Embrace Your Head of Change

4 min readSep 8, 2016

In the last few years, 360Leaders has witnessed a marked increase in the number of our corporate clients wanting to recruit a ‘Head of Change’.

Why are these overly complex, multinational beasts suddenly seeking a Head of Change tasked with the seemingly impossible mission to engineer, then execute an overhauling of everything that has gone on before?

Some would argue, that the corporations have been forced into action as a consequence of the digital agenda, the demands of an increasingly fickle consumer base and the rise of online, mobile-first, technology start-ups.

Then it begs the altogether more complex question, how? How is it even possible that conglomerates which in many instances have evolved over generations are even able to embrace change?

However, the “why” and “how” is no longer important. Modernised, customer-centric corporations immaculately aligned behind a common goal is what is expected.

So the “who” that can deliver it is arguably one of the most pressing talent requirements today.

Indeed, who has the authority to overrule the myriad of departments, divisions and matrix reporting lines? Who can processes this altogether? — The Head of Change, that’s who.

These companies are starting to recognise that these Change Agents are the business leaders who can deliver the seemingly impossible. Indeed, they assess how the organisation is held together and then implement a transformational blueprint.

This is no simple matter. If it were just a case of reorganisation and implementation then that would be relatively straightforward, but whilst many companies welcome and indeed embrace change, some are not quite so forward thinking. Certainly, there are those champions of the Status Quo (remarkably many at the EXCO level) who tend to be the biggest obstacles to overcome.

Although, even if an organisation has come to the conclusion of executing corporate change, we have heard from the very practitioners themselves that many companies were not sure of the real definition of a Head of Change, what a good one looked like, where they should sit in the org chart and most importantly, how to go about hiring one.

As a consequence, when organisations have little experience of hiring these people, let alone knowing “what good looks like” you start to see numerous senior stakeholders with personal opinions on how to build a change function. Unfortunately that rarely works for the Head of Change Leaders themselves, thus putting them in an awkward position where they sometimes:

(a) report into the wrong people

(b) operate in a business where people do not understand their roles and

( c) feel powerless to get the job done.

A sad story when you think about the results corporations can achieve through hiring these people….

But we empathise, because this is not an easy role to fill. Every company has various challenges they want, in fact need to tackle immediately and amongst it all, there are a load of leaders who all want the same result but view the route to getting there differently. Now, just imagine such a story where you add yet another human being into the mix, who might have all the tools in the tool box to help you achieve this, but did not have the authorisation or access to the Board to get their message across.

Difficult isn’t it…

So, what is the solution…?

We have spoken with a number of Head of Change practitioners within industry, as well as those watching behind the scenes in consulting firms, and their solutions are always the same for companies who are ready to undertake all-encompassing change: the company must embrace the Head of Change.

By this, they mean freedom, authority and a direct line to where the buck stops, i.e. the CEO. They are happy to regularly update the EXCO members because invariably it will impact each and every one of them and their departments, so their buy in is essential. But, sponsorship must come from on high.

Now clearly, this is the case for corporations wishing a holistic change agenda. Should it be a change of a particular IT system or a new people management agenda, there is no need for a Head of Change to focus on the entire business operations.

Those business leaders delivering holistic change are by necessity incredibly strong willed people that are used to educating a business around change and certainly know a thing or two about company politics. Yet, their years of experience is almost worthless when they do not have the sponsorship to survive. Crucially, their strategy and change agendas need to be embraced from the CEO downwards and particularly by the HR Department, otherwise they stand no chance.

The key to success is in appreciating their role in its entirety, as well as understanding of exactly why you need them. From there, ensure the business is in a position where it is ready to hire one and you would be amazed to find that you have yourselves a future COO in command.

Ceylan Higgins is a Senior Associate at 360Leaders, an executive search firm focused on recruiting, Board, C-level and VP-level talent for high growth and corporate companies going through digital transformation.




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