Rise of the Chief People Officer

On May 17th we had the pleasure of learning more about the Chief People Officer role from Steven Rotman, the Chief People Officer of Ipswitch.

With the increasing important of HR in the overall strategy of a company, the title of Chief People Officer has become more and more prevalent. ย We wanted to get Steven’s view on what was driving this change, what was different from the traditional CHRO role, and what types of people are filling these roles.

Our main takeaways:

  • CPO’s are seen as more strategic than the typical CHRO, even though much of the role is the same.
  • The CEO is typically the person who decides toย buy into having a strategic C-level exec from HR who’ll guide the culture of the company in addition to payroll, etc.
  • The Chief People Officer is typically someone who comes up through HR, as opposed to marketing or another discipline.
  • Part of the CPO’s responsibility is to drive culture, and then share that culture via authentic storytelling.
  • We see more and more companies looking to bring on Chief People Officers as HR continues to buildย its strategic importance across companies, and is recognized as a key driver of long term value by the CEO and board.

We used a live chat format for this chat so that people could get their questions answered and dig deep where they wanted to. ย Below is the full transcript

Phil Strazzulla: Hey all – we’ll get started at 12 EST
Phil Strazzulla: Thanks to everyone for joining today’s chat! The goal here is to learn anything you want from Steven about the role of Chief People Officers, and this format allows you to ask any questions you have. Steven – do you mind kicking things off with a brief intro?
Steven Rotman: Sure – I’d be happy to!
Steven Rotman: Hello all – I am excited to be engaging in this conversation today!
Steven Rotman: I am currently the CPO @ Ipswitch in Lexington, MA – wish offices throughout the US and in Ireland and Germany
Jenn: Hi Steven, thanks for doing this. Do you mind sharing how you got into your role?
Steven Rotman: Hi Jenn – Sure!
Phil Strazzulla: Thanks for the question Jenn ๐Ÿ™‚
Steven Rotman: About a year and a half ago I was transitioning out of a VP of HR role for a technology company that was acquired.
Jenn: It’d also be interesting to know what the difference is between a CHRO and CPO!
Steven Rotman: After working with a great CEO who really helped show me (and others) the difference between functional HR and a strategic business partner I knew I had to find a CPO role
Steven Rotman: While the CPO certainly handles all of the traditional “HR Stuff” I think those are the basics you have to get right, but the real meat of the role is in leading the culture and helping to guide the CEO and the rest of the executive team
Phil Strazzulla: So you came up in a traditional generalist HR role it sounds like?
Steven Rotman: I actually started my career as an agency recruiter b/c I couldn’t find an HR role at the time
Steven Rotman: I went from agency recruiter to corporate recruiter to Generalist and then on from there
Katie: Thanks Steven! How did you transition into a generalist from a recruiter role?
Phil Strazzulla: Oh very interesting…and so it sounds like the major difference is a focus on culture/strategy?
Steven Rotman: Hi Katie – It wasn’t easy!
RJ: Sounds like one could also transition from marketing role to this CPO role?
Steven Rotman: I lucked out – found a great manager who was hiring for a corporate recruiter and a generalist at the same time. I convinced her to let me do both :).
Phil Strazzulla: Thanks for the great questions Katie and RJ ๐Ÿ™‚
Steven Rotman: She saved some money and I learned how to be a Generalist
Katie: Oh interesting! Thanks
Steven Rotman: I think the transition from marketing to CPO would be a stretch – mostly b/c you still have to understand all of the HR “stuff” – comp, benefits, employment law – those are the basics
RJ: I see.
Katie: Did you find that an HR certification was helpful?
Steven Rotman: I think so – more helpful for me was getting my MS in HR
Steven Rotman: I got the SPHR a few years as something to keep me current b/c I had been w/ the same company for a number of years
Steven Rotman: I don’t think a graduate degree is essential though – if I were to do it now I’d get my MBA
Dave M: can you share a bit more around what you are doing from a culture perspective?
Steven Rotman: I think the key is, as CPO – it is more about being another strategic business advisor and less about nuts and bolts of HR
Steven Rotman: Sure Dave – Thanks for asking
RJ: So do you have people on your People team that have the marketing skills of communication and internal branding to support the strategy>
Steven Rotman: I’ve only been with my current organization for Steven Rotman: Lots of listening, and here is where I tend to find wins…. tackle the easy stuff and don’t make it complicated
Phil Strazzulla: What do you view as the “easy stuff”?
Steven Rotman: I think sometimes people want a “master plan” for culture. I think the plan is doing the right thing everyday and holding others accountable to a certain standard
Steven Rotman: Some of the easy stuff could be fixing some policies that bother people, or enhancing communication with a weekly email or newsletter. Maybe holding regular all-hands meetings
Phil Strazzulla: Do you say focus on that in order to gain sway in the organization before larger initiatives?
Steven Rotman: Yes, exactly – that is how you can earn some good will
Phil Strazzulla: Makes sense
Dave M: got it, good stuff. I am always curious as to how different leaders map the easy/hard stuff back to core values..demonstrating its all connected.
Steven Rotman: For example…. when I arrived someone in the sales org came to me saying they had been trying to get a new fridge in the kitchen for months. I ordered one on Amazon and it arrived two days later
Steven Rotman: HUGE credit there
Phil Strazzulla: And very simple too!
Steven Rotman: Very simple – there are so many of those things that people make complicated…
Steven Rotman: Enough is complicated that we don’t need to make more so ๐Ÿ™‚
Phil Strazzulla: Good question Dave. So taking what the defined culture is and then mapping that to what strategy is developed and tactics are implemented
Steven Rotman: Yes, I think that is a good point – you need to know what the culture IS, vs. just what you want it to be
Steven Rotman: Figure out what it is and use and work to change it slowly if it needs to be changed
Rich: Speaking to your experience in recruiting, how have you rallied employees to help with recruiting efforts for your company?
Steven Rotman: Here is where some CEOs and other leaders might want a plan or a rapid fix – we have to work hard to explain it is a slower process
Phil Strazzulla: Are you always thinking about culture when you have to do anything? Or is it only important with certain situations…like no payroll
Steven Rotman: no payroll wouldn’t work, for sure
Steven Rotman: Culture is EVERYTHING
Steven Rotman: Everything you do, the way you do it, the way you communicate… the way your team communicates, the way the CEO communiates
Steven Rotman: Be clear, be open, respond quickly
Steven Rotman: To answer the recruiting question….
Steven Rotman: Good question – I am definitely a recruiter at heart
Steven Rotman: Recruiting is not the job of HR or recruiter – it is everyone’s job!
Steven Rotman: One requirement of a manager is to share the open job on his / her social media
Steven Rotman: We are helping to fill the role, not manufacturing candidates – real team sport
Steven Rotman: Most good managers get this once you prove that it works
Jenn: Do you think companies should have a CHRO and CPO or are they mutually exclusive?
Steven Rotman: I think it would be hard to have both
Steven Rotman: I think they are really the same role, but the suggestion of focus is different
Steven Rotman: I can say that even internal employees react different to the different title – people feel energized by it
Steven Rotman: Before I arrived the role was a CHRO role and I have had many people ask me about this change and they have had a very positive reaction
Phil Strazzulla: So it’s the same job…but the title implies what the person is doing that is different.
Katie: In your more strategic role, do you find yourself counseling other teams on how to approach various issues? If so, could you provide an example of how you’ve driven change?
Steven Rotman: In my opinion, yes
Phil Strazzulla: Does the org define CHRO vs CPO, the HR dept, c-suite….where does the initial energy come from that moves the needle one way or the other?
Steven Rotman: Hi Katie – Yes, all the time!
Steven Rotman: I always try to just give different perspectives – This is how it looks from the outside, or this is how others teams will perceive what you’re doing, or…. have you thought it this way?
Steven Rotman: As an example, we have a corp office here in Boston but employees globally. Like many companies, we have been EST-centric and other offices don’t feel as connected
Steven Rotman: I’ve worked hard to get the team here in Boston to take into account the time and cultural differences the rest of the org feels. They have been receptive and the teams around the world feel much more included
Steven Rotman: Phil – To answer your org question, I think the title is very much driven by the CEO
Katie: Thanks!
Steven Rotman: Is he / she willing to have a C-Suite employee reporting directly to them as an equal to the CFO, CMO, etc?
Phil Strazzulla: Got it. So it’s either an org that sees HR as more strategic, or doesn’t? Or am I being too black and white?
Steven Rotman: If so, you’ve found yourself a winner!
Steven Rotman: I don’t know that it is that black and white
Steven Rotman: Sometimes companies aren’t at a point yet where they can invest heavily in HR (which of course they often pay for later)
Steven Rotman: If people haven’t seen this model before they might not think of it as an option
Steven Rotman: I think for many CEOs they have a person in HR who they see is so much more than what they thought, so that helps them bring it up to the CPO level
Phil Strazzulla: That makes sense. Someone rises to the level of being a CPO, so elevate them
Steven Rotman: That is how I’ve seen it – and then the CEO forever thinks of the top HR person as a CPO
Steven Rotman: I think it is all about showing how you’re aligning people and strategy – how you are part of the business, and not only in a defined way via HR channels
Pooja: Any insights on why this trend (CPOs) is happening now?
Steven Rotman: You also have to understand the business – sit through sales meetings and understand the pipeline. Sit through product meetings and understand what is happening
Steven Rotman: Hi Pooja – I think people are really seeing how the overall culture and leadership of people is having an impact on business across the spectrum
Steven Rotman: In today’s world of social media we all know pretty quickly which companies are good to work for and which aren’t
Steven Rotman: That drives talent & retention
Steven Rotman: And employees are savvy – it isn’t about free pizza and beer – it is about challenging environments and transparency being treated well
Steven Rotman: You need someone leading that effort if you want to compete in today’s market
Pooja: Thanks!
Pooja: So you are sharing your culture via social media I guess? Any tips there?
Steven Rotman: Yes, trying ๐Ÿ™‚
Pooja: Have you seen any measurable returns?
Steven Rotman: You’ve got to get someone to manage the content – whether you can afford that or not (we can’t)
Steven Rotman: We all share in the responsibility
Steven Rotman: We keep it simple right now – Glassdoor, LinkedIn, some twitter, and FB
Steven Rotman: We have a great marketing group that supports us as well
Steven Rotman: The work is in getting in the habit of sharing on social media as you would in your personal life – in the moment, when it feels real, and when it is interesting!
Steven Rotman: If we’re out at a volunteer event someone snaps a picture and throws it out on twitter – done!
Steven Rotman: We’ve tried doing a bunch of staged things and having schedules of when to post, etc… but it felt forced
Steven Rotman: At least for us
Pooja: Are any social networks worth spending extra time on?
Steven Rotman: I’d say Glassdoor and LinkedIn – though it depends on industry
Pooja: Have you tried LinkedIn Elevate?
Steven Rotman: I haven’t – though now I’m curious!
Pooja: It allows employees to share content more easily to their networks, is my undersatnding
Steven Rotman: I think social media and bringing and very much tied to recruiting so I tend to look for recruitment leaders who can also drive social media strategy
Steven Rotman: We also try to make it fun for employees and get everyone involved
Jenn: That’s interesting. I was having a convo yesterday with a head of EB for a Fortune 500 who was saying you really are either a marketer or a recruiter, but you think you can be both it sounds like
Steven Rotman: We recently had a Lunch & Learn about how to be more involved in Ipswitch social media – it was helpful!
Steven Rotman: that’s a good point Jenn!
Katie: We try to do blog posts about what its like to work for a certain team, or how people who were STEM majors have been successful in the company – I’ve found that those types of blogs and content tend to drive a lot of interest
Steven Rotman: Some larger companies are moving to having a marketing person “live” in HR for that reason. But for most smaller companies that just isn’t possible
Phil Strazzulla: Katie – how do you measure that interest?
Steven Rotman: I think you can do a pretty good job at both
Steven Rotman: Katie – That sounds great!
Phil Strazzulla: I’m always curious if companies are tracking ROI on these sorts of initiatives
Katie: Google analytics, quantity of applications – we don’t have an ATS so attribution tracking can be tough, but we try!
Steven Rotman: We try to get employees to blog as much as possible – people want to hear “real stories” and not just HR or Marketing info
Phil Strazzulla: Completely agree Steven!
Phil Strazzulla: Ok thanks for sharing Katie…ya it can be tough without the right software
Steven Rotman: Actually, that is the way we drive Glassdoor reviews – I always tell people “we need candidates to understand what it is like to be you – and only YOU know what is like in your job… so can you please help?”
Steven Rotman: It has been very successful – b/c you aren’t asking people to go and write nice things, you are letting people know that they have a unique perspective and only they know what it is…. people respond well
Katie: Oh, that’s a great way to ask people to fill out reviews
Steven Rotman: I also say – be honest… we want people to come here to will fit, so don’t pretend we’re something we’re not!
Steven Rotman: Sorry – “who will fit…”
Phil Strazzulla: Another gem for sure
Steven Rotman: Don’t say how great our onboarding program is… b/c it isn’t!
Steven Rotman: If someone needs a defined 6 month training program, don’t come here b/c that isn’t what we do
Steven Rotman: I think being honest about culture is so important and people get caught up in the marketing buzz
Steven Rotman: Do people feel like certain things are overused when talking about culture??
Katie: Agree – honesty is key! Don’t want to talk a lot about flexible work hours when there can be long nights on some teams who are driven by client needs
Steven Rotman: Exactly!
Steven Rotman: Thanks for saying that Katie
Katie: I think transparency can be tough
Steven Rotman: Agreed – you need to be specific in how you talk about it
Steven Rotman: I interviewed for a job a few years ago and was told it was “very flexible” and the company was family-focused….. yet when I talked to employees who I knew in my network, they said people are timed as they go to lunch!
Steven Rotman: Not setting the right expectation ๐Ÿ™‚
Katie: Exactly, even though I’m recruiting and want to “woo” people about the company its important to make sure they fit
Phil Strazzulla: We’re just about out of time – are there any last questions for Steven?
Steven Rotman: For example, in my current organization we aren’t a big WFH culture, so I make sure to tell people when they interview, in that way “This isn’t a big WFH culture,” – most people who are very successful here are in the office everyday. I think that sends a message.
Katie: One other quick question – how do you drive professional development initiatives?
Steven Rotman: I could talk forever about that! ๐Ÿ™‚
Pooja: Thanks for the wisdom!!! ๐Ÿ™‚
Jenn: This was really great, thanks for your time today.
Steven Rotman: I try to figure out what people want and what the need really is… and find a solution that can impact the most amount of people in a way that can be ongoing, and not a “one and done.”
Steven Rotman: Thanks to everyone for joining the conversation today! It is really great to have a dialogue with HR folks so we’re keeping up on best practices!
Phil Strazzulla: Thanks again Steven, this was a really great conversation and I appreciate you taking the time out ๐Ÿ™‚
Steven Rotman: Thanks Phil – I enjoyed it!
Phil Strazzulla: We’ll post the transcript of this to our blog for anyone who wants to reference it going forward
Phil Strazzulla: Enjoy the rest of your day!
Katie: Thanks Steven and Phil!
Katie: Thanks Steven and Phil!

Phil Strazzulla

Founder at NextWave Hire
Phil is a founder of NextWave Hire.Previously, he was a VC at Bessemer, and has a MBA from Harvard, and studied finance at NYU.