Why Your Head of People Needs To Be at the Leadership Table

By Lyn Currie

Culture is at the centre of business strategy, helps drive growth and is the reason people join and stay with your organization. This fact has gained widespread acceptance throughout the pandemic. It has also made the role of Chief People and Culture Officer integral to executive decision making.

This was not the case 10 or even five years ago when the role was still primarily focused on performance reviews, compensation, and benefits (i.e., tactics). Today, organizations that have put culture at the centre of strategy have made the Chief People and Culture Officer the steward of culture. They are business partners to the CEO, advising and consulting as peers.

Now, instead of tactics, the role is helping set organizational business objectives through the  lens of culture. It’s a natural and obvious progression. If people and culture are the foundation of a business and the fuel to propel growth, then the People and Culture leader is at the right hand of the CEO, at the same level of importance as the Chief Financial Officer.

At Waterstone, we know from experience that organizations that value culture are making this shift. We also know from experience that Chief People Officer candidates are as sophisticated in business strategy as they are in people strategy. Increasingly, they are coming from operations and finance backgrounds, and they are looking for a CEO who sees them as a business partner and an integral part of the growth strategy of the organization.

The reason they are at the table is because they can make the connection between culture and strategy, between culture and where the business needs to grow, between culture and how to leverage people to drive business performance.

Today’s labor market

Now that COVID-19 is shifting from a pandemic to endemic, it’s clear just how critical people management is and will continue to be, especially as research suggests a more fluid, work from anywhere model will persist.  Gartner predicts that by the end of 2023, 40 per cent of organizations will move to blending virtual and physical experiences to increase productivity and expand customer reach. 

At the same time, newer entrants to the labor force want to work for organizations that foster a sense of belonging and that have a purpose that aligns to their own sense of meaning. The great resignation and tight labour market require organizations to step up in new ways to attract and keep talent and drive performance. It is falling to the Chief People and Culture Officer and their team to ensure organizations can attract and retain top talent while meeting (current and future) employee expectations.

Candidates today are recruiting future employers – not the other way around. This fundamental change is the result of a confluence of events: the shift to remote work, the great resignation movement, the tight labor market, record compensation levels and the new and different expectations of millennials and Gen Z, who want to ensure their own purpose and meaning is aligned with that of potential employers.

The result: most candidates are being pursued for multiple opportunities. This is all happening as organizations reimagine their workplaces. New entrants to the workforce as well as more senior employees want to return to an in-office scenario while mid-career employees want to continue to work from home. In all cases, the need to establish a sense of belonging and align people to purpose and meaning will be critical.

How Chief People and Culture Officers are driving performance

Today’s Chief People and Culture Officer is being tasked with a big job: helping their  organization realize its potential through culture. Here are just three of the trends we’re seeing when it comes to operationalizing culture:

  1. Leading organizations are investing significantly more in learning and development programs. They must. Candidates are asking – often in the first interview – how an organization will invest in their training and career development. Best-in-class organizations are putting the employee in the driver’s seat when defining their career path. The Chief People Officer is charged with creating programs to inspire continual learning while empowering employees to chart their own course.
  2. Leading, high-performing organizations are also focused on advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and Chief People Officers are leading the charge. They are putting programs in place to mitigate unconscious bias in the recruitment and career development processes. They are forming cross-functional DEI groups, listening and using that feedback to create positive change within their organizations.
  3. In today’s working environment, it is critical for organizations to have a value statement that clearly defines their culture. This value statement goes well beyond stating what you do. It should articulate who you are as an organization. It should be inspirational and emotionally connect to candidates, employees and all stakeholders. Chief People Officers are leading the efforts to define culture and purpose, articulate it and operationalize it throughout their organizations.


Why should the Chief People and Culture Officer have a seat at the table? The answer is simple: To ensure organizations are leveraging their greatest competitive advantages: people and culture.

At Waterstone Human Capital, we’re experts in helping organizations recruit and retain top talent – including people and culture executives – with our services rooted in culture-building and people-focused management. For more information on career development plans and other related subjects, contact our team. You may also fill out the form on our contact page.