HR Management & Compliance

It’s Time to Hire a Chief Transformation Officer

When it comes to the C-suite, there is a “C” for everything, including people, finances, operations, technology, and marketing, to name a few. But what about your executive dedicated to change?

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Introducing the chief transformation officer, the dedicated individual who will ensure your organization stays relevant and fresh as the world of work and the landscape of business shift and transform.

“We really need to have someone at the senior level position that could help an organization be like a catalyst of” the rapid transformations in the workplace, such as COVID-19, says expert Ricardo Vargas, Executive Director at Brightline Initiative. And while COVID-19 provides the very real example of why such change is needed, “organizations were in deep need of transformation even before COVID-19,” Vargas notes.

Why Can’t Other Executives or HR Handle Things?

Well, they can, and they have been. However, the range of duties for executives and HR means that even if they are extremely dedicated, they’ll never be able to focus 100% on this one critical aspect of organizational management.

What is the result of this fracturing of duties that takes the focus away from transformations? Vargas says that according to his company’s research, “we are facing today an absolute lack of leadership in such a turbulent and transformative environment.”

A Resistance to Change

Vargas’s organization has been trying to convince people to adopt a chief transformation officer since 2016 and has the data from 10 different studies to back up that role’s critical importance. However, he gets a lot of resistance. Those studies found something unsurprising but important: People act on their own best self-interests. This “people element,” as Vargas calls it, leads to the resistance to change “because change comes with fear,” he says.

That fear, according to Vargas, drives the machine that leads to an 85% disengagement rate among employees. At the heart of it is an unwillingness to tackle change. When change comes too late or doesn’t come at all, employees stagnate.

What may have been an exciting, innovative workplace becomes a quagmire that fails not only to engage employees but also to meet serious challenges. “Look at how many companies filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. recently,” notes Vargas, “and most of them were already suffering. The pandemic just broke everything.”

Without the ability to change as the world changes, many organizations folded like a lawn chair under the unexpected but not insurmountable pressures of the pandemic. Having an executive dedicated to change allows organizations to move swiftly on their feet instead of being victims of change.

The Value of Psychological Safety

When organizations are open to change, they do well and “have strong collaboration,” says Vargas.  “And they have what we call psychological safety.” That is, their employees are encouraged to think about things differently and voice those ideas.

When organizations are inflexible, innovative ideas can be seen as disruptive and lead to poor adoption of ideas, as well as poor employee engagement because employees are afraid to speak their mind. “If you are dominated by fear, what happens? You don’t move. You will try to cover your position until the last day you can do that. You try to put everything on hold,” says Vargas.

Vargas also points out that new generations of workers are very aware of the need for and presence or absence of psychological safety in organizations they consider working for. “If your company is not good enough to trust or ignore social reasoning, your company will not have the best talent because the best talent will work for someone else. It’s as simple as that,” remarks Vargas.

He believes this failure is the reason many organizations are going out of business—it’s a simple unwillingness or incapacity to adapt.

Break the Consultancy Cycle

Vargas brought up several times the problem with relying on consultants to fix your problems. Remember that 85% disengagement number? That’s from a recent Gallup poll. Why have decades of HR and workplace consultants not been able to bring that number up?

Vargas says he’ll often hear CEOs of organizations trying to address their engagement problems by “hiring a hundred consultants on that will leave as soon as they have another job. Most of the current employees are sidelined. What happens in the end? You don’t move or you move to the wrong direction.”

Hiring consultants to fix your organization is like using a Band-Aid. It makes you feel better, like you have taken action. But most of the time, it isn’t needed, and while it can assist in healing, you can’t really move the place where you put the Band-Aid.

Growth requires more than something you can slap on. It requires creating the conditions for change, like encouraging free thinking and supporting innovation, even when it’s not convenient.