Why You Should Look At People Strategy As You Would A New Product Line

A CEO-turned-CPO explains why concrete business skills—and a keen understanding of revenue-per-employee—are so essential to the success of any company's talent strategy.

As I reflect one year in as a first-time Chief People Officer (CPO), from day one, I never saw any reason why I shouldn’t be looking through the same lens of business impact as my peers on the senior leadership team. In fact, I saw it as the only way to go about my role. But then I came to understand that this core belief—that CPOs and CHROs need to measure and demonstrate how their work directly impacts business performance—wasn’t how many HR leaders were expected to approach their jobs.

My route to becoming a CPO is admittedly unusual. Years ago, I earned an MBA and have since been fortunate to work at General Electric in M&A, at PepsiCo in marketing, and at Target as retail strategist; I also led a company called MindPoint as CEO until its acquisition. In 2014, I began consulting HR executives and became incredibly intrigued by this world.

When I became CPO at G2, I didn’t think my background would lead me to approach the role with a significantly different ethos than someone who took a more traditional career journey into HR. But I recently had an “aha moment” about how I have approached this job and about the business skills I have developed that are most critical to my success.

A board meeting turned epiphany

At a board meeting earlier this spring, I gave a data-supported presentation where I explained how metrics such as retention, engagement, satisfaction, recruiting/offer win rates and turnover led to the statistic that matters most to me: revenue per employee (RPE). RPE is a financial measurement of the average profit each employee contributes and reflects all of the work my team prioritizes under our three pillars of HR: talent acquisition, people operations and employee experience.

I also explained our five-to-10-year talent strategy and why certain global markets were going to be our preferred targets for hiring, and it included data about local salary and wages expectations, governmental tax credits available and other financial factors. Additionally, I shared stats about our advances in gender representation globally and numerical goals for improving non-white representation in the U.S.

Afterward, board members told me that my HR presentation was different than any they had seen because it emphasized financial impact and data that was relevant to strategy. One member went as far as to call it “the most innovative” he had experienced.

I was immediately heartened to get positive feedback. Later, I looked at the data-driven slides, and I thought, “I am talking about our people strategy as if it’s a new product line with a new segment. And I am looking at things this way because I have been in business strategy roles.”

An opportunity afoot

For nearly a year, I had taken my own thinking for granted. After that meeting, it became clear that my journey to becoming a CPO will not be so unique someday; rather, it will become a trend and opportunity for others to grow. To do this, my three key pieces of advice are:

1. Make sure your HR chief truly understands the business. They will not only know how to set goals and determine where they can make the most impact but also help their peers overcome obstacles through people. When I joined G2, I found it immensely helpful not just to speak with other employees and leaders at the company but also to spend time with company resources on my own. Specifically, I studied our financial statements, digging deeply into how we made money, how we managed our balance sheet/cash, and how we are forecasting growth. To help answer any questions I had in those first few months, I sat down with our finance team early and often.

2. Set quantifiable goals and track progress, including but not exclusive to performance evaluations, DEI efforts, retention, engagement, satisfaction, recruiting/offer win rates and turnover. Before I joined G2, it was a running inside joke that we never hit our hiring plan goals. I realized this was because we didn’t have a way to forecast hiring—and even further, what information the team was using was not at all synced with finance’s forecasts, which had a huge impact on our operating expenditures forecasting. To close this gap, we built out a model to forecast hiring based on predicted turnover and projected timing for new positions to open so that our team could better plan its hiring processes. This was modeled after sales forecasting best practices; and, in our first quarter of implementing this, we achieved our hiring plan goals for the first time in company history

3. Analyze and interpret the numbers to build the mission for a great workplace. Constantly use data to bolster the employee experience for in-person, hybrid and fully remote colleagues, improving talent retention rate and driving company-wide performance. Every quarter, we provide a data dashboard called “The Voice of the Employee,” which aggregates data across multiple people analytics channels, including: employee net promoter score (eNPS), G2-created inclusivity net promoter score (iNPS), exit interviews, grow interviews (our version of stay interviews) and diversity metrics. Together, this data gives us a snapshot of focus areas where the company is excelling, and where we need to improve. Further, we can drill down by organizational team and region if a heightened focus is required for those groups. We review this data with each of our business leaders, partnering with them on how best to drive people improvements. And most importantly, we consistently provide this data to the workforce to build trust through transparency and demonstrate how their feedback drives results.

Indeed, HR leaders can up their game, and they can be more impactful than ever in this new world that wants and needs their leadership. Consider that Leena Nair, currently CEO of Chanel, was hired away last December from Unilever, where she was Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO). Nair’s ascent clearly indicated that the skills that make a CPO successful are core to any leadership role. It also shows that the more your HR chief understands the business, the more likely they, and your company, are likely to succeed.


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