An experienced commercial HR Director, Carol Frost has worked in her field for decades, recently moving from a divisional role as HRD at Centrica to become the Chief People Officer at Metro Bank.
In her new role, she reports directly to the CEO, but no longer has the benefit of a HR boss or senior HR peers to liaise with. Instead, she has free reign to deliver strategic business transformation programmes – of which she has significant experience – and drive the HR function. It’s a notable shift and one that has given her a unique perspective.
We asked her to share some of her best advice for those looking to boost their effectiveness as a CPO
The company’s greatest asset is its people and, as a CPO, it’s up to me to ensure that people connect with and feel valued by the company. That means creating a solid employee experience and continuing to develop a meaningful corporate culture with clearly defined values.
It’s much easier to achieve your goals, and make the changes necessary along the way, with the trust of the board. So take the time to build relationships with them. Listen to and really engage with them and even consider taking on some operations tasks for them. While it’s not the most challenging work, it lets them know that you’re a team player – and, crucially, that you can be relied upon.
In my role, I report directly to the CEO. This is a hugely advantageous situation in many respects, not least because a strong, streamlined business relationship allows us to drive and enact real change.
When starting out together, it’s important to set the tone for the relationship – and to do this you need to understand each other. Outline your key strengths and skills and identify any potential gaps, so they understand what might take you longer than expected, or where you will need additional resources. Ask them questions and try to ascertain their approach. Are they solution-oriented, or do they want to be involved in the key decision-making? What does success from the HR function look like to them?
Taking the time to understand each other’s approach and philosophy now will save you time and problems later on. You need to set a solid foundation of open communication and honesty so that you can effectively work together – and trust each other – moving forwards.
The remit of a CPO stretches across the business, and in order to handle remuneration to the best of your ability, you need to be able to understand the ins and outs of a huge range of roles, all with their own specifications. So build from the ground up, and get advice that goes beyond your experience. Find good external advisers, and reliable subject matter experts.
You should also educate yourself on executive compensation; this is key to building relations with your executive director peers. Be sure to take the time to really dig into, and plan your time accordingly around, the remuneration calendar.
Without fail, the Annual Report requires more HR input than people think, and all parties want to have your time in order to fully discuss those parts of the report. It’s hugely time-consuming – it can feel like being in a time warp.
As with executive compensation, do yourself a favour and plan ahead, giving yourself plenty of time to prepare for and execute your tasks. And be sure to anticipate lots of questions and, if you can, have a think about what issues or angles people might be concerned about, and get out ahead of them.
In my role, I don’t have the backup of a team of senior HR peers or the security of a boss above me. Understandably, there are times when my position feels exposed. Recognise that this comes with the territory – and will most likely happen when you and the CEO have divergent views on a topic. You need to anticipate this, be sure of yourself, and hold your ground.
The scope and size of the CPO role – from managing the HR function and acting as a strategy advisor, to driving and executing solutions and change – requires an immense amount of mental capital. Set aside time to give yourself time to think, and use it wisely. Understand where your energy comes from, and what you need in order to maintain it. And be realistic about how you want to spend your time. You don’t have to do everything. Choose a handful of tasks you enjoy and want to handle personally, and delegate others to your team.
It can be utterly exhilarating when you’ve made a call based on your own views, and it’s paid off. Or when you’ve affected change, and you start to see results. Pay attention! Remember how it feels and take it forward with you. It’ll give you the courage and strength you need to take on more challenges, usher in more change, and make a real difference.
BIE hosts regular meetings for HRD’s and CPO’s to share experiences and discuss challenges they all face, if you would like to understand more or participate in the discussion, please contact Lisa Vigurs.