More companies than ever are elevating their human resources director to c-level. Sometimes called a chief people officer, other times a chief human resources officer or chief talent officer, this top-tier exec oversees hiring, payroll, benefits, and conflict resolution. It's a big job with a big paycheck to match.
A company can have the greatest ideas, the greatest products, and the greatest tech, and still, fail… if it doesn’t have the right people to execute its vision. When a company grows beyond the “let’s just hire our friends” phase, it needs a human resources (HR) department to find those employees. And when a company grows to the point where HR requires a fully staffed team, it sometimes creates a C-level executive role called the chief people officer (CPO)—also referred to as the chief human resources officer (CHRO) or the chief talent officer (CTO)—to lead HR.
The CPO’s team does a lot more than identify and vet new hires. The responsibilities of a chief people officer include:
It also can handle internal messaging, i.e., informing employees of changes in policies and benefits, and employee training and education.
The CPO is HR’s leader and chief strategist, contributing input on corporate decisions about growth and organizational design. Kathleen Hogan, who has served as the chief people officer at Microsoft, described her day-to-day in an interview with USA Today: “My job is really to listen and learn from employees, and make decisions that help us create an empowering culture where everyone can do their best work.”
Not every company sees the need for a CPO. Currently only about 7 percent of midsize organizations have an HR executive in the c-suite. Many are forward-thinking, fast-growing startups competing for talent in a lean labor market, but some are longer-established enterprises. Toronto’s city government has a chief people officer, for example.
If you have a passion for HR and leadership, becoming a CPO is an excellent career target for you. In this guide to becoming a chief people officer, we’ll cover:
The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (
Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. ( )
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The job title for a company’s leader of company culture and human resource management varies depending on the company. Some are c-suite positions; others are not. Titles include:
CPOs usually oversee direct reports from HR department employees like:
There is no fixed path to the CPO role. According to the BLS, jobs at the management level in human resources typically require candidates to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. Some employers require a master’s degree. Even where that’s not the case, a master’s degree should provide a significant advantage when you go job hunting. Useful master’s degrees for HR professionals include:
Again, there are no required certifications to work in, or lead, HR, but many such certifications exist. They can’t hurt your résumé, and some employers will expect, if not require, them. PayScale conducted an analysis of over 100,000 HR employees to learn more about how credentials impact HR career success. It found:
Some of the most common certifications include:
According to analysis from Russell Reynolds & Associates, HR chiefs benefit when they gain expertise in:
The traditional advancement path to becoming a CHRO involves rising from a recruiter role to an HR generalist or an HR management position. More and more, however, that route is changing. Some candidates come with HR experience, while others may have leadership experience from other business divisions. Data from the consulting firms KPMG and Russell Reynolds and Associates show:
This is not a job people typically happen upon, nor is it one you wake up one morning and decide to apply for. Entering the c-suite takes years of preparation, experience, and achievement. If you want to become a CPO, now is the time to start working toward your goal.
Do you want to make a lot of money? C-level officers have some of the highest-paying jobs in the US. You may not make quite as much as the CEO or COO, but you’ll take home a very substantial paycheck, and you’ll likely earn a lot more in additional compensation like bonuses and stock options.
You’ll also be doing important work. As CPO, you’re tasked with making work life for employees a balanced experience and managing a company culture driven by integrity, teamwork, and values. If your strategic and emotionally intelligent mind stands out among your peers, and if you have the fortitude for top-level leadership, a CPO position is not beyond your reach.
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