In recent years there has been the emergence and growing popularity of a new role within businesses: The Chief People Officer. Also known by other names such as the Chief Purpose/Morale/[insert another contrived adjective here] Officer. Often appearing in startups and ‘cool’ new tech companies, it wouldn’t be difficult to assume it was just a hipster rebrand of the Head of HR, as a new generation of business leaders want to put their stamp on the workplace. However, whilst this may be true in some circumstances, I believe that as employees evolve in their thinking and ways of working, the Chief People Officer will become one of the most important roles if businesses are to evolve and remain competitive.
Before the value of this role can be determined however, we first need to understand what it actually means. In short, every company I’ve come across and people I have met that either have one of these roles or have this position in their company, all describe it slightly differently, meaning it is hard to clearly define what these roles are and if they add any value. Yet, this is to be expected, as with all things new, it takes time to define and refine what it is, which I saw first hand in my earlier career as we were getting to grips with what a ‘Social Media Manager’ was! Therefore, with no standard definition, I want to share my personal perspective of what a Chief People Officer role is and why it is needed.
I believe the Chief People Officer is not simply a rebrand of HR. It is much more than that! I believe it is the coming together of HR, Marketing and Operations to create a role that works in tandem with the CEO to power businesses forward. Here the CEO focusses on the ‘hard stuff’, namely finance, sales and production/engineering, being focussed on products, company financials and future innovation. The Chief People Officer on the other hand deals with the ‘soft stuff’, people, communication and culture.
This differs from the traditional HR role whose core responsibility is to manage recruitment, training and employee admin. Instead, the Chief People Officer is responsible for defining what the culture of the business is and then embedding this across the whole organisation through the use of intelligent and regular communications (marketing) and also the provision of the right tools to enable it (ops).
Far too often all these elements are not thought about holistically. For example, internal comms is often a neglected area of the business, which if even done at all represents nothing more than a monthly email update from CEO (or more likely their PA). Hardly inspiring or that useful, especially as it is often one-way communication.
Instead, in a modern world where people are used to always-on, personalised content delivered directly to their phone whenever they want outside of work, many employees face a rather different way of operating inside of work, creating a disconnect that is leaving employees feeling disengaged, impacting morale, retention, productivity and ultimately profit. As such, the key part of the Chief People Officer is to eliminate this disconnect.
In order to deliver on this, the new position of Chief People Officer needs to combine experience in HR, Marketing and Operations so they can understand the business objectives, articulate a vision and culture for everyone to get behind in order to meet these objectives, then introduce new technology that facilitates regular, open and two-way internal communication within the company to reinforce this new culture and empower employees to reach a shared goal.
It is not an easy role, but nor is it an impossible. But it is a vital one. As organisations battled in previous years to adapt to the evolving modern consumer to ensure their business remained relevant, they now need to do the same for the evolving modern employee. If they don’t, businesses face becoming further and further disconnected with the needs of a modern workforce, making it difficult for them to keep the staff they’ve got and attract new staff, as the work environment simply will not reflect how they want to work.
Business leaders have a lot to think about in today’s fast paced environment, but the forward-thinking ones don’t leave the needs of their employees at the bottom of list and instead proactively invest their time and resources in a People Strategy that compliments their wider business strategy. And the person to lead this people strategy is the Chief People Officer who requires a new combination of skills to reflect the needs of a modern workforce. The question you need to ask is, does your business value it’s people enough to invest in a Chief People Officer, and if it doesn’t, is it really a company you want to be working for in the long term?