CPO vs CHRO vs CAO Roles: How They All Matter in Different Ways to Modern Companies | Executive Recruiters

      Chief People Officer vs Chief Human Resources Officer vs Chief Administrative Officer

      Written by Thomas Paik, Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion Practice Leader

      What Is a CPO vs. a CHRO vs. a CAO?

      While companies increasingly recognize the importance of human capital, determining how best to nurture their people is less straightforward.

      Some take the tried and trusted Human Resource approach, leading with a Chief Human Resources Officer. Others lean towards a more principled approach that focuses on Talent Management under a Chief People Officer. And other companies choose to manage their talent from an operations perspective, and they appoint a Chief Administrative Officer to take point.

      But how much do we understand about these roles and the functions that underlie them?

      Do these roles exist as true alternatives — or are they more in the nature of complementary positions that might find relevance within the same organization?

      What follows is a discussion of these important roles, including their duties, required skills, and qualifications, and where they fit within the “people” function of companies.

      CHRO Role: What Does a Chief Human Resource Officer Do?

      The Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) is the head of the traditional human resource (HR) department. HR is the broadest function that covers every aspect of an employee’s lifecycle, from initial recruitment to disengagement, and the CHRO chairs this unit. Perhaps, due to this, the CHRO can be said to have the most demanding job of the people function.

      The CHRO is a C-suite member responsible for developing and executing HR strategy in line with core organizational goals and strategy. The CHRO duties include (and are not limited to):

      • Recruitment
      • Talent management
      • Performance management
      • Compensation packages
      • Training and development
      • Change management
      • Succession planning

      The responsibilities of the CHRO touch aspects of practically every other business unit. Together with the HR team, the CHRO is responsible for:

      • Articulating and clarifying an HR vision to the board, senior management, and shareholders
      • Developing and implementing an HR masterplan/culture, including identifying specific needs and charting courses of execution
      • Developing compensation and benefits plans in line with industry best practices
      • Determining hiring needs, designing recruitment processes, and conducting hiring either alone or alongside external search firms
      • Overseeing compliance with labor laws and regulations, as well as monitoring and staying updated with new developments in HR laws and practice
      • Tracking employee absences such as paid and unpaid leave, vacation time, sick days, etc.
      • Organizing and managing employee training and continuing development
      • Developing mentoring and buddy programs
      • Implementing and monitoring compliance with DEI initiatives (in the absence of a DEI unit)
      • Planning and executing change policies alongside senior management
      • Overseeing discipline of staff
      • Responsible for resolution of disputes between employees and between employees and direct reports
      • Conducting and compiling performance reviews and employee track record alongside line managers and heads of business units
      • Managing and disbursing of death benefits, pensions, and post-employee lifecycle benefits
      • Layoffs, redundancies, suspension, termination, and general disengagement of staff

      Because of their sizable portfolio, the CHRO often carries extensive experience in executive HR roles. While they don’t need to have prior experience as head of HR, experience in talent management and designing and implementing HR initiatives is critical.

      CPO Role: What Does a Chief People Officer Do?

      Compared to the CHRO, a Chief People Officer (CPO) has a more streamlined and targeted focus. The CPO role was developed in response to an increasing need for workplaces that attract and retain top talent.

      In an age of lofty candidate expectations and fierce competition for top talent, companies can no longer escape with doing the bare minimum for their people. As a result, job seekers and employees are demanding a better workplace experience and a keener focus on their needs. They want to be recognized for the valuable assets they are, and they insist that this reflect in their everyday work environment.

      Consequently, the CPO position was devised to provide a “champion” for employees. That means that the CPO responsibilities include (and are not limited to):

      • Leading a focus on human capital
      • Supporting companies by implementing the best strategies and processes to find and retain exceptional employees

      While CPOs are generally advisors or consultants, they may also be required to execute solutions. The CPO role focuses optimizing and planning people-centered activities, like (but not limited to):

      • Talent acquisition
      • Talent management
      • Performance management
      • Professional development to benefit the company’s bottom line and employee satisfaction

      The CPO duties include the following:

      • Working with management to define and translate a company culture that respects and empowers employees
      • Championing, or cultivating, core company values that set up a workplace that is positive, connected and engaging
      • Designing a stellar people experience, right from initial application to hiring, onboarding, and throughout the employee lifecycle
      • Managing the strategy of building and retaining an exceptional talent base
      • Advocating or standing up for employees in senior management and board meetings

      Due to their people-focused role, CPOs are frequently a part of the HR function or often have an HR background. In fact, some consider the CPO to be the highest HR role because they arguably focus on the most critical HR duty – hiring and retaining happy and productive employees.

      Take a Deeper Dive into CHRO Recruitment Topics

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      CAO Role: What Does a Chief Administrative Officer Do?

      Unlike the first two roles, Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) are less people-focused and more operations-driven. As such, the CAO job responsibilities include:

      • Overseeing companies’ day-to-day operations
      • Monitoring output
      • Ensuring high service delivery

      While the CPO and CHRO face inwards, the CAO is largely an outward- or client-facing role. Consequently, the CAO responsibilities include (and are not limited to):

      • Managing company departments that discharge core consumer-facing tasks
      • Serving as a key link between operations and customer service
      • Setting and overseeing daily tasks
      • Ensuring each department does its part to fulfill the company’s day-to-day business needs

      In many ways, the job of a CAO seems similar to that of a COO. Both roles are operations-driven, and, as members of the C-suite, they both report to the CEO and board of directors and work closely with senior management. However, that’s where the similarities end. While the CAO role is regarded as more permanent and inflexible, the COO is chameleon-like, molding to fit whatever requirements the CEO or board have regarding the role.

      The CAO duties include (and are not limited to):

      • Managing daily administrative operations
      • Overseeing company staff, but primarily as it relates to service delivery
      • Assigning daily tasks, monitors output in conjunction with line managers and supervisors, and collaborates with HR on quarterly or half-yearly performance reviews
      • Understanding core business functions and how they combine to achieve the company’s daily business
      • Undertaking resource allocation and operations budgeting (in the absence of COO)
      • Overseeing the shop floor and tying various functions together to executive daily company business
      • Taking point on change initiatives and policies targeted towards improving or managing productivity (in the absence of COO)
      • Organizing and coordinating inter and intradepartmental operations
      • Providing a bridge between operations and customer service – their job is to ensure sustained output at/above a level that customers want
      • Setting and monitoring KPIs for departments and business functions

      How Do the 3 Roles Compare?

      While the roles of CPO, CHRO, and CAO include apparent areas of overlap, there’s enough distinction between their duties to establish them as distinct positions. Therefore, apart from a need to specifically assign recruitment to one of the CPO or CHRO, each office can coexist in the same organization.

      That said, this is likely a luxury that only large organizations can enjoy. In smaller organizations, it’s more likely that a single office will carry out the duties inherent in each position, or the CAO role may be farmed out to HR in conjunction with line managers.

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