel to enhance technical skills, stay informed about emerging technologies, and engage in interdisciplinary collaboration. By promoting a learning culture, the DoD will ensure that its workforce remains knowledgeable and adaptable in the face of evolving threats.


THEODOTOU is a DAU learning faculty member leading cross-functional teams at DAU and the DoD to solve problems at the intersection of learning, defense, and innovation. She is an expert in organizational change, leadership development, data analysis, and business growth. She holds an Ed.D. in Organizational Change and Leadership from the University of Southern California and a B.A. and M.A. in Economics from the University of South Carolina. 

The authors can be contacted at [email protected].


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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the Department of Defense. Reproduction or reposting of articles from Defense Acquisition magazine should credit the authors and the magazine.


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