As executive search consultants, we focus on understanding and optimizing businesses’ intended transformations and how they are shaping strategic responses to industry-level changes.

While our clients focus on strategic planning, we place a great deal of our focus on the board advisory and strategic alignment with the execution of their needs. Especially implementation challenges of transformation affecting the organizational design. All organizations must face major transformations while working to advance in their industry. To tackle these issues, for the past five years, the new trend in executive hiring has been the Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) role.

Daniel Roldán Chiffoleau is the Chief Transformation Officer at DirecTV Latin America (Vrio Corp.), originally an American direct broadcast satellite service provider from California. Vrio Corp has been committed to following market trends and increasing its value proposition through transformation: investing in technology and content aligned with the consumers’ habits, emphasizing the next generation. This is where the CTO role gets into the spotlight. As the key change driver in his organization, Daniel highlighted the importance of having the support of the whole Executive Board to create an agile work environment to drive a successful transformation. Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge he faced was changing his colleagues’ mindset to get them on board with the changes.

To better understand the challenges of changing the mindset of employees at an organization, we should identify the factors causing this resistance to change. These factors can divide into individual elements, including lack of confidence, low self-stability, stress, lack of ambition, lack of motivation, fear of failure, low self-efficacy, lack of commitment, and autonomy on a job. Other situational factors applied include high information ambiguity, communication breakdowns, executive-level silence, lack of team support, and poor organizational culture. Every organization has mechanisms to address most of these factors, but not all utilize these mechanisms orderly or adequately. It is essential to have someone with a bird’s-eye view of the whole process to orchestrate it successfully.

Boris Dragović is the Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer at Hyperoptic, a fiber-to-the-building Internet service provider based in London. He highlighted the need for change as the main prerequisite of a successful transformation; being ex-McKinsey and a public official before this current role, Boris’s whole career revolved around extensive transformation processes. As he likes to say, “There must be a clear burning platform, which really is somewhat immediate, the critical need to change rapidly and profoundly if you are to survive.”

To him, the biggest challenge was, of course, the willingness to change. He perceives his role as a high-level orchestrator of an often hugely complex process. A process that not only changes business profoundly but also changes the people involved – their mindsets, behaviors, and habits. To achieve this, an effective CTO needs “to strike the right balance between a carrot and a stick; short-term impact on numbers vs. long term value, or feel-good effects vs. profound change.”

Even though transformation is the most worn-out word in the business vocabulary, we cannot escape the fact that it is an inevitable challenge in the current business environment. One of the biggest misconceptions around transformation is that you are done with it once the project is over; transformation is an ongoing requirement for any growing or adaptive business. First of all, there is a follow-up period to ensure a successful outcome. Second of all, the business environment is ever-changing and ever-evolving. Thus organizations need to become more agile and adaptable to fast pace changes over a long period.

Failed transformations represent a considerable setback and widen the gap between a business and its customers. However, four main steps are proven to be effective:

  • Step 1: Leadership alignment
  • Step 2: Culture alignment
  • Step 3: Strategy alignment
  • Step 4: Operations alignment

Despite an effort to implement these changes, many organizations still fall short of a successful transformation. And why is that? Because every change is a painful process that works perfectly until the implementation phase, many fail to communicate & prioritize properly and do not follow through with fundamental changes. To keep transformations on track, it has become clear that there is a necessity to define a new role for this critical endeavor – the Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) role.

What does the Chief Transformation Officer role entail?

The core of this role is to keep all the steps mentioned above in action and functioning correctly. If we observe an organization in the transformation process as an airplane flight: The CEO is the pilot, COO/CFO & other executives are co-pilots, and the Chief Transformation Officer is the air traffic control in charge of the safe, orderly, and expeditious flight. Responsibility for making the day-to-day decisions lies with functional leaders, but the CTO’s job is to keep all initiatives on track. This is an arduous task, especially if the CTO doesn’t hold the proper authority or have the support of the Executive Board.

Anyone occupying the Chief Transformation Officer role must have a vital stakeholder management skill and cross-functional background instead of other more specialized executives. Therefore, it’s critical to hire an experienced CTO. Only professionals with versatile careers will have the ability to orchestrate such complex projects and steer multiple high-ranking decision-makers in the right direction.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw

It takes a strong leader capable of inspiring and providing a group vision to keep the momentum going until the finish line. Therefore, the biggest asset of a successful CTO is a unique set of soft skills with strong cognitive and emotional empathy. Additionally, a highly numerate, wise, and analytical person, capable of solving problems and anticipating them. A visionary CTO focused on growth is the most welcomed new addition to the Executive Board, acting as the CEO’s extension in the transformation process.