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The great thing about the Dolphin Index is the opportunity to benchmark your climate against the world outside - and get feedback that says 'It doesn't have to be like that!'

David Mayle, Head of the Open University Business School's Centre for Innovation, Knowledge & Enterprise

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The Food Company in this case study is part of a multinational with factories in several locations manufacturing a wide range of well-know brands in its sector. It has a proud tradition of innovation stretching over many decades and continued to make significant industrial investment to support its aims.

Innovation Context

The company faced an increasingly competitive market (3 manufacturers controlled over 70% of the market) and growing demands from retail concentration (5 supermarket chains accounted for 60% of sales). In this context, the Board saw innovation as playing an increasingly important strategic role in future growth and differentation. To drive this harder, the Board’s vision was to encourage all functions to embrace innovation and thereby to broaden the focus from ‘just NPD’ to total innovation management.

Use of the Dolphin Index

To achieve this, a new role of Creativity Development Manager (‘CDM’) was created with an appropriate development budget. This role reported directly to the Managing Director, but without board membership. The initiative was conceived as a cultural intervention. It was designed as an enabler for all functions and locations, and did not have particular turnover or profit targets assigned to it.

The Dolphin Index (DI) was selected as both the prime diagnostic tool, and the measure of cultural change.

The first DI snapshot was shared with the Board, who agreed to three proposals:

  • The introduction of a campaign-based and IS-enabled idea creation scheme that was radically different and more focused than traditional idea suggestion schemes
  • The creation of more collaborative working space and specific creativity facilities.
  • A series of highly interactive workshops over a 3 month period with each of the functions to examine:
    • The functional profile
    • The desired future profile (this was seen as something each function had to define)
    • The supporting interventions and timeline for achieving the desired shift

The workshops enabled priority areas to be identified. Some functions that had relatively strong profiles against DI norms were encouraged to fine tune their approach with relatively light support from the CDM. Three functions however were identified as needing more specific focus:

Production – on Commitment, Positive Relations and Risk Taking

HR – on Idea Generation, Idea Proliferation and Idea Time

Finance – on Positive Relationships, Risk Taking, Playfulness, Dynamism.



Follow-up in Production consisted of working with leadership teams

to sharpen the communication of the strategic plan, sharing information more widely and in more relevant formats (for example using the canteen) and introducing the concept of the Four Boxes of Empowerment. There was also significant benefit from being able to involve people more widely and in a more relevant way in some of the idea campaigns.

The results can be seen in the second DI survey below, which was conducted 18 months after the first, with improvements in all the focus areas:

It is also interesting to note side benefits that emerged in Work Recognition (as more people were involved and praised for their contribution) and Freedom.


Further work with the HR function centred on some specific training in idea generation techniques, and partnering with the HR Business Partners to deliver creativity workshops with selected teams across the business, thus building the HR ‘development’ role. The head of HR was also keen to ‘loosen up’ and move on form a heavily transactional agenda; this meant that people within HR were encouraged to spend some of their week (no formal allocation of time was specified) to working on ideas. This of itself meant that the HR team recognised the importance of working on their own physical environment if they were to role-model this for others. So, for example, funds were found to develop an informal ideas room rich in stimulus. The HR team were also introduced to the ‘Four Boxes of Empowerment’ model and were encouraged to experiment unless regulatory or safety reasons dictated otherwise.

The results from the second DI survey are below, showing improvements in all the targeted areas and additional gains on Freedom and Playfulness:


Part of the Finance function’s strategy was to be seen less as controllers (the usual ‘bean-counter’ stereotype) and more as valued internal advisers on decision support. Work with the Finance Function therefore centred on helping them shift their own perceptions, and breaking down their own internal divisions. Thus workshops were used to encourage more teamworking and to get people to open up more, supported by a function head who was eager to allow experimentation particularly on the services the team should (or should not) offer. Structurally the team moved much more to being aligned with their ‘customers’. And the function head made some major changes to the physical location of the finance team and brought a great deal of colour and stimulus to the working environment. Catering for team meetings, for example, would occasionally be themed with each person contributing a dish (and this was not a cost-cutting measure!).

The result of the second DI survey are below:

The picture for Finance is more mixed. Whilst there are clear improvements on Dynamism and Risk Taking (and related gains on Ideas Time and Idea Proliferation), Positive Relationships and Playfulness declined. Some of this at the time was ascribed to the disruptive effects of restructuring the team (where new processes lagged the structural changes) and perhaps to people finding the things directed at increasing Playfulness as somewhat forced.


The food company case study suggests several themes:

  • The role of Board level strategic alignment and endorsement
  • The need for dedicated resource (human and financial)
  • The importance of identifying focus areas
  • The principle of co-creating interventions that recognise the different contexts of each team and function
  • The long-term nature of cultural shifts


Tag Cloud


Having looked at several practitioners of the Ekvall criteria, I have been delighted to work with Mark and the Dolphin Organization to evaluate BBI’s culture for change and creativity. Mark has combined excellent, pragmatic business realism, with the passion to drive 21st century business growth, and he communicates this in a way that has engaged every level of the business and been truly inspirational. If you are looking to the future for you and your business, you need to do this!

Peter Corish, Head of Business Development, BBI Group

The great thing about the Dolphin Index is the opportunity to benchmark your climate against the world outside - and get feedback that says 'It doesn't have to be like that!'

David Mayle, Head of the Open University Business School's Centre for Innovation, Knowledge & Enterprise

The Dolphin Index is a really useful tool for clearly identifying our strengths and areas for improvement.

Jo North, Commercial Director, Northern Rail

The Dolphin Index has been an important tool in Nestle Rowntree’s strategy to develop a broad innovation culture across the business and to remove the mystique that so often surrounds creativity and innovation.

Creativity Development Manager, Nestle Rowntree

The Dolphin Index is the ideal tool for assessing your climate and so for understanding the levers to pull so as to make the enterprise more dynamic, innovative and successful.

Nick Gurney, Former CEO Bristol City Council

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