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Future-Ready: The Role of the CPO and the People Function HR & TA Leadership Roundtable Series

Future-Ready: The Role of the CPO and the People Function HR & TA Leadership Roundtable Series

Our Leadership Roundtables held in Ireland and the UK delved into the current challenges and opportunities encountered by the People function. Additionally, insightful discussions provided valuable advice for first-time Chief People Officers (CPOs) transitioning into new roles on the board.

The need for change

Talent remains a key conversation in the boardroom. Changing business models, macroeconomic trends, demographic shifts, continued talent scarcity, and uncertainty. Additionally, technology and AI, while presenting challenges, also offer opportunities to improve HR efficiency and unlock new possibilities. As a result, CPOs and their teams find themselves navigating a complex and dynamic landscape, where their strategic leadership is crucial for organisational success.

Key themes discussed

  1. The evolving role of the CPO

    Sage’s survey showed that 81% of HR professionals personally identify with feelings of burnout.

  2. The impact of technology and AI on business

    Future skills and productivity as the AI industry grows from $42 billion to a projected $2 trillion by 2030.

  3. Building a positive culture of belonging and inclusive leadership

    Over 50% of professionals would skip a pay raise if it gave them the flexibility in the working patterns they desired.

  4. The future of Talent Acquisition

    80% of global organisations found it "quite or very competitive to hire talent".

Complexity: The Transition to CPO

Anne Kiely, current CPO of Aer Lingus and author of "How to Be a Chief People Officer", generously shared her perspectives on the priorities facing CPOs today.

“As part of the C-Suite, you’re no longer just a functional leader, you need to be a T-Shaped leader."

Building a broader lens

The leadership roundtable discussions highlighted the expanding role of the Chief People Officer (CPO). Modern-day CPOs transcend the traditional realm of running the People Function. They operate at a strategic level, crafting talent strategies tailored to individual business areas. This requires a deep understanding of all aspects of the company's operation, allowing them to build the right talent pool and skill sets for achieving specific business goals. Essentially, CPOs not only build the company's talent strategy but also their own People Team's strategy, which functions as a microcosm of the larger company's direction.

Managing confidence

The conference also addressed the transition to the role of CPO. Your first role in the C-Suite may seem like a lonely one. Embracing that independence, backing your expertise, and having a network of peers or an executive coach aid in that transition. While initially daunting, one leader noted, “It's actually easier when you're in charge, but initially, when you don't have to go through somebody, all of a sudden it can be terrifying, but also empowering.”

Furthermore, the importance of confidence was discussed. Despite possessing deep expertise, board members emphasised the critical nature of having the confidence to speak up. This was seen as crucial for fostering a strong relationship between the CPO and CEO. As one leader put it, “You’re often the truth-teller, the challenger, confidant, and cheerleader. The CEO needs every bit of data to make the right decisions, and so forming this relationship is very important.”

Technology & AI: The Generative AI boom

“AI is going to turn everything on its head - talent acquisition, recognition, benefits, the whole thing.”

Attendees debated how Generative AI will impact their roles and industries. It’s moving at great speed, and HR and TA functions are keen to experiment with the AI augmentation of their teams.

Technology as an enabler

We discussed challenges in data and technology. Be it issues with connecting disparate HRIS systems to provide real insights, lamenting poor user experience, which is hampering internal adoption, or managing systems in-house vs. outsourcing to experts. With significant tech investments, there is an opportunity for businesses to ensure new data skills are embedded within the HR and TA functions.

“We need people in our teams who can surface insights, think strategically, and understand the business.”

To improve accessibility, organisations are revamping user interfaces (front-end experience) for both employees and leaders to readily find the information they need.

Technological advancements were also met with significant anticipation, as they hold the potential to revolutionise HR practices. Tools like chatbots and AI could streamline tasks by fetching information or completing them independently. Additionally, voice apps could assist employees in various activities, such as booking holidays.

A consensus emerged in the boardroom: several tasks could be automated or made self-service. This would free up valuable time for HR teams, allowing them to prioritise and dedicate more resources to high-touch interactions and building strong relationships with employees.

Furthermore, optimism surrounded the potential for a new era of jobs, fueled by technological advancements. These advancements could either reshape existing HR roles or create entirely new ones altogether.

Culture: A sense of belonging in the hybrid world

There was a debate on managing work patterns. With the stabilisation of remote/hybrid and in-office patterns, it appears we may be settling into a more recognisable rhythm. We focused on ensuring the approach to onsite vs. remote is based on fact, not bias.

Many are concerned about the diminishing of social connections, not only for those early in their careers but also for all levels of seniority who have had to adapt to the new ways of working.

We discussed a lack of ‘learning osmosis’ from employees not sharing the same physical space. The group discussed that personalised AI-assisted digital learning should be modelled to overcome a lack of proximity and create equity of access.

The overriding feeling is the importance of choice. Flexibility has benefited a lot of people, and choice is something that shows an adult-adult relationship is developing. It’s so important to be deliberate in fostering the feeling of ‘belonging’ - like social bonding, the use of digital channels to be more open, and ensuring we are more human in our exchanges as we would be in an office setting.

This will help experienced colleagues feel supported by the changes due to a lack of physical presence, and help newer colleagues assimilate, participate, and feel part of something.

Over 50% of professionals would skip a pay raise if it gave them the flexibility in the working patterns they desired. 

-Morgan McKinley Global Workplace Study 

The Future: Changing shape of leadership skills

Building trusting and inclusive work environments requires strong interpersonal skills. As leaders, your actions and behaviours set the tone. Whether you are aware of it or not, you are constantly modelling these skills.Therefore, being mindful of the tone you set is crucial for aligning it with your desired work culture.- It is also important to be intentional.

The key lies in having the emotional intelligence and dexterity to hyper-personalise your interactions. Board discussions acknowledged the general dissatisfaction with the annual performance review structure. This highlights the need to explore alternative methods and gather feedback for improvement. Curiosity and an openness to testing new flexible working practices are also vital. One example shared with the group was randomised meetings with any member of the workforce where discussion of work is off limits. Anne herself has voted with her feet in the past when the culture at work didn’t match her values.

The talent that powers the organisation

We discussed the rising expectation for a frictionless and consumer-grade experience within the workplace. This applies to both the candidate journey and the daily experience of employees, particularly those in the technology industry or B2C organisations.

The discussion highlighted dissatisfaction with HR tools that require extensive training videos or appear to primarily benefit the HR department rather than the employees themselves. This suggests a need for more intuitive and user-friendly HR tools and processes that cater to the current expectations of today's workforce.

In conclusion

Our discussions in London and Dublin brought to light that leaders within Talent Acquisition and People Functions are energised by the change that they are tackling. They are engaging with their network of peers to create strategies, both for personal development and organisational solutions. Embracing the opportunities to review and refresh the people function in our tech and AI-enabled world, combined with their real attention to the impact on each stakeholder community - leadership, employees, and customers - is a challenge these leaders are enjoying.

Most invigorating for me was their openness to share what’s been tough, as well as their successes. Realism and optimism are what make these leaders Future Ready.


Paula Parfitt, Global MD Growth, Talent solutions

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