· 2 min read · Features

CIPD CEO on the future of HR


It has lived through two world wars, a man being sent to the moon and several recessions: the CIPD is 100 this year. So where would chief executive Peter Cheese like to see HR go next?

How did HR used to look?

If you go back 20 years, HR used to be about personnel, administration and payroll. It was a control function. Since then, we’ve had the rebrand from personnel and personnel management to HR. But in terms of perception, we have some way to go. HR is on a journey and we are at an inflection point. 

Does HR still have a ?perception problem?

There is a perception and an understanding problem. However, sometimes perception is reality. There are too many examples of people’s exposure to HR being as a control rather than an enabling and strategic function. 

We need to create a more compelling vision for what HR is about. There has never been a more interesting or important time to be in HR. The new normal is a much more uncertain economic and business environment. Everything that’s been going on in business has highlighted the strategic importance of building the right organisation and culture. That old saying ‘our people are our most important asset’ hasn’t been lived from a strategic perspective. 

This context sets a more compelling agenda for what HR should be engaged with. Yes, we need to run basic processes, but the big agenda, which should inspire people to say “this is a career that looks really interesting”, is the strategic context. At the moment, it’s often seen as a function for people who don’t like numbers and aren’t technical, but care for people. It needs to be more than that. It needs to be seen as a business function, like any other.

Do people see HR as a career?

As a profession, it’s not well understood compared with something like law or accounting. You don’t need a licence to practise to go into HR. We need to link continued professional development to career development. If you look at something like law, you naturally continue to do professional development because you need to keep current. Some of the issues aren’t unique to HR, though, and sometimes we can beat ourselves up a bit. 

Does the lack of HR CEO role models prevent more ambitious talent choosing HR?

In future, if we were positioning HR the way it should be, I would expect to see more CEOs coming through. But I think the best organisations move people in and out of functions. HR in particular can benefit from that. If I want to build a truly rounded leader, they should have operational business experience and functional experience, particularly in HR. Ask any CEO where they spend most of their time and they say people. It’s fairly obvious we should see more people coming in and out of HR as part of their own career growth. But we also need to show there is career growth for those who want to stay in HR. 

How should we portray HR ?as a career?

There should be more visibility through business courses. People doing MBAs or even A-level business studies should be taught the importance of engagement and building the right sort of cultures. 

In terms of exposing HR to young people, it is part of a wider agenda around improving careers guidance in schools. The channel into work is often orchestrated by HR, so if HR can help young people understand the world of work and present HR as a career, it becomes self-supporting. 

Where will HR go next, ideally?

It will be recognised as a strategic function of any business. We won’t be talking about having a seat at the table because it will be part of everyone’s job for building capability and the organisation of the future. Everyone has an opinion on finance and marketing because they understand why it’s important to business. Everyone should have the same point of view on the people agenda.