What's in a name? HR by any other name would still send poorly formatted emails.

Sorry, that was a cheap shot. But seriously, language is a very powerful agent for organisational change.

Read the fantastic story of Travelex's digital transformation and you'll know one of the many principles championed by Sean Cornwell was to 'talk about speed, agile, failure, new capabiltiies, ways of working and collaboration like it's going out of fashion.'

Can the mere naming of a Chief People Officer (CPO) be a totemic act? How have organisations rejigged their HR departments and why?

If it's good enough for BuzzFeed and the Government...

Startup culture is largely responsible for the title of Chief People Officer, emerging over the last decade and only now becoming more commonplace in larger organisations.

Of course, many of these larger organisations are not long out of the startup phase themselves (BuzzFeed has just appointed a CPO).

And those companies longer in the tooth are actively trying to foster startup-style values (see Hive and others), in an effort to attract staff and be agile with product development.

The Civil Service has recently appointed a Chief People Officer, Rupert McNeil. This is a new role 'building on the Head of Civil Service HR post previously filled by [the aptly named] Chris Last'.

Notably, Rupert's role includes workforce strategy and reform, L&D, talent strategy, and diversity and inclusion.

A Chief People Officer puts the workforce on the board

The CPO is not always on the board but will certainly attend board meetings where appropriate. It's significant that diversity, talent and wellbeing are championed by a chief, given equal naming rights as CEO, CTO, CMO, COO etc.

As a signal to the workforce it says 'you are represented at board level'.

Reporting to the CEO, the Chief People Officer moves HR from a mere business function to a crucible for company success.

war room

The CPO puts culture firmly in the HR remit..

In Deloitte's 2015 Human Capital trends report, culture and engagement was rated the most important issue, edging out leadership (which topped the 2014 poll).

87% of respondents rated culture and engagement as a 'top challenge', yet 22% report that their organizations have 'either a poor program to measure and improve engagement, or no program at all'.

Herein lies the remit of the Chief People Officer.

..which means a new focus on 'people, value and capacity'

Michael Fertik, executive chairmen of Reputation.com, sums up the role of the CPO thus.

They know it’s about who is working for you, the value they generate for the business, and what’s needed to turn that value up to its full capacity.

Accountability and intimacy makes startups great

Though the CPO represents a functional evolution from the HR Director, there is undoubtedly a philosophical argument for change.

Putting the focus on people not resources creates an atmosphere better suited for accountability and intimacy, exactly what drives the early growth of a startup (and could help shift a big corporate).

Employee retention is implicit

Though recruitment is a key area for the Chief People Officer (typified by the aggressive pursuit of talent in Silicon Valley), wider talk of culture and engagement is actually a reaction to declining employee retention rates in certain parts of the corporate world.

The appointment of a CPO is implicitly a way to prevent talent leaching from the organisation. Just look at Econsultancy and Marketing Week's Salary Survey from 2015, with 81% of marketers set to leave their job in the next three years.

Incidentally, please take part in our 2016 Salary Survey here (and get a copy of the ensuing report and the chance to win some Amazon vouchers - wooo).

chris morris in the it crowd

Your CPO won't be dishing out cuddles, but perhaps they should be sat close enough to do so?

Finishing on what to some may seem a trivial point, but is at least practical.

Think of an old-fashioned HR department and Orwell may come to mind. They (the HR people) live behind a locked door and track your attendance and performance.

Startup culture has long admired the open plan working environment and I, at least, firmly believe that a shift from HR Director to CPO must also entail greater physical integration with the business.

In big organisations, the CPO cannot cuddle everyone in every office, but the workforce should certainly know them to cuddle them.

For more acronym fun, read these:

Get in touch to talk to Econsultancy about your own journey of digital transformation.

Ben Davis

Published 19 November, 2015 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

1175 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (0)

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Daily_pulse_signup_wide

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.