Are we headed towards a shortage of CIOs?
“We’re missing the conveyor belt between our innovative teams and senior management.”
“There’s no one to really structure and give credibility to our internal innovation processes.”
“The transformation of our company culture is falling through the cracks.”
I’m hearing these kinds of things more and more often these days—especially since the pandemic has compelled many organizations to set up a culture of innovation and change across their teams.
When companies raise these points, it doesn’t take me long to understand that they treat innovation like it’s just another process. Or, worse, a line of business under the direction of a member of the management team, like the CTO, CFO, or even CEO. As well-intentioned as this may seem, the person put in charge of innovation has most probably never had to manage today’s approach to innovation or transformation at any time in their career. This makes them ill-equipped to take on the role—which can quickly jeopardize the entire exercise.
When it comes to innovation, the challenge is to understand it can’t be dealt with like any other operational process in your company. It requires a different management approach, as well as methodologies that are rarely if ever used in the rest of your organization, as well as a team that operates by its own set of rules. It also requires the attention of a manager who not only has the know-how to promote innovation, but also a sense of empathy, risk tolerance, and the ability to stay calm in the face of a situation in constant flux—not talents that are valued very highly in the business world.
A new role
According to management consulting firm McKinsey, there has been a growing trend in the U.S. as well as here in Canada: adding a seat at the decision-making management table for a Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) or a Chief Design Officer (CDO).
The role of this new position will vary form one organization to the next, of course, but it will share one key point in common: to raise awareness in the organization about the importance of supporting innovation. It will also include such responsibilities as:
- Leading an innovation lab
- Creating training programs adapted to our new reality
- Mapping out the processes related to clients
- Closing the gap between marketing (front office) and operations (back office)
- Improving management processes between departments
- Creating strong ties with innovative new partners with the goal of developing new services
- And, most of all, flooding the rest of the company with new management approaches
Unlike other senior managers—who usually work vertically within an organization (the CFO, for example, manages all that’s finance related)—the person in the new CIO role works horizontally. They ensure initiatives and best innovation practices are implemented across their colleagues’ silos.
My personal take on this situation, after observing the frequency with which I recommend creating this role in an organization? CIOs will be the most sought-after employees for the next decade.
It’s only a matter of time before organizations adjust to this new trend—from SMEs to large corporations, non-profits, and even governmental organizations. Which is perfectly normal, since the ability to innovate, as well as the culture surrounding it, are now being seen as emerging competitive advantages.
A shortage we should be planning for
There’s a looming problem on the horizon: We are not training enough managers to fill the role of CIO and all related positions. The École de technologie supérieure offers an MBA in Innovation Management to engineers, but that one program will not be sufficient to meet demand. Imagine for a moment that these programs train 100 new experts every year while, at the same time, some 15,000 Quebec organizations with 50 or more employees are looking to fill that role. And that’s not even taking into account non-profits, government organizations, and the whole startup ecosystem!
There is going to be a shortage of qualified talent.
I say a shortage of talent here and not candidates for a reason. In the face of this demand, many managers will be tempted to declare themselves innovation experts. They will certainly be able to convince senior management that the three letters following their name justify getting hired for the position—but this will prove not only insufficient, but dangerous. Because hiring this person can potentially put any innovation initiatives at risk and limit a company’s growth potential.
If you’re reading this and are a member of senior management, my first recommendation is not to wait too long to fill this role in your organization. This will give you a tangible competitive edge for years to come.
If that simply isn’t possible right now, then try looking at the challenge from another angle. Prepare your organization to better manage its culture of innovation by encouraging colleagues and work structures to undergo innovation training. Key words to look for include innovation management, Design Thinking, strategic ideation, and empathetic management. I’d be willing to bet that, by moving in that direction, sooner or later your company will naturally come to the conclusion that a CIO role is needed.
For continuing education, almost all management schools provide training and programs. Some, like the Université de Sherbrooke, even offer tailor-made programs.
Finally, never hesitate to find outside sources and partners who can help convince your colleagues to head in this direction, or at least set up internal innovation processes!