The Changing Role of the Chief Innovation Officer (CInO)

As the competency of corporate innovation continues to expand and improve, more Chief Innovation Officer roles are appearing in large, corporate organizations. This is a welcome development and recognition of the ongoing value that leadership sees innovation efforts delivering for organizations. This recognition is demonstrated by the focus on the CInO role by several conferences, including The Back End of Innovation in Las Vegas on October 6-8.

I have been reading a lot about the CInO role lately and recently spoke with Luis Solis, the author of a book titled “Innovation Alchemists: What Every CEO Should Know to Hire the Right Chief Innovation Officer” to get his perspectives on the CInO role in the context of this value generation.

What changes have you seen with the CInO role recently?

As the CInO role continues to evolve and develop, one significant change is that the previous focus on process and activity is being augmented with a serious and deep scouting function. That includes scouting for technologies, trends, and cultural insights. This means that the role is expanding into other more established corporate functions, such as Competitive Intelligence, Strategy, and HR, so these CInO’s need to better manage and shape relationships across the organization, often where there may be competing interests. More than ever, it’s a delicate balancing act.

There is also more focus on impacting the culture of an organization as a precondition for success, but not only that, it is viewed that the CInO and resources may be a better catalyst for shifting the organization towards an innovative culture, perhaps more than what has been in place until now.

How do you see the role changing going forward?

Look, the reality is that the CInO is here to stay and it’s an expanding role. We are in a macro-economic recovery and this gives companies more confidence. So I think that this and next year will be a bumper crop of CInO roles becoming available. Unfortunately I don’t think that there is a body of future leaders to take that leading role, so there is a market opportunity for that pipeline to be filled.

I have heard you talk about the importance of employee innovation networks, so how does that connect back to the CInO role?

This goes back to maturity, because the current view is that innovation takes place at the BU level. What this approach misses is connecting the effect of those project teams for intelligence gathering, practice sharing, risk reduction, speed, etc. All the benefits that come from connecting networks are missed, or at least more difficult to generate with discrete teams. So organizations are anywhere above two years in their innovation journey are, or should be, looking for something that is better than the separate projects. Innovation networks are just the natural extension beyond that.
At a certain point, leaders recognize that this is more than just about an innovation department or program, but it is a set of capabilities spread across the organization. With that perspective, the innovation program becomes the enabler of systems behaviors, rituals, and ultimately about building and managing an enhanced culture.

What has surprised you about the book’s reception, now that it has been out for a few months?

The first thing that I learned was that there is an extraordinary amount of interest in this CInO role. Leaders want to know “What it is?” “How it should be designed and organized?” “Who is qualified to fill that role?”
What I had not expected to encounter is that most leaders are not asking “if” they should have a CInO, but now it’s “who do we use and when?” It’s just a given now that this role is essential to business leaders. To me that’s a pretty big change in the past couple of years.

What are the biggest risks or conflicts that CInO’s need to manage?

One of the key issues for CInO’s is that they are impacting leaders of Strategy, Marketing, Competitor Intelligence, Digital, and R&D functions in vary tangible ways. So, proper thought needs to be given to addressing the inevitable tensions that this new role generates. When designing this role, the CEO really does need to account for 2-4 years of their support, or it will be difficult to take route and grow. In my experience that has been a challenge, especially when a CEO rotates which can lead to a high rate of failure.


About the Author: Anthony is the CEO of Culturevate (www.culturevateinc.com), an organization that empowers a company’s employees to execute ideas and inspire a culture of innovation, through employee networks, a resource portal and training programs (developed in association with Professor Chris Labash from Carnegie Mellon University). Anthony is a widely read author (www.culturevateinc.com), speaker and advisor to industry leaders at organizations such as Pfizer, U.S. Postal Service, Johnson & Johnson, ADP and Fidelity. He previously led The BNY Mellon innovation program and has a Masters of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of Economics (University of Newcastle).

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