Evolving the Impact of CXO-HR Partnership


Evolving the Impact of CXO-HR Partnership – An Organization Development Imperative of Industrial Era 4.0

“The increase of disorder or entropy is what distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.” – Stephen Hawking

Hawking was right not just about time, but also about mankind. Industrial Era 1.0 brought Machination, Water Power and Steam Power. Industrial Era 2.0 brought Electricity, Mass Production and Assembly Line. Industrial Era 3.0 brought Computers and Automation. And Industrial Era 4.0 brought Cyber-Physical Systems and Artificial Intelligence.*1 Along with these advances, each Era brought with it a fair share of ‘context’ and ‘chaos’. With each era and the increment in disorder or entropy, mankind has tried harder to structure, organize and control this chaos.

Every Industrial Era has brought several business contexts and outcomes to life. And each time practitioners and Leaders have responded with theory and practice to manage organizations. From scientific management to behavioral approaches to quality-based management, we have responded to these changes using the ‘Context, Organization Setup and Technology’ to our advantage. But, the ‘chaos’ we are dealing with today is unprecedented. Also, the ‘context’ of Industrial Era 4.0 is exponentially different from all the previous eras because the man-machine ecosystem has as much of power to explode or implode, as it has to create dramatically powerful results for mankind.

In the ‘context’ of Industrial Revolution 4.0:

  • Traditional Organization Setup + Traditional Technology Enablers = Chaos, ineffectiveness and inefficiency prevail: Organization Suffers
  • New Organization Setup + Traditional Technology Enablers = Chaos becomes people’s problem to manage and burns them out: Organization Suffers
  • Traditional Organization Setup + New Technology Enablers = Chaos is forced on technology and people add to it with their old ways of functioning. Tech investment fails: Organization Suffers
  • New Organization Setup + New Technology Enablers = Chaos is turned into opportunity: Organization Thrives

For the mind looking for Technology Imperatives, readings like Deloitte’s HR Technology Disruptions for 2018 will have much to offer. *2 Similarly, for the mind looking for Leadership Imperatives, readings like DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2018 are a great source of validated actions to take. *3

Now, at the center of making these organizational changes (new setups and technology enablers) has to be the evolving ‘CXO – HR partnership’. In the past CXO – HR partnership has given us movements like People Systems, Business Oriented Talent Management and Engagement Initiatives. This partnership has also given us Career Frames, Feedback-Based Performance Management, Continuous Development and many similar initiatives. However, taming the current chaos of the Cyber-Physical Systems Era needs something far bigger. It requires a very deep and a new kind of partnership of CXOs and HR Leaders; one that does ‘Meaning Making’.

As businesses evolve and business models change the structure of the organizations, ‘rituals’ in the organizations and ‘dynamics’ in the organizations have to all be re-envisioned and changed to make the most of the environment.

The CXO – HR Leader pair has to start behaving like one ‘Integrative – Inventive Mind’. An integrative mind brings together several leverages available to it. An inventive mind creates an even greater sum of the parts. A CXO – HR partnership operating at an integrative inventive stage will combine business context, business operations, process capabilities, and people capabilities to leverage cutting edge technology. The outcome will be a ‘future-ready’ and ‘value-creating’ business.

There can be four focal points of this CXO-HR partnership (see figure 1). Let’s look at what actions and impact these four focal points can contribute to.


The CXO – HR partnership has much to reinvent in today’s organizations. There is a need to relook at the way Horizontal and Vertical functions operate in organizations. Depending on the industry, practices like analytics, mobile enablement, user experience, etc., need to get embedded in an optimum fashion. Similarly, functions like Quality, Learning and Customer Service need to be evolved. The structure, shape, alignment, roles, tools, etc., of the organizations also need to be thought through, along with employment contract/employee types and compensation. From full‐time to fixed-term to contract to gig workforce, the industry trends need to be mapped to the organizations’ context. Effective management of the different generations in our workforce is also expected to raise the need to reinvent soon. Some of this will be through hard structures like Functions and Role; others will be through softer arrangements like Culture, Purpose Statements, and Values realignment. And then, we can start asking questions like:

  • How can we create our own innovation practice?
  • Can we have a team to incubate startups as an extension of our organization?
  • How can we spin-off practices to expand faster?
  • How can delivery roles move to Transformational Consulting for Business (since reinventing roles and career-reengineering is another area that requires thought)?
  • How can people be reengineered as Business Consultants (Anticipators) for roles like HRPBs and COEs?

Organizations can target outcomes at multiple levels through Reinventing:

People Outcome: Increasing meaningful and desirable career and roles

Organizational Outcome: An organization structure that is shaped to thrive in chaos

Commercial Outcome: Growth created by leveraging practices like internally-funded entrepreneurship, and differential compensation.


Virtual teams are now a common realty. The next level is the ‘Networks as Team’, which are groups coming together to just accomplish one objective and then dispersing. Managers of these teams are not always people managers. Sometimes these are just self-regulating teams and have no supervisors. They are all working through tech interfaces and on a platform.

The CXO – HR partnership has to start rearranging Careers and Career Transitions for such organizational work practice changes. Rearrangements need to be thought through for team structures, work distributions, people rotation, progression of individuals etc. The questions that we need to answer here are:

  • How can a workplace with Individuals who have Experience (Breadth Orientation), Expertise (Depth Orientation), and Experimentation (Novel and Innovation Orientation) co-exist and deliver productively?
  • How can all Legacy and New Age Systems be arranged around a consistent user experience?
  • How can inherent knowledge speed-up effectiveness?
  • How can the work place, work location etc. minimize time and effort and enhance productivity?
  • How can the degree of virtualization and degree of effectiveness both be rearranged to increase together?

People Outcome: Individuals operating in highest effectiveness zone and technology enabling the administrative and other aspects of jobs.

Organizational Outcome: Well-structured Organization that has the people and systems dynamics to thrive in chaos

Commercial Outcome: Optimized Outcome of all process and system investment reducing cost and cutting waste


In this kind of a changed organizational structure and dynamics, traditional practices like performance management, organizational communications etc., will still be required. Reinforcing the current practices and systems by making them fit to a social and open culture becomes a key imperative here. Collaborative goal setting and peer/cohort-driven recognition are practices that are gaining attention for the right reasons. Program and project management are the key to today’s organizations where very little work is BAU. Change management needs to be a ‘reinforced’ practice across the board. The CXO – HR partnership needs to know:

  • What is the list of the leverage points to be reinforced in their organization? Knowing where it is needed most will help unleash real potential of the organization.
  • What is the starting point to get this right?

Getting it right will ensure:

People Outcomes: Methods to manage some of chaos, while letting some of it prevail.

Organizational Outcomes: An enabled organization that has the rituals to thrive in chaos

Commercial Outcome: Systemically driven outcomes – that are predictable and controllable.


The ever connected human is already under stress and threatened by several lifestyle diseases. Such a population requires both Explicit and Tacit reassurance.

The CXO – HR partnership has to do enough for the people to feel enabled and engaged and be productive in the changing organizations. Next, the employee experience has to be deeply reassuring and one that makes them feel treated as the customers/consumer. Only a satisfactory experience from consuming organizational services will create advocacy for the organization.

Some questions to consider:

  • What are we doing to listen, understand and respond to the emotions and needs of our people?
  • How are we making wellbeing of people the core of all business practices?
  • How are we ensuring ease of operation as a design principle for organizational systems, processes and events?

Getting it right will ensure:

People Outcomes: Real advocacy on independent platforms like Glassdoor.

Organizational Outcome: An engaged organization that has the beliefs, motives and motivation to thrive in chaos

Commercial Outcomes: Customer advocacy and brand equity made possible by driven/loyal employees

Yes, all these focal points will require time and money to design and execute. More than this, it requires the CXO–HR partnership to act like one mind—an Integrative Inventive Mind. The successful existence and presence of any organization will be in the hands of such thriving partnership.

Remember what Gareth Morgan, author of Images of Organization, 1986, said “An Organization has no presence beyond that of the People who bring it to life.”


* 1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industry_4.0
* 2: http://marketing.bersin.com/rs/976-LMP-699/images/
* 3: https://www.ddiworld.com/glf2018

Author- Sai Chandran is currently Director – Talent, OD and Culture for Publicis.Sapient India.


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