6 things I wish I had known before accepting the position of chief innovation officer

6 things I wish I had known before accepting the position of chief innovation officer

It is a salutary tale.

I was happy and proud to be appointed as CIO (Chief Innovation Officer). It seemed like a great opportunity to join a dynamic management team and contribute to the growth and ambition that inspired the company. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out well and there are hard lessons to be shared. Here are some things I wish I had planned.

1. The CEO had the goal and the vision, but not the commitment.

I reported to the CEO and he was adamant about his belief in driving innovation in the organization. We agreed on great initial plans, but when the going got tough, he focused on sales, customer service and cost reduction. It was understandable given the situation. However, his commitment faltered just when we needed it most. It undermined my innovation plans.

2. Innovation is everyone’s business; not just CIOs.

As soon as I took responsibility for corporate innovation, the other leaders focused on their own goals and let me. They did not actively oppose my initiatives, but they were lukewarm and their priorities always took precedence. Office politics, turf wars and jockeys for favors were all in play. For innovation to succeed, it needs the full support and commitment of the company, starting with the entire the management team.

3. Changing a corporate culture is harder than you think.

The people who worked there were good people, hardworking and loyal to the company. But they operated in their comfort zones and were somewhat risk averse. “Why spoil the success? seemed to be the watchword. People worked diligently within their silos and prioritized the goals of their departments. Getting them to allocate time and resources to new product projects has proven difficult.

4. “We welcome failure” is a mantra but not a reality.

There was general agreement that we needed to be bolder and take more risks. But after the first two major initiatives fell short of their goals, a blame game ensued. And much of the fault lies with me. Maybe I deserve some of it for being overly optimistic, but I was expecting constructive, unpointed support.

5. When the going gets tough, the status quo takes precedence.

Things went well at first, but then a recession hit our industry, sales went down, targets were missed. We had to cut costs and my innovation budgets were the first to be cut. It was understandable. Sales of current products and services financed the payroll, so they had to be protected with precious resources. Innovation has slipped onto the agenda of management meetings.

6. Innovation is not a one-time project; it must be a way of life.

We started with a big promotion, encouraging ideas inside and outside the company. The CEO delivered a rousing and inspiring speech on our vision for innovation and agility. There was real enthusiasm. We couldn’t cope with all the ideas for improvements and new solutions that came flooding in. But then the enthusiasm faded. When people saw how long it took to change things, they gradually lost interest. We just couldn’t maintain the initial energy. The CEO focused on cost cutting and tried to sell the company. It became increasingly difficult to get the commitment and cooperation from all parties that we needed to bring new products and services to market.

Eventually I quit and soon after the company was sold to a competitor. Looking back, I can see that I was a bit naive in my approach. But what do you think I should have done better? And how can newly appointed CIOs avoid these same issues?

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