CPO: With power comes responsibility

CIOL Bureau
New Update

BANGALORE, INDIA: The industry is seeing the emergence of a new designation within the companies. One such example is a 'Chief People's Officer'. This fancy sounding name is not just a designation for namesake, but bagful of responsibilities as a CEO coach. A CPO can bring clients to a company, and even directly impact the brand value.


Though it is at an early stage, going forward, many companies would look at building a team with a CPO within. Just like the counselors and industry analyst of 20th century evolved as today's Chief Financial Officer.

Companies define the job description of a CPO as - a newly created position that recognizes the critical importance of aligning people with the company's mission. The human resources director, who handles the day to day operations of the HR department, will report to the CPO. He is basically expected to bring strategic and operating experience to the executive management table, and help in building business plan.

“This is very different from an HR head, who looks after employee lifecycle management,” said, C Mahalingam (Mali), CPO, Symphony Services.


“A CPO is a coach to the CEO”, he added, elaborating, “You can easily understand from the fact that a CPO is counted among the board, and is bigger in role than a Global HR head, who is usually a senior vice president. A CPO works more on strategic than operational agenda. My key results area (KRA) is based on my contributions to the company's topline. My responsibility is to execute the CEO's agenda, plan the future, growth. Around 30 per cent of my time is spent with clients.”

Mali shared that one of the key and important roles of a CPO is to build intangibles for the company. Around 70 per cent of the brand valuation of an organization depends on these intangibles like leadership, talent, goodwill, collaboration, innovation. These may vary in some companies. In Walmart, for example, cost competency could be one of the intangibles, and for Apple it could be innovation. But a progressive CPO can play a major role in gaining these.

The evolution of this started with the emergence of the IT sector. Companies started realizing that man is a bigger asset than machines and therefore it is important to build the leadership around it.


Milind Jadhava, CPO, GlobalLogic, shared about the chronology of this movement.

"If we look at the history, the personnel responsible for the workforce was first referred to as labor officers, then as personal officer; gradually around 1980-90s the jargon of human resource came up. Human resource was a fancy word that sounded nice and also shared the idea that the people are resource and not just the numbers," he said.

But soon, with the onset of this decade, the people quotient came into focus and the management started realizing that employees cannot be considered resources like machines but human.


However, in a few companies especially in manufacturing, petrochemical industry, the designations are still around personnel/labor officer. This shift is gradually coming and in lesser than a decade many more companies would see this shift.

Resonated Karthik Sarma, CPO, WNS Global Services, “It is not so much industries but companies that are global and knowledge centric or human capital centric where the emphasis is on HR is becoming stronger.”

He said the shift has occurred in the last few years because of two things, first realization by organizations on enhancing human capital and therefore the focus area has broadened over the past years, and secondly, today, more emphasis given to the human factor as compared to 10 years ago.

“This is more so in case of BPO companies as people are the most important asset in the BPO industry,” he said.