Do We Need A Chief Innovation Officer?

You may or may not be familiar with one of the newer roles in the c-suite, the Chief Innovation Officer (CINO). While the role didn’t exist a generation ago, now nearly one-third of Fortune 500 companies have a CINO, according to an Egon Zehnder study. If this trend is something you’re considering, you are likely asking yourself, do we need a Chief Innovation Officer.

The first step in finding an answer to this question is to define what responsibilities a CINO would add to your existing executive team. As a new role that technically touches on every department, there is no agreed upon definition of what is expected of a CINO.

A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article asks the question, what kind of chief innovation officer does your company need? The article acknowledges the difficult nature of hiring a CINO, “Because the role is relatively new, however, a standard definition of it has yet to emerge. The job’s responsibilities vary a lot, depending upon the company, the business challenges, and the backgrounds of the people filling the roles. Those people include everyone from seasoned executives to one-time academics, star inventors, former investment bankers, creative heads, and founders of start-ups.”

The article, co-written by Greg Schneider of Egon Zehnder, identifies six different types of CINOs. If any of these resonate with you and needs your company has, then you may need to add a CINO to your executive team.


Thinkers and science backed work is how researcher CINOs operate. They define innovation as “the invention of entirely new things.” Not surprisingly, you’ll find them in pharma, aerospace, defense, and related fields where competition and the need for breakthroughs is fierce.


Practical, hands-on, fail-fast mentality describes engineer CINOs. They define innovation as “always working to make something a little bit better.” They enjoy test and learn environments like technology, prototyping new designs in manufacturing, and getting customer feedback on new ideas.


Think analytics and data when talking about investor CINOs. For them, “successful innovation involves carefully allocating resources in order to optimize selective opportunities.” They thrive in fast moving companies, like startups, making sense of all the data they’re collecting. 


The customer experience is how to think about advocate CINOs. They define innovation as “delivering something new for the customer” and are laser-focused on that goal. They work well in organizations where the brand is front and center in consumer’s minds.


Motivators are about people, creativity, and culture. They define innovation as “unlocking the ideas of others.” These types of CINOs are perfect for companies that need to redefine themselves regardless of industry.


Driven by process, this group of CINOs are organized and efficient. They define innovation as “a clear process for coming up with new ideas.” They tend to succeed in organizations that have a lot of knowledge workers. They can be highly effective at moving ideas forward, but may need help keeping the big picture in mind.

If you’re considering a Chief Innovation Officer and one of these roles sounds like it would round out your executive team, send us a note. Our executive recruiters have worked on CINO searches across industries and company sizes. We work with you to determine your specific needs, from crafting the job specs through onboarding the new executive.