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Chief Innovation Officer

Supporting best practices, skill development, and new business unit initiatives

For help navigating this playbook, take a look at our Guide to Business Playbooks

An increasing number of corporates are creating Chief Innovation Officer (CINO) positions that can report to either Chief Marketing Officers, Heads of R&D, or directly to the President. These innovation leaders are not individually responsible for innovating, but instead are responsible for enabling innovation, encouraging it, inspiring it, facilitating it, and coordinating it; essentially an Innovation Enablement Leader.

This person’s job should be to lead not to manage, and to enable instead of control. It is a high priority for firms in virtually every industry to innovate, and companies are responding differently in how they organise to tackle the challenge. The tasks of whoever is in charge of maximizing the company’s innovation activities should involve both external and internal activities and programs to make their companies as innovative as they hope them to be.

Strategy behind the Play:

The core idea of the CINO is to support best practices, skill development, and new business unit initiatives. Acting as a methodology expert and facilitator, the CINO must train company personnel, direct seed funding, and ensure that there are organisation-wide platforms for idea generation.

“Innovation has nothing to do with technology – this is about people and behaviour.” -- Neal Cross, CINO at DBS Bank

Even businesses that are well versed in the best management practices can, without realising it, generate an environment hostile to innovation. It is a particular problem for a company’s frontline business units, whose business processes and performance metrics are optimized to relatively short-term goals that are anchored in what they are currently doing or selling rather than in what they could be doing differently. As a result, line managers instinctively reject innovations that won’t immediately contribute to their goals. Large companies need a CINO, a powerful executive who can counterbalance the natural killing instinct of a company’s business units and design a more innovation-friendly organizational environment.

Key Benefits:

  • Centralised management of transformational strategic innovation that straddles the entire business
  • Has buy-in from the CEO and can galvanise the whole workforce
  • Links the traditional CEO, CFO and CIO roles

Limitations & Risks:

  • Changing ‘old school’ company culture and negative attitudes towards horizontal collaboration

Initiating the Play:

Launching this play requires a moderate initial capital outlay.

Key steps to initiate:

  • Don’t hire a Chief Innovation Officer before the Board of Directors and senior leadership understands what innovation is (and isn't)
  • Don’t hire a Chief Innovation Officer before the Board of Directors and senior leaders are all publicly committed to innovation
  • Don’t hire a Chief Innovation Officer before the Board of Directors and senior leadership have created a budget to fund discrete innovation projects
  • Don’t hire a Chief Innovation Officer before you move beyond the innovation as a project mindset to view innovation as a process and a capability that you need to build (like good governance or operational excellence)
  • Don’t hire a Chief Innovation Officer before you understand how new product development (NPD), research and development (R&D), and innovation will differ in your organisation

Running the Play:

The CINO’s key role is to constantly “bang the drum” for innovation, being responsible for identifying and proposing areas where technology, company structure and day-to-day practices can be combined and refined to drive a business towards its corporate goals.

Key tactics:

  • Communicating idea sourcing needs/challenges to external communities
  • Creating internal teams, often as part of Open Innovation departments, to scour the world collecting inspiring stimuli, benchmarking relevant firms, and looking for potential partners and acquisition candidate
  • Organising the collected stimuli so it can be easily searched for and found by those who would benefit from it inside the firm

Play Variants:

Typical variations of this play include:

  • Chief Digital Officer – helps organisations drive growth by converting traditional businesses to digital businesses
  • Chief Innovation Technology Officer – maintains organisationaltechnological strategy, and is usually used in organisationswhere technology is a core component of the business

Related Plays:

  • Innovation Teams
  • Innovation Program
  • Lean Coach Network

Key Considerations:

  • The combination of people skills, technological wisdomand a greater business understanding isn’t a natural marriage, and is the reason why innovation executives are becoming increasingly sought after.

The Chief Innovation Officer must train company personnel, direct seed funding, and ensure that there are organisation-wide platforms for idea generation

Play in Action:

In 2016, Neal Cross, CIO of DBS Bank was recognised as the most disruptive Chief Innovation Officer globally. The judging panel recognised his “down-to-earth and practical approach in helping to roll out innovation across the bank” as an key factor to catalyse innovation.

Cross is spearheading one of DBS‘s largest internal projects, Iconic Journeys, an ongoing initiative which looks to fundamentally shift how customers interact with the bank. To do this, he is responsible for DBS‘s extensive innovation program, which saw the introduction of lean start-up methodologies and human-centred design. He also leads the DBS Innovation Group (DiG) which helps DBS employees embrace an innovative mindset by equipping them with the relevant training and tools.

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