Oct 12 2023

Chief People Officer Pitfall for Later Stage CEOs

(This is a bonus quick 5th post, inspired by long time StartupCEO.com reader Daniel Clough, to the series that ended last week about Scaling CPO’s- the other posts are: When to Hire your First Chief People Officer, What does Great Look like in a Chief Privacy Officer, Signs your Chief Privacy Officer isn’t Scaling, and How I Engage With The Chief People Officer.)

As I’ve noted over the years, the Chief People Officer role is a tough one to get right and a tough one to scale with the organization if what you’re really looking for is a strategic business partner who can lead not just the important blocking and tackling in HR but innovates the people part of your organization, building new systems and programs, approaches recruiting as building great teams instead of filling seats, helps manage your company operating system, and developing and coaching leaders.

A number of later stage CEOs I mentor have come to me over the years when they have a sub-par Chief People Officer and said something like “I’m going to put HR under my CFO.” To me, that’s a bit of a cop-out – it’s acknowledging that the person in the role isn’t strong enough to be a full-throated executive, but the CEO doesn’t want to go through the hassle or expense of replacing them.

Here’s my answer when I hear that from a CEO: “Ok, then your CFO will actually now become your Chief People Officer.  You must have a Chief People Officer on the exec team reporting to you.”

There are few things about which I have a stronger point of view. Someone in your organization must have strategic oversight for human capital. If it’s not your head of HR and you can’t bear recruiting/replacing that person, then it needs to be whoever your put that person under. Or it’s you. But at even mid-scale companies, why would you take that responsibility on yourself?