Engineering Education Now: The Chief Transformation Officer

The Chief Transformation Officer – The Change Journey

In past Engineering Education Now articles, we’ve examined the evolving Chief Information Officer role and the relatively new Chief Technology Officer role. The Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) role has recently been in the media spotlight, and this is the role we’ll consider now.

In November 2018, both Neiman Marcus and UPS appointed their first CTOs, while JC Penney hired its first CTO in January 2019. These new leaders’ mandates: drive change and growth within their organizations.

Change is of course a common theme for today’s businesses: there’s nothing you can count on more right now than change, as processing power, storage, and bandwidth all continue to develop exponentially. Digital disruption is accelerating, and digital transformation leadership positions are growing in response.

Managing companies’ change journeys is therefore the charge of the CTO. This is a major responsibility, as both established and new businesses recognize the need to rapidly transform and maintain momentum. Fast execution of the company vision is key, as any competitive advantage in the marketplace can be copied, given time.

The Chief Transformation Officer – Define and Communicate the Vision

The nuts and bolts of a CTO’s job can range from customer journey mapping to organization capability assessments to data platform implementation.

One crucial aspect of the CTO’s role is to help the management team define and articulate what the company’s change journey should be, and to spread this message effectively. The management team’s vision is the basis for a change story that people both inside and outside the organization can understand and remember.

Any vision may of course need to be adjusted as the marketplace reacts. These timely tweaks and the guidance necessary for the management team are major reasons why the CTO role exists.

The CTO also acts as a synergy creator, encouraging the employee behavior necessary to embed change. This leader is the face of the transformation the company needs, setting the necessary tone, driving enthusiasm, and challenging accepted beliefs.

By communicating progress in the change journey back to the organization, the CTO ensures that company employees are invested in necessary change. This communication can be cascaded through the company’s intranet, internal newsletter, and/or discussion forums.

The Chief Transformation Officer – Visionary, Project Manager

Some CTOs are permanent fixtures and considered visionaries for the company. Others, however, see themselves as project managers for technological change. Indeed, some CTOs are tasked with a particular project for a company, and their job is temporary.

Diletta D’Onofrio, head of digital transformation at software company SnapLogic, notes, “A really good one does it in one to two years, a bad one in maybe five years. I know quite a few people in these types of roles, and they tend to be looking for a new job in the third year.”

Even if one position only lasts a few years, CTOs can rest assured that they will be able to find other available transformation positions. According to McKinsey, businesses aim to transform their organizations more often than overhauling their websites or computer systems.

The Chief Transformation Officer – Change Never Stops

A CTO is the C-suite leader tasked with asking important questions about the overall vision of the company and ensuring that the organization is heading in the right direction.

To that end, a CTO asks necessary questions like, Do I understand the dominant culture and mind-set and where it needs to shift? and, Do I have a clear-eyed view on where the real value lies and where we cannot afford to compromise?

Whether visionary or project manager, given the pace of technological change, Chief Transformation Officers can rest assured that there will always be a place for them in the C-suite.

In our next post, we’ll take a look at other C-suite positions that have cropped up, including the Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Data Officer.

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