What’s a Chief People Officer?

Earlier this year, I moved on from nearly 20 years of professional experience in software engineering to take a new role as the Chief People Officer of Course Hero (where I was initially hired as the VP of Engineering two years ago).

As I told my friends and family about this change, they generally had two questions:

  1. “What’s a Chief People Officer?”
  2. “Are you nuts?”

The second question is tough for me to answer, but I have a lot to say about the first.

As CPO, I am now responsible for all strategy, processes, and programs related to attracting and developing a world-class team of people at Course Hero. More specifically, this includes:

  • Create an overall philosophy of how to achieve the best people management and performance
  • Develop a compensation strategy and framework that best match our culture and lead to great results
  • Define career tracks for every role and department at Course Hero
  • Act as a management coach for all leading managers in the company
  • Develop communications programs that support our values of transparency, autonomy, and collaboration
  • Build and evolve a company culture that makes people love being at Course Hero but also delivers great results
  • Build recruiting systems that attract and retain world-class people who support our values and help everyone improve

The title of CHRO (Chief Human Resources Officer) is more common, but Course Hero prefers “People,” in part because it gives more open space to define the role how we want. It’s a lot more than just administering benefits programs and running payroll.

In a company driven by knowledge workers, thoughtful talent management is fundamental to driving consistent and strong business results. From the Harvard Business Review:

It’s time for HR to make the same leap that the finance function has made in recent decades and become a true partner to the CEO. Just as the CFO helps the CEO lead the business by raising and allocating financial resources, the CHRO should help the CEO by building and assigning talent, especially key people, and working to unleash the organization’s energy.

So far, there seem to be more people writing about the potential for the role of CHRO/CPO than companies and people actually giving it a serious try. Two of my particular inspirations are Chris Cox, a software engineer who accepted the challenge of becoming Facebook’s first HR leader, and Laszlo Bock of Google, who literally rewrote the book on HR for the modern tech economy. Bock, who recently stepped down from his role after a decade at Google, was kind enough to advise and prepare me for the role. He suggested that there’s still a big opportunity for someone with a technical mindset to apply that thinking and creativity to people operations.

Ultimately, my decision stemmed from a desire to create positive impact for an entire company, not just the technical teams, and to do so in a way that helps the company thrive in a period of high growth. Managing a team of 50 engineers and designers required a lot of “people ops” anyway, so it’s a more natural extension of that role than it might first appear. I’m thrilled to be working closely with the rest of our executive team on initiatives to take Course Hero into the stratosphere.

And, of course, we’d love to have you join us!