​Don’t Just Hire, Empower Your Chief Innovation Officer To Do Their Job

Empowerment will enable him to lay the foundations for growth by redefining what is possible for the company.


According to Business Dictionary, “Innovation” is:

  1. The process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value, or for which customers will pay.
  2. To be called Innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need.
  3. Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative in deriving greater or different values from resources, and includes all processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products.
  4. In business, Innovation often results when ideas are applied by the company in order to further satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers.

Given these definitions it’s hardly surprising that innovation has become one of the biggest buzzwords in business; even getting into job titles at a very senior level. Johnson (2010) found that companies are appointing Chief Innovation Officers [CINOs] for three primary reasons:

1. The digital revolution that commenced in the early 1980s intensified in the dot-com era, leading to exponential growth in the rate and scale of disruptions resulting from innovation.

2. Companies now understand the commercial potential of being innovative, either to reinvigorate mature industries or to create new ones.

3. A greater theoretical understanding of innovation has helped companies’ highest levels of leadership to both better manage innovation and to know why they must do so.

Having hosted and spoken at the Chief Innovation Officer Summit San Francisco earlier this year, the key takeaway was that CINOs fell into one of two camps:

1. Those who were supported in their roles and, thus, enabled to do what they were hired to do;

2. Those who were extremely frustrated in their roles and seemingly making little-to-no progress.

Because the camps were so clear and separated, we decided to explore the topic further by asking the 5 questions below as a preliminary pilot study of CINOs.

1.  How would you describe the role of CINO in your organization?

CINOs described their role in a number of ways: good for PR and public speaking, new revenues and approaches, and new client acquisition through innovation as a service. Alongside those descriptions were comments about innovative products/platforms and the creation of innovative solutions.

Our initial conclusion: essentially there was no uniformity in the responses, which may be due to the different industries, or perhaps simply the newness of this emerging role that often lacks a clear definition in the market.

2. What are the 3 biggest challenges you face as a CINO?

The overwhelming responses to this question were a lack of executive support, inefficient budgets and unrealistic timelines and expectations, as well as improper metrics in place for measuring innovation progress. Other comments included the need for innovation-oriented talent and an isolation from the operating business units.

3. What solutions do you propose for each of your 3 biggest challenges?

Not surprisingly the solutions to the biggest challenges were for a stronger senior leadership commitment to innovation, with support in the form of both budgets and appropriately talented people. Innovation metrics needed to be different, longer-term (from the business-as-usual metrics and timelines) and aligned to organization-wide goals and expectations.

4. What skills and talents does a CINO need in order to be able to fulfill his/her role?

Creativity and leadership were the top skills identified; however, the CINO also needs to have customer empathy, fearlessness, idealism, technical vision (automation, internet of things and virtual reality), political savvy, self-promotion, human-centred design thinking, business model acumen, and industry knowledge. The CINO must have a clear vision and execution path to getting there. Evangelism and conviction to do the role the right way are fundamental for successful innovation to occur, and therefore, patience is also necessary.

5. How do you see the CINO role evolving in the future?

There was no question that the CINO’s role will have greater and greater importance in enterprise. There was broad acknowledgement from the survey participants that the CINO role would remain unsettled in the near future, and that it would require natural and rapid evolution as it is and will continue to be a top-line growth driver. Fast cycle innovation [speed-to-value] alongside human-centered design will also be necessary.

The survey responses clearly highlight that if companies really want to innovate, it’s going to require far more than just appointing someone with the Chief Innovation Officer title and believing that it has innovation checked off and achieved. Innovation, like anything in business, takes time and commitment. Our recommendation of three steps companies could follow are:

Step 1 - Ensure the CINO you hire has the skills and talents to do the job.

Step 2 - Empower them to do the job with the resources (financial, environmental) and support of senior leadership, and the broader team.

Step 3 – Have clear metrics to measure success; however, the CINO role needs to be facilitated and encouraged to incrementally develop as needs and innovation aspirations change. It’s a new role and will only flourish and mature if nurtured appropriately.

As my co-author and Chief Innovation Officer Carey Ransom shared, “From many of my conversations with CINOs, right now for many companies, the role is mainly window dressing and PR.”

As leaders, you might want to think of your company like a restaurant striving to achieve Michelin stars.

Would you attain the stars by giving your chef no budget for quality ingredients, no time to experiment and create new recipes, no kitchen to create in, and no team to work with? No, you wouldn’t, so why would you do that to your CINO? 

Inno balls small

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Innovation Is As Much About Environment As Ideas