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CINOs: Leading the way to transformational innovation

Due to greater competition, tightened budgets and new technology, the importance assigned to innovation as a legitimate and vital business process has been elevated in recent years. But who at the top is responsible for ensuring the infrastructure and procedures are in place to help foster innovation and ensure the company is using every avenue to maximise progress

Traditionally, CEOs are responsible for business direction and strategy, CIOs for IT and information management and CFOs for cost management and budgeting. Within business departments, incremental innovation is common but in large or diverse organisations, someone is needed to manage the transformational strategic innovation that straddles the entire business, who has buy-in from the CEO and can galvanise the whole workforce. 

This is where theres an opportunity in the C-suite for an executive who links the traditional CEO, CFO and CIO roles. Step forward the CINO. Rather than an executive without portfolio,” the CINO is seen as key to an organisations future success. Dr. Jane Snowdon provides a great real-life example as IBMs first appointed Federal Chief Innovation Officer in May last year. 

CINOs key characteristics

The CINOs 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. 

The CINO must be strategically aware and able to operate tactically in the short-term, but be equally comfortable in long-term strategic planning. They will believe in the benefits of innovation, but may not be the creative, innovative thinker. Their key role is to create the environment that enables the innovators to operate to best effect. Todays CINO is organisational-savvy; they understand how to best operate and who holds the power to get things done. 

The combination of people skills, technological wisdom and a greater business understanding isnt a natural marriage, and is the reason why innovation executives are becoming increasingly sought after. 

CINOs can help by addressing several key issues that are still widely missing in the make-up of most organisations. Encouraging cross-company collaboration is a perfect example. Most businesses retain an inherently top-down mind-set. While structurally, there will always be senior leaders and junior employees working their way up, this hierarchical set-up need not apply to innovation. Changing old school company culture and negative attitudes towards horizontal collaboration is a big challenge, but one that can be achieved in a number of ways. 

Crowdsourcing innovation

Collaboration allows companies to begin crowdsourcing innovation, ensuring a business maximises the value it gets from its workforces creativity. There are several tactics CINOs can use to guarantee participation and results. 

Physically, collaboration can be encouraged through intelligent office planning such as relaxed meeting areas. Company-wide innovation can also be fostered virtually through collaborative technology software. Tools like Mindjets SpigitEngage allow companies to challenge the whole business, on a global scale, to provide answers to key questions or problems.

Gamification is an increasingly effective method from making a question into a game-like challenge. Innovation projects can be enhanced by scoring systems to encourage gentle competition and participation between employees, or reward schemes introduced from a simple prize, to career progression incentives to drive involvement. 

The rise of the CINO

A recent survey showed that 43 per cent of large companies have a formally accountable innovation executive in place, up from 33 per cent in 2011. CINOs even have their own website! With corporate competition intensifying in the post-recession era, and innovation increasingly sort after to stay ahead, it is highly unlikely well be seeing Chief Innovation Officer appearing on ridiculous job title lists anytime soon.

Harvey Wade is a director at Mindjet.

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