March 9, 2023

TPL Insights: Building Peak-Performance Cultures #161 – How the Right CHRO and C-Suite Mindset Drives Growth and Peak Performance Part 2

By Rob Andrews

By Rob Andrews with italicized content from Ellyn Shook and Yusuf Tayob’s report The CHRO as a growth executive published on January 17, 2023 on Accenture’s website,

Putting the forces of change to work

Having the right profile and conditions activates a High-Res CHROs’ ability to accelerate change and drive growth. Our survey analysis and in-depth interviews with CEOs and CHROs globally illustrate three key things they do differently.

1. Access and create talent in innovative ways

High-Res CHROs use data-led, AI-powered insights to understand which capabilities their organizations need most—and where to find and attract the people that have them. To achieve this, they:

  1. Enable next-generation skills development: In a continuously disrupted market, the expertise companies need to stay competitive is shifting. Top CHROs prioritize skilling the organization’s people to meet growth objectives, as well as building the infrastructure to deliver the right capabilities at the right time across the business. Our High-Res CHROs are over 2x as likely to invest significantly in skills development—and they recognize that technology is an integral part of that process. With this approach, they expand access to new and more diverse sources of talent and create pathways for people, such as hiring for skills instead of degrees and offering apprenticeship programs.
  2. Use technology to unearth hidden talent: Leading CHROs are putting new tools to work as they revamp hiring and recruitment practices for a new era. They are utilizing AI to better understand how bias enters the screening process and looking to data to transform candidate experiences. They are also discovering talent within their own organizations and using technology to support creative and flexible work models.
  3. Embrace strategic managed services: Using strategic managed services partners for HR delivery provides access to talent at speed and scale and the ability to harness intelligent, cloud-based platforms that enable data-driven decisionmaking. Our research shows that leading organizations (the top 5% who best tap the power of data, technology and people) are utilizing managed services at higher rates than their peers. Notably, they have a 46% greater focus on embedding managed services into their strategy, compared with companies that focus on talent alone. The pandemic highlighted how some organizations used this solution to shift large-scale operations to fully remote settings quickly and efficiently. Introducing managed services allowed them to focus on their core business and their people, while taking advantage of the scale and industrialized platforms such services offer.

CHRO IN ACTION: The “gray areas” where functions intersect and value hides

Francine Katsoudas, Chief People, Policy and Purpose Officer at Cisco, thinks of her role as “being focused on anticipating market transitions and understanding the business strategy and how it links with our people strategy to accelerate growth for the company.”

It’s a relatively new approach, but it reflects the Cisco C-suite’s evolving understanding of how people, technology and data must combine to drive productivity. As Katsoudas explains: “Historically, you would have business discussions and talk tech and data—and then you would talk separately about people. Now we’re understanding that success means braiding these discussions together.”

This “braiding” manifests itself in relationships and new ways of working within the executive team. To illustrate, Katsoudas points to her increasingly collaborative partnership with Chief Information Officer Fletcher Previn, which shines a new light for both on how technology can elevate people to drive greater productivity in their company. Given Cisco’s business, and the networked solutions the company develops, their learnings can also inform the company’s client offerings.

Katsoudas notes that Cisco’s work to unlock employee potential and create better experiences— from recruiting to workforce planning, to skill development and ways of engaging—is dependent on leaders. “Elevating leadership expectations and focusing on longer term outcomes is critical,” she says. “Data and insights from our HCM crossenterprise platform reinforce the efficacy of this approach and can help create efficiencies that can be reinvested to further improve people’s ability to collaborate and deliver value.”

As a result, Cisco is fast-tracking change for its people, its business and its communities.

2. Connect new dimensions of data, technology and people

High-Res CHROs are nearly 2x more likely to effectively connect data, technology and people than their peers. Leveraging this growth combination is the primary accelerator for improved financial and non-financial outcomes. To achieve this, these CHROs:

  1. Maximize people-related data: High-Res CHROs bring insights that connect talent more directly to business outcomes and ultimately unlock people’s potential. They do this by spotting productivity trends, uncovering engagement drivers and applying predictive insights from skills data to proactively meet demand and help their people grow. At the same time, these CHROs connect external signals with enterprise data that allows faster decisionmaking, influences long-term strategy and informs actions on broader social issues.
  2. Innovate through technology and ecosystem: High-Res CHROs know every business is a digital business. In addition to continuously reinventing their HCM/HR digital core to optimize processes and increase personalization, they use innovative technology, such as the metaverse to enhance people’s experiences at work. And they don’t do it alone: the efficiencies gained through an ecosystem of partnerships, platforms and scalable solutions can free up capital and fuel new investments – making them a foundation for growth. Our research shows that companies adopting next-generation AI and digital tools, in combination with enabling partnerships and ecosystems, are 2.6x more likely to increase revenue by 10% or more than peers who are not.
  3. Automate strategically: High-Res CHROs don’t just see automation as a path to minimizing tasks and boosting efficiency—they use it as a springboard for more effective workforce planning and meaningful work. Through data, they are making smart buy-build-bot decisions with future growth in mind by merging the very best of human skills with technology.

CHRO IN ACTION: Putting data to work

Numbers have always been a factor in human resources, but today’s CHROs have access to more, better and deeper data than ever before. And as access to it has changed, so has its impact.

“Data and insights are paramount for our jobs,” says Donna Morris, Chief People Officer at Walmart. “Years ago, we didn’t have it as real-time, or as accessible as it is today … If I had to go back 15 years, I’d say it took a lot longer to get predictive insights. And often it was predictive in outcomes, not actually insight. So, if an outcome happened, we assumed it would happen again. It wasn’t as if we could apply logic to data to give us different formulated outcomes and insight.”

Now, CHROs are experimenting with artificial intelligence, machine learning and other technological tools that can uncover hidden truths in the numbers—and all faster than ever.

Morris’ team put this into play with its 2022 Associate Engagement Survey. By using internal technology to drive the survey in real-time, they were able to draw responses from nearly a million employees in just five days. They then used AI and machine learning capabilities to segment the data and distill qualitative comments into actionable categories and insights. As a result, they could act on the survey results right away, instead of the typical three to five weeks it would normally take to do so. “And, when it comes to DEI and representation,” Morris says, “we are now able to report every six months—armed with realtime data that enables us to be transparent about where we’re at and to be even more accountable to drive progress and change.”

Over the years, Morris says the CHRO role has pivoted from a focus on talent and retention to a role focused on furthering the business through organizational growth and people.

3. Lead reinvention beyond the HR function

While credibility starts with functional excellence, High-Res CHROs’ impact and influence extends across the entire enterprise and beyond the organization to truly drive transformation. That means they:

  1. Catalyze change: All reinvention must be people-led; as a result, leading CHROs adapt talent strategy at speed and scale to align with business needs and strengthen resilience. Our interviews with CEOs and CHROs show the CHRO’s opportunity to impact many areas that benefit from the people/culture lens, including acquisitions, investments, new products and services, branding and social activism. Additionally, we found that 88% of CEOs say their CHRO should be responsible for infusing a culture of innovation across the enterprise.
  2. Solve systemic challenges: Top CHROs recognize that their organizations are deeply intertwined with the communities in which they function. As a result, they work beyond the boundaries of the company—across organizations, industries, and geographies—jointly contributing to actions for change. They leverage best practices (such as the use of PPE during the height of the pandemic) to help with broader social goals while expanding external partnerships and investments that make an impact in the world. Another way High-Res CHROs add value: improving sustainability, one of the forces that drive change. CEOs with a High-Res CHRO are 5x as likely to say their CHRO is directly improving the company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance.

CHRO IN ACTION: Resilience is everything

If there’s one word to describe the past few years, it’s uncertainty. Whether it’s the pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rising inflation, the energy crisis or the cryptocurrency crash, businesses have had to adapt quickly to change. Some organizations have even thrived since they have the right mix of people and technology to adapt to changing conditions.

Kerry Dryburgh, Chief People Officer at bp calls this the platform of opportunity. “It’s about leading transformation internally and then looking beyond, considering the challenges externally, to make a difference in the world” she says. “It’s about purpose and how we respond to societal expectations. And then it’s about engagement and the commerciality.”

There are examples of this everywhere in the organization. On a high level, all of bp’s HR tools and data are in the cloud, all to ensure that employees have the best possible experience. Moving forward, Dryburgh expects to be able to use analytics and insights for a real-time look at employee sentiment—and react quickly, if necessary. For instance, Dryburgh’s team found that bp employees who work for great team leaders are 15 points more engaged than those who see their team leader less often and receive less feedback. Moving forward, bp is creating an agenda focused on driving engagement and performance. “So, it’s having that discussion as opposed to it being about what we intuitively think we need to do…[and] underpinning the ‘why’ in a much more robust way.”

Dryburgh has also found bp is well positioned to support the greater good, beyond what’s traditionally expected of a CHRO or HR in general. She worked with external partners, including NGOs, to create a system of support for refugees—not just connecting them with jobs, but linking all the other aspects as well, such as determining if someone needs language training or financial support to cover the costs of requalification. It’s a complete rethinking of the talent strategy in a time of upheaval that not only helps the business in a time of crisis, but also the people most affected by that crisis.

Ultimately, Dryburgh sees resilience—and leveraging that platform of opportunity—in three facets. The first is transformation and using HR tech and talent to help the company evolve and grow to meet its goals in a constantly changing world. (To this end, bp is aided by Accenture’s transformation GPS tool to help them understand their progress on the journey.) The second is embedding the importance of transformation and talent throughout the C-suite and with the board and opening the door to collaboration. And the third is leaving a legacy, so that the company and the communities it serves are all better off than when she arrived at bp.

Her advice? “Think bigger than the seat that you sit in.”

Are you ready to join the 5%? The way forward

Every C-suite leader should be talking about how to tap into and empower the CHRO as a growth executive. It starts by holding the mirror up, individually and collectively, because unlocking growth through data, tech and people is only achieved together. Consider these four questions:

  1. Does our culture enable, recognize, and reward leaders to think and act beyond their title to drive growth in new ways?
  2. Do all of our leaders possess the right data and technology skills (supported by the right processes and tools) to accelerate change together, in a boundaryless and frictionless way?
  3. Do we have differentiated strategies to access talent, create talent and unlock people’s potential?
  4. Are people Net Better Off working at our company, where all leaders take accountability for this commitment?

I hope this article has been helpful. Every bit of this research aligns perfectly with our view of building powerful cultures, which we believe are the only form of sustainable competitive advantage. Give us a call, and let’s talk about how we can help you find your new CHRO, or help strengthen and support the one you have.

Warmest Regards,