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The Evolution of the HR Leader

In 2015, Airbnb made headlines when its Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), Mark Levy, was relaunched as the Chief Employee Experience Officer (CEXO), signalling a more holistic approach to people management.

At the heart of an Employee Experience role is an ability to build relationships, bring people onside and act with empathy. It was summed up by one contributor as the role that ‘makes work suck less” and by another as the internal-facing Customer Experience Officer (CXO). The EX professional must understand processes, blockers, and engagement tools, excel in internal comms, and be dedicated to providing an inclusive environment that promotes employee wellbeing.

Since then, there has been a raft of new approaches and titles for what is now seen as the more traditional policy and procedure-focused role of CHRO. LinkedIn reported that the Chief People Officer (CPO) was one of the fastest-growing roles of 2023. Meanwhile, it’s become more common for a pure EX role to report to the CPO or CHRO equivalent as an extension of the HR function.

Research by Met Akan and Nick Bloom outlines this shift to more senior titles for HR leaders in recent years, with CPO and CHRO leading the charge.


Meanwhile, the expectations of HR leaders have expanded. Adopting agile principles to respond quickly to change, excelling in employee experience to attract, motivate and retain talent, empowering the frontline to make decisions, individualising HR services to meet employee needs, ensuring data excellence to facilitate machine learning and automation, and ensuring accountability across cross-functional teams are just some of the areas leaders are expected to cover.

Of course, it’s a tall ask to meet all of these ambitions at once, so it’s up to each leader to decide how best to prioritise and adapt these themes to meet the needs of their particular organisations.

Some organisations choose to reduce HR's managerial role and instead empower line managers to take more responsibility, while others hero technology and implement automation and AI to operate a leaner function. This restructuring of work then allows the team to adopt a new focus depending on the organisation's needs.

For further insight on the role of the HR leader, download our guide to putting HR on the Top Table

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