The CMO of People

Many organizations are not getting the best out of their HR function. Ask a CEO, “What is your most important asset?” and they’ll say “People” follow that up with “Does that mean that your people management processes are the best run processes in the organization?” and you’ll get an unhappy look.

HR is no doubt a hard function to run that has been held back by its history as an administrative and service function. It’s also been held back by CEOs who don’t have a clear idea of how the function should be run to add value. One solution is to re-envision the CHRO as the CMO of People.

The Parallels between Marketing and HR

There are remarkable parallels between the CMO role and the CHRO role; consider the following table:

 
S.No. CMO CMO of People
1 Marketing & customer analytics People analytics 
2 Brand, PR & creative  Employment brand
3 Customer acquisition Talent acquisition
4 Marketing communications Internal communications
5 Customer retention Talent management
6 Pricing and packaging, marketing strategy Total rewards
7 Enablement Talent operations
8 Events and PR Real estate/workplace services
 

Take a moment to read down line by line, the parallels are surprising. What also might be surprising is that we have real estate/workplace services listed under the CMO of People column, we’ll explain that a bit later.

There are two implications of these parallels:

  • We can draw on concepts and tools from marketing so that HR is more effective and business focused.
  • We can explain how the HR function can add value in a way that resonates with CEOs
 

We don’t mean to imply that this framing of the HR role is right for everyone or that it is the only good model. This is simply the model one of us (Peter Navin) developed and deployed in his work as a CHRO at three organizations. We know it works.

The overarching concept that guides the CMO of People is to create an immersive predictable employee experience that drives productivity and performance. The adjectives “immersive” and “predictable” speak to the goal of having an experience that reliably shows up at every employee touchpoint. The phrase “drives performance and productivity” is equally important. The point of the employee experience is not to make employees happy (although it ought to do that too), the point is to lead to business results.

Why Real Estate? Why Collaboration?

The importance of the employee experience explains why the table shows Real estate/workplace services as a responsibility of the CMO of People. The work environment is an element that has a huge impact on the daily lives of employees. Everything from where the building is located, to the features of the conference room, to the food or concierge services can either reinforce or negate the experience. It’s so important to the employee experience that it belongs under HR.

If you felt a little hesitation at putting real estate under HR due to the dollars involved, then that’s a prudent reaction. It’s a reaction that illuminates another core aspect of the CMO of People model. As you elevate the HR function so that it is more directly impacting the business (which is what companies should do given that people are the source of competitive advantage) then that role needs to collaborate more closely with the other members of the C-suite. The head of HR does not make real estate decisions on their own, they work hand in hand with the CFO. Similarly, HR can’t just invent their own employment brand; it has to align tightly with the company brand, and this means the CMO of People will spend time each week working with the CMO.

An elevated HR function, one that has greater impact on business results, must of necessity be more closely integrated with the others functions and that means more intense and more meaningful collaboration.

Implementing the CMO of People model

To get HR unstuck it helps to have a fresh vision of what it can be. For any new vision of HR, the CHRO will have to do the following:

  • Get the CEO to engage with the vision and accept that there are bound to be rough spots as you move into unfamiliar terrain.
  • Get greater collaboration between the head of HR and the rest of the C-suite, especially the CMO and CFO. Collaboration means working together to a common purpose; it involves real time working together.
  • Get at least basic analytics in place. HR can’t be an effective business function if it doesn’t come to the table with numbers.
  • Move away from manual administrative work by implementing technology and by not overcomplicating processes.
 
Conclusion

Chief officers need to reconcile the inconsistency of their belief that people are the source of competitive advantage while at the same time living in an organization where HR is not seen as effective as other functions like finance, operations or marketing.

Assuming that one doesn’t jettison the belief that people are the source of competitive advantage, then one has to work on elevating the HR function so that it has greater business impact. To do so you need a new mental model of HR; the “CMO of People” concept is one such model. It can act as a guide for transforming what HR does and how it is seen.

* Excerpted with permission from The CMO of People: Manage Employees Like Customers With an Immersive Predictable Experience That Drives Productivity and Performance by Peter Navin and David Creelman; De Gruyter (2018)

  • David Creelman
    David Creelman
    CEO of Creelman Research

    David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research. His most recent book Lead the Work: Navigating a World Beyond Employment (co-authored with Boudreau and Jesuthasan) is on the future of work and has received plaudits from business leaders.

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