How the millennial forced the change from CHRO to CPO

Flipkart recently announced that Mekin Maheshwari, the former head of payments and digital media, will now don the role of the chief people officer. He would now oversee the entire HR department at Flipkart, which today is about 10,000 people. In an interview with the Economic Times, he said -

“This role is amongst the biggest in Flipkart. If we put together everyone who works for us, we have about 10,000 employees. Less than 1% of Indians buy online and that will grow 20-30 times in the next few years. The growth we are staring at is huge. For that, the organisation should have a very strong foundation and needs strong people and leadership capabilities. The size of this role was mouth-watering.”

Mekin further shared that when he joined the company, there was no HR department in place and he helped figure out the best practices for recruitment, performance management and compensation.

But what’s with this chief people officer post? How is it different from the already used chief human resources officer? In definition they aren’t different. It is the highest post that a HR professional can achieve in the corporate structure. The job entails (1) workforce strategist, (2) organizational and performance conductor, (3) HR service delivery owner, and (4) compliance and governance regulator. (Source - Wikipedia)

So why the rebrand? Some say that it was to put the human resources professionals at level pegging with the COOs and CEOs of the corporate world. This blog elucidates that really well -

“In other words, the title “Chief People Officer” is all about that highly coveted seat-at-the-table that so many HR leaders have been arguing about for years on end. And if that’s the REAL issue, then the title the top HR person gets in an organization is probably a pretty big deal.”

The change of focus from Human Resources to People is also considered progressive. The focus of the CPO would not be restricted to the above mentioned processes. It would be more. The CPO would be people centric, and apart from the regular functions, he/she would also be involved in setting a company culture. And by company culture, we don’t mean plush offices and insane facilities. On a LinkedIn blog Michael Fertik CEO at Reputation.com says -

"A CPO will reset the definition of culture with you. Chief People Officers understand that culture doesn’t equal happiness. (Note: happiness can certainly be the byproduct of a great culture). But too often, we equate culture with lifestyle and perks, the ephemeral fun stuff that makes up the bulk of articles on companies with the “greatest cultures.” In reality, perks are the nice-to-haves. There’s nothing wrong with them but the foundation of a culture rests on business goals, not masseuses and organic meals made to order. It’s asking, what can we do to identify, attract and retain the talent we need to drive enterprise value?"

Whatever may be the reason, the whole millennial movement is encroaching into the corporate world too. More and more people aren’t just working for a livelihood anymore. The new age employee is personally vested into their work and the traditional human resource management is not going to do a great job of attracting and retaining great talent.

For example, a tech company is going to attract a certain kind of people, and if they’re good, they’re most likely going to be extremely passionate about their work. And with passion, comes a need to be unrestrained and a certain degree of freedom when it comes to work.  Traditional, hierarchical HR policies will stifle them and before you know it, you’ll have your best engineers leave for another place which offers them more freedom at work.

Maybe, a CPO is just someone who understands the need of the most passionate people of a certain trade and builds processes and policies around it?

Share your thoughts.

About the Author

Raghu Mohan
Raghu is an engineering grad handles Marketing at HackerEarth. Prior to this, he was an editor at YourStory.com. When he’s not working, you can find him at the nearest music shop having a jam session.
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