What Is a Chief Innovation Officer?

A chief innovation officer in his office

No matter what industry you’re in, change is constant. Companies that continually evolve and adapt are the ones that stand the test of time and thrive regardless of market conditions. To stay competitive, many companies have established a position for a chief innovation officer (CIO or CINO).

The chief innovation officer is tasked with creating the forward-thinking momentum the company needs to continually change and stay ahead of the curve. If you take a look at a chief innovation officer job description, you will find that these C-suite executives have a great deal of responsibility for the direction of a company, what goods or services it sells and how it nurtures its workplace culture.

What Is the Purpose of a Chief Innovation Officer?

A chief innovation officer is the executive who oversees innovation at the company. When companies lack a CIO, there may be multiple teams across various departments that are charged with developing innovative new initiatives, strategies and products. This fragmented approach toward innovation creates competition among these teams, which then only strive toward their own mission and short-term objectives; there is no singular push toward furthering the company’s overall goals and long-term growth strategy.

The office of the CIO addresses this problem by unifying the drive toward innovation under one mission and one vision. The CIO develops a cohesive mission plan and set of strategies, and delegates related tasks to the teams that are most capable of executing them.

A successful chief innovation officer is someone who can not only generate new ideas, but also recognize the potential in the innovative ideas of other people. The CIO must assess the value in new business opportunities, strategies and technologies as well as potential partnerships, industry structures and business models. The work of a CIO is integral for driving the company’s forward-thinking growth.

A Sample Chief Innovation Officer Job Description

One way to answer to the question, “What is a chief innovation officer?” is to look at a typical chief innovation officer job description. When companies post job ads for aspiring CIOs, they typically expect the applicants to have many years of experience in solutions development, innovation and other related fields.

A typical chief innovation officer job description will also require applicants to demonstrate advanced education. Most aspiring CIOs have at least a master’s degree (such as a Master of Business Administration — MBA) or preferably a doctoral degree, such as a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)

In addition to these qualification requirements, a typical job description will include expectations for the role. While the day-to-day work of a CIO varies from one company to the next, they are generally expected to carry out some of the following tasks:

  • Develop a comprehensive innovation mission plan and strategy for the company. 
  • Communicate the mission plan and strategy to senior leadership, innovation team members and other stakeholders. 
  • Align the innovation roadmap and portfolio of growth projects with the overall direction, objectives and priorities of the company. 
  • Establish priorities and delegate projects. 
  • Ensure innovations are brought to the market in a scalable manner and that innovation commercialization strategies are viable. 
  • Use innovations to nurture long-term relationships with customers and other key stakeholders, and to differentiate the company by delivering unique value. 
  • Nurture a culture of innovation that encourages idea sharing and collaboration across departments.

The Essential Skills and Characteristics of an Effective Chief Innovation Officer

An experienced CIO who understands the market and how it may change in the future will be able to capitalize on the timing of an innovative idea. When an innovative idea is introduced to the market, the timing of that introduction will quite often determine whether the idea will fail or succeed. An effective CIO will also be able to predict consumer needs and expectations alongside timing concerns.

In addition to having many years of experience and an intuitive sense of market timing, a successful CIO should possess the following skills and characteristics: 

  • Excellent communication with various audiences 
  • Ability to motivate and inspire others 
  • A collaborative mindset and ability to nurture team members’ strengths 
  • “Big picture” thinking 
  • Willingness to take calculated risks and the resiliency to overcome setbacks

A CIO should also be someone who recognizes the value in cultivating relationships and building professional networks. The CIO must know how to not only nurture good ideas, but to bring them to fruition as well. Lastly, all CIOs must be highly credible professionals — after all, they must be able to convince others of the value of their recommendations and strategies.

A Common Path To Becoming a Chief Innovation Officer

There is no one universal path toward becoming a chief innovation officer; however, it’s quite common for CIOs to arrive at the position after having worked for more than a decade in a solutions-focused role. CIOs also typically have a few years of experience in another executive position.

In addition to gaining the experience necessary to pursue this role, aspiring CIOs should focus on furthering their academic qualifications. A Doctor of Business Administration is a terminal degree, which indicates the graduate has reached the pinnacle of academic achievement in their field. People who hold a DBA are well-respected as experts who have contributed new knowledge or theories to the existing body of knowledge.

The time it takes to complete a DBA varies depending on how many courses you’re able to take at a time and how long it takes you to conduct original research. Much of a graduate student’s coursework and dissertation research can be conducted remotely; however, you may still need to visit the campus for periodic residencies. These provide invaluable face-to-face time with your professors and peers.

Grand Canyon University’s College of Doctoral Studies is pleased to offer graduate degree programs such as the Doctor of Business Administration: Management (Quantitative Research) degree program to active professionals with a passion for ethical leadership and organizational management. Click on the Request Info button to learn more about becoming a doctoral student at GCU.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.