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5 Levers of Leadership: How CHROs Can Foster a Resilient and Efficient Workforce

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5 Levers of Leadership: How CHROs Can Foster a Resilient and Efficient Workforce

How to build a strong People Ops foundation, use technology to facilitate automation, and champion a high-performance culture.

If there is one thing to plan for in 2024, it is that plans will likely change. That can feel both thrilling and agonizing for a CHRO who can help employees navigate challenges and the unexpected. These challenges include a heightened focus on efficiency, the need to keep growing while managing burn, and doing more with less. 

Board members and executive peers alike are looking to their people leaders for guidance on how to navigate the evolving business needs and their impact on the individual and team levels after a year where many experienced cost-cutting. In a conversation with executives in The Circle, GumGum Chief People Officer Kelly Battelle and Element Biosciences Chief People Officer Brian Stolz shared five levers HR leaders can pull to “ride the wave” of change and foster a more resilient and efficient workforce.

1. Build a Strong People Ops Foundation

It’s not uncommon for CHROs to arrive at a fast-growing company and see that there are cracks in the People Ops foundation — or maybe there is not yet a foundation at all. Before you can move on to more strategic work, it is critical to get the basics right.

When Kelly Battelle joined GumGum, she inherited a small HR team of two coordinators and two new recruiters. While there was a lot to accomplish, she and her team spent her first year focused on building a strong People Ops function before moving on to more strategic work. 

“We did not have anyone responding to the People Ops inbox. If we couldn’t get that right, why would they trust me to be a thought partner with them on organizational design issues?” – Kelly Battelle  Chief People Officer @ GumGum

Her team chipped away for a year to develop that foundation. Now, GumGum has a true HR infrastructure with different team members dedicated to the operational parts of the job, such as managing health benefits and employee data. That has enabled the HR business leaders to prioritize the more strategic initiatives to move the business forward.

2. Set the Strategy Around Where HR Can Make the Biggest Impact

Once the foundation is developed for the HR function, it is time to crystalize the larger strategic vision for the department. Here is one Gartner framework that a member of The Circle community has effectively used to define where HR teams can make the biggest impact in their company. It revolves around three main questions: 

  • Do we hire the right talent?

One way a Circle member answers this question is to evaluate new hires at the six-month mark and ask: Would we hire them again? 

  • Do our people grow and get better over time?

While it can be challenging to measure how a workforce improves over time, look at manager effectiveness to gauge the success of the process — because managers tend to be force multipliers. One way to determine this is to ask the direct reports of managers 2-3 behavior questions, such as, “How does your manager provide feedback?” By framing the conversation around behaviors, these questions are less about likability and more about actions. 

  • Are the right people exiting at the right velocity?

Retention of top talent is always a critical goal, minimizing “regretful exits” where, for example, a top performer leaves to join a rival company. For those who just aren’t right for the organization, it’s equally as important to measure how long it takes someone to go through the full exit funnel, from coaching to pre-PIP to PIP to departure. While not everyone goes through this entire funnel, it is important to have consistency in how long it takes beginning to end.

By prioritizing efforts around these three strategic initiatives, HR teams can coordinate their team’s workflows and deliver clear value to the organization.

3. Utilize Technology for Automation and Self-Service

Brian Stolz’s mantra for the year is “efficient growth.” This means accelerating company growth while managing spending. To drive this for the People Ops team, he has started using AI via automation and self-service technology tools. He is currently looking at bringing in two products to be able to do more with less: Dado, an automated onboarding and offboarding platform, and Praisidio, which plugs into a company’s data sources and allows team members to answer their own HR-related questions. 

Meanwhile, Kelly Battelle and her team have started using ChartHop for workforce planning. This tool provides all stakeholders in the hiring process — hiring managers, HR, and finance — greater visibility into the headcount budget. Everyone can access the same information in real time, and this can eliminate those endless conversations around basic information between finance, HR, and hiring managers.

4. Push For a High-Performance Culture

Along with efficiency, employee productivity is a big focus for CHROs this year. This can be particularly challenging to measure with technical and engineering-focused talent, similar to the chemists and biologists who play a leading role at Brian Stolz’s company. He has prioritized how teams can better work together and structured bonus incentives around their collective performance.

“We have pushed for a high-performance culture. To do that, we focus on key outcomes and projects that need to be accomplished. And if the team wins, everyone wins in their compensation. Then I add in equity for the high performers.” – Brian Stolz – CPO @ Element Biosciences

Equally important, if someone is not working out, address that quickly. While talent density is important, it only works if everyone buys into a culture that encourages high performance. The outcomes, our VIPs noted, will follow. 

5. Empower Your Team to Empower Each Other

While People Ops teams have a significant impact on the culture of a company, they can’t be everywhere at once. Therefore, Kelly Batelle stressed the importance of “riding the wave of culture champions” — aka the employees who make a positive mark on the company beyond the specifications of their role. 

When she joined GumGum at its small and scrappy stage, she relied on the company’s “Culture Crew” to take the lead on setting up team parties and happy hours. That group has evolved as the company has grown and is now “The VOICE Coalition.” 

“The VOICE Coalition is now much more well-rounded with a greater focus on diversity efforts and company programming,” she said. She consults with them on employee initiatives and will ask them about employee sentiment. 

As start-ups grow, HR leaders are not able to be everywhere, which is why it is important to empower employees to empower each other through grassroots, employee-led cultural groups.

The Takeaway:

In a year that will be defined by change and challenges, CHROs must build a strong People Ops foundation, use technology to facilitate automation, and champion a high-performance culture to lead their companies and team members in the right direction.

Apply to join The Circle to participate in conversations like this one within a private leadership community of CXOs.

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