Sep 14 2023

Signs Your Chief People Officer Isn’t Scaling

This is the third post in the series. The first one When to hire your first CPO is here and What does Great Look Like in a CPO is here)

If you’ve been following my previous blog posts on the Chief People Officer you have figured out when to hire one and what to look for in getting a great one but even so, you can’t just assume that your Chief People Officer is going to be able to scale with your company. I have found that Chief People Officers who aren’t scaling well past the startup stage are the ones who typically operate in the following ways.

First, a CPO might not be able to scale if they are overly focused on the transactional aspects of the job.  Don’t get me wrong, there are many transactional elements to HR – payroll, benefits, systems, process, etc. – and they all have to go well or employees freak out.  But the Chief People Officer who spends all their time on these issues isn’t delegating well, isn’t building a machine, isn’t building scalable people and processes to flawlessly and efficiently handle the details. This inability to delegate may be a lack of self-confidence or a lack of trust that others can step up, but either way it’s a telltale red flag if a CPO is mostly focused on the transactional aspects of the role and not the strategic aspects.

Another sign is if the CPO won’t speak up in executive team meetings.  Chief People Officers have every right and entitlement to hold opinions about the company’s strategy, products, operations, and financials.  The good ones do – and they’re not shy about speaking up publicly about them.  The weaker ones, or the ones who are in a bit over their heads, don’t speak up, don’t challenge others, because they either haven’t taken the time to learn and formulate those opinions, or because they don’t have enough confidence among their peers to voice them. The CPO needs to be a leader among leaders and any hesitancy to fully participate with their peers is a sign to me that maybe they’re not scaling, not developing their own personal and executive skills.

Another sign I’ve seen that the CPO isn’t scaling is if they have trouble managing/leading their own team.  Since a good Chief People Officer is one who spends time coaching all the other leaders in your business on how to be effective leaders, it’s particularly worrisome when they themselves are not an effective leader, especially with what is usually a relatively small function.  This is a classic case of the cobbler’s children walking around barefoot, and it’s a sign of trouble for your HR leader.

None of these signs by themselves is particularly worrisome to me, but if you have a Chief People Officer who is transactional, doesn’t speak up, and has morale or turnover issues in their own team, you’ve got big problems. The CPO is critical to the entire organization so if you find that your CPO is exhibiting several of these traits you’ll need to address it quickly—either through coaching, by bringing on a fractional executive to mentor, or by replacing the CPO. Often, coaching and fractional approaches are more cost-effective, less disruptive to the company, and lead to great results. Ignoring it is the worst approach for this important position.

(You can find this post on the Bolster Blog here)