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Workhuman's KeyAnna Schmiedl: the first month as a CHXO

KeyAnna Schmiedl, the new chief human experience officer (CHXO) at Workhuman, shares insights from her first month at the company and how she's modernising HR.

With an unusual title for HR and a background in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), Schmiedl brings with her a fresh approach to people practices.

At the Workhuman Live event in London, HR magazine found out first-hand about how she applies a product mentality to people practice, and unrelentingly challenges workplace conventions.


HR magazine: How have you hit the ground running in your first month at Workhuman? 

Schmiedl: I am just obsessed with knowing and understanding people, and amongst the things that you would do for onboarding, in this first month, I've also attempted to have coffee chats with every single member of at least the human experience team, and then meetings with all the senior leaders.

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I am better at applying context when I know the people who are doing this stuff, and so that's a really key part for me.

But, as amazing as it is, the amount of energy and jolt that you get from having these conversations is also the amount that is drained at the end of the day.

So I've quickly realised, I have to do a better job of setting a good pace for myself, so that I can continue to be as present in the now but I know enough about how people interact and how they like to feel seen.


HR magazine: How does this role differ to your prior roles in DEI roles, and most recently, social and environmental impact?

Schmiedl: It's similar in that, how I did DEI work and how I think about ESG is rooted in the people working in the organisation. And the things that are getting in the way of them doing their best work.

What the biggest difference is, typically in DEI you have a thought or an idea, then you turn your head, and you go to the person who owns that space and say, okay, so what about this? Now I turn around and I go – no, I own that space. 


HR magazine: The CHXO title is uncommon for the HR space – what’re the thoughts behind it?

Schmiedl: It’s a little bit confounding because we'll still use terms like talent development.

But what it does is it presents a unique opportunity early on to say, alright, why do we feel like the old language wasn't working for us? And do we feel like this new language really aligns with what we think it should be?

I had a very strong reaction to CHRO and chief HR officer. I was like 'what year is this? It's not human resources anymore'.

For me, CHXO is anything that touches people; you should feel the inner workings of an organisation, even if you're an external customer.


HR magazine: How do apply product development principles to your practice?

Schmiedl: Those concepts are really useful in creating a nimble experience, where you can easily get feedback from a disparate population of employees, and then pull that up to say, here are the key themes that are universal, here are the ones that are unique, here are the ways in which we're going to invest in acknowledging these making them a reality, acting on them, and then communicating that.


HR magazine: What is the difference between this product-oriented approach and other means of practicing HR?

Schmiedl: I classify it as the difference between careful and thoughtful.

Thoughtful says ‘Be mindful, be aware, check in’ at the same points that careful says ‘Stop.’

For a long time, organisations in general, but specifically during the times of ‘HR’ (as a term), there's still that careful mentality.


HR magazine: Is that how you’ve always approached your work?

Schmiedl: Yes. What I have found is that if you're doing DEI work well, you're embedding it across all of the functions of people.

You have to know enough to partner effectively with marketing, or product, or folks in a warehouse in a distribution centre to make it relevant for them.

All of those concepts feed into how I like to do the work; I like to do things with people and not to them as much as possible.


HR magazine: What motivates you to keep striving to create fair and equitable workplaces?

Schmiedl: It’s the idea that it's got to be better than this. If you think about Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: 'There must be more than this provincial life.' Is this really it? Because if it is we're all doomed. 

I've always been motivated by something that is challenging, that people haven't necessarily figured out yet.

And I'm obsessed with the idea that we can build a promising practice, but that it's other people that will make it a best practice.

And so how much promising practice can we put out in the world to then learn from others what the thread of best practice actually is?