Rise of the Chief People Officer: Evolution of the Role

While the chief people officer (CPO) is a role that has always been common in the tech and startup worlds, in recent years it has begun to make an appearance on the leadership teams of home-based care providers.

Broadly, the CPO occupies what was once a human resources (HR) role and widens the scope of the position significantly. The CPO works directly with the CEO.

“One of our primary responsibilities is making sure that we work in concert with the executive team and other leaders to have a people-based strategy that allows us to accomplish the business goals,” David Cook Jr., executive vice president and CPO at AccentCare, told Home Health Care News. “Chief people officer evolved from human resources roles. It’s become much more of a strategic role than it was in the past.”

Cook joined Dallas-based AccentCare — one of the largest providers of home-based care in the country — and took the helm of the company’s people operations in October.

On his end, Adam Holton stepped into the CPO role at Amedisys Inc. (Nasdaq: AMED) in September. With more than 20 years of relevant experience under his belt, he has also seen the role evolve.

“If you go back in time and look at the ’70s, the HR function in the United States was mainly about labor, being able to sort of manage through unions and big labor agreements,” Holton told HHCN. “I think in the ’80s, it seemed to shift into being about compensation, benefits, total rewards and how an organization differentiated itself for employees. In the ’90s, my view of our overall function is that HR became about business partnership: ‘How could I partner with the business to really understand what was most important?’”

In the decades since then, various industries have seen the rise of the CPO. In one sense, it’s a role that is still relatively new.

“I think the biggest difference between a [chief human resources officer] and a chief people officer is that the latter is more strategically focused on culture, and creating the best support, environment and experience within the workplace,” Holton said.

In the home-based care world, Kristen Duell — chief marketing officer at HCP — has been seeing mostly large- and mid-sized companies adding this role to its leadership team.

“I think it’s important for us to really emphasize not just policy and procedures from an HR perspective, but workforce culture, and why this organization is the right organization to work for,” she told HHCN. “This is a great improvement and a great trend.”

Still, Duell believes that small companies see the value in the role and may move towards embracing the position when they reach financial stability.

At a time when recruitment and retention presents a great challenge for home-based care providers, it makes sense to place a greater emphasis on culture, which is a big component of the CPO function.

Unlike other roles, being part of the C-suite empowers a CPO to make changes that help ease these challenges for the organization.

“The chief people officer role is all about workforce strategies, and part of that is retention,” Duell said. “The best way to focus on those retention efforts is through surveys that then drive action. The worst thing you can do is not follow through with it. Unfortunately, a lot of times in other roles, it’s easy to lose sight of following and taking action. With chief people officers, this type of responsibility is typically rolled up in the job.”

Along these lines, Cook calls improving employee engagement, which impacts recruitment and retention, job No. 1.

“The main priority is making sure we have an engaged employee workforce because without that there’s no way we can fulfill our mission,” he said. “There’s no way we can provide the best quality care and outcomes for our patients. We’re always focused on making sure there’s a connection between leaders and the people in human resources, and that we’re creating an environment where people can be successful in the long term.”

This looks like constantly checking on employees, utilizing surveys and – most importantly – taking in the resulting feedback.

“We take that feedback very seriously because that feedback is a gift,” Cook said. “We then take that information and create a meaningful action plan. We make sure we’re telling our employees, ‘Here’s what we’re doing with the feedback you gave us.’”

At Amedisys, Holton is focused on creating an “intentional culture.” This means addressing the gap between the culture that an organization has and the one it wants.

“Most organizations try to articulate and identify the culture that they want to have in place, very few organizations have that culture,” he said. “Creating an intentional culture is not impossible by any means. It is also not easy.”

Improving conditions for caregivers at the company is also top of mind for Holton. This means making sure caregivers are compensated well, that they have attractive benefits and have flexibility within their roles.

“Large organizations often fall into the trap of becoming overly complicated and complex,” he said. “It comes down to creating an environment that allows our caregivers to do the things that they do best. It’s also creating a differentiated experience that keeps our caregivers engaged and wanting to continue here.”

Rise Of The Chief People Officer: Why Home-Based Care Providers Are More Frequently Investing In The Role – Home Health Care News