Case for a chief change officer

Businesses should consider appointing a chief change officer to focus on transformation


The last decade has seen business transformation become a key driver of growth and sustainability, and as it has evolved, from traditional projects and change management to high-speed disruptive innovation, one thing has remained unchanged – the need for organisations to reinvent or die.

But more than that they need to understand the importance of fully embracing change, recognising the broader implications and benefits for the business, and embedding change in the fabric of their culture.

In reality this will only happen if there is a function within the organisation with responsibility for making it happen; a function with total accountability, not just for project budgets and deadlines, but for the acceptance of change throughout the whole organisation.

This raises questions over the need for the role of chief change officer (CCO), a role whose sustainability and viability, and positioning at board level, are questionable, but whose contribution to the business could prove invaluable.

It is also a hot topic for Julian McCallum and Minesh Jobanputra, founders of Deltra Group, a niche supplier of project, programme and change resources, and a leading recruitment partner to major firms in the UK and overseas.

With a wealth of combined experience in the industry, they have seen at first-hand how business transformation and change is evolving yet again as business-centric changes take equal importance to traditional technology-driven strategies.

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Mr Jobanputra says: “In many businesses change is technology-centric, which in this growing digital age we know is massively important. In a few cases we see companies changing business processes and over-engineering the way they work to accommodate a technology system. Should there not be a blended approach that allows the client to focus on what’s right for their business first?

“In this day and age, when digital change is so vital to business, along with employing an agile workforce, attracting millennial talent, and understanding the drivers of motivation and engagement, companies are looking at whether there should be a position of CCO as a recognised role.”

Organisations may be aware of the risks of ignoring change, but many have been slow to embrace it or even accept it. There have been some high-profile business failures resulting from poorly managed change. Some have simply not changed and innovated quickly enough.

In the case of Kodak, for example, it was the management’s inability to see that digital photography was not just going to challenge the industry, but totally reinvent it. The same can be said of Blockbuster, which underestimated a plucky young challenger in the form of Netflix and soon enough Blockbuster was no more.

Even the early Netflix model had its challenges; it lacked high street visibility and its video mailing system was slow. Still, customers loved the service and told their friends, and word-of-mouth recommendations saw user numbers soar, an example of what network scientists call the threshold model of collective behaviour. As adoption of a new idea grows, resistance dwindles and a viral cascade can result.

The question is, in order to create an environment or culture where change is integral, should companies embrace a permanent change function, or take a blended approach, or a flexible resourcing model, around specialist suppliers, to fulfil their needs?

It is in this space that Deltra Group is a market leader. Founded in 2010, and working primarily with FTSE 250 and 350 companies, it now has a team of 21, whose commitment to forging close relationships with clients, understanding where they are going and playing a key role in a journey that will inevitably involve change, has been instrumental in the firm’s impressive growth.

Mr McCallum says: “Our focus is on becoming a trusted ‘recruitment partner’ to our clients, fully understanding the journey of transformation they are on as well as their resource plan. This allows us proactively to find them the best talent in the market.”

Last year the two founders strengthened their market position by launching a new search and selection firm, Latimer Executive, with the aim of working with the C-suite in particular.

Where the company has really been insightful is in recognising that the real dangers and pitfalls of tech-driven transformation are found where the business isn’t engaged from the beginning, and where the wider business benefits and the crucial points around change and acceptance have not been fully considered.

“Projects and programmes delivered with technology as the ultimate driver haven’t always produced the right results,” says Mr Jobanputra. “If a company was introducing a new piece of technology, implementing to make cost-savings, but failing to consult on it with the end-users, the employees, the organisation faces a battle with its people to accept the changes being made. The IT function sees the cost impact, but nobody is thinking about the broader business impact.”

And it is this very specific and business critical aspect of change that lends weight to the case for a CCO.

A CCO would have total accountability for cost and output, but would not be working in isolation

Mr Jobanputra adds: “The chief information officer or CIO is traditionally the person identified with business and technology change, but in the last ten years the role of CIO has really evolved from being the technology specialist to being an innovation, information, ‘how can we use tech to get the best out of business?’ specialist.”

This transformation is generating interest in the notion of a dedicated change function, albeit tempered by a reticence around the idea of a CCO with a major say in what happens.

Nevertheless Deltra Group’s founders insist that a CCO is something companies should be considering. They argue that aside from the financial benefits, in terms of the intangibles, such as employee engagement and change acceptance and user acceptance, having someone whose role is to focus on change and transformation can only be beneficial.

A CCO would have total accountability for cost and output, but would not be working in isolation, adds Mr McCallum.

He says: “By working with the CIO and chief technology officer, technology can become a true delivery partner driving transformation and bringing exceptional value to an organisation. The CCO would have buy-in from the top, with the chief executive and the rest of the C-suite recognising it as a function worth having, while also understanding it will not necessarily deliver return on investment year on year.”

It would also bring about an end to the predictable blame game, when projects fail to hit budgets and deadlines or strategic objectives because the CCO would work with the CIO and chief financial officer to ensure they have the right commercials in place and the right contracts ready.

With change and business transformation part of the culture, there from the beginning rather than deployed reactively, organisations would not have to reinvent or die, they would simply evolve competitively, and secure a sustainable and successful future.

For more information visit www.deltragroup.com