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What's the best thing a CEO can do for a people leader in 2022?

What's the best thing a CEO can do for a people leader in 2022?

Empowering middle management, giving HR leaders a seat at the table and setting an example of the company values are among the actions CEOs can take to empower people leaders, members of Protocol's Braintrust say.

Good afternoon! As we look ahead to the new year, we asked a group of people-centric executives what a CEO can and should be doing for them and their teams moving forward. In the last year, managing the workplace has meant being in charge of a constantly-evolving situation that is still changing by the day, so we wanted to hear what a chief executive could do to make HR professionals successful at their jobs directly from the source. Questions or comments? Send us a note at

Zoe Harte

Chief People Officer at Upwork

The best thing a CEO can do for a people leader in 2022 is ensure HR is listened to and heard as a driver of innovation and change. That means involving CRHOs as early and as frequently as possible, because HR is at its most effective and impactful when it is a fully integrated business function as opposed to being relegated to the implementation and clean-up crew.

It’s also essential to acknowledge what all people leaders and their teams have been through over the last two years. Most HR departments have been shepherding their companies through 24 months of nonstop crises and challenges, and they are exhausted. While this crisis has ushered an urgent call for more workplace empathy, the economy has been shaken and leaders feel a deep responsibility to drive results, now more than ever. There’s a seeming tension between prioritizing wellness and driving results, but these two things are interrelated. CEOs can — and should — hold them in balance to leverage empathy as a driver for productivity.

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Gunjan Aggarwal

Chief People Officer at RingCentral

The best thing a CEO can do for people leaders in 2022 is empower them with the flexibility to establish the working model that will inspire their specific teams the most. One size fits none. We are in an era, thanks to technology, where we get all kinds of personalized services as and when we want. There is no reason then to not aspire for more flexibility and personalization in work environments where it can be accommodated. Employees feel a much higher level of engagement when they feel more productive, and engagement holds the key to sustained success in the work-from-anywhere, hybrid/remote work era. And, when employees can be their most efficient and productive, a better work-life balance becomes easier to achieve. That is a huge part of employee engagement. But there is one more significant factor in engagement — the employee-manager relationship. For a people leader, being able to show up for your employees and support any unique accommodations has tremendous benefits, both for retention and for overall business success. People do their best work when they feel valued and feel like they have a voice in designing their workplaces and schedules to optimize for productivity and focus-flow. It’s critical that going into 2022, employee engagement is top of the agenda.

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Steve Patscot

CEO Leadership Advisor & Human Resource Practice Leader at Spencer Stuart

As the pandemic approaches the end of its second full year wreaking havoc on organizations and individuals alike, no function has been more impacted than human resources. Much like the financial crisis’ profound impact on CFOs, the pandemic has changed the roles and responsibilities of HR leaders, but to an even greater extent.

Given the importance of the HR function, the best talent has never been in greater demand, nor has the role been more demanding. In 2022, CEOs will benefit from considering one or more of the following actions for their HR counterparts:

  • Insist people take real time off to recharge their batteries — this is a much better solution than quitting due to burnout.
  • Set priorities together to manage expectations. Identify the vital priorities and communicate them to the organization.
  • Revisit the business case for increasing strategic investment in the HR function, as lacking an adequate and contemporary HR infrastructure is unsustainable.
  • Demonstrate sincere empathy, practice transparency and encourage healthy debate.
There are likely other important actions to take depending on each organization’s current business and talent priorities, but the above recommendations could go a long way in re-energizing one of CEOs' most important direct reports. Doing so has the potential to benefit entire organizations as well as leaders themselves. Tweet this.

Joe Atkinson

Chief Products and Technology Officer at PwC

Access to great technology, tools and training can fundamentally shift how employees feel about their employer, build employee confidence in their capability and provide greater clarity on the opportunities they have ahead.

As we all address the challenges that come with a hybrid work environment, simplification and integration are key. Giving people technology experiences that work seamlessly wherever they work will become a differentiator. Companies that lead with people-first technology experiences will emerge as employers of choice.

But providing the technology environment is only part of the equation. Citizen upskilling opportunities can fuel employee purpose and productivity. They also help businesses stay competitive by diversifying the skills that exist within their own organization — a powerful outcome in an unprecedented talent market. With the right skills and the right tech, employees can become a powerful innovation force that will help them (and their companies) thrive in our new digital age.

Learn more.

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Abby Payne

Chief People Officer at SailPoint

The best thing a CEO can do for a people leader in 2022 is BE the people leader. As I like to say, alongside every good people officer is a CEO who knows employees are the company’s greatest asset. Of course, the CEO sets the standards for performance and the organization’s key objectives. However, they also set the tone for other leaders by demonstrating (or not) the values that are important to an organization. This is how you build a culture of openness and respect. At SailPoint, you’d be hard-pressed to find a communication from our CEO that doesn’t reinforce our values. Whether it’s a video interview with a team member or an all-hands meeting, he doesn’t miss an opportunity to underscore how our culture is a differentiator and spotlight team members who bring our values to life in their everyday work. Values-driven leadership needs to start at the top. It reminds every people leader how important it is to recognize their team members and give regular feedback. It helps drive a consistent companywide culture. There is a difference between managing people and leading them, and by doing the latter, the CEO sets the entire organization up for success.

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Jennifer Dudeck

Senior Vice President & Chief People Officer at Red Hat

The most important thing a CEO can do for a CPO or CHRO is understand the importance of the function and bring them into strategic conversations about the future of an organization. One of the biggest keys to success for a business is finding and retaining the right talent. Without the right people in the right functions, it is hard to meet business goals. Having a strong partnership between the CEO and the HR leader can make the difference. So as CEO, provide a seat at the table for your HR leader. They can help connect the dots between associate performance and reaching strategic goals. A strong people strategy is now commonplace for most organizations, especially in the technology industry, where the competition for top talent is increased.

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Michael Park

Senior Partner and Global Co-leader, People & Organizational Performance Practice at McKinsey

Activate middle management. In most modern companies, the middle-management layer drives day-to-day business success and experience for both customers and employees. Our research shows that relationships with management are the top factor in employees’ job satisfaction, and 75% of survey participants said the most stressful aspect of their job was their immediate boss. The layer of middle management in an organization is often disconnected to the priorities of the company, and the variation in performance is wide. Some are inspiring leaders, while others are impediments to change, often shaping a negative employee experience. If the CEO can help the people leader get this important group to work 10% more effectively, the entire organization will benefit from sustained performance. To accomplish this goal, CEOs and people leaders should work together to invest in capability building, reimagine performance management and evolve outdated methods of talent evaluation. This one step unlocks enhanced, sustained performance and helps build a winning employee value proposition.

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Ray Martinelli

Chief People Officer at Coupa

Executives must be champions and role models of their company’s values. Live them, breathe them, celebrate them. It will not only establish trust with people team leaders, but it will enable them to execute on decision making that aligns with the business' goals.

For example, at Coupa we encourage all employees to subscribe to our three core values — ensure customer success; focus on results; strive for excellence — and if it wasn’t for our CEO’s eternal passion for and application of the values himself, I would not be able to do my job as successfully or confidently.

Because our CEO is the biggest champion of Coupa’s values, there is a precedent for everyone at the company to use the values as a lens to make decisions. If a decision or action is aligned to a value, it will undoubtedly drive the business forward. It’s brought about a robust platform so I can carry out my function with confidence, and without hesitation. People team programs — from talent acquisition and hiring to onboarding and Coupa University (our learning and development program) — are designed to align with the values and are therefore credible. Employees are much more excited, empowered and engaged when it comes to executing them. Ultimately, it’s Rob’s support of the three values that enable me to lead my team to think more creatively and have confidence to make bold changes.

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See who's who in the Protocol Braintrust and browse every previous edition by category here (Updated Dec. 21, 2021).

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