What is a Chief Transformation officer?

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Posting date: 05 May 2023

What is a chief transformation officer (CTrO)?

We are delighted to be hosting a Chief Transformation Officer special interest group event at our London Headquarters in collaboration with Lissa Muncer. Lissa most recently has been leading the global group transformation at Natura & Co and we’re thrilled to be working with her to host an event to explore this new job title. Lissa has provided her expertise in this article to explore the role of the Chief Transformation Officer and how it can be beneficial to many organisations.

 

The current state of global transformations

The business world has changed dramatically in the past ten years. The scale and rate of change means that over the past five years in particular, many organisations have embarked on ambitious and complex initiatives to bring about organisational transformation. Driven by the need to adapt to keep up with changes in consumer behaviour, market trends, technology, talent and ways of working amongst other factors, most of these transformations involve restructuring for growth (revenue or market share); driving efficiencies (read ‘reducing costs’) or tackling external forces and competitive positioning.

The bad news? According to recent research released by the Project Management Institute (PMI) in collaboration with the Brightline Initiative statistics, show that 70 % of large-scale transformation fail. Given the cost involved in delivery, let alone the implications of failure, this should be a risk keeping executives awake at night.

Research shows the main reasons why transformations fail include the lack of alignment to a clear ‘North Star’ or coherent strategy, and the associated absence of clear key performance indicators (KPI), or statement of objectives and key results (OKRs). This leads to a lack of understanding regarding the essential ‘why’ of the transformation.

Further reasons include employee confusion and apathy (those ‘checked out’), entrenched hierarchies and silos, external providers who don’t fully understand complexity and disengaged customers. Transformation initiatives simply run out of steam and die.

So, introducing a skilled and experienced Chief Transformation Officer is a way organisations can avoid joining the 70% who fail to transform.

 

What does an effective CTrO do?

They act as a trusted advisor to the CEO. Dedicated to the achievement of transformation objectives, they assess the state of the organisational vision and strategy, advising the CEO where that critical ‘North Star’ is missing or inadequately articulated. They ensure there is a compelling case for change that can be communicated throughout the organisation to create engagement and focus. They are then able to develop and execute the transformation strategy and roadmap, providing a quantum leap to customers and employees to ensure delivery of the long-term vision.

They bring a benevolent change approach. Addressing that destructive engagement vacuum, effective CTrOs coach and guide in order to change mindsets and behaviours. They are experienced change leaders who ‘walk the talk’, taking an empowering approach, demonstrating strong ethical values as well as social and sustainable accountability while actively exemplifying what ‘good’ looks like in the new world. They transform organisations from the 'inside-out'.

Key to making this work, CTrOs have to be adaptable, resilient, empathetic, innovative, thoughtful, positive, have high EQ and strong interpersonal skills. They are excellent connectors and orchestrators.

They prioritise competing mission critical demands. As a neutral party, reporting directly to the CEO, focused on the realisation of transformation objectives, the CTrO is responsible for providing a reliable, consistent, single version of the truth to the C-suite and Board. This allows for effective decision making. These updates include progress and blockages to achieving the strategic transformation, acting as a connector across the business able to orchestrate collaboration that silos typically frustrate.

Their ability to synthesise and derive insight through collecting and collating the ‘right’ information means they are better equipped to facilitate meaningful prioritisation especially as a global, group organisation: across geo-locations and group departments, and help the C-Suite to balance planet-and-profit type decisions.

They lead a portfolio of ‘strategic/special’ projects. Many of the undertakings that are part of a transformation initiative are unusually complex and/or confidential in nature. Often referred to as strategic / special projects, they are of particular interest to the CEO and require sensitivity and discernment to deliver.

CTrOs who have managed to gain wide experience running portfolios, programmes and projects across multiple domains and sectors are better equipped to manage this sort of portfolio. They have the ability to go both wide and deep in orchestrating, collaborating and ultimately getting to the root cause of problems (sometimes referred to as taking a ‘T-shaped approach.’) They’ve developed the ability to think strategically and develop creative solutions to solve complex problems.

Key to doing this is their ability to manage complex stakeholder relationships, establishing and maintaining strong relationships with Board members, C-suite, investors, vendors and senior management using excellent communication, active listening and negotiation skills.

They create the transformation office & centre of excellence. To quote findings of research performed by the Boston Consulting Group, ‘the data shows that the role of an activist transformation office is 20% to 30% more important in the later stages of an implementation program than in its earlier stages. Successful CTOs take this into account by continuously tracking implementation processes and progress in employee adoption of target behaviours.’

Effective CTrOs therefore set up a Transformation Office, establishing and ensuring the reliable functional capability that:

Facilitates the allocation of funds - balancing investment with risk Manages the
Target Operating Model (TOM) and resourcing
Defines and delivers key performance metrics and monitoring of key goals
Develops, launches and maintains tools and templates
Challenges the transformation delivery against milestones and funding

They create a Centre of Excellence representing transformation leaders (project and change) across departments, locations and geographies, which provides coaching and mentoring across that landscape for the development and promotion of employees, improving staff retention.


What makes a great CTrO?

They are ‘special generalists’. I’m using the term ‘special generalist’ to describe people like myself, who have gained experience in two ways; through exposure to work across a wide range of industries and domains, as well as across varied transformation and project disciplines.

Cross functional across industries: It’s been my observation that our current business environment is increasingly ‘niched,’ particularly in the project domain where it is extremely easy to be driven into specialisation and significantly harder to remain a generalist. But ‘special generalists’ are EXACTLY suited to the CTrO role, having the type of experience I refer to above: they’ve learned to ‘lead wide and deep’ across domains, global locations and diverse industries.

I will always be grateful for the exceptional leaders I’ve worked with, who’ve provided the opportunity for me to acquire hands-on experience in these industries including FMCG (which I am most passionate about), Telco, Engineering services and Healthcare.

Various project disciplines: Typically project professionals either lead project delivery or assure and challenge projects through a strategic portfolio / PMO. My roles have been a combination of the two, which have been mutually beneficial. The most interesting and complex project deliveries ranged from the consolidation of global distribution centres or margin optimisation, to meaty undertakings like preparing for purchase, running mergers and acquisitions and the subsequent work of integration, to restructures and carve outs, organisational redesign, diversity and inclusion initiatives, entry into foreign markets, complex technology adoption and AI, and ESG strategy execution.

The value of NOT succumbing to the pressure to specialise early in my career became evident in the CTrO role when I was able to draw from experience acquired across that full spectrum of work. If you are a ‘special generalist’ who has played at a senior level across multiple domains as well as project and transformation disciplines, you may make a good CTrO.

Along with on-the-job learning and mentorship over the past 20+ years, I believe that good CTrOs have a growth mindset - an insatiable appetite for continuous learning, growth and transforming. I found the following courses invaluable in equipping me to follow a methodical, measured approach to transforming people, processes and technologies.

Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP): In 2019, I completed the Portfolio Management Professional (PfMP) through the Project Management Institute (PMI). Deemed the ‘cream of the crop’ of PMI’s suite of certifications; there are only 1 387 (Dec 2022) who have this certification. Through it I learnt how to bridge the gap between strategy and execution, balance investment with risk and improve investment benefits and value.

Organisational Transformation Series: PMI have released the Organisational Transformation series (Foundation, Implementation and Orchestration). These courses outline the fundamental methodology, the inside-out people side of transformation and how to lead to ensure you can anchor the transformation and embed the new culture. I found significant value in these courses and would recommend them for existing or aspiring CTrOs.

There is always something new to learn and add to the toolkit. My interest has been piqued most recently by this course being offered by Strategy Implementation Institute, created by one of my mentors - Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez and Robin Speculand.

Course learning and participation in global forums support CTrO mastery not just through the acquisition of knowledge, but also through the stimulation provided by engaging with other enquiring minds across the world in truly global learning environments. They also provide exposure to cultural and social diversity that may have not been considered.

They are relentlessly interested in improvement

Acquiring knowledge is one thing. Getting involved to make a wider contribution, take learning forward and stimulate the advancement of various fields of knowledge is another way to expand your horizons and enhance your value as a CTrO.

Since I was unable to find a network of fellow CTrOs, it was therefore a no-brainer to see the potential value in a Special Interest Group (SIG) to connect with others who are performing the CTrO role, to share best practice, collaborate, connect, and share global ideas.

The CTrO is an increasingly important emerging role, played best by those with a positively disruptive skill and mindset. If you can find someone with a varied career history, a passion for transforming people and profitable - planet growth, you may just have found your CTrO.

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