What is a Chief People Officer (CPO)?

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Now, more than ever, employees are demanding a clearer focus on company culture, and a more holistic approach to people management. Especially among the millennial workforce, a company’s commitment to enrichment and continued employee growth is a crucial piece of the vetting process when considering employment opportunities.

Chief People Officer (CPO) is a role that enhances the traditional HR focus to encompass company culture and employee satisfaction. Whereas a traditional head of HR focuses on business partnerships, legal and operations, a CPO aligns more closely with organizational design and employee enrichment.

What Does a Chief People Officer Do?

A Chief People Officer (CPO) serves as the executive leader in charge of a modern, enhanced approach to HR. A CPO may come up with strategies for employee engagement and communication, organizational design and growth, employee and executive development, and employee recruitment and retention. While the CPO role emphasizes the well-being of internal employees and executives, it also plays a crucial part in bottom-line business outcomes.

One of the biggest concerns of the workforce today is that the HR department has the employee’s best interest in mind. To accomplish this, the CPO must help to create a culture of openness and trust, where each employee feels their voice can be heard without judgment or blame. While this is an important component for developing an employee-centric culture, the CPO also needs to have a pulse on professional growth by facilitating employee and executive coaching, identifying employees worthy of elevated roles or in need of job transfers and changes, and recruiting top talent to join the organization while forecasting future organizational needs.

Additionally, the CPO is responsible for the organization’s long-term health by instituting scalable structures and processes, leading change management, and developing a strategic plan that encompasses company growth. Ultimately, the CPO bridges the gap between human performance and the company’s bottom line with a strategic vision that supports long-term success alongside traditional HR roles.

Desired Qualities of a CPO

A quality Chief People Officer (CPO) must have a unique skill set that blends people skills with business acumen to achieve the new expectations CEOs are placing on their HR teams.

Specific Qualities of a Great CPO:

    • Trustworthy: According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, 63% of survey respondents labeled their CEOs as untrustworthy. The CPO role is designed to combat this lack of trust, by serving as an approachable, trustworthy leader.
    • Business Acumen: It’s great to be good with people, and the CPO should definitely have that talent – but the alignment of human talent in the workplace is where this role really shines. A great CPO must know the impact people have on business systems, processes, departments, and various functions within a company.
    • Emotional Intelligence: Emotional intelligence is at the heart of human performance. Understanding how to identify and regulate emotional responses is the key to success in business and personal fulfillment. If a CPO wants to teach EQ, they must first be a student of EQ.
    • Strategist: Behind every successful initiative is a strong, end-to-end strategy. People still implement corporate strategy – therefore, the CPO must know how each person can maximize their gifts as it relates to the company’s overall vision and work with HR leaders to plan the best uses of talent.
    • Good with Change: If there is one guarantee in today’s business environment, it’s that everything changes, and it changes fast. To that end, a CPO understands the different personalities in the workplace and knows how to communicate the changes to them properly. S/he also knows how to implement change in the most effective way possible, while minimizing negative consequences.
    • Financial Acumen: A great CPO makes the connection between human performance and the company’s bottom line. They should be able to substantiate any spending on programs that build and support company culture and the impact they will have on the P&L.
    • Receptive: The CPO must be open to new ways of doing things. Being able to consistently grow your talent pool, maintain your current team, and enhance performance requires new ways of thinking about old problems. Being receptive and innovative is one of the job requirements.


Investing in a CPO is a smart move for savvy executives with an eye on long-term success. The CPO is an HR leader that combines people skills with business acumen to enhance all aspects of the company and contributes to building effective and inviting company cultures that today’s workforce demands.

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