A short guide for organisations looking to hire a Chief Transformation Officer

A candidate sat in front of two senior business people interviewing them.

As explored in our recent article, rather than simply bringing in change leads for focused transformation projects, businesses are increasingly hiring permanent transformation leadership talent to oversee and execute their organisation’s transformation strategy. Faced with the challenge of delivering significant change across large and complex organisations, businesses are increasingly appointing board members whose role is exclusively focused on Transformation. The most common job title for this post-holder is the Chief Transformation Officer (CTrO) but they may also be given the title of Group Transformation Director or Chief Innovation Officer. For simplicity, we will refer to them as a CTrO in this article.

In response to the emergence of this role and the challenges in performing it successfully, BIE’s Transformation Practice offers this guidance to organisations that are looking to hire a Chief Transformation Officer with exclusive responsibility for the delivery of enterprise-wide transformation.

Leading transformation at board level

The commercial drivers for an organisation electing to appoint a board member to a role with this focus vary, but there is a common theme behind its increasing presence. A CTrO is required when a business has reached a point when the successful delivery of enterprise transformation has become a priority to the extent that it needs to be led by a board member who is accountable to the CEO. It is their role to ensure transformation activity is strategically aligned across the group, that it has the appropriate governance and crucially, that it is supported by all members of the executive committee with the explicit backing of the CEO.

The credentials of people who are appointed to CTrO roles vary significantly but most frequently they will have a background in technology and will have spent time within consulting firms in senior leadership roles. This is understandable given that the vast majority of enterprise transformation is driven by the need to make significant technological changes, but it is not uncommon to see leaders with careers in Operations, HR, Finance, Commercial and Procurement move into CTrO positions from within an organisation.

These leaders are typically asked to take on these roles precisely because they are NOT a “transformation person” and are often found in organisations that have been through at least one “failed” cycle of change that has created “transformation fatigue”. Their ability to successfully deliver transformation is understood to be derived from their knowledge of the organisation, their strength of relationship with key stakeholders and their understanding of the levers for change.

Supporting the roadmap for change

Once appointed, it is critical that the CTrO is given the appropriate amount of support to be successful in the role. Unfortunately, simply giving someone a title and putting them on the board doesn’t give them a magic wand for transformation. Once the roadmap for change has been agreed, all members of the executive committee must understand what their role is, and what will be required from them and their teams.

Whilst the CTrO is ultimately responsible for the transformation, they can’t be expected to do all of it, with the CTrO role being more of a “coordinator” than a “doer”. Each functional transformation programme should be led by a leader from that part of the business, with the CTrO ensuring that each departmental area affected by the transformation is delivering according to the agreed roadmap for change.

Should an organisation appoint a CTrO who is not a “transformation person,” it is crucial that they are able to build transformation capability around them as successful programme management is often very different to the experience they will have developed in their career to date.

The relationship between the CTrO and CEO

The key relationship for the CTrO is with the CEO who must strive to create an environment that enables the transformation to be delivered in a non-partisan fashion and prevent the CTrO from becoming the centre for dispute resolution. Robust conversations and difficult decisions will be required as the transformation is executed but if it is clearly understood why the transformation is taking place, and that it has the full support of those at the highest levels of the organisation, there is a far greater chance of success. 

Selected and positioned correctly, the CTrO acts as the front face of the transformation, responsible for strategy execution and providing a coherent focus for operational and technological change.

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