A sympathetic employer is no longer enough. Employees now want to hear those six most important words from their organizations
As we continue to live through a period of great change and shape the workplace of the future, there has never been a more challenging and opportunity-filled time for the role of a Chief People Officer (CPO). Leading the colleague experience – from building a talented and diverse workforce to ensuring equitable and innovative new ways of working to developing an ethical, empathetic, and high-performing culture – will be the critical driver of success for any organization.
Erstwhile Human Resource (HR) professionals, now Human Relations teams are in the frontlines facing the opportunity, masquerading as a challenge, to create a unique Employee Experience (EX). The legacy HR ways of applying people policies to situations will no longer be enough to respond to people’s needs that have completely changed in the last two years. Employees now realize how fragile their own lives and the lives of their near ones are, and that is changing expectations from organizations.
It is no longer enough to be sympathetic to employee needs. They want to hear the six most important words from their organizations; “what can I do for you!!” They want to be listened to with sincerity, and that has become the job description of Chief People Officers.
The Golden Mean of the CPO’s role
Balancing the needs of employees and of a business’s strategic goals, to reach a golden mean lies at the heart of a CPO’s role. Lean too much in any one direction and “the light dims.” This is a tough ask, and it takes a special set of skills – one that blends empathy and economics – to generate bright futures for both people and profits, according to a report from Mercer, a US-based global human capital solutions company. With work evolving at an accelerated pace, the CPO role itself is rapidly expanding. What once was considered crucial to the people strategy has become simple table stakes. Now, CPOs are relied upon to:
- Build new relationships and partnerships both within the organization and with external stakeholders
- Drive innovation outside the confines of foundational HR programs in order to impact the business more broadly
- Change risk-averse HR cultures into ones that allow for fast piloting and fast failing
- Create programs built for constant iteration and thus change “agnostic” and resilient
Mercer has outlined five characteristics of CPOs:
- Listener: Effective listening sparks innovation and organizational learning, builds trust and psychological safety, and creates and energizes a collective commitment to positive change.
- Cultivator: Embracing, promoting, and cultivating a responsible position on the many different dimensions of inclusivity and well-being drives positive outcomes for people, communities, and businesses. Cultivators of inclusivity don’t reduce this vital work to a checklist of programs.
- Storyteller: Reams of data are an unavoidable part of most HR functions. But data sets mean little if they are not harnessed to plot a way ahead. Storytellers turn information into actionable insights, use data to plan strategically and work to create a compelling narrative that all parts of an organization can buy into.
- Activator: HR tech is freeing up teams to spend more time on creative problem-solving. Activators capitalize on this to help others deliver. They foster execution discipline, operational excellence, and financial and digital acumen.
- Transformer: The CPO is facing two pivotal challenges: redesign work so that talent can seamlessly connect with it, and create an employee experience that meets the workforce on its own terms. Transformers harness these key challenges to help their businesses achieve their strategic goals.
New ways to listen
It is important to develop unobtrusive ways to engage people through passive and active listening, by facilitating meaningful human contact, and by creating communication channels that are always on/open. New and innovative approaches include digital focus groups, always-on platforms, and roaming pulse surveys. These new outreach channels are coupled with skip-level meetings and hypotheses validation (using behavioural data that marries what people say with what they actually do).
A culture of caring
Employers who effectively manage health risks and proactively create a culture of caring give themselves a formidable competitive advantage. Improved employee well-being drives significant gains in performance and engagement. According to Gallup, this type of improvement is estimated to increase productivity by 31%, lower healthcare costs by 41% and decrease staff turnover by 35%. Overall, enhancing employees’ emotional, physical, financial, and social health and well-being is a win-win for all concerned.
Telling stories with data
Today’s successful CPOs know how to make sense of data. They are also storytellers and know how to assess the research to create compelling narratives – those that engage CEOs and other decision-makers and, in turn, drive change. Many progressive firms are now actually automating much of their HR analysis and insight, allowing people to focus on the creation of the corporate narrative and message. Artificial intelligence (AI) and human creativity are proving to be very effective partners in generating deep insights about business strategy and workforce needs.
Now that automation has freed the HR team to spend more time on creative problem-solving, agile mindsets and ingenuity can rule the day. But without an activator to nurture, support, and focus on what’s being done, the opportunity this presents can easily be missed or squandered. Activators fuel agility and creativity by seeking out and passing on knowledge and by fostering co-creation. Both involve active listening to a broad and diverse group of people. Knowledge can be captured in many ways: one-to-one meetings, focus groups, surveys, and workshops with your HR business partners and employees. In these forums, ask: What kind of support do they need? How do they want to consume or experience HR services?
Jobs vs. Skills & Workplace Design
Innovative thinking (such as workplace design, jobs versus skills, and talent ecosystems) has become pivotal to organizational survival. In 2021, three-quarters (76%) of companies planned to enhance their build-from-within talent strategies, and over half (58%) planned to increase the use of variable/contingent talent pools. A strong, agile, and innovative HR function is the key driver to get this agenda on the road. This is where the importance of the CPO as a transformative force comes in.
Skill at Scale for competitive advantage
Those companies that can deliver skills at scale will outpace their competitors and be in a better position to adapt their business models and their people in periods of uncertainty. With skill-based approaches boosting workforce ROI (by better matching skills to demand), it is no surprise that this whole issue is firmly on the C-suite agenda. The chasm between the skilled and unskilled is widening, as is the gap between organizations that are proactive when it comes to skills and those that are reactive. When it’s done well, a company’s skills strategy becomes an essential part of its employee value proposition. When done poorly, it adds to the many distractions that are currently depleting the energy of workers around the world.