Maturity matrices: systems by numbers

17th September 2012


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Niall Enright explains why maturity matrices have become such a hot topic and how they can help to ensure the revised ISO 14001 can become an effective agent for change

Maturity matrices have become the focus of increased attention as ISO 14001 receives a makeover. When the technical committee responsible for revising the standard met in Berlin in February, it produced a number of proposals for change.

Some were to do with modifying the structure of 14001 to align with other ISO standards, while others were about engaging with the core strategy of organisations and reaching into functions such as marketing or design, which hitherto have been on the periphery of environment management.

The very first, and longest recommendation the committee made, however, addresses another fundamental aspect of 14001: how the standard itself can become a more effective change agent, rather than simply a “score-keeper”.

The recommendation states: “When considering new requirements in a revised version of ISO 14001, it should be remembered that 14001 is a tool to improve environmental management; new requirements should not be set in such a way that they only reflect ‘best-in-class’ levels that will dissuade or exclude entry-level organisations from adopting this standard. The use of maturity matrices should be considered to show how requirements can be applied in an increasingly comprehensive manner.”

On a journey

At the core of the recommendation is the recognition that attaining good environment performance, or sustainability, is best considered as a “journey” not a “destination”. It speaks to the inherent contradiction in any standard – that the very “awarding” of a certificate carries with it the implication that the destination has been reached.

It is because of this perception that business managers often see 14001 as something you receive, something to display for marketing purposes or to meet a “tick box” requirement in order to qualify for certain contracts.

In opting to make 14001 a tool to improve environment management, rather than primarily to rate it, the committee has suggested that engagement needs to start with poorer-performing organisations at an “entry level”. After all, we don’t just want to preach to the choir.

However, there is another risk here: that the standard will become disconnected from absolute environment performance, that polluters could more readily achieve it and so devalue the standard.

Continuous improvement

The only way to overcome any perception of lower standards is to put continuous improvement more firmly at the heart of 14001, and this is where maturity matrices come into play.

At the heart of a maturity matrix is a self-evaluation of the degree of sophistication, or “maturity”, of a particular aspect of a management system. This enables weaknesses and areas for improvement to be identified.

Maturity matrices are already part of BS 8900, the guidance standard for managing sustainable development, but it would be wrong to think of them as a recent development. I have been using variants of the energy management matrix shown above effectively for more than 25 years (see table below).

The example matrix enables users to rate an organisation from 0–4 in one of six different themes, such as policy or investment. The rating is based on selecting the description that most closely matches the organisation’s current approach. Although it appears simple, it has some very powerful characteristics.

First, it enables a structured conversation to be had. I will often use such a matrix in a discussion with an organisation’s leadership team to get them to rate themselves. Instead of having a free-flowing conversation about energy efficiency, for example, which can often get bogged down in specific technology or equipment, the matrix enables me to explore broader topics, such as investment or staff engagement, which are equally important.

In the process of the discussion the second benefit of the matrix emerges: its educational potential. Anyone completing a similar matrix would quickly understand that organisation, measurement and communication are important aspects of a successful energy management process, and would get a sense of what distinguishes the best from mediocre performance.


Another interesting way that maturity matrices can be used is to compare the self-assessment of different groups in an organisation. If, for example, the management team score themselves highly on investment, but the engineering team’s assessment results in a low score, then there could be a problem in the availability of funds or perhaps in the quality of the business cases developed by the engineers.

Similarly, comparisons can be made year-on-year to see if an organisation is improving its score, and this is clearly what is in mind in the 14001 approach: that the maturity matrices should be periodically revisited so an organisation can demonstrate its systems and processes are developing over time.

I recently worked on a project where a maturity matrix was the central tool driving change in a global business. This company faced a number of common challenges in constructing a global energy-efficiency programme. The operating units were very diverse and their approach to energy efficiency varied hugely.

The corporate team did not want to be seen as imposing an external view on the sites – which rarely works – and, as is often the case, there was frequently a perception at sites that energy efficiency was just about technology.

The solution was an advanced form of a maturity matrix, which provided the basis for a full-day workshop to help department heads and specialists to define a priority plan for their own site.

The maturity matrix was a spreadsheet with, on different tabs, the following six themes:

  • leadership and context;
  • measurement;
  • opportunity assessment;
  • project implementation;
  • continuous improvement; and
  • key performance indicators and communication.

In each theme there were then between six and 11 topics or questions. Under opportunity assessment, for example, the first topic examined what type of baseline assessment was already in place.

There were a number of innovations that were applied effectively in this tool. First, the site teams were asked not just to rank their actual performance but to state what their target would be. To assist in setting the target, the tool displayed the score needed to achieve certain standards – both the corporation’s own requirements and, in this case, ISO 50001.

The input was designed for a “live” interaction, with opportunities to capture comments and actions, and to set tasks and priorities. There were also features to run multiple assessments and aggregate these, as well as to instantly create PowerPoint presentations that summarised the key conclusions.

Skills and knowledge

Part of the reason for the success of this approach was that the corporate team running the workshops was excellent at managing the discussion and knew about each site’s processes and culture. With 46 topics it was important to allow space for debate, but then ensure a consensus was developed around the actual and target rankings. Here language is very important.

Typically, the wording of the possible responses to each topic should be “neutral”, and carry no connotation of poor or inferior performance. In designing the matrix, careful consideration was given to the scoring method itself.

Should it be numerical, such as the 0–4 in the example matrix (shown below), or 1–5 star? Or rated in words? In the event, a numeric scale of 1–5 and the words rudimentary, transitional, progressing, mature and excellent were adopted.

A key feature of the success of the approach was that the project was not perceived to be about outside assessment or imposition of targets – rather it was about each site’s own perception of its strengths and weaknesses, and its own priorities.

The process was seen to bring value because it was something around which the various functions at site level could unite to create a plan they personally had developed and owned. Here, the selection of participants was also important, to ensure that their conclusions carried weight and that all departments that could influence energy use were involved – not just engineering, but operations, finance and maintenance.

Key issues

So what are the key issues for the ISO 14001 approach to maturity matrices? You do not need fancy spreadsheets: a simple paper-based model will suffice. And, while there could be merit in organisations seeking to achieve 14001 designing their own matrices, it would be a good thing if the ISO standards development team set out clear examples of the maturity matrices that should be used.

The themes covered in such matrices can be entirely generic in nature, such as leadership, measurement, continuous improvement, and products and services, for example. This offers an opportunity to reinforce some of the other recommendations on the scope of the ISO standard, using the topics in each theme.

So that under leadership, for example, an organisation could explore how environment management can be incorporated into its corporate strategy, while under products and services it could explore how the environment management system interfaces with design or marketing or introduce the concept of life-cycle assessment.

The process around how matrices are employed is equally important. Is there benefit in an “actual” and a “target” assessment to encourage forward thinking? Should an evidence base be required to support organisations’ self-assessment, against which an external audit can be performed? If entry-level organisations can achieve 14001, how will continuing progress, as measured by the maturity matrices, form the basis for maintenance of the certification?

Whatever your thoughts on the applicability of maturity matrices to ISO 14001, it is clear to me that the process around self-assessment provides the basis for some very powerful engagement. Maturity matrices should definitely be in the toolkit of every environment practitioner as they speak to the idea of a journey, which is central to everything we do.

Example energy management matrix








Top managers are actively committed to the energy policy action plan and review it regularly

Fully integrated into management structure with clear accountability for energy consumption

Appropriate and comprehensive staff training tailored to identified needs, with evaluation

Comprehensive performance measurement against targets, with reports to management

Extensive communication of energy issues within and outside the organisation

Resources routinely committed to energy efficiency in support of business objectives


Formal policy exists but there is no active commitment from top management

Clear line management accountability for consumption and responsibility for improvements

Energy training targeted at major users following training needs analysis

Weekly performance measurement for each process, unit or building

Regular staff briefings, performance reporting and energy promotion

Some appraisal criteria used as for other cost-reduction projects


Unadopted policy

Some delegation of responsibility but line management and authority unclear

Ad-hoc internal training for selected people is required

Monthly monitoring by fuel type

Some use of firm's communication mechanisms to promote energy efficiency

Low- or medium- cost measures considered if short payback period


Unwritten set of guidelines

Informal, mainly focused on energy supply

Technical staff occasionally attend specialist courses

Invoice checking only

Communication used to promote energy efficiency

Only low- or no-cost measures taken


No explicit energy policy

No delegation or responsibility for managing energy

No energy-related staff training provided

No measurement of energy costs or consumption

No communication or promotion of energy issues

No investment in improving energy efficiency

Source: Carbon Trust

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