Posted on: 6/16/2023

Raising the Game: How do Chief People Officers get to and stay at the top table


SRI hosted our second of a series of Chief People Officer roundtables. Andrea Wareham, former Global CPO of Pret A Manger, spearheaded the conversation with prominent leaders from renowned companies in the fields of Sports, Media & Entertainment, Consumer, and Technology in attendance.

Top 5 take-aways from the session

One. When Chief Executives are asked about the key topics that keep them awake at night, many emphasise the significance of “people” – acquiring, retaining, developing, and optimising them. Yet, the role of the Chief People Officer (CPO) is still absent or severely diluted in many  organisations. Indeed, often when it is present, it is lacking a seat at the top table.

Two. The journey to becoming a CPO can be a solitary one, as those who have reached the top often recount various challenges along the way. CPOs undoubtedly end up being a sounding board for many leaders across an organisation, but they lack a reciprocal relationship to support their own challenges. It is crucial to establish the right support system, including an external network, to assist you and be your sounding board!

Three. To achieve and maintain a position at the top table, Chief People Officers might consider focusing on these key areas:

  • The primary focus, of course, must be leading the people function and ensuring the basics are in place and executed effectively.
  • Demonstrating strong business leadership skills and critical thinking outside the people function is essential to serving as a valuable member of the executive team.
  • Becoming the trusted advisor and confidante to the CEO is crucial to ensuring the people agenda stays front and centre.
  • Cultivating a strong relationship with the Chair is an ultimate aim. While this needs careful navigation, a positive relationship will reap rewards for the organisation as a whole.

Four. Successful CPOs are developing their commercial and financial acumen by actively engaging in the audit committee, participating in training meetings, gaining a deep understanding of the organisation’s operations, and acquiring the necessary experience to substantiate their place at the top table.

Five. CPOs may need to adapt their style and priorities, depending on the ownership structure and/or investment stage of their organisation. It is important to find ways to show value and ROI across people-centred initiatives. While we intuitively know there is a clear correlation between investing in people development and enhancing productivity and business performance, seeking to substantiate and explicitly articulate this connection is vital.

To learn more about how SRI partners with People teams across talent and search services or to have an expansive discussion about the topics and takeaways, please contact us. If you are a Chief People Officer (CPO) and would like to participate in upcoming roundtable events, please do also connect.


David Nobbs

Managing Partner, Consumer

Helen Soulsby

Managing Partner, Consulting