LEADERSHIP INSIGHTS

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Jen Tippin

Jen Tippin
NatWest Group

Sarah Armstrong

Sarah Armstrong
Rolls-Royce

Jamie Wilson

Jamie Wilson
Criticaleye

Claire Costello

Claire Costello
Co-operative Group

The dominant internal issues for CEOs and Board-level directors continue to be around skills, productivity and building a culture which drives high performance. The Chief People Officer (CPO) is more important than ever before, in that it’s a role that touches every part of an organisation.  
 
Jen Tippin is now the Chief Operating Officer at NatWest Group, stepping into the position after serving as Chief People and Transformation officer for two-and-a-half years. Reflecting on how it’s essential to have a senior leader who understands the people agenda, she said: “A few years ago, it used to be the case that some businesses had a CPO around the management table and some companies did not. 
 
“It’s now significant that most executive teams have someone with significant people / culture skills and the prevailing trend is now for those roles to be broader. In some cases, picking up transformation, as I have done; in others … picking up sustainability, communications, corporate affairs or strategy. That shows you the importance of the role.” 
 
Sarah Armstrong, CPO at Rolls-Royce, a FTSE 100-listed engineering company, described how the Human Resources team must now support the short and long-term goals of the organisation. She explained: “A high-performing HR function needs to have one foot in today and one foot in tomorrow, which means a strong balance of performing and transforming at the same time.” 
 
The standout CPOs build world-class HR teams that can also adapt to support the organisation as markets shift and change. Jamie Wilson, Managing Director of Group Services at Criticaleye, said: “As a CPO, your impact hinges on fostering a culture where every team member feels valued and empowered. Your success is measured by the strength of the teams you build, the leaders you develop and the positive, productive culture you cultivate." 
 
In practice, it’s a lot harder to deliver than it sounds. Sarah said: “The environment has become so much more challenging and complex and this requires a different level of thinking and operating. You need the right functional expertise that includes some of the traditional areas of HR, such as performance, reward, talent, learning, leadership and employee relations, but I always want my team to be thinking about the business, to have commercial acumen and think about themselves as business leaders.” 
 
A strategic CPO will be attuned to the rhythm of the leadership team and wider organisation. Sarah said: “It is important to know not only what the implications are from a human capital and talent strategy perspective and how to translate this into concrete tactics and steps… [with] an executable roadmap of activity, but also to be able to influence and shape these. I have a two-way influence loop — I listen and understand, but then have the ability to influence the CEO, CFO, ExCo and Board.” 
 
It's a point that is built on by Jen at NatWest, who also has Non-executive Director roles at HM Revenue & Customs and Morgan Sindall Group, a FTSE 250-listed construction, housing, infrastructure and regeneration business. “The Board will look to a CPO to provide leadership on some of these complex and challenging topics and give … real insight into what employees are feeling and experiencing,” she said.  
 
“Although it’s essential to have solid policies and processes, you must also be at the leading edge of thinking and practice to support the Board and the executive teams in some of these complex matters on talent, culture and skills.” 
 
In Criticaleye’s most recent Human Resources Director Research, 43 percent of respondents said that their senior leadership team is their most challenging internal stakeholder. This was followed by the workforce (39 percent) and the Board (18 percent). The figures serve to reinforce how much CPOs need to focus on building relationships across an organisation.  
 
Claire Costello, Chief People and Inclusion Officer at retail concern the Co-op Group, noted the importance of alignment. She told Criticaleye: "I wouldn't have taken the role ... had I not … got 100 percent support of my CEO. As you grow into the role, you can move more into being the conscience for that individual, but as you start … you need to know that they have got your back and that if you need to raise some difficult points that they will support you.”  
 
The CPO role has transcended its traditional boundaries. They need to be strategic partners, talent champions and influencers who shape the future of the organisation. It’s shown again in Criticaleye’s HRD Research, where respondents identified their top five priorities for the year ahead as follows: strengthening leadership capability; new technology; culture; organisational design; and retaining key talent and developing skills.  
 
By fostering strong partnerships, cultivating business acumen and embracing transformation, CPOs can ensure their people function becomes a powerful engine propelling the company towards success. 

Bridgette Hall, Senior Editor, Criticaleye  


Find our HRD Research here.

Read our People and Performance Interviews with Sarah Armstrong, CPO Rolls-Royce and Jen Tippen, COO, NatWest Group here.

Listen to our Inspiring Leaders Podcast with Claire Costello, Chief People and Inclusion Officer, Co-op Group and Nick Ulycz, Chief Operating Officer, Aldermore Group, here.
 
 

Whether you're considering stepping up to a Group role or need support to improve your influence with the Board or RemCo, Criticaleye provides HR Directors, CHROs, Chief People Officers and other HR leaders with access to experienced peers and insights. We support HRDs looking for leadership development solutions for themselves and groups of executives within their organisation. Please click here to speak to one of our team members about joining our global Community.

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