Test criteria
TOP 100-competition

TOP 100 is the only independent award for innovation management in Germany. The TOP 100 application process is simple but based on a robust methodology.

A detailed questionnaire is the basis for awarding the Top 100 seal of approval. The project management team use it to assess the applicants in five categories, which we have described below.

Prof. Dr. Nikolaus Franke is the scientific director of TOP 100.

Innovation-friendly Senior Management

The Innovation-friendly Senior Management category records the extent to which senior managers promote innovation. To what extent is the innovation function a boardroom issue? How much does the management team support and encourage the development of new ideas? Does it ensure the corporate strategy is forward-looking and sustainable? For analysis, the project coordinators divide it into three sections: commitment, innovation strategy and deployment of resources.

In the commitment section, they investigate how much time and energy the management team spends on innovation projects. Commitment at senior-management level is vital for overcoming the resistance and inertia that inevitably arise during the process.

The innovation strategy section records whether, and on what scale, systematic innovation strategies are created and communicated in the company, as well as the topics they cover. After all, a company’s innovative spirit is more than just the sum of its individual projects.

Without a clearly defined and well communicated corporate strategy, there is the risk of becoming completely distracted by the details of day-to-day business. In the deployment of resources section, the project coordinators investigate the extent to which senior management actually provide the necessary financial resources. Innovations are investments in the future – but it is only possible to generate successful future innovations by utilising resources with vision, courage and good judgement today.

Sample questions:

  • On average, how much time do you estimate the management team invests in continuing professional development that relates to innovation in its widest sense?
  • Do you pursue an innovation strategy? Which topics does it cover?
  • Which trends represent the biggest strategic challenges for your industry for the next five years?

Climate of innovation

In the Climate of Innovation category, corporate culture is scrutinised in detail. How entrepreneurial is it? Does it promote creativity, a willingness to learn and spontaneity? A positive climate of innovation allows new ideas to emerge and evolve.

The project coordinators divide the category into three areas: innovative focus, development of potential and suggestions for improvement. Innovative focus refers to the extent to which the corporate culture facilitates and supports employees‘ entrepreneurial activities, whether mistakes are tolerated and whether there are arrangements that prevent radical, innovative ideas from being halted prematurely.

In the development of potential section, they assess a range of initiatives that are suitable for encouraging employees to be innovative, such as continuous professional development, incentive systems, giving employees the scope for entrepreneurial activities, employee share schemes and the provision of internal venture capital. In the suggestions for improvement section, they investigate how far employees with their own ideas play an active role in the company and the extent to which suggestions that are implemented increase annual profits.

Sample questions: 

  • How many days a year do employees attend CPD courses?
  • Is there an explicit rule in your company that employees can use a portion of their working hours to develop ideas that are outside the official development programme (the ‚Google rule‘)?
  • Is there a ring-fenced budget that is available at short notice for ‚blue-sky thinking‘ that is not part of ordinary business activities?

Innovative Processes and Organisation

In this category, the project coordinators are interested in how the process is organised from idea to market launch. Good ideas and goodwill alone are not enough to produce successful innovations. Processes and organisational methods with a lean, flexible structure that focuses on the innovation target are needed.

The Innovative Processes and Organisation category is based on three sections: monitoring, innovation management and instruments and methods. In the monitoring section, the project coordinators analyse how routinely the company observes and evaluates developments in the market, in technology and among its competitors and incorporates them into its strategic decisions. The innovation management section provides an overview of how the actual innovation process is structured from the original idea to market launch.

Sample questions: 

  • There are numerous tools and methods for organising innovation. Which do you use? (e.g. project management, stage-gate process, lean start-up method, design thinking)
  • Do your processes, structures and incentives encourage incremental or radical innovations?
  • How is innovation management coordinated in your company?

External Involvement/Open Innovation

Every company is small compared with the rest of the world. This is especially true for SMEs. In the age of open innovation, a systematic and consistently managed two-way relationship with the outside world is mission-critical.

The External Involvement/Open Innovation category is also divided into three sections: integration, sources of innovation and external partners. Integration refers to how closely marketing staff are involved in innovation projects and as a result are able to ensure that the customer’s voice is heard.

In the projects and activities category, the project coordinators investigate which tools are used to identify opportunities for innovation or to provide the company with the skills for its own innovation management. The scale of cooperation with external partners (mainly customers but also suppliers, universities, etc.) is ascertained in the alliances category.

Sample questions: 

  • Which sources of information do you use to identify opportunities for innovation (new products, services, processes, business models)?
  • Which methods do you apply in order to find ideas for innovations or to provide the company with skills for its own innovation management? (e.g. focus groups, scouting, lead-user method)
  • Do you use special methods to market and sell innovations?

Successful Innovations

While the four categories mentioned above describe a company’s innovative potential, i.e. the probability of successful innovation in the future, the Successful Innovations category relates to the here and now, and investigates which successes have actually been achieved through innovation.

The category covers two sections: successful commercial innovations and successful technological innovations. The successful commercial innovations section examines the importance of market-facing innovations (products and services), which are expressed as a percentage of revenue and earnings and innovative processes within the company, which are expressed as the cost savings achieved. The successful technical innovations section relates to competitive advantage and market position.

Sample questions: 

  • What proportion of the company’s total revenue is attributable to innovative products and services?
  • What percentage of total costs did you save in the survey year as a result of cost-cutting process innovations that were introduced in the two preceding years?
  • In the last two years (including the survey year), have you implemented a particularly radical innovation in your business model?
  • What is your position in the market in terms of expertise relevant to innovation (technology leadership)?