Tony Cicio’s work experience has not always been in HR. Beginning his career in finance as an auditor and rising to Chief Financial Officer at The Dannon Company, North America, he pivoted into HR, serving in positions at Danone, Samsung Electronics, and now the role of Chief Human Resources Officer at Argo Insurance. Here Cicio explores how moving into HR transformed his career and how HR roles are a great way to give back.
HR People + Strategy: How is serving as CHRO different than CFO?
Tony Cicio: It was a difficult transition from a mindset perspective. As a CFO, things are quantitative, numbers add up, everything balances on a financial statement and it’s all black and white. I took my first HR position as a rotation. At the time, the company wanted people in HR that had non-traditional backgrounds to bring the business side into the HR side.
HR is much more qualitative, each situation was unique, interpretation was important and the world was shades of gray. It was a large challenge in changing worlds and I also needed a different leadership style.
Fortunately, in the company I was in, the HR role was as important as the CFO role. Both were working together with the CEO, which is not the case in all companies. HR having a seat at the table was a big help.
HRPS: How does the top leadership team regard its people strategy?
TC: My experience stems from three different industries and in all three cases, the CEOs have the people strategy top of mind. Right now, companies are focused on talent needs and the environment is changing quickly in the competition for talent. You can’t execute on strategy without the right people. Getting talent right is so critical to the success of the company that those companies that are more innovative are better at getting the talent they need.
HRPS: How is having various generations in the workplace affecting the employee experience?
TC: The trend in employee experience is all about flexibility. Companies cannot be so prescriptive in the way everyone is treated. As an example, at Argo, we recently updated our employee handbook. There is a need for the handbook as a guide but the generational differences call for more creative ways to manage each generation. There is still a thought process of checking the box and getting it done, but you have to make sure it’s relevant and making a difference. There are opportunities to be open to new ways of doing things. It’s respecting the need for compliance but also adding new ideas.
We changed our dress code from five pages to one paragraph. Some people may want to wear a suit but some want to wear jeans, and we have to respect both. This flexibility is linked to diversity and inclusion as well. It’s not about your shoes being shined but about the skills that you bring and customizing the approach to allow people to be who they are at work. You can’t define work-life balance or flexibility in a policy, it’s different for each person. It has to be measured by output, not time at the desk.
HRPS: What recruiting strategies are bringing success now?
TC: The evolution away from a one-size-fits-all process is the key. Recruiting strategies need to be far more custom. It’s different to hire someone in the digital world than to hire an underwriter. The mistake is thinking that it’s all a similar process. The generational differences are new challenges. You can’t treat all generations the same throughout the employee lifecycle. You have to meet expectations by skillset and generational differences.
Keeping up with this evolution and changing expectations is a challenge from a systems perspective. Companies also need to be aware of the balance between technology aiding the process and dehumanizing it.
HRPS: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an HR leader?
TC: It’s an exciting time for HR. Not having been classically trained in HR, I have a lot of respect for the role. The speed of change is increasing, the need for high quality talent is rising, the level of change is all growing. HR needs to raise the bar and be more strategic. It’s time to dispel the stereotypes of HR being process oriented or not having business acumen.
I took a risk in my career changing to HR, but I realized that the change made me happier and more motivated. People need to take risks in their career. I was concerned about how I would be viewed changing from finance to HR but the company was very accepting of the non-traditional nature of my background.
HR is so purpose driven that I feel like I’m giving back to the employees of the company. We’re committed to making the work experience the best it can be. It makes you feel good about what you’re doing. It’s a tremendous opportunity to help people succeed.