The University will be the first of its peers to hire a chief people officer, an increasingly popular position as companies and organizations rebrand their human resources offices.
Mark Diaz, the executive vice president and chief financial officer, said in an email to employees last week that he would “soon” launch a search for a chief people officer. Diaz said the new hire will strategize how the University can evaluate employee benefits, improve staff training and revamp recruitment practices.
The announcement is the first concrete update in the University’s evaluation of the human resources department after Diaz began his term in August 2018. The University has been without a permanent human resources head for more than three years.
“While we are seeking to achieve a culture transformation at GW, we need to reorient our approach from one that is process-oriented and transactional to one that puts our people first,” Diaz said in an email to The Hatchet. “Our focus must be on how we can best support and serve GW faculty and staff as they work to provide an outstanding experience for our students and our community.”
Diaz said in the email to employees last week that the CPO will also be responsible for creating a “service centric, high performing” relationship with businesses and training workers. The new hire will also head Total Rewards, the benefits oversight division that manages payroll and compensation, he said.
“The CPO will oversee and promote a data-driven strategy that attracts, develops, engages and supports the talent to advance GW’s mission,” he said.
The person will develop ways to enhance current benefits packages and search for new incentives to make GW “a distinctive place to work,” Diaz said.
Over the “coming months,” Diaz said officials will implement a series of new management technologies, including a new time-off tracking system, an online human resources portal, an automated reference check system, an updated process for making employment offers and a new tool for prospective employees to learn about the hiring experience.
He added that the administration will add another leadership position under the CPO to create an organizational development plan but did not provide specifics. The new hire will report to Diaz, unlike the vice president for human resources, who has reported to the deputy executive vice president and treasurer in the past.
Diaz, through a University spokeswoman, declined to answer six additional questions about the CPO, including whether the position will replace the vice president for human resources, when the post is expected to be filled and what qualities officials are looking for in the new hire.
“Since we are just beginning this effort, we have no more additional information at this time beyond the information announced in the initial in the memo,” University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said in an email. “We will be happy to keep you updated as we make progress.”
Human resources experts said a chief people officer could improve relationships between top administrators and lower-level employees and help address some of the communication and bureaucracy issues that the University’s top brass have been pushing for in recent months.
Heather Landy, the editor of the online business publication Quartz at Work, said many businesses, including Fortune 500 companies like Coca-Cola, have made the switch from a human resources head to a chief people officer because companies are increasingly focused on prioritizing employees.
She said the new position could let employees know that they are valued by the administration. University President Thomas LeBlanc issued an employee culture assessment last fall, which found that employees did not feel appreciated.
“It sounds silly, in a way, but even just the name change is important to signaling to everyone at the company or organization or school that this is how we look at people, as people and not as resources,” Landy said. “It’s culturally signaling something good.”
John Anderson, the managing director at the San Francisco office of executive search firm Allegis Partners, said it would be more beneficial to have the chief people officer report to the president instead of the chief financial officer because the president should directly hear employees’ needs.
“Not having the chief people officer in the room, I think you just create an opportunity to miss some big things,” he said. “Instead of having the actual voice in the room, you have a translator.”