What Does an Innovation Department Do?


The business world is never at a loss for creating new departments and job titles, which is why between 2006 and 2015 the job title “Chief Innovation Officer” increased in prevalence by 500% according to a ZipRecruiter analysis. These CIOs often come into an organization to lead innovation departments which are charged with making an organization “more innovative.” But as with any emerging discipline, the roadmap for achieving this goal is sometimes unclear. Still, whatever the organizational goals or KPIs for a company’s innovation department there are a few main functions that must fulfill:

Research and Vision. Competitors, customers, employees, and the market are providing multiple cues about where an organization needs to grow and improve. Innovation departments should be scanning the horizon for this information and using it to guide overall innovation strategy that aligns with a company’s overarching business strategy.

Innovation Training. When an organization invests in its employees, not only do employees feel more valued and like they are growing at a company, but it creates a shared language and expectation that innovation is everyone’s responsibility. So teach your staff how to brainstorm, how to support other people’s ideas, how to recognize good ideas, and more.

Collect Ideas. Ideas can come from everywhere, but everyone needs to know where to take a suggestion when it comes up otherwise they stay on the cocktail napkin on someone’s desk.

Connect Ideas. Of course, once you have those ideas, the real work begins. You need to connect ideas to other ideas so that they grow into larger concepts and improve. As those concepts become new projects, you need to select the best ones for further refinement, research, and testing. Then, of course, the best ideas should be connected to the resources and leadership that help launch ideas into new products, markets, processes, and more. All innovation departments serve some sort of matchmaking purpose in this way.

Communicate. Everything that we just listed above is something about which an innovation department should communicate. They need to be socializing research so that everyone can keep these new trends and information in mind as they do their job. They need to share best practices when they’re working so that everyone can adopt them. They need to share “failures” so that others can learn from them and celebrate the work that went into that discovery. They need to recognize the contributions from all the stakeholders that made these things possible so that others see that leadership is listening and input from everywhere is valued. If these things are properly communicated, then everyone starts to see a culture of innovation developing at their organization.

To learn more about Chief Innovation Officers and Innovation Departments download IdeaScale’s Innovation Department infographic.