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How To Engage With The Chief People Officer

September 14, 2023

You won’t always have a ton of time to engage with the Chief People Officer, so you’ll need to capitalize during those few moments when you do get a chance to engage with your CPO. Today I’m sharing how I’ve typically spent the most time, or gotten the most value out of my interactions with these executives.

I ALWAYS work with the CPO as a direct report. No matter who my HR leader is, no matter how big my executive team is, no matter how junior that person is compared to the other executives. I will always have that person report directly to me and be part of the senior-most operating group in the company. This sends the signal to everybody in the company that the People functions (and quite frankly, diversity, culture, and a whole host of other things) are just as important to me as sales or product. I guess that’s walking the walk, not just talking. If I’m not serious about diversity, about our core values, and about the people in the company, no one else will be either. So, I always have the CPO as a direct report.

A second way to engage with the CPO is to insist on hearing about ALL people issues. First, I am a very “retail-oriented” CEO, and I like to engage with people in the business—at all levels, in all departments, and in all locations. So I like know what’s going on with people—who is doing particularly well and about to be promoted, who is struggling, who is a flight risk, who is going through some personal issue (good or bad) that we should know about. This isn’t prying into people’s lives, but a real way to engage with people beyond business and a way to show that you care about them as a person. Even more than just me wanting to be in the know, I want others in the company to have a deep level of awareness of our contributors. For example, in our Weekly Sales Forecast meeting at Return Path, because our head of People knew that I wanted to know about all these details on our employees, they insisted that all the other People Business Partners roll those issues up as well. That means everybody in the room was in the know as well. It’s not just to have a better understanding of people, there’s a business case for knowing what’s going on at a very detailed level and the number of issues we nipped in the bud, the number of opportunities we were able to jump on to help employees over the years because of this retail focus, has been immense.

I also engage with the CPO as an informal coach for myself and with my external coach. In an earlier post I mentioned that a great Chief People Officer can—and should—call a CEO out when a CEO needs to be called out. And that also means that great Chief People Officers engage with CEOs deeply about how they are doing, they help CEOs process difficult situations, and help them see things they might not otherwise see. Being a CEO is a lonely job sometimes, and it’s good to have a People partner to be able to collaborate with on some of the most personal and sensitive issues.

Finally, I engage with the CPO to design and execute Leadership/Management training. This is an important skill that a great CPO brings to the company and I have found that it is the best way to create a multiplier effect of employee engagement and productivity. The CPO in your organization needs to teach all leaders and managers how to be excellent at those crafts—and how to do them in ways that are consistent with your company’s values. This is a tall order for one person to put together so I always took a lot of time, in large blocks of hours or days, to either co-create leadership training materials and workshops with my head of People, or to lead sessions at those workshops and engage with the company’s managers and leaders in a very personal way. That always felt to me like a very high ROI use of time.

-Matt Blumberg, September 14, 2023.