What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a Chief Innovation Officer
Chief Innovation Officer (the most common acronym is CInO) is one of the newer C-suite roles, and one that often overlaps with other executive roles. Innovation has often been the purview of the Chief Information Officer, but has evolved in many cases to a distinct role. In a nutshell, CInOs envision and communicate the future of their organizations.
To explain the role’s emergence, experts point to globalization and an information explosion that leads to endless consumer choices and a brutally competitive landscape. “To ensure they stay ahead of the game, businesses must be constantly innovating,” notes Ben Rossi in Information Age. Rossi characterizes the CInO role as “an executive who links the traditional CEO, CFO, and CIO roles.” Author Jag Randhawa also cites “a growing interest in innovation in the service industries, as well as in public welfare entities, including government and non-profit organizations.” Many organizations identify innovation as one of their top priorities.
A 2017 study in the journal Health Management, Policy & Innovation of innovation leaders in large healthcare-systems provides an overview of the role. Of the 40 largest systems in the study, 32 had a senior innovation leader. The study reported that the structure and function of the chief innovation officer role is diverse across systems, with 52 percent reporting a strategic focus, 24 percent operational, and 24 percent financial. The researchers identified four approaches to managing innovation:
- an “internal consulting group” that educated, advised, and partnered around continuous process improvement (36 percent);
- an incubator that worked to grow and scale projects (28 percent);
- a group that imported and scaled established technology (12 percent);
- a venture fund that invested externally and sometimes internally (24 percent).
The median budget under the control of the chief innovation officer was $3.5 million.
Key Competencies for the CInO Role
The CInO must be not only the visionary of the organization, but also a highly credible executive who attains buy-in for innovation. “A successful Chief Innovation Officer is a master of influence,” observes Bill Poston in his The Chief Innovation Officer blog. The role requires subject-matter expertise in the organization itself, technology, finance, business, operations, strategy, law, and internal and external politics, as well as the ability to communicate persuasively.
In your career-marketing communications, showcase the competencies on this list you possess:
- Entrepreneurial mindset.
- Ability to support best practices throughout business units toward breakthrough product and service initiatives that improve and deliver business results.
- Astutueness to protect promising projects, oversee seed funding, and invest in initiatives and assets that aren’t guaranteed to succeed.
- Collaborative skills to foster idea-generation and execution among workforce.
- Competence in measuring and analyzing innovation results.
- Commitment to customers.
- Creativity and flexibility.
- Change-leadership skills.
- Not risk averse
- Analytical skills to interpret trends and identify disruptive threats and opportunities.
- Commitment to cultivating innovation talent, developing innovation roles and career paths, and encouraging a culture that embraces innovation.
As Rossi asserts, it’s quite possible the CInO role can lead right to top: “In the future, the new crop of CInOs are most likely to be the CEOs in waiting, able to apply their multiple skills and broad knowledge to business situations that arise. This is especially true for non-Tech companies.”
Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the CInO role, expand their horizons in an existing CInO role, or even rise beyond the CInO role:
- To become a successful CInO, combine branding, innovation, leadership, management, persistence, and strategy. That’s the advice of Ade McCormack, who suggests in his blog a step-by-step process in which the executive aligns innovation with user expectations, identifies innovative staff, cultivates a culture of innovation, rewards staff for innovative activity, builds the brand by promoting innovative successes, strategizes attaining the most important performance indicators, and repeats the process over and over.
- Start a grassroots innovation revolution in your organization. So advises Randhawa, who suggests creating within your current role “a bottom-up innovation program in which participants share ideas to improve existing products and services.” Randhawa asserts that having a program like this on your resume can open up the path to becoming a CInO.
- Build your skills. Many CInOs hold MBA degrees. While little evidence exists that a certification in innovation management will boost your career, you could gain skills and knowledge through pursuing the Certified Management of Innovation–Chief Innovation Officer designation offered by the International Association of Innovation Professionals (https://www.iaoip.org/page/Certification).
- Have the right mindset. In a Forbes article describing what makes a CInO successful, Mike Maddock describes several innovation mindsets, noting that only two of them –the Maverick and the Orchestrator – lead to success. Mavericks, he says, are aggressively committed to the future and tend to make people uncomfortable to the point that the organization breaks new ground. The Orchestrator prepares and empowers the team for an innovative future.
- Ensure your role is set up for success. The Health Management, Policy & Innovation study mentioned earlier identified three key parameters of innovation theory that can set up the CInO role for success:
- separation of the innovation unit into an entity that exists outside of the ongoing organization
- direct-line communication with the CEO and the board of directors
- adequate resources.
CInO Trends to Watch
- Bottom-up idea management grows in importance. Companies increasingly realize that since employees work most closely with customers, they are a prime source for innovation.
- Creativity takes center stage: Creativity has always been critical to innovation, but today is becoming recognized as a vital business skill. Some experts suggest integrating creative tasks for CInOs and other innovators to enhance this attribute.
- The concept of “innovation communities” catches fire: These communities can be internal, external or mixed and can include such diverse entities as “former interns, service providers and suppliers, customers and experts for future technologies and digitization,” according to Innolytics. These communities bring together creative and motivated minds with various perspectives to generate myriad ideas and engage in co-creation.