Bring On the CTO: Why Having a Chief Transformation Officer Makes Sense in a Post-COVID World

The case for having a Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) has been building for years. Now, as companies undertake the difficult task of rebuilding in the wake of COVID-19, the CTO role is more important than ever.

Written by Ricardo Vargas • 11 June 2020

Looking up between buildings hero

Photo by Alex wong on Unsplash

“Life will never be the same after COVID-19.”

You hear that a lot these days. But for many organizations, life will indeed be different in a post-COVID world. Whether they’re restructuring their supply chains, reframing their go-to-market strategies or reconsidering their office space needs, organizations rebuilding in the wake of COVID-19 will need to undergo significant transformation.

To aid in these efforts, it becomes relevant to think about formalizing the role of the Chief Transformation Officer.

The role of Chief Transformation Officer, or CTO, is tailor made for times like these. A CTO can take top management’s transformation vision and make sure it’s properly disseminated throughout the organization. He or she can translate that vision into concrete goals. Even more important, the CTO can devise and deliver the master plan for achieving these goals—overseeing the multitude of projects that will be needed to turn the organization’s transformation strategies into reality in the post-COVID world.

A Constant State of Transformation

Even before the onset of COVID-19, however, the argument for formalizing the CTO role had been building. That’s because many organizations are already dealing with near constant transformations due to disruptive societal and technological changes. These include growing urbanization, climate change, massive demographic shifts and the revolution caused by advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics and 5G.

There’s also the reality that transformations are costly, time-consuming and difficult. They tax the capabilities of even the most agile organizations. In fact, Forbes estimates that 70 percent of large-scale transformations fail to achieve their goals, resulting in a loss of approximately $900 billion in 2018 alone.

Transformations fail for a variety of reasons. Executives we spoke to as part of a 2020 Brightline study, titled Mastering Strategy Implementation in Transformative Times, cited such challenges as limited resources, insufficient technology, skill gaps among internal talent and a lack of processes for guiding strategy.

This same research—among 1,000+ C-level executives from around the world—also provides supporting evidence for the CTO role. Indeed, one of the key variables contributing to the success of a strategic transformation is strong leadership. Brightline’s years of experience in researching strategic implementation suggests that naming a CTO may be the best way of providing that leadership.

Using Standardized Processes

The CTO can serve as a catalyst for formalizing the processes used in transformation initiatives. That’s important because one of the other key variables behind a successful transformation is implementing and adhering to such standardized processes. The CTO can bring the discipline needed to do so—helping organizations be more adaptable and allowing them to take full advantage of the technology and frameworks they already have.

Finally, having a CTO leads to greater accountability. Investing one person with the responsibility for overseeing a transformation eliminates any potential leadership gaps. It ensures that there will always be one person—the CTO—whose sole priority is the success of the transformation initiative.

Sometimes a black swan event can disrupt a trend that has been gaining momentum. In the case of the CTO role, however, the COVID-19 pandemic should accelerate that momentum. In the post-COVID world, we need to bring on more CTOs to manage the arduous task of re-building our organizations, our economies and our society.

Ricardo Vargas headshot

Ricardo Vargas
Executive Director | Brightline Initiative, PMI

Related Posts


Digital Transformation – and Implications for Project Leaders

Today we live in a digital first world, but successfully managing digital transformation is a challenge for project professionals.


Mastering Collaboration Within a Team

Mastering collaboration within a team is more than an attitude; it’s a skill that you can foster and develop to deliver more successful projects.

Pierre and Alan

Reimagining Culture to Drive Business Results

PMI President and CEO, Pierre Le Manh, and Fortune Media CEO, Alan Murray, discuss strategies for reimagining workplace culture to drive success.