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Leading HR in the future – a day in the life of a Chief People Officer

Having just shared what it was like in 2015 with her team, Chief People Officer of Positive Money (PM) Charlotte Owen sat and looked at her schedule for the rest of her day.

A holochat to Finland; and a lunch with PMs chosen charity around student exchanges preceding the formal launch of PMs People Plan for 2029-30.

First though it was time for Charlotte’s 15 minute karma break.  It was proven without a doubt in 2019 that 15 minute breaks in purified; oxygenated dark rooms, helped the brain power down; refresh and restart not to mention the skin, lungs and limbs all feeling and looking better. Yoga had been taught in schools for 7 years now but Charlotte had been doing it since her partner became Physio at a Championship Football Club.

She came back from the karma break and called to her Virtual Assistant: “retrieve the file pack for the People Strategy Launch” The window wall to her office suddenly became a screen illuminated with neon-like images of a stack of digital files.  Charlotte swiped, pinched and moved the files around to create a “deck” of images.

Charlotte is now getting her 3D images ready of the statistical reports; images; video clips; and branding tones ready.  This launch will be simultaneously broadcast to the 11 offices across the globe and made available on the 209 branches infowalls.  This is what she came into this role for and what she thinks HR is all about these days: People Powered Change.


It says a lot about this that we would probably be as – if not more – fascinated by the technology Charlotte is using, than the role she plays and the impact she and her function/team has.  Yet it’s that which is most important we think about, and move towards.

We HAVE to live in the moment for that is where things need doing and where demands are made as part of our day-to-day existence and role.  Yet ignore what the future is potentially bringing, and we sleepwalk into nothing more than a continuance of what is here now.  Human evolution and societal development was BUILT around some form of desire for a better future; discovery and exploration; survival and adaptation.

So do NOT be conned into “it’s all about now that counts” thinking.  It’s now with a look towards the future. Read a book about new forms of leadership development or prepare for a coaching session with a line manager who faces a team revolt? Why not both. One to inform the other; one to sense-check a case study to help highlight the issue and potential remedial action and the other to become the vehicle to test theories out. Patrick Lencioni writes great books about work and leadership from a fable perspective.  So you may not even need the content of great thought leaders or academics.  You can adopt their stance.  Use a story and help the line manager to build their own ending and how they might get there. Fons Trompenaars uses dilemmas to narrow the difficulty of complex problems.  Again, you could use this to help your dialogue with the line manager.

You could read about solutions BEFORE you even hit problems.  Why not have some obliquity to your learning and not always a direct laser-point purpose?  This way you can bank some insight and credit some alternative thinking before you even knew you needed it.

Seth Godin’s writing is almost made for this.  Short punchy and sound-bite like, the guy rarely waffles; doesn’t always have a bank of references or case studies BUT he gets you thinking “Ah, yes.  What an interesting angle or thought.”

So there you see.  I’ve just given you 3 people to look into and you might well do that without necessarily having a reason to do so, other than my recommendation.

That’s how we work these days and that’s how someone like Charlotte will get to where she will (IMHO) get in 2029.  Charlotte picks up a snippet of insight and is off to research the person, organisation or the book.

That’s why I like the profession we’re in and the only ones to compare with its complexity but its great freedom is Marketing.  HR is very similar to Marketing in understanding the core tenets of human motivation, behaviours and habits.  HR has the added benefit of also playing with shape and flow of organisational work; leadership habits and impacts; getting people inspired to do the right thing and things right.  Our list is endless.  Operations and Sales make and sell stuff; R&D research and dream up; etc.  So HR has – IMHO – the most gifted hand of cards ever. Yet unlike in 2029, when the organisation will be both crowd-sourcing and waiting eagerly for the people strategy, most people in 2015 wouldn’t notice its launch.

For HR has been seen as compliance-enforcing; politically-correct inducing, bastions of bureaucracy.  Don’t get people in quickly enough; can’t get them out quickly enough either.  Legal and ethical ways of treating people are lost on some leaders and HR has done a great job of holding back the claims and bad impacts of people who just don’t fit or were bad hires in the first place.  That’s changing.

So Charlotte – just starting on her career now – will be one of the first of this new breed of HR professionals.  A lot like Damiana Casile and Chloe Green and Beatrice Pryde.  Fired up.  Clever.  Intuitive.  In tune.  Most of all though PASSIONATE about HR doing brilliant things not just doing good things.

They will be digitally and data-savvy; business-oriented; scientifically-informed; networked and known.  They will be a bigger asset to their company’s reputation than their Marketing Director.  People will associate good, fair, exciting, rewarding, conscientious, sustainable, friendly, ecologically sound and trustworthiness with these people.  Already, prospective high-calibre candidates will check out your HR function and see what they stand for to get an inkling into what the company is all about.

How it feels will be and is, as important as the salary and place of work.

The other thing Charlotte will do that puts her into a fantastic position in 2029 is she will be informed beyond the act of human workplace behaviour. She will have contacts in robotics; academia; digital design; art; engineering; bio-technology; agriculture, humanitarian aid and political diplomacy; and the military.

Charlotte will know a lot about a lot.  Her marketing counterpart and the Digital Director will be in cahoots daily. So the future IS important.  Not at the sacrifice of enjoying, delivering and being here and now.  But as a point to the here and now.

There’s an AMAZING company who make in the pharmaceutical/chemical arena called Seventh Generation.  They are built from the philosophy of the Iroquois Tribe who believe that true balance in all around you, is when you think about your actions’ impact on others, seven generations from now.  Their research and environmental impact particularly, is focused on this premise.  And people love buying from, working with, and supporting them; because of this philosophy.  Profits have gone up year on year as a result of this support and belief.

So we can all think about what we want to be doing now that sets up generations beyond us and not just “fix this and move on”. Let’s make a Seventh Generation HR function we know people will be proud of.

Perry Timms

Founder & Director – PTHR

January 2015


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