Know Your C-Suite: Chief People Officer

July 13, 2017

As corporate expansion has become very much about “follow the talent,” loftier expectations are being tossed in the direction of the human resources department.  With low unemployment rates in large pockets of the country and demand for highly-skilled workers increasing, “people strategy,” talent acquisition and employee retention are critical to a company’s long-term success. It’s no surprise, then, that human resource professionals are included on many executive teams.

This second report on “executive personas” (see our recent COO blog) evaluates the Chief People Officer as a driving force in a company’s human capital strategy. Compared to most C-suiters, who believe operational efficiency and reoccurring revenue drive company success, CPOs fundamentally believe business growth derives from a happy and thriving workforce.

Pain Points

Employee satisfaction, company culture and talent acquisition are the primary concerns for CPOs. Despite the often-cited importance by a chief executive of the company’s people, the CPO often struggles to be seen as “equals” with the more traditional roles of COO and CFO in the executive suite. In many industries, this restructuring of importance between human resources functions and sales, marketing and operations continues to evolve. The tech industry (and startups in general) are perhaps the most accepting of HR functions as a leading driver of a company; other sectors are still evolving toward that mindset.

Responsibilities of a CPO—and also largely a Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) and Chief Talent Officer (CTO) —often include:

  • Educating the CEO on benefits of workforce spending by impact on ROI;
  • Analyzing human capital data and industry trends to guide recommendations on company policy;
  • Building culture to improve employee retention, as well as aid in talent acquisition;
  • Facilitating and building relationships to mine new talent pools;
  • Leading change management efforts as they relate to human capital.

While information on direct CPO involvement in corporate expansions is difficult to find, the position can logically be seen as an influencer in site selection processes. Relocations and consolidations would be viewed by the CPO from an employee-first perspective (Will our workers want to move? Can we hire in the new location? What’s the livability like in our new destination?); expansions could be seen more from a company culture perspective (Does a location fit our company DNA?). As some CPOs report directly to the CEO, his or her input can be significant in the decision process.

Reporting to the CPO

The CPO has built a team under them to be their eyes and ears of the organization. While CPOs frequently interact with employees on casual topics, VP-level staffers are constantly interacting and collecting data on company staffers for sharing upstream. Titles of relevance at the mid-management level include VPs of People Strategy, Culture and Experience, Talent Acquisition, Human Resources, Human Capital and Workplace Solutions.

Which Companies Hire a CPO?

CPOs are most often found at opposite ends of the company spectrum—rapid growing startups and large public companies. Startups who experience a tremendous amount of growth require significant talent acquisition resources within a short period of time, and CPOs can help keep the founder’s values aligned with company culture (including the opening of new remote offices). For larger firms, a CPO is hired to innovate workplace strategies, pinpoint most relevant talent pools and increase overall employee satisfaction and retention rates.

Is There a Difference Between CPO, CHRO and Chief Talent Officer (CTO)?

The answer is yes…maybe. Some see the title of Chief People Officer as a gimmicky rebrand of a traditional CHRO. However, many firms with a CPO will argue that the role is more strategic (and therefore, more relevant for EDOs and IPAs). CHROs will often focus on policy and process, whereas a CPO is more about people, culture and workplace strategies. Chief Talent Officers are sometimes a catch-all for the other two, and other times have very defined roles around finding the right talent to fill needed positions. In our assessment, CPOs are most relevant to the messaging of economic developers, followed by CTOs and finally CHROs. That said, if a company dedicates a C-suite position for any one of these functions, there’s a good chance “people strategy” has a place in the site selection process.

More Resources

For more resources on the CPO position, we recommend the following reading: The Rise of the Chief People Officer, We Just Hired a Chief People Officer (Why You Should Too); What does a chief people officer do? We asked 3 tech companies to find out and Leveraging the Power of the Chief Talent Officer.

Danny Wohlner

Written by Danny Wohlner

Daniel Wohlner is an Account Coordinator in the Economic Development practice. He specializes in digital marketing and lead generation for various economic development organizations and investment promotion agencies.

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