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August 2022

Chief People Officer: A focus on Transformation

Increasingly, the area of human capital is a fundamental ally for the transformation of organizations; but this, in turn, requires these teams to be updated. Here are five ideas to achieve an organization focused on agility and transformation.

In the transformation of organizations, people are more important than technology. In a business world that loses its head over the latest software, it is sometimes forgotten that technology is not an end in itself. The end is delineated by the board of directors, and fulfilling it depends on people. This is not to say that technology is not important. It is, but technology implementation requires strong organizational commitment and leadership, as well as effective change management strategies and initiatives (1). Getting employees rowing in the same direction, toward the same goal, is critical to achieving the desired organizational transformation. The role of the chief people officer (CPO), therefore, is gaining prominence.

In modern organizations, the CPO today has a fundamental role: to generate value in the organization – through the productivity and effectiveness of human capital – and to transform the organization in the shortest possible time. “Shortest possible time,” is part of the key. Transformation must be fast and mistakes – natural in trial and error tests to achieve change- must be corrected with immediacy. Human capital teams must adapt with agility from an attitudinal and mental standpoint. In short, the CPO must reinvent the operational model to act with agility in the face of business transformation demands.

“Human capital professionals must add value, translate their work into financial performance, get ahead of the technology curve, and focus on transformation with fundamental and lasting changes” – Dave Ulrich

Change cannot be cosmetic, but cultural, foundational, and even philosophical. It involves changing parameters; a complete shift. According to Kingsley Gate’s recent Transformation and Leadership study, focused on Latin America and Iberia, 77% of the CEOs and Executives consulted believe that transformation has a very relevant impact on the organization’s culture. 84% affirm that culture is a conditioning or critical factor for the success of the transformation process.

In 1998, Dave Ulrich wrote in Harvard Business Review an article ahead of its time: A New Mandate for Human Resources. In it, he states that the human capital perspective should not be focused on the how, i.e., the internal day-to-day work, but on the what, i.e., achieving the organization’s ultimate goal: that workers are committed to business results. For Ulrich, human capital must be “an agent of continuous transformation” and a guarantor of “processes and cultures that enhance an organization’s capacity for change.” The author points out that human capital professionals must add value, translate their work into financial performance, stay ahead of the technology curve and focus on transformation with fundamental and lasting change.

However, this cannot be done without the CEO, who must be fully committed to the talent area. A CEO with a focus on people provides this area with the competencies and support needed to be innovative, strategic, and fast, a space where workers are committed to the organization. Assuming that the CPO has the support and backing of the CEO, he can then focus on his transformational role. To do so, he/she must not lose sight of the human approach, in which motivation is a built-in function of the success of the business. Sometimes it is not necessary to drive big internal changes but to start step by step.

I share five ideas that can be useful to the CPO, CEO, and their leadership teams to achieve an organization focused on agility and transformation:

  1. First principles: every organization is in a unique position. Its style or culture, stage of growth, and financial outlook, among other factors, may be very different from the companies to which it is compared. Adopting the best practice or such-and-such model is not necessarily the best route. Therefore, we recommend working under a set of first principles, or first principles, to help define the logic to be applied in the decisions to be made.

  2. Diagnosis: start with a diagnosis of the human capital area that allows us to take a picture of its strategy, structure, processes, skills, and technology to serve the organization in achieving its objectives. It is essential that the CEO and the areas that human capital serves participate in this diagnosis. They are the internal customers and can be of great help in clarifying to the human capital leader and his team what to prioritize.

  3. Roadmap: use the diagnostic to build a prioritized roadmap based on business objectives. While there are different ways to prioritize, in our experience an impact and difficulty/effort matrix work quite well. This matrix allows us to identify what we call housekeeping actions (items that must exist and function optimally for day-to-day operations), and quick wins (high-impact items that are not too difficult to implement), among others.

  4. New skills and more collaboration: transformation for human capital teams usually require that their members add new skills such as analysis and agility applied to people challenges, sourcing techniques to identify better talent, behavioral design for the proper design of experiences, data analytics, among others. But above all, they must work as a team with other areas and/or external partners to supply and/or complement their own skill needs. Practices and expertise do not always have to be generated within the organization and co-creation can be enriched with external experiences, as long as they are applied to the context and are governed by the first principles mentioned above.

  5. Scientific method: it is important to apply a mentality similar to that of a scientist, oriented to the creation of hypotheses that can be malleable over time and a vocation to learn and correct as we go along. This implies banishing the fear of making mistakes and developing the team’s capacity for continuous learning.

The role of the chief people officer is increasingly focused on transformation. Focusing on transformation, in conjunction with the CEO and leaders, will enable the development of multi-skilled, innovation-prone workers, accelerate transformation processes and, therefore, offer greater alignment with the organization’s overall objective.

(1) For an in-depth analysis of how human capital is adopting new technologies see the whitepaper Collaborating with Emerging Technologies: The Future of HR