The other ‘CTO’: The emerging role of the chief transformation officer

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The other ‘CTO’: The emerging role of the chief transformation officer

While the role of the chief technology officer has long been considered critical to business, organisations are starting to recognise a different CTO: The chief transformation officer.

A c-suite position responsible for leading business-wide change, chief transformation officers (CTO) are slowly gaining visibility in leadership teams across the country. We spoke with several current and former transformation chiefs about their roles and their impact on the business.

Tanya Graham is the executive general manager, strategic programs at Healthscope, and the former chief transformation officer at Alinta Energy.

Graham described the role as “a key orchestrator across strategy, operations, customer and people”.

While the role demands fundamental tech knowledge, according to Graham (pictured, right), it is the behavioural change that a transformation leader inspires, that make the most difference in driving business performance.

“[The chief transformation officer] acts as the face of the transformation, sets the tone, spurs enthusiasm, and challenges current wisdom,” she said.

While the role started to emerge in the last three to five years and now some of the nation’s biggest enterprises have appointed transformation chiefs, including BHP, NAB and Telstra, according to Michael Fagan, chief transformation officer at Village Roadshow, enterprises have been running large scale change programs for upwards of 25 years.

“Coles had several general manager of transformation roles (e.g. IT and supermarket operations) in 2005, but they reported to traditional roles in the c-suite (CIO and COO). The chief transformation officer reporting to the CEO is a relatively new role, and immature in Australia. I know of only a handful,” said Fagan.

It is in recent years that businesses have recognised the necessity for focus and leadership in driving business-wide transformation.

According to Henriette Rothschild, partner at KordaMentha Corporate and previously chief transformation officer at ViacomCBS, before the role emerged, change management roles were task focussed and linear in nature, while the chief transformation officer works across multiple functions including marketing, CX, HR, digital and finance.

“In my role as CTO of a global media company, the role provided additional capacity and capability to the executive team. It worked with other executives to drive a complex program of transformation across multiple disciplines including digital, commercial, finance and people," said Rothschild (pictured right).

"The work incorporated significant financial and commercial analysis and insights, some leadership coaching and, importantly, hands-on implementation support,” said Rothschild.

“When done right, the CTO is a very hands-on role that gets things done in the short term, while bringing a depth of experience and future orientation to the executive table. “

Village Roadshow’s Fagan cautions, however, against all businesses appointing someone to the position.

“Not every business needs a CTO. In fact, it is likely to be counter-productive unless you genuinely desire transformation, and intend to follow through,” he said.

“Appointing a CTO without executing the transformation gives the impression to the leadership team and the working population that you are all talk and no action, and could dishearten those who truly feel that drastic change is needed. It will give them false hope, and then dash those hopes. Appointing a CTO is a statement that big change is coming  so conversely, it will disrupt and upset people unnecessarily if there is only minor change required.“

With the right execution, the chief transformation officer will continue to have a seat at the executive table, said Graham, acting as a “strategic agitator for change.”

Looking to the future of the role, Rothschild adds, “When done right, this role is a game changer for organisations, as it helps get traction on the essential changes required to ensure an organisation is fit for the future and financially sustainable. It adds capacity and capability to stretched executives, CEOs and provides Boards with reassurance the organisation is taking real steps to ensure future sustainability.”

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