The Chief People Officer as the New Business Executive

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In an age of lofty job-seeker expectations and fierce competition for skilled workers, delivering a coordinated, connected, and positive experience for candidates and employees has taken on new importance. It is no secret that engaged employees are more productive, less likely to leave, and more driven to contribute to a company’s goals. Conversely, an inability to attract and retain top talent can hamper an organization’s growth, hurt profitability, and create a negative brand experience in the marketplace.

According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report, 92 percent of participants saw a need to redesign their organization to improve employee engagement and retention and build a meaningful culture. This same survey found that 82 percent of respondents see culture as a competitive advantage, driving innovation, customer service, and employee behavior.

So who in the organization is best suited to lead the new focus on human capital? The Chief People Officer (CPO).

What Does the CPO Role Entail?

Essentially, the Chief People Officer is in charge of managing the strategy and processes related to building and retaining an exceptional team of professionals. CPOs act as advisors and consultants—but must also be able to roll up their sleeves and execute solutions. Their job is to optimize people-centered activities such as hiring, training, professional development, and performance management to ensure these efforts support the company’s growth and bottom line.

Working with the organization to continue to develop a well-defined company culture is another key role of the CPO. In a start-up, though most of the culture is created early on by the CEO, and the founding team, it is the Chief People Officer’s job to bring this culture to fruition through strategic “storytelling.” This means ensuring that the company values are reinforced with every initiative and communication.

While a stellar employee experience is paramount, providing an exciting, candidate-centric recruiting experience is vital as well. A good CPO serves as a company’s culture advocate and brand builder to help attract the best and brightest talent to the organization.

What Qualities Make for a Successful CPO?

In order to be a change agent who takes their company into the future, Chief People Officers require a varied and highly evolved skill set. Core competencies include the following:

Business Acumen: As strategic advisors, CPOs must understand the organization and the potential evolution of the business. As a solutions-oriented change leader with influencing capability, they must develop and align the people strategy with the business strategy.

Organizational Leader: A CPO must have an innovative mindset and develop new ways of working across a diverse talent pool to optimize work and performance. These leaders must have a superb reputation as a strategic-doer, demonstrating agility and collaboration throughout the organization.

Culture Influencer: Being a good storyteller, with the ability to orchestrate shared values across employees, customers, suppliers, investors, and the community. Helping to reinforce and stitch together the culture and shared values across the candidate and employee lifecycles is paramount.

Talent Architect: Demonstrated ability to attract and hire top talent, with a focus focused on diversity and inclusion as a competitive business advantage. Ability to develop relationships and build communities with an effort to drive engagement and support talent and leadership development initiatives.

Data/Technology Advisor: CPOs are forward-thinking technologists who understand how to use data and technology to drive productivity and forecast workforce trends. Use of artificial intelligence and machine learning is rapidly increasing in sourcing and recruiting along with many other jobs across the organization.

Emotional Intelligence: Empathy and strong interpersonal skills are essential for the CPO. They must be compassionate, self-aware, and able to skillfully manage their emotions and those of others.

Authenticity: Organizations are agile environments with many moving parts. CPOs must have a unique ability to help manage frequent and complex ups and downs, while being open and transparent with employees, fostering trust and being a resource in the middle of chaos. The right temperament and trust helps to build credibility with internal and external stakeholders.

The CPO-CEO Partnership

Developing a strong business relationship with the CEO will help to drive transformative change for the organization. This is much easier to come by if the CEO already embraces the fact that people are at the core of the company's growth and success.

A sound business partnership between the CEO and the CPO—one based on trust, honesty, and constant communication—is key. These two individuals should spend time learning about each other’s talent management perspectives and philosophies so they can work as a team to advance the interests of the business.

It’s not a stretch to say that the CEO is the Chief People Officer’s main “client.” As an expert in leveraging talent, this individual can coach the CEO to better utilize his or her capabilities to effect meaningful change as a business leader.

Putting the “Human” Back in Human Resources


Many executives proclaim that people are their company’s greatest asset. But the emphasis on human capital must go well beyond hiring and labor costs. Companies must be able to connect the work employees do to the corporate mission to make them feel valued and significant. They must take measures to create a welcoming, energizing, and rewarding place to work.

Businesses that understand the potential of an empowered workforce will be better able to respond to market challenges and ensure that employees thrive in a fast-paced, fast-changing environment. This is where Chief People Officers can make a major contribution.

Having a dedicated C-level individual to oversee an organization’s people makes good business sense. In addition to identifying and recruiting premier new talent, a CPO can enable team members to achieve their highest potential and make a profound impact in the organization. There’s no better investment in a company’s future.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn May 15, 2018.

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