Episode 249: Why the CHRO is the New CPO

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Episode 249: Why the CHRO is the New CPO

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Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, HR, and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now, here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Episode 249: Why the CHRO is the New CPO with Derek Sidebottom (@DerekSidebottom)


Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:00:25.83] Welcome to the Workology podcast, sponsored by Workology. Today’s podcast is part of a series on the Workology podcast focused on the role and responsibilities of the chief human resources officer, also known as the CHRO. I’m here today on this podcast talking about the skills and experiences that are the most important and critical to the success of a CHRO. A 2020 report from The Talent Strategy Group found that 83% of CHROs had prior experience working within human resources. But I wondered, what of their skills and experience are essential and critical to this role?

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:03.30] What does the CHRO need to have in terms of skills, qualifications, a background in order to successfully support those organizations? Especially ones that are experiencing hypergrowth. And that’s what we’re going to find out today. This CHRO podcast series is powered by HUB International. Our podcast guest today is Derek Sidebottom. He’s a CHRO, a scale-up talent consultant, coach and distributed workspace speaker. Derek, welcome to the Workology podcast.

Derek Sidebottom: [00:01:33.78] Jessica, thanks so much for having me here.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:01:35.91] Let’s start with your background. You have been in the people business for the last 20 years. How did your roles as an HR director and then VP of HR evolve into your most recent role as the chief people officer or CHRO?

Derek Sidebottom: [00:01:51.54] Good question. Sometimes I’m embarrassed to say it’s 20 years, but you do eventually get there. You know, I think, I think in my case there was, there was some point where, you know, functional excellence, I got good at the normal areas within HR but at some point it expanded to business acumen. And for me around the time I did my executive MBA, I did a little bit later on and I just got much better at prioritizing and framing the business problem and determining the best solution versus starting with the HR solution and then going in search of a problem.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:02:25.20] I love that and I love that you are talking about business acumen. So when you say business acumen, what do you mean exactly? What does that encompass for you?

Derek Sidebottom: [00:02:35.16] Yeah, no, I think for me it’s to add value from an organizational effectiveness or design. You do need to know how all the pieces work together. Right. To do recruiting really well. You need to know what excellence looks like in each individual contributor or role. So I think I tended to shadow or listen to a lot of the, you know, the archetypes I’ve met over the years. And I like to think that I know their roles better than they do, or at least I try to do so. And I think that’s, that’s business acumen.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:03:10.21] I love it, I love it, and I love that we’re starting things off with not HR, but business acumen. There seem to be so many distractions around us in the news politically, personally and within the business. How are you staying focused so that you can support your organization? And what are you focused on right now?

Derek Sidebottom: [00:03:31.00] Yeah, great question, because we’re all, we’re all struggling right now with the news of the week or news of the day or news of the hour. I think, for myself, somewhere along the way, I became a bit of a gold nut and it was funny because you work on these OKRs and long-term vision and strategy for organizations and you realize if I don’t act this way myself and I’m not taking my own medicine, that I’m just going to get caught up in the, in the fad of the day. So right now, I started with something a couple of years ago. I break it down. The organization I’m with right now behave of so we have a vision 2022. I personally really like the Asana Pyramid of Clarity, so I’ll take a long-term vision and the pyramid of clarity has four layers to it, basically starting with some kind of purpose, and it breaks it down into multiple targets, semiannual objectives and actually quarterly goals. I know it sounds very academic, but if you don’t keep yourself focused on why am I doing what I’m doing, you do kind of just get running by managing your day by slack, your inbox or text message or whoever talked to you last. So, I mean, look, the plan has to be agile. And every once in a while you’re going to get derailed by, say, I don’t know, a pandemic. But if you just let that is that news cycle or HR trend of the day drive your game plan, it isn’t really a plan and worse. I think we as HR leaders, we get a little derailed and out of sync with the business priorities, if you’re not careful.

Derek Sidebottom: [00:05:01.52] As for, you know, how do I stay focused? You know, I try, I think we’re all prone to getting a little off track and then what am I focused on right now? Very much building our value proposition in the organization I’m in and making sure that we’re delivering on it across the board, major recruiting and scale-up mode, which is fortunate, you know, these days and ages. This is what I’m focused on right now. But for all the people coming in the door, we need to quickly change the talent management.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:05:33.47] I love it and I appreciate you sharing because I feel like it’s easy, so easy to get caught up and just kind of the news of the week or the day or what’s being tweeted and various things. But you’re talking about having a system, identifying like priorities and values, and then staying focused in those areas. And I think that, that’s incredibly important right now because we have so many other things going on in our lives outside of doing our job as in as HR leaders.

Derek Sidebottom: [00:06:05.51] I think, you know, I realized somewhere along the way, like, if I don’t do it, imagine what it’s like to be on my team. Right? So, so if I, if I don’t take those moments to do what I’m uniquely able to do, right? Provide some sense of calmness and stability and direction and predictability, there are days it’s going to be very hard to get anywhere. And so I said, I, I try to do that and, you know, I’m still learning myself.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:31.37] We all are. I appreciate your, your thoughts on this, because really the goal of this CHRO series is learning from each other. And if we can’t be in the room together in a conference like we have in the past, we can listen to podcast and connect over, zoom in different resources to try to fill our cup up that way.

Derek Sidebottom: [00:06:50.92] Yeah, yeah.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:06:52.64] I wanted to ask you, what skills and experience do you believe are absolute requirements for that CHRO role, especially thinking about those maybe who are just starting out in HR themselves?

Derek Sidebottom: [00:07:06.47] The career, the Career Day speech, got it. So probably started touching a little bit two minutes ago. I think you have to start with functional excellence and a deep understanding of what looks, you know, what good looks like in your own function. That’s I think that’s the only way you can eventually build teams around you that enable you to play the top level roles. And, you know, as an example, I’ve been around the country payroll. Right, as part of a comp function before I, you know, I grew up in compensation. That’s where I started my career. And I got to tell you, no, it’s not what I wanted to do. Payroll. I love my payroll friends. They’re awesome, but it’s not what I wanted to do. And I thought even how I would design the department nowadays. But I have a much better view of what the auditors are looking for from a control perspective, which is kind of important when you’re in the big chair, you’re accountable for it, for all those things. You know, I also spent a lot of time on benefits as well. Is as an example, are these necessary to be a CHRO? Maybe not. But your CFO counterpart is going to want to be sure that you know enough to manage that large expense item as well. So I think. I think we all make specialist or generalist choices as we manage our career. And it’s, it’s best to probably take on a journeys mindset. I really recommend everyone get a deep experience along the way in each area.

Derek Sidebottom: [00:08:27.17] You know, if you’re a bit shy, make sure you deliver a few training classes because you need to be confident before you get to the board level. A lot of, a lot of my colleagues, HR, if numbers, if you think numbers aren’t for you and you’re much more, you are much more an intuitive and a people person then you might want to think twice about your career trajectory, because, again, you know, the senior level, it becomes much more about financials and metrics and having a really deep understanding about what drove those results in the first place. And that’s something that only happens if we have deep experience in your own functional area. But once you’ve mastered that, I think overall the CHRO kind of needs to become more of a chief product officer. Your product just happens to be the organization. This is what the highest level of the function is. You’ve got to be able to build a brand promise that differentiates what you’re offering. Then the customers need to know you exist and then you need to ensure every touchpoint from check in to check out is exceptional in line with that promise. And also back to a scenario, this is sometimes the hardest part of my role. You have to say at that macro abstract level of thought, despite, the despite all the daily pressures to go deeper.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:09:38.87]  I just want to back up and just repeat what you said. You said, among many other things, but you said overall, the CHRO should be more of a chief product officer and their product happens to be the organization. I think that is very different than maybe what we’ve heard. I know like when I’ve attended large conferences or been a part of a professional organization, which I love, but these aren’t the kind of things you hear in general cessions. Why is that?

Derek Sidebottom: [00:10:07.88] I don’t know. I think we all sort of find our own paths. And I just, I had this moments, a couple of years ago, and it was, it was for me, I think, transformational in my career, just just how I acted, even when I started to take responsibility for the org as a product. And I remember talking and coaching a number of CEOs. And it was funny. I was I was telling them, I feel like you’ve made the leap from being a founder CEO to a full-fledged CEO when you realize your product really is the org. Right. Not the product that you’re building because the org is what generates, you know, everything that makes it possible. And it was probably a year after I started using that soundbite and it seemed to be hitting people, I realized, well, that makes me the chief broadcaster, doesn’t it? I can’t go tell my CEOs that to think about their org as a product and then I not think of it that way myself. So I think we’ve got a lot of interest right now in design thinking. There’s a lot of interesting discussions going on about there. But to me, if you follow that through to the end conclusion, you know, design is just a function of product and it’s kind of a fun way to think about it holistically.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:14.90] We’ve never talked about it that way on the podcast. So I appreciate your, your insights, your opening my eyes as well.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:11:23.95] Let’s talk a little bit more about CHRO role and how does the CHRO change how company leaderships work with HR or vice versa? You have an interesting perspective on HR as a product, but how does this CHRO in an organization change how a company views and works with HR?

Derek Sidebottom: [00:11:43.51] Good question. So this will probably be, again, through my, my perspective on what the role is. So take it with a grain of salt. But, but I know, I tend to in my role, it’s funny, I use that CHRO role, our chief people officer role, but the CPO title often gets conflict with the chief product officer, so I always laugh like CPO is the CPO. And that’s the same thing. We just, one’s external, one’s internal. But but I tend to adopt our language from the other functions to describe the product I’m building. I mean, sales, marketing, customer success, development operations. If you think about it, there’s there’s parallels to that sales and marketing that’s recruiting and brand customer success is some of the employee success and the services that we deliver, you know, development. We are actually always developing new products ourselves to accelerate the work for us, the operations, the systems, the infrastructure that we, that we stand on top of.

Derek Sidebottom: [00:12:39.97] And sometimes I think that we probably just started using our own language along the way. So for me, I started using this parallel language that was actually with the rest of the business was using. It tended to help by kind of minimizing our own lingo and adopting parallels of the business already use.

Break: [00:12:58.36] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrell and you were listening to the work on your podcast sponsored by Workology. We’re talking about the CHRO and hypergrowth mode. What kind of skills and experience and mindset do you need? And I’m talking with CHRO Derek Sidebottom. This podcast is part of a series of CHRO series in partnership with HUB International.

Break: [00:13:21.58] This episode is sponsored by HUB International. Your full-service employee benefits broker of international helps you power forward with a tailored employee benefit strategy that evolves and adapts to new workforce challenges, personalized benefits, engage employees and manage costs. Visit HUBInternational.com today.

Why HR is the Internal Chief Product Officer


Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:13:45.94] Your focus in the work that you do within supporting organizations as the CHRO has been focused on series A through C hypergrowth. What are your priorities for companies that are in this hypergrowth mode?

Derek Sidebottom: [00:14:00.62] Oh yeah, hang on. Type answer. You know, it’s interesting. The first, first half of my career is more private equity, M&A, you know, fly-in, clean up, another fly-out, which, which was less fun. And then I kind of consciously chose like, no, I want to be in kind of its growth and formative, you know, the early days of company building. It’s more easy. It’s easier to build it right from the ground up than it is to tear it down and rebuild. One of the priorities for a company is hyper growth. Look, you’ve got to break it up into the basic three parts. I think acquisition, you know, that old metaphorically, get them on the bus, you know, management, make sure they’re doing the right things to get to the right outcomes, and then operations to make sure that that bus can handle a whole lot of people coming and going. You know, I think everyone understands the recruiting challenge, know building that capacity. But to me, the, the management challenge is probably the thing I, I will pull the conversation to. You know, when you do start in any hypergrowth org, everyone understands its sales and sales, it’s recruiting. It’s good to get that talent in the door, make sure they’re here. And then if you’re not careful and you don’t consciously change your mode, you end up just starting to lose talent at the other side because you’ve been promising people things and you’re maybe not delivering on it. So to me, when I asked, like, what is what’s my priority, what’s my real priority versus sort of filling Rex? And I think there’s there’s a story I put on the first slide whenever I go into an org and I’ll try to do it. A good enough job here. But the stories about four people named everybody, somebody, anybody and nobody. And it’s a short story. It goes like this. There was an important job to be done and everybody was sure that somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it. Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was everybody’s job. Everybody thought anybody could do it. Nobody realized that everybody wouldn’t do it. And ended up everybody blamed somebody when nobody did what anyone could have. That’s anonymous, unfortunately.

Derek Sidebottom: [00:15:58.39] That’s me as a scale of problem, right? You keep adding people you keep and you keep changing priorities and focus. And so my, my CHRO job, beyond my functional excellence job, is to make sure that we get really good at what I think is just six core things. Have we defined the right purpose for the org? The why. Are we doing the right things to create the right goal stack? You know, the what. Are we clear on accountability? And I really am a big fan of the Raci model. That’s the who and the when. Are we paying attention to the right feedback? And that comes down to are we measuring what matters in continuous improvement? And then our manager is effectively creating some kind of connectivity and meaning with teams and staffs and one on ones. And the last piece, a lot of people think about it like a soft HR thing, but like, are we taking into consideration our employees journeys and their interests through the crew development. Because if it’s all about get this stuff done, they’ll go somewhere else. So for me, when I think about it, like what is the scale of challenge? It is, it’s solving. It’s solving for that. And I think that’s that’s the best medicine is making sure those six things, six things are working well.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:17:10.86] One of the things I wanted to ask you about was CHROs role in regards to talent acquisition. How does the CHRO support the talent acquisition piece of that when it comes to recruiting?

Derek Sidebottom: [00:17:25.57] Yeah, you definitely can’t delegate it, I’ve done that, I mean, I’ve done that a couple of times where I think I’ll just be accountable and I’ll get someone else to bring it to do that. Is the lifeblood of the company. Right. So I think. Our job at first is to adopt a chief revenue officer mindset, right, we if we don’t clearly define what we’re selling, right? The value proposition, then people will just sell whatever they think it is. We end up with a bunch of unmet brand promises. So then they have to make sure others know what you’re selling, whether that’s internal or external. We need to work on what the ideal candidate, customer and the candidate customer profiles are. We need to be very clear on helping to articulate what the channels are and how we’re going to manage our CRM, you know, we think of it as an ETF and a process management tool, but to me, it’s all a candidate relationship management, because I’ve opened up the funnels. I’m doing a lot of work. Now I have a timing problem. How do I create long-term relationships at the time? It just doesn’t isn’t right. We also need to be really good at funnel milestones and metrics and of course, crystal clear processes. This is, this is how we recruit and everyone understands that. And then, you know, from there, of course, we have to build the team. Right? And then we have to optimize that core team and supplement it with a third-party help. Your capacity is always going to lag the business demand. So then you’re like, well, what do I do personally after you set up the system and work through those things and create a work for those projects? I tend to personally get involved in the senior hires. I, I think the org gets reasonably good at screening for the what the job skills and the how the values alignment. That’s generally quick to solidify. But, but leadership competencies and skill-up readiness of the leaders that you’re hiring is a little more abstract. And I find that that’s a special role I can play because I have a longer-term, more holistic view on the business. And I’m I won’t be as tied to, like, immediate goals where managers might be tempted to just make a compromise decision. Because I only get so many leaders to put on the bench, I need them to be awesome.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:19:36.04] You know, you’ve talked quite a bit about scaling and as a CHRO. But I wanted to ask you more about TA. How do you focus in Talent Acquisition for preparing to scale a workforce?

Derek Sidebottom: [00:19:49.87] Yeah, it’s in some ways you have to. Maybe a shorter answer is to start by building TA in a way that it can survive by letting go. You know, I think when I, but I talked earlier about the three three core areas. You have to worry about getting people on the bus. You make sure that people are doing the right things to get in the right direction on the bus and then make sure that bus can manage and deal with a lot of people. I’ve got to get recruiting. I got to get people getting on the bus working finds that I can I can go work on the other two parts. And if I stay personally involved in acquisition the whole time, then who’s looking after operations, right? Who’s looking after employees success and talent acceleration parts are offering. So I think it’s weird and it’s the same career advice we give to a lot of people in the startup land. You know, success is actually in many ways giving away what you built and having it survive and thrive on its own. And it’s hard to do. I’m still learning to let go from time to time when my CEO will say, you know, remind me like it’s OK to let go. And I’m like, I just want to see this function, you know, just, just a little bit. He’ll laugh and they’ll tell me, just follow your own advice. But I think that’s in a scale-up operation where you start from two hundred and suddenly or two thousand and twenty thousand, you know, there’s no way you are doing it all yourself. You’ve got to be focused on the org again to try to do that.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:21:13.65] What about scaling in HR? Is that different than TA.

Derek Sidebottom: [00:21:17.88] I see it’s the definitely different, right? I mean acquiring and managing are two different things, and Ops is its own separate thing as well. But I think you’re making me think and go back a step back to maybe my first answer. Second answer, I think about vision, in our case, vision 2022. And, and I start with and we’ve started with and actually each one of our functions. What statements do we want to make in a couple of years? In our case, you know, I want a high-performing mission-led culture in a couple of years. So you break that down and I say, look, I want to only hire the world’s best. I want to play as one team committed to win. I want personal success to be based on the impact, merits, living our values, part for our tools, processes, infrastructure investments, connect and accelerate our global organization. And number five, software. It’s like people love working here and the shows. So if you start with, like, statements that are that far out and there are things you want to be true, then you just walk back and you break it down to like, OK, again, what products and services do I need to offer to make those things true? And hopefully or maybe that will be interesting for, for those listening. I mean, I’ll share what what what products we’ve I’m focusing on. Right. And I really got a seven up and running. I’ve got four more design. But, you know, there’s a workforce planning program product that we have as a brand and external demand. So the marketing piece taking care of that recruiting supply is in there, too. We, we’re a big mobility shop as well. So it’s a special product that we do.

 Derek Sidebottom: [00:22:57.72] We tend to relocate a lot of people from around the world. There’s the GFR, right goals, feedback, rewards, employee management, support services. I’ve got a technology enablement track of a process of policy, track management, training, community programs and then pulse and feedback. So all I’m doing is taking those areas and upgrading them to finding them and upgrading them over time. And I’m really clear, I like this is the 1.0, then I’m going to run it for a while, then I’m going to go to a 2.0 that I’m going to run that for a while. And if you think about it again, back to the product mindset. We have this interesting habit of like tinkering with things and iterating and quickly, like no one can follow you if you’re not really conscious around, like, no, we’re running the 1.0 and I’m going to take your ideas and upgrade the 2.0 later. So it’s far away and think how I think about scaling a job than, then, then HR recruiting being different. It’s a good start with the endpoint. Work it back. What programs and products do you need to deliver a really well, again, break that down into one, two, three stages and suddenly your bite-sized chunks. And then I guess what? I’m hiring the teams just to get around to the thought. What I’m hiring on my own team. I asked myself, is this person fit for the 2.0 or even 3.0 evolution when I’m hiring them because of if I’m in 1.0 in scale up and, and they’re barely sort of suited to do the 1.0, then that gets really mentally taxing down the road like I need help from them designing the next level up for each of their areas. And that’s, that’s how I think about it.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:24:33.32] What’s one thing that HR leaders should focus on training, growing and learning outside of HR? Because, you know, we talked about business acumen is being critical for growth in human resources, but, what other maybe suggestions do you have for, for somebody who’s growing in HR that needs to get more experience? Where should they go? What should they do?

Derek Sidebottom: [00:24:59.67] Get out of your own bubble. In work, spend time with all the other functions. It’s one of the few, well, you think, like one of the advantages on our worst days, we get caught up on our own things and, you know, moving paperwork around and doing reviews and hiring people. But, but if you think about it like not many functions in the org work across functionally all the time, like if you think about it. And so we have this natural ability and maybe finance and legal or the only, you know, the only other ones where you get to actually interact with everybody, all functions. And to me, you know, take advantage of that. And if you ever sort of walk by someone, you know, when we get back to the offices, as we obviously were recording this during, during Covid, you know, there’s nothing wrong with, like, walking by someone that doesn’t, like, just show me cool stuff, like people love talking about themselves and we’re supposed to be really good at listening to them. So I think that’s probably the right mindset. It’s just to think, how do I, how do I make sure I interact with people outside of my own function, for starters? And then from there, you know, keep exploring. What are you reading? What are you doing? How does that fit? What about this now? And obviously, I’m trying to piece it together.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:26:11.67] Derek, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. So today, where can people go to learn more about you and, and the work that you do?

Derek Sidebottom: [00:26:21.09] Thank you. My email address, [email protected]  is the shortest. We have a website, www.farsidehrsolutions.com. I’m only been on Twitter and I’m everywhere, so I would love to love to help if anyone’s anyone’s interested in talking about this more.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:26:43.56] As a fan of the Farside myself, I love that it’s FarsideHR.

Derek Sidebottom: [00:26:48.51] We love it, too.

Jessica Miller-Merrell: [00:26:49.83] Well, thank you again.

Derek Sidebottom: [00:26:51.88] Thank you so much for having me.

Closing: [00:26:53.35] It’s really interesting to delve into how the role of a CHRO whose experience is more closely connected to strategy and operations and the overall business, how they work with the rest of the company leadership team, as well as growing and scaling their HR and recruiting teams and supporting that business. The CHRO doesn’t just lead HR within the company. The role is key in structuring the leadership for a company’s executive team. I love Derek’s point of view on really how he’s the chief product officer of the inside of the organization. I think that is an amazing point of view and perspective. I appreciate Derek for taking the time to talk with us today.

Closing: [00:27:32.20] Thank you for joining the WorkoLogy podcast sponsored by Workology. This podcast episode is part of a series and it is powered by the folks at HUB International. The Workology Podcast is a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader who’s tired of the status quo. My name is Jessica Miller-Merrell and until next time you can visit Workology.com to listen to all our previous podcast episodes.

Closing: [00:27:56.89] Are you studying for your HRCI or SHRM exams? Join our Free HR Certification Study Group on Facebook. Search for HR Certification Study Group, or go to HRcertificationstudygroup.com. ACE your HR exams with the HR Certification Study Group.

 Connect with Derek on LinkedIn



Ep 247 – Secrets of HR Technology Implementation ~ More from the CHRO Series 

CHRO Job Description

2020 CHRO Report

Your Guide to the HR Organization and Team Structures

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