Innovation is the key to staying relevant and successful in a rapidly changing business environment, and many of the most crucial skills for C-level executives center on the concept. In today’s market, many companies have even resorted to creating a new C-level position—the chief innovation officer. However, innovation is something that all members of a company’s C suite must embody.
When defining a personal brand, C-level individuals should focus on how their position at the company relates to change and creativity at the macro level. See the following for examples of how core members of any C-suite team generate innovation:
- Chief Executive Officer
In many ways, CEOs are the champions of all innovation at a given organization. They control the direction of the company and set both short- and long-term goals. When these goals challenge members of the company to think creatively and take risks, the result is innovation. On the other hand, placing unrealistic goals on employees can actually stunt innovation by making them feel impotent or insufficient.
CEOs have a responsibility to get to know their teams and understand what motivates their employees. Armed with this knowledge, CEOs can effectively frame goals to move the company forward.
They must also think about the type of innovation that they push for as a leader. Do they advocate for subtle, slow change that takes place through incremental stages, or do they ask for revolutionary ideas that completely shift operations? Each of these approaches has a different cultural impact.
- Chief Financial Officer
While people don’t usually associate CFOs with innovation, these individuals actually play one of the most important roles in terms of launching and monitoring programs that encourage creativity. CFOs are in charge of the company’s purse strings. Thus, if a CFO is too focused on traditional notions of risk, he or she may refuse to consider any investment that doesn’t return an immediate pay off. CFOs at any organization need to keep a finger on the financial future of the company and the industry to make informed decisions about when and where to make critical investments related to innovation. However, great CFOs understand that such traditionally “unwise” investments are critical for the future of the company.
The CFO has significant control over how a company views and measures progress toward innovation. Some CFOs make create incremental milestones that allow for the department to sign off on more investments to continue fueling innovation, whereas others may want to make more calculated, conservative investments from the start to avoid unnecessary vulnerability. Again, some companies prefer this conservative approach, while others who have innovation built into the corporate culture may prefer a CFO willing to take larger risks, provided that they remain informed ones.
- Chief Technology Officer
The CTO is obviously vital to innovation in a way that perhaps the CEO and CFO are not. This individual has a responsibility to seek out, test, and implement new technologies to keep the company competitive. Beyond this role, CTOs can have a strong influence on how the company as a whole approaches innovation. He or she can bring in innovations from outside of the organization or challenge members of the organization to create new products by offering rewards and recognizing those employees who take risks, even if they fail. Companies that discourage risk and punish failure quickly become hindered in their ability to innovate. To encourage experimentation, CTOs can lead the charge for viewing failure as a key point of learning rather than as something to be punished.
A CTO’s brand necessarily speaks to that individual’s approach to innovation. Does the CTO consistently seek out new technologies that could give a company a competitive edge, or does the individuals prefer to implement technologies that are a bit more established and proven though their success at other organizations? Similarly, does the CTO primarily bring in innovation from outside of the company, challenge company employees to create custom innovations, or take both approaches to new technologies? The answers these key questions point to how a CTO thinks of innovation and its role at an organization.