5 Facets of the Future Chief People Officer

March 31, 2020

5 Facets of the Future Chief People Officer

We are in the Golden Age of the HR profession, and the chief people officer (CPO) is at the helm. Technology and automation are freeing HR leaders from more administrative and process-related work, powering the CPO’s role to guide the organization in designing and implementing the talent strategies and work options needed to fuel future business growth. As technology and innovation in the workplace accelerate, this role becomes increasingly critical; going forward, the power and strength of an organization’s human capital will be what differentiates success from failure.

With a new urgency to get the people equation right or risk negative business consequences, the CPO of the future must adopt an ambidextrous mindset driving strategic business initiatives in the C-suite while continuing to deliver flawlessly on administrative and operational tasks. To meet this mandate, there must be a commitment on the part of HR leaders to continue to evolve in order to ensure that the business maintains its competitive advantage; however, HR leaders can’t go it alone. This also requires the same commitment from their C-suite peers, the CEO and the board to transform the work of HR and radically reset expectations for the CPO role.

A recent report from SHRM’s Executive Network, HR People + Strategy, published in partnership with Willis Towers Watson, examines the key changes shaping the CPO role and identifies a pathway for developing and accelerating the next generation of HR leaders. The study reveals an urgent need for CPOs and their organizations to take bold steps to imagine the future of HR and the central role of the CPO in a constantly evolving work ecosystem. The research brings forward five pivot points which constitute an urgent and multifaceted call to action for the CPO and other senior executives in their organizations. 

1. Push boundaries to power organizational agility.
The HR leader plays an important role in enabling agility in the broader organization as well as the HR function. To do so, however, requires agility on the part of the HR executive who must serve as architect of new and enhanced business initiatives essential to the organization’s future, while continuing to support HR’s vital operational activities.

2. Unleash digitalization.
CPOs must develop the digital business acumen to understand how technical skills fit into the workplace and how to make best use of people as organizations implement digital technologies to unlock greater business value.

3. Embrace perpetual work reinvention.
As technology gives rise to new ways of working and new work options that may include automation, work itself will be continuously reinvented. It is the CPO who orchestrates the many emerging options for getting work done and determines how to best combine human talent and automation. To keep up with perpetual work reinvention and changing skill requirements, the HR leader must make continuous learning and reskilling a core component of the new employment deal.

4. Rethink culture and leadership.
Attracting and engaging a global, multigenerational workforce that may include free agents and alliance partners require an inclusive culture that extends beyond traditional organizational borders so that all talent feel vested in a common mission and purpose. As a result, HR executives must be able to lead people in nonhierarchical, fluid work environments and empower talent on the front lines to drive problem solving and innovation.

5. Elevate HR decision science.
From predicting talent shortages to enhancing the talent experience to making better business cases in the boardroom, decision science and analytics enable HR leaders to progress from anecdotal to evidence-based thinking, critical to having impact as business executives.

This call to action represents an opportunity for HR leaders to chart a new path forward as they prioritize growth opportunities and prepare the next generation of CPOs to lead the business in the future. In a constantly evolving workplace, the role of the CPO is to imagine, invent and ignite the change that will ensure the ongoing relevance of its talent and forward-looking work strategies essential to an organization’s future business success.

To download your copy of The Future Chief People Officer: Imagine. Invent. Ignite. report, click here.

Not yet a SHRM's Executive Network, HR People + Strategy member? Click here to access a copy of the report. 

The Authors: 

Maggie Kelly is Director of Special Initiatives for SHRM's Executive Network, HR People + Strategy.