Does Your Organization Need a Chief Innovation Officer?

Christel Deskins

It has been refreshing to see that in recent years a formal c-suite position, Chief Innovation Officer (CINO), is becoming increasingly popular on executive teams. A relatively new position, the title Chief Innovation Officer was coined for the first time in 1998, yet around 30 percent of Fortune 500 companies currently […]

It has been refreshing to see that in recent years a formal c-suite position, Chief Innovation Officer (CINO), is becoming increasingly popular on executive teams. A relatively new position, the title Chief Innovation Officer was coined for the first time in 1998, yet around 30 percent of Fortune 500 companies currently have a Chief Innovation Officer working in some capacity. 

a man and a woman standing in front of a building

© Hinterhaus Productions | Getty Images

As the role becomes more mainstream, many leaders have questions about what this position entails and whether their organization needs it. To help answer that question, here’s an overview of the role, including a look at some of the benefits that CINOs provide and some key traits that an effective CINO would bring to your leadership team. 


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Responsibilities of CINOs

When defining the role of CINOs, it’s important to note that the job description and responsibilities vary widely from organization to organization. This is in part because it’s a new and evolving position and in part because the role is often adapted to meet the unique needs of each organization and the specific skill sets of the individual in the role. 

Unlike many other leadership positions, CINOs often come from a wide range of backgrounds. While product development and marketing are the most common backgrounds of innovation officers, you’ll find individuals with backgrounds including former executives, academics, inventors, startup founders, and investment bankers in the role. 

That said, there are some aspects of the role that remain consistent. At the most basic level, the innovation officer is responsible for helping to develop new ideas and new products while also ensuring that all stakeholders support and understand new initiatives. 

Related: 9 Ways Your Company Can Encourage Innovation

Author and innovation consultant Soren Kaplan was asked by some Fortune 500 companies to provide more clarity about this role, and he responded by providing a job description. He explains his rationale for doing this by noting, “Instead of responding by providing a theoretical manifesto about the misperceptions and conflicting demands of the role, I decided to do something much more practical – I created a job description template for them to adapt and use in their actual recruiting.” In that job description, Kaplan pulled out three primary goals for a CINO: 

Other innovation experts build upon those broad goals, while also noting that the CINO should not only focus on “breakthrough innovation,” but on organizational leadership, internal and external networking, managing idea development, and creating an innovation process. 

Benefits of a CINO

A good CINO not only takes on the role of chief innovator but he or she also helps to build a culture of innovation. That’s a key benefit of the position as well as an important distinction to make: Having a chief innovation officer does not mean that all innovation is delegated to this individual; instead, this person is tasked with leading and facilitating innovation throughout the organization. 

Related: Why Organizations Today Need to Hire Innovation Officers

In addition to helping build this culture, CINOs help to ensure that organizations have effective short and long-term strategies for innovation and that those strategies are taken to market in a timely and scalable manner. Ultimately and most importantly, in the current competitive and fast-paced market, CINOs help organizations gain a competitive edge and lead their industry in new ideas, products, and processes.  

Traits of effective CINOs

When considering whether to hire a CINO, it’s important to look at the leadership traits that this individual will bring to your leadership team. Understanding the traits of a good CINO is not only important for the hiring process itself but is also important when determining whether or not this role is needed in your organization. With that in mind, here are a few traits that effective CINOs share and bring to their leadership teams: 

  • They are highly respected by all stakeholders. This person not only needs a track record of success but also needs credibility that will enable them to get everyone on board for changes and new ideas. After all, a key part of this role is getting the executive team aligned behind new innovations, so having someone that will be highly respected is a requirement. 

  • They are strategic visionaries. Individuals in this role need to be able to predict what will come next as well as communicate it. This is a difficult skill set to objectively quantify, yet strong CINOs need the skills and confidence to anticipate what is ahead for their industry and to convincingly share that information throughout their organization. 

  • They are able to motivate and drive action. In addition to having some unique skills around innovation, a good CINO needs to have strong traditional leadership skills. Among those should be an ability to inspire individuals and to have everyone embrace their strategic vision. 

  • They know how to manage resistance. Individuals throughout all levels of organizations will challenge changes that upset the status quo. CINOs need to anticipate this reality and have the skills to hear, understand, address, and manage that resistance. 

Leaderless innovation is hard to achieve

There are some leaders that argue that having a CINO is not necessary, generally supporting this sentiment with the rationale that they don’t want to delegate innovation but instead want everyone in the organization to embrace innovation. While that might make sense for some businesses, the more common sentiment in the current market is that a CINO is necessary to help build that culture of innovation, lead and develop the innovation process, and help organizations stay competitive in a rapidly-changing market. 

Phil McKinney, innovation coach, supports the role with a simple explanation: “Innovate or die. It’s a common refrain, and more and more organizations are taking it to heart and proactively pursuing innovation programs rather than waiting for innovation to happen.” While each organization is unique, in the current market it’s worth taking the time to look at your organization’s innovation needs and the ways that a Chief Innovation Officer could meet those needs and add value to your business. 

Related: How Blue Shield of California Is Trying to Change Healthcare


Does Your Organization Need a Chief Innovation Officer?

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