Chief People Officer (CPO)
7 min read
A Chief People Officer, or Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), or Executive Vice President of Human Resources (EVP of HR) is the individual at a company who is responsible for all things related to human resources and employee culture. An effective CPO is integral to an organization’s success, as they are required to oversee and manage all things relating to people, including employee recruitment, performance, culture, and compensation. A CPO must have great interpersonal and leadership skills and an ability to delegate. They must also be well versed in data analysis and interpretation.
Until relatively recently, not many companies even had this role. One of the earliest mentions of a CPO or CHRO is at Xerox in 1985. Back then, the role was considered a high-level director of human resources, mainly concerned with hiring and firing, now however, it is so much wider. The head of HR needs to focus on people issues such as retention, engagement, brand and revenue.
In standard company structuring, a Chief People Officer will report to the CEO, and will have a manager (or several managers) reporting to them.
Responsibilities of a CPO
As stated before, a CPO takes on many roles at a company, ranging from clerical to team management. While the list is long, and varies from company to company, here are a few of their core responsibilities.
A CPO must organize and maintain a workforce that operates efficiently and without toxicity. This means that employee relations and communications falls under the scope of the CPO. If problems arise, it is their responsibility to identify them and determine the best course of action for resolution.
A CPO is responsible for actively scouting new talent for the company. In order to keep up with turnover, they must take into account onboarding time and what parts of the company’s workforce needs replenishment.
A Chief People Officer must also keep tabs on the teams operating below them. When deadlines are not met, complaints arise, or a deficiency is suspected, the CPO intervenes with disciplinary action. Conversely, when an individual, or a team performs well, the CPO should recognize these efforts, and incentivise further successes.
CPOs also oversee the financial compensation given to employees. While they might not be personally entering in data, they must have a firm understanding of the software and systems utilized therein.
Skills of a CPO
As they are the one who is responsible for the conduct and culture within the staff of a company, the CPO must be able to take charge and establish themselves as an authority figure. This means serving disciplinary action if needed, and potentially having to assume responsibility for the shortcomings of those that report to them. It also means highlighting and rewarding employee success.
Proficiency in data entry
As stated above, a large part of the human resource department’s duties is managing compensation. This means a lot of number crunching. Therefore, a background in data entry and analysis and experience using Excel and other such programs is an asset. Depending on the size of the company, the CPO may not be involved in the data entry themselves, but they will need to be able to understand it so they can make decisions.
While understanding numbers and statistics play a large part in the role of a CPO, as a professional in human resources the main focus should be on the individuals those figures represent. A CPO’s duties include delegation of work, team management, as well as some conflict mediation. As an ambassador of employee culture, a CPO should be able to lead by example, and be an approachable face of the company for its employees.
The role of a CPO is a tough one to succinctly define in one sentence, because it can have such a varied set of responsibilities. That is why a person appointed to this role is usually an expert at juggling many different tasks at one time. CPOs handle everything from compensation to brand strategy and everything in between, so an effective CPO must not only be good at multitasking, but changing gears from one task to another at the drop of a hat.
As somebody in the business of people, a good CPO must be able to change as quickly as the social climate dictates. For example, workplace ethics operate on an always evolving continuum, and in order to maintain a non-toxic, harmonious workplace a CPO must always practice empathy and stay up to date with the changing social landscape.
Usually, a bachelor’s degree in human resources or a related discipline is required to become a Chief People Officer, while some companies will require a master’s degree as well. The standard duration of a bachelor’s degree is 4 years, while the completion of a master’s program will be 1-2 years.
In addition to university education, there are several additional certifications that many CPOs will obtain. One of which is the PHR (Professional in Human Resources) certification. While not mandatory, many companies will favor an applicant with these credentials. Other certifications include the CEBS (Certified Employee Benefit Specialist) which covers everything to do with benefits and pensions, and the more advanced SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources) qualification which can be taken after 4 years of professional experience working in HR. Some understanding of employment law is also required for a CPO.
Like any C-Suite position, a CPO needs to start from the beginning, in this case with an entry level HR position. Through several years experience and good performance, the next step is hopefully a middle management position, before joining the ranks of senior, and then executive leadership.
Furthermore, distinguished service as a company’s CPO may open more doors, such as the role of the CEO. In the C-Suite of a company, all chiefs report to the CEO. Many major companies have had their CPO go on to take the top job. For example both GM and XEROX have had CEOs who spent time in their HR departments. Research presented in the Harvard Business Review suggests more companies should consider CPOs when looking to fill the CEO position. The researchers found that except for the COO (whose role and responsibilities often overlap with the CEO’s), the executive whose traits were most similar to those of the CEO was the CPO.
If you're thinking about your own path to the CPO spot, it's probably a good idea to see where you stand at your job today and how you might progress. One easy way to do that is to join your company's public org chart.
The average salary for a CPO in the United States is $245,090 as of February 26, 2020, but the range typically falls between $196,150 and $307,960 (according to salary.com). Ultimately, a CPO’s exact salary will be dependent on education, certification, size and location of the company, and which industry they are involved in.