Trying to find the senior HR leader at HubSpot? You might not be able to identify her — at least, not by searching for HR titles. Katie Burke is HubSpot’s Chief People Officer, just like Tenia Davis is the Chief People Officer for tech firm Raise. L.J. Brock has the same title at Citadel, a financial services company.
In the last ten years, companies (particularly those in the technology industry) have changed HR titles from traditional ones like VP of Human Resources or Senior Vice President of Human Capital to more people-centric names, like Cultural Evangelist, Chief Happiness Officer or even Mood Coordinator.
But it’s more than a name that has changed, according to Davis from Raise. “There’s more of a mindset shift to make organizations more people-centric and not tactical,” she said.
Burke of HubSpot agrees, saying that in traditional human resources organizations, HR was where you hire and fire people, not where innovation, growth and creativity to drive the organization emerge.
Forces driving the people-centric direction
A combination of changes in the workforce is creating this seismic shift in HR titles and in the role of human resources.
- Technology: Advances in HR technology drive efficiency in more administrative areas, such as payroll. In a recent Paychex survey, 80% of HR professionals at small to medium companies and more than 66% of HR leaders at larger companies said that technology helped them be more strategic.
Competition: To have an advantage in the war for talent, particularly in the tech industry, companies need to be people-centric, according to Brock from Citadel: “The HR role has evolved to think more holistically around an ecosystem that attracts, nurtures and plays into culture more.”
Employee demands: Newer generations of employees expect companies to provide more than a paycheck, Davis points out. “People are doing jobs not only to work but to congregate and make friends. They want to add value and thrive,” she explains. They also don’t want to be considered resources, says Anna Steffeney, founder of LeaveLogic, a technology company that helps companies manage leave of absences; they want to be considered humans,
Business value of employee focus
The emphasis on people isn’t just a nice perk to offer, either. It creates significant financial advantages for companies. Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage, found that companies investing in the employee experience have more than 4 times the average profit and more than 2 times the average revenue of other companies.
“I explored culture, technology and physical space and found that companies that do an amazing job of investing in these things see higher revenue, profit, lower turnover and higher stock price performance," Morgan told HR Dive. "Clearly something good is happening.”
In contrast, the cost of failing to create a people-centric culture is high. A recent Gallup study indicated that more than 50% of U.S. employees are disengaged. The study also says that the cost for a workforce that is not engaged (read: less productive, less creative and more likely to leave) is huge, costing the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion dollars each year.
As companies wrestle with how to best engage employees, HR can leaders look inward to determine how their function can make a difference.
Which comes first: The title or the change?
While a new, softer title can signal a shift, that change alone isn't necessary to become more employee-focused. For newer tech companies like Raise, it may be easy to create contemporary titles from the start, Davis acknowledges.
But for other industries, revamping titles is rare. Alan Tecktiel, Global HR Director at Baker McKenzie law firm, says that while a title change can be helpful in rebranding efforts, HR leaders can still focus on being consultants, maximizing and optimizing talent, regardless of what they're called.
How to intentionally change the HR role
The leaders HR Dive spoke with agree: actions speak louder than words. Rather than focus on names and titles, rethink how you support people, Burke suggests. “The titles come a distant second to how your leadership team interacts with your people team and how empowered they are to create meaningful business impact and listen and respond to employee feedback,” she says.
Morgan suggests that HR leaders start with the understanding of how the role of HR is changing and decide what they want their function to become.
Steffeney advises HR leaders to listen to employees about their experiences and identify pain points, then talk with leaders and ensure they are a part of the strategy to improve the employee experience. Next, look at policies, such as family leave, and how those can be used to drive loyalty and engagement.
When HR leaders take these steps, they become more strategic to the business success, Brock says. As this happens, functions begin to redefine themselves to better articulate the value they bring to the organization, he adds.
At that point, a new title may be a natural evolution, the leaders say. In other words, once you’ve built the culture, the right title will come.