Why Chief People Officers (CPO) are taking over HR

Remember when the human resources department was a back-office team that you only ever heard from when someone was joining or leaving the company? HR has come a long way from those days. Evolving trends in the HR landscape are now demanding a new, more strategic approach to HR practices. Firms are realising that caring for their workforces is the key to long-term growth.

chief people officer

This pivot has led to a change in nomenclature. The introduction of the title of People Director or CPO (Chief People Officer), has usurped the HR Director. It’s not a new trend, although it has taken a while for retail and consumer (opposed to Tech) companies to catch up. As the workplace invests more into employee experience and wellbeing, the popularity of having a CPO has taken-off.

So who is the CPO?

CPOs can arguably better bridge the gap between employer and employee and be a motivational force. The CPO can focus on the culture of a company and how that can best serve its people. They are business savvy, internal ambassadors who drive a positively engaged and high performing community. The People Director is the alchemist’s stone, provided it is not just a title. As a result, progressive HRD’s want the title because it allows them to affect the change they want to see.

In a survey by the Allegis group, 92% of participants saw a need to redesign their organisation to improve employee engagement, retention and build a meaningful culture. This same survey found that 82% of respondents saw culture as a competitive advantage. They agreed that culture drives innovation, customer service, and employee behaviour. In response, HR leaders are taking this new role as CPO to drive the change. They are creating environments where people choose to be motivated, contributing, and happy.

What’s in a title?

Well, quite a lot actually. If the perception of the HR Director is functional and reactive, a People Director has permission to be a strategic thinker able to nurture the teams, encourage happiness and ensure wellbeing. The functional and transactional elements of HR must be run tightly by a responsible head(s) of, or senior manager(s), allowing the HR Director to be accountable. But of course, many HR Directors are doing the supposed role of the Chief People Officer and vice versa, so the roles are more fluid than you may think.

Finding these individuals is not easy. Ideal CPO candidates must be:

  • Business-minded
  • Independent thinkers able to do the numbers
  • Genuine people-person
  • Visionary leaders
  • Frank and authentic
  • Subject matter experts
  • The three Cs: committed, courageous and creative

Whether companies change the title of their HR director or create a new position altogether, making CPOs part of their core leadership will become critical to success.

As I said in Karen Beavan’s book Strategic Human Resource Management, ‘CEOs are looking for HR Directors who are business-minded independent thinkers. They must be customer-centric, visionary leaders, willing to express their true opinion rather than being survivors, who back initiatives they don’t believe in. This is only possible if they are subject matter experts with the confidence to be courageous.’

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