The big question

What does effective transformation leadership look like?

Transformation requires leadership—a single dedicated and accountable executive at the top who can help shape the vision and guide strategy. But leadership alone isn't enough. Effective leadership can spell the difference between success and failure in a transformation effort. Read below to learn what makes transformation leaders effective, how to select the right candidate, how to hold leaders accountable, and how to avoid common mistakes that can derail your transformation efforts.

What to look for?

Deep knowledge of the organisation. A view across the enterprise and into the deep inner workings of the business is critical for understanding the full impact of transformation and managing the transformation strategy. Why? Because transformation is about optimising the whole, not just individual pieces.

Solid relationships across the organisation and strong political capital. Your top transformation executive must understand the political landscape and be able to influence the various key players to get to answers quickly, build consensus, and get all stakeholders moving efficiently down the transformation path. Managing cross-functional conflicts and dependencies can be key to execution—which is one of the most difficult steps of a transformation.

A proven history of getting things done. Transformation is about establishing a vision for the end-state operating model, developing a clear roadmap to get there, and then leveraging your team to execute with great efficiency and speed to deliver that end-state vision.

A track record of decisiveness. A leader who can make effective and integrated decisions, balancing the trade-offs inherent in any difficult decision. Great leaders make effective decisions and they make them efficiently—this will help you save time, capital, and other resources during your transformation while also positioning your organisation to achieve long-term results.

Relevant experience, not necessarily prior transformation experience. The ability to lead matters most. An internal transformation centre of excellence, Results Management Office or third-party support can help make up for any specific transformation experience your leader lacks.

What if no one fits the bill?

First realise that you will have to pull someone entirely away from his or her primary job function to lead the transformation. That leader needs to focus exclusively on the transformation and set aside the biases of his or her previous role. The stakes are too high to have the leader split duties with a pre-existing role. With that in mind, don't obsess over finding a leader who's perfect on all five points above. Consider the type of transformation you’re undertaking and the mix of leadership skills you need.

Why should we pick a business leader?

Strong transformation leaders need to represent the business. No matter the type of transformation, your organisation needs a leader who deeply understands the business issues at play and who can build accountability with key business stakeholders. It can sometimes be tempting to tap the CIO to lead a transformation. But that can create big problems. Why? Because to be effective as a transformation leader, the CIO will have to stop being the CIO. Piling transformation leadership duties onto another function is a recipe for failure. You'll require an exclusive transformation leader, and your CIO might be too valuable a talent resource to spare. Keep in mind that anyone who might be perceived as having an inherent bias (departmental or otherwise) might not make an ideal candidate—since building consensus is key to an effective transformation. And if there's an internal battle for resources between two departments, choosing an executive from one of the departments could be a mistake.

How do you hold the leader accountable?

If you have enabled the transformation leader to do his or her job—not piling transformation onto other roles—you've already taken a major step toward accountability. But even the best transformation executive could fail if there is not a critical mass of executives who are aligned on the transformation and supporting the leader. The transformation leader must drive that alignment, with help from the CEO and the blessing of the board. The transformation leader should report to a steering committee, and the leader should also serve on that committee. Don't double-down if you've selected the wrong leader or made the wrong trade-offs while trying to adjust existing leadership roles and responsibilities. It makes more sense to install a new transformation leadership who can get things right—rather than continue with a suboptimal leader. Changing the leadership midstream will be disruptive, but it can be critically necessary. Motivating the transformation leader and the supporting executive team can be a simple matter of tying performance incentives to transformation outcomes—a move that also could help swiftly align all the key players on objectives and strategy.

Let's talk

Picking the right talent to lead your transformation requires more than the ability to identify a strong leader. It requires an understanding of the demands and requirements of the transformation in addition to what effective transformation leaders do. It also requires being able to assess how quickly the leader can ramp up to meet the new demands the transformation requires of them. How do you select the leader that can deliver the results you need and provide the tools, resources, and support necessary for an effective transformation? We can help.

We have a strong record of helping organisations navigate effectively through the challenges of transformation to deliver new value. Our global network of business and technology professionals, as well as extensive industry-specific experience, means we can rapidly collaborate with you to develop a transformation vision and strategy that makes sense for where you want your business to go.

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