Interview: How CPOs Change the HR Value Proposition

Who is a CPO? And how does this role differ from the CHRO? These are critical questions that many HR leaders are grappling with. Yet, as organizations change their perspective on talent management and focus on employee experience, CPOs are beginning to create their own identities. As we will see in this exclusive interview with Sharon Doherty, CPO at Finastra, this new identity expands the role of HR and brings it in closer alignment with CEO real-world priorities.

HR&DigitalTrends: Why CPOs are essential to today’s companies?

Doherty: All functions should and do evolve. What is now commonly known as the ‘People Function' used to be known as HR, Personnel, and Administration. Along with the name, the function did evolve. Whilst it started as pay and rations, People Teams are now busy creating exciting employer brands, vibrant work environments, and modern ways of working such as agile. In software businesses, people will be 70 – 80% of the organization's assets. How we create a culture where those people do their best work and add the most value to the organization is essential to run an effective and profitable business.  

HR&DigitalTrends: What sets a CPO apart from a CHRO?

Doherty: Although there are similarities and overlaps between the two roles, I would say that what sets CPOs apart from more conventional HR functions is really in the name – the people-centricity. Newer areas that often sit in the CPO remit and align closely with CEO priorities are activities that sit under purpose-led brands, such as D&I, culture, CSR and people employability (e.g., building future-proof functional skills).  

The CPO, as shown above, moves out of the traditional HR role and works cross-functionally on important areas. These include ensuring the employee value proposition is intrinsically linked and complemented by the brand, and that the environment we create for our employees to work in is aligned to the culture.

HR&DigitalTrends: How does a CPO help companies to manage a multigenerational workforce?

Doherty: On multigenerational workforces, organizations have to understand how to motivate and engage all generations, as today’s workforce is likely to need to work until they are 70+. It’s a must to be able to motivate and engage the digital natives who grew up with [mobile phones] in their hands, whilst remaining appreciative of the value those later in their career can bring. We are embracing modern ways of working as we continue to build the number one platform that is serving a complex and changing financial services industry – we need the energy and new ideas of Gen Z and the wisdom and domain expertise of the baby boomers. If you can create an environment that gets the best out of both and creates a culture where they work well together, you are in a great place.

HR&DigitalTrends: How does a freelance and contract economy impact your role as a CPO?

Doherty: Freelance and contract contracts allow flexibility and agility to be built into the organization, which in such an unpredictable marketplace is helpful to manage productivity and costs – many hires will also come from this population. This means the CPO role needs to play a part in creating a compelling proposition for ‘gig’ workers.

From an ethical perspective, it is important to decide where you want to play in the ‘gig’ space. For example, offering ‘decent’ jobs is an important principle that has helped me decide the companies I want to work in.

HR&DigitalTrends: Employee engagement is now a big focus. What’s your take as a CPO?

Doherty: Employee engagement is something I see as essential to effective people management and, of course, it is an important productivity lever. When people feel engaged in the organization, in its purpose and strategy, you unlock discretionary effort. However, EX – Employee Experience – is helping engagement evolve by leveraging techniques such as design thinking, and UX methodology to look at the end-to-end experience an employee has within an organization and how it can be optimized. Looking at these journeys allows you to step into the shoes of an employee and make changes to processes, technology, data, and policies which drive a more positive employee sentiment through simplicity (three clicks to do an admin transaction) and a consumer-level experience when doing internal activities (social media to collaborate with colleagues).

HR&DigitalTrends: People are talking about diversity and inclusivity in workplace culture. Yet, many HR processes are designed for culture fit. How does a CPO address these concepts? 

Doherty: Embedding a natural diversity and inclusion lens by which business leaders make decisions, build policies and design processes is when you know you’ve landed D&I as an organizational strategy. Talent conversations, procurement requirements, and the micro-decisions leaders make every day can be positively impacted when approached through a diversity and inclusion lens.

What I learned at Vodafone was that things which can seem small, like a maternity policy, when approached through a D&I lens can end up being a talent differentiator. When we launched the world's first global maternity policy at Vodafone in 2015, people thought we were making an administrative change to a policy. But it soon became clear that this was the most significant lever we could pull to become one of best employers for women, which in turn meant that the caliber of female talent drawn to Vodafone was a significant business differentiator.

So whatever organization you work in, start to encourage yourselves and your leaders to look at business and people decisions through a D&I lens. Be relentless in your efforts to de-bias processes, policies and practices to engage a broader range of talent.

HR&DigitalTrends: Many see HR leaders becoming vital CEO allies (with talent management becoming important). Yet, CEOs complain that HR leaders are not articulating the people issues properly. How do you see data and technological tools help to address this language?

Doherty: I go back to the fact that CPOs manage a significant asset but also cost to the organization. So, using data to deeply understand how you can engage and leverage people to drive higher productivity, performance, and manage cost makes you a hugely valuable partner to your CEO and executive leadership team.

Technology, especially the rise of robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning and augmented reality, opens a new opportunity for CPOs to explore the right mix of automation and technology within an organization and how and where you can deploy both to add the most value to an organization. At the same time, if you can harness inclusion and new ways of working such as agile, this new science in people can transform the world of work.

Sharon Doherty, chief people officer at Finastra: The CPO moves out of the traditional HR role and works cross-functionally on important areas.