chief transformation officer (CTO)

What is a chief transformation officer (CTO)?

Chief transformation officer (CTO) is an executive role, often in the C-suite, that focuses on bringing about change, as well as growth in revenue and profit to an organization. Many large and mid-size companies have added chief transformation officers to their teams as rapid-fire developments in technology -- along with shifting markets, customer demands, competitive environments and trends in global trade -- have spurred the need for continuous transformation and transformational leadership. Chief transformation officers should not be confused with chief technology officers.

As digital transformation continues to cause disruption across all industries, many of these changes are aimed at improving business infrastructure and customer experience.

What does the chief transformation officer do?

CTOs are often involved in selecting new products and services. They also help optimize business processes, such as selling, marketing, communications, collaboration and innovation. All digital transformation and change management efforts would also fall under the chief transformation officer.

Key qualities of an effective chief transformation officer include inspiring employees and serving as a role model for the behavior needed to effect organizational change.

Responsibility and accountability for day-to-day decisions lie with line managers, but the chief transformation officer oversees the making and executing of these decisions to ensure that the job gets done efficiently. The CTO takes the lead in building synergies among people, data and infrastructure. In addition to helping teams and business leaders understand what they need to do to bring about transformational change, CTOs must keep top executives, such as the chief executive officer (CEO) aware of the changes needed and what they require.

To fully reap the benefits of digital transformation, the transformation chief should be integrated into the executive team and not pushed to the side as part of a "transformation unit."

list of CTO roles, skills and responsibilities
CTOs need a combination of hard and soft skills to be successful.

Why is the role of the chief transformation officer important?

The chief transformation officer plays several roles, including the following three:

  • provides strategic and operational guidance for the company's digital and business transformation efforts;
  • develops and implements strategies to improve operational efficiency, effectiveness and competitiveness; and
  • develops and drives initiatives that help a company grow.

CTOs help companies challenge the status quo. They instigate digital transformation and digital disruption and prepare for the future.

One impediment to digital transformation is when employees hold onto outmoded processes. CTOs are tasked with dismantling old approaches and ways of thinking that keep a company from succeeding at digital transformation.

The CTO is the top executive who holds managers accountable for the practical tasks that successful transformation requires. They encourage managers to adopt new approaches and embrace large-scale change, such as using cross-functional teams. They drive the digital transformation effort from the top down, connecting the perspective of frontline teams to their overarching strategy and vision.

As part of their C-suite role, effective CTOs also coach senior leadership, such as the CEO and board of directors, on the importance of digital transformation.

C-suite diagram
Chief transformation officers must work with the entire C-suite for their strategy to be successful.

What skills and qualifications does a chief transformation officer need?

The role of the CTO requires a variety of skills and qualifications. The CTO job description often includes the following requirements:

  • Business sense. CTOs must have a deep knowledge of the business they work in and challenges it faces.
  • Industry knowledge. CTOs should have their finger on the pulse of current technology trends and emerging technologies.
  • Emotional intelligence. Well-honed communication and interpersonal skills are important for success.
  • Leadership. A main function of the job is motivating employees to embrace change, which requires guidance, modeling and mentoring from the CTO.
  • Decision-making. CTOs must know how to make data-driven decisions regarding resources, tasks and deadlines in digital transformation programs.
  • Strategic thinking. CTOs must understand the big picture for technological change at a business. They must understand the challenges the business units face and the fundamental changes needed to address them.
  • Talent awareness. CTOs often must hire new talent to carry out change. They should have a good sense for the people that will be able to make this happen.
  • Technical knowledge. A technical background can help a chief transformation officer understand the industry they work in and the nuances of technical difficulty that the frontline employees face. For example, a CTO who was an IT operations administrator would have a more implicit understanding of the challenges those people face. At the same time, they still maintain an outsider perspective to break old habits and bring about change in the organization. However, a technical background is not required for the job.

Learn how enterprises can successfully embrace digital transformation with our complete enterprise guide to digital transformation.

This was last updated in June 2022

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