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Employee Experience

From CHRO to CEO: How people science is conquering the boardroom

The role of HR has transformed dramatically in a short space of time, gaining new strategic influence and forging surprising new connections in the wider business ecosystem.

Between recruitment, retention, CSR and wellbeing, the people function and people transformation is in focus like never before. Leading businesses recognise it as a top priority. HR leaders have risen to the challenge, taking the reins during the pandemic and continuing to step up as new norms emerge.

What prompted the people-first paradigm?

The rise of the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) is a sign of the times.

We’ve seen unprecedented shifts in the world of work. Hybrid and home-based working have challenged commuting to an office as the default daily routine. Employer values and CSR behaviors have come into sharp focus. It’s been a time to re-evaluate the role employers play in our wellbeing, and many of us have taken a fresh look at what we want from our careers.

We’ve seen this radical transformation take place within two short years. Suddenly, HR professionals are the decision makers we turn to for answers on home working, staying well and transitioning back to the office.

They’re the driving force behind a growing wave of people-first organizations that recognise the opening years of the 2020s not as a blip in the status quo, but as the start of a new era of work.

From administrative to strategic

In the past, we’ve seen HR fulfilling an auxiliary function in business, providing guidance and counsel to other parts of a company to help keep things running smoothly. While HR may have shaped the way things were done and made sure companies acted correctly, historically it hasn’t been viewed as a source of drive or direction.

All that’s changing. CHRO, along with its sister job titles Chief People Officer and HR Director, is a strategic role, not just a supportive one. The decisions HR leaders make are influencing the core values and priorities of their organizations, making a powerful impact on business outcomes. CHROs aren’t just taking a seat at the table, they’re running the room. There’s now a clear path from CHRO to CEO, particularly in organizations committed to people-first thinking.

Acting at the speed of change

Business leaders are under increasing pressure to make decisions fast and adapt to fluid situations. Never more so than during the early days of COVID-19, when taking action in the face of uncertainty was mandatory for survival.

Even now, the requirement to be agile is in overdrive. We face unprecedented challenges like the need to manage hybrid working, maintaining a strong workforce amid the Great Resignation, meeting rising expectations around diversity inclusion and belonging, and ramping up efforts around corporate social responsibility. And since much of that falls into the CHRO’s remit, it’s not surprising that the role has stepped into the spotlight.

At speed and under pressure, gut feel and traditional tools are no longer enough. HR leaders need solid information to back up their choices.

Data-backed decisions

To guide their company’s actions, the CHRO and their team are turning to experience and operational data to test their assumptions and find new perspectives. The data-backed insights that feed into employee experience strategies are also shedding light on questions around recruitment, succession planning, workplace environments and more.

There’s a growing connection and cooperation between CHROs and CIOs (Chief Information Officers), since both roles use technology to gather and act on insights. Using tools like sentiment analysis and multi-channel listening, the CIO brings the business insight from the customer side of things which can be used to act in the right ways at the right time. As the CHRO’s role evolves, we’re seeing similar patterns emerge.

Listening and experience data help us to see the impact of positive employee experiences, understand how people feel about their work and learn when they can give their best. The best way to do this is with a permanent programme that captures the insights at key points in the employee journey.

Ultimately the internal and external insights dovetail together, showing how engagement, productivity, employee wellbeing and a sense of belonging are correlated with great customer experiences, a strong brand and increased customer loyalty.

Taking care of people, not just business

While the remote work revolution has been a welcome change for many, it’s placed an additional duty on the people function to make sure the people who aren’t visible in the office each day are well and happy at work.

Aside from the stress and health concerns that come with a pandemic, work-life balance has been tested by the rise in home working. When the office and the kitchen table are one and the same, it becomes much harder to draw a boundary and disconnect from the digital channels we use professionally at the end of the working day.

Part of the CHRO’s role is to make sure there is support for employees facing these challenges, and that there is an open channel of communication between the remote worker and the rest of the organization.

This kind of support is seen and valued outside the company, too.

Taking care of people when times are hard has become a powerful factor in how employers are perceived. At the height of COVID restrictions, social media helped employees to compare notes – the companies whose employees were posting about how their employer stepped up are the kind of places people want to work, then and now.

What makes a great CHRO?

A great CHRO is both technical and intuitive. They’re committed to using data to make their decisions, and they’re comfortable making those decisions quickly. They’ll be able to measure the results of their actions and produce tangible figures to show the impact.

They need to be a great communicator, since they’ll be relaying their findings to the wider leadership and showing how investments in things like DEI and employee wellbeing translate into a healthier bottom line.

They need to have vision, too. For example, they’ll be able to see how inclusive values go hand in hand with remote working to cast the widest possible net, attracting a truly diverse set of talents, skills and points of view into the company.

Shaping the workplaces of tomorrow

CHROs and their teams are leading the way in people-based decision making, taking the sentiment of an entire workforce and using it to help shape a destination workplace. By creating somewhere people want to work, they are propelling a virtuous circle where people are motivated to give their best, which leads to even higher quality talent being attracted to the organization and contributing to its future. This in turn leads to better products and a better customer experience, and of course more revenue for the business.

Simon Daly // Employee Experience Solution Strategist

Simon Daly is a Solution Strategist for Employee Experience at Qualtrics. With over a decade of experience in the field of culture and employee engagement, Simon is a specialist in the use of thought leadership and measurement tools such as survey design, management and interpretation to help deliver on people strategies.

He has a strong interest in the different approaches and methodologies used in employee listening and their correlation to commercial performance and other metrics. Now residing in Northern Ireland, he has explored the world of employee experience across a number of different countries and industries.

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