The 5 Qualities of an Excellent Head of Innovation

So you’re thinking of hiring a Head of Innovation, or perhaps even becoming one yourself? Amazing! From tackling innovation challenges to planning the future of your business, this role can be one of the most exciting and impactful positions within a company.

Jonny Fisher
by Jonny Fisher

The Head of Innovation leads the way in implementing innovative new ideas that transform the way your business is run. From people to product, they cast a critical eye over your processes, research and gather ideas, before sorting through, implementing and measuring the best ones. Constructive, well-planned innovation can save businesses millions of pounds every year, so it may be worth the investment if you can find the right person.

But what should you be looking for in a Head of Innovation? Here are five qualities that we’ve encountered in top Innovation Officers around the world.

Self-starter

A Head of Innovation is always working on the front line of your business. In order to shake things up and/or push things forwards, this means they can’t get too caught up in existing processes. They must be confident enough to know when to get involved, and when to step back. Most businesses are multilateral and idiosyncratic, so it’s often up to them to figure out where their new role fits, and how exactly they can add the most value.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should simply set your new Head of Innovation loose and leave them to it. You want to find someone who is leading the way but also taking the rest of your team with them. Are they personable? Enthusiastic? Persuasive? Try to introduce them to as many segments of your business as possible to see how they fare in different situations.

Obsessed with feedback

Ideas for innovation rarely come from the top, which means your Head of Innovation needs to be in constant communication with everyone in your organisation. Using idea management software can be one way to install a channel dedicated to innovation within your workplace, but it should be combined with constant conversations, on-the-job observation and even active participation.

When you’re implementing ideas, this feedback shouldn’t stop once you’re into pilot stages, or even after full roll-out. It’s the CIO’s job to understand how ongoing innovation works within your organisation, so they can adjust and streamline their infrastructure. This requires constant dialogue, so find someone who is fascinated by how organisations work and loves to ask questions!

Fails fast

Once ideas have been collected and evaluated against your business goals, an Innovation Officer’s job is to run innovation pilots and tests. The instruction to “fail fast and often” applies well to this role, but it’s more complex than simply throwing stuff out there and seeing what sticks. A good innovation pilot will happen early in the process and in a controlled manner, so your business maintains the option to iterate on each idea before closely managing a successful roll-out.

Your Innovation Officer will need to clearly define what proof looks like for each stage of the innovation pilot, with clear, measurable metrics. This means paying careful attention to detail, keeping clear records and applying methodical processes. After all, if each step of the process leads to a clear learning, failure simply becomes another step on the journey to success.

Thinks broadly

While the simplest innovation ideas tend to come from within your company, inspiration for large-scale, architectural innovation can often come from further afield. From best-practice processes in other industries, to art and literature: inspiration can strike at any time.

Excellent Heads of Innovation tend to be flexible, broad thinkers, who take any opportunity to look at an idea from a new angle. They should be able to pull from their background and wider interests to give a new perspective on an old problem. Ask your potential CIO where they look for inspiration. Do you connect with their perspective, and even learn something new?

Takes responsibility

Innovation is a necessary and intrinsic part of running a business, but that doesn’t mean it’s always straightforward. While change is often positive, implementing and executing new processes and ideas can be disruptive and unsettling for some.

Your Head of Innovation should be prepared to take responsibility for the process from start to finish: from creating an environment where ideas are welcomed, to running pilots, managing implementation and monitoring ongoing impact. They need to make sure that your internal communications are aligned and everyone is along for the ride, or all their good work (and your team’s goodwill) might fizzle out over time.

In conclusion…

A Head of Innovation is a truly unique role, and one that can have a massive impact on the future of your business. While you want to hire someone who is personable, inspirational and full of big ideas, you also need to make sure that they’re rigorous, strategic and detail-oriented.

Take the time to make sure that your candidate demonstrates each and every one of these five personality traits and you should be on the right track.

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