an interview Graeme Paxton, the founder and CEO of Caraffi

The next CEO is never the CPO – why are people leaders rarely business leaders?

People leaders are the backbone of growing your business’s people strategies. Graeme Paxton looks at why they are overlooked in succession.

It seems unjust to acknowledge it, but the position of CPO is seen as the underdog when a replacement CEO is needed. The COO and CFO have always been the natural successors to the CEO, so why are CPOs rarely considered?

We spoke to Graeme Paxton, the founder and CEO of Caraffi, to uncover some hard truths about the common perceptions that CEOs and their board have about CPOs – and why they rarely make the leap to CEO.

This blog is a quick-read summary from our TIG Culture magazine article, ‘Why your chances of going from CPO to CEO are low,’ which you are welcome to download here.

People Experts – inspiring successful people strategies in business

Successful CPOs are always confident communicators, with a clear understanding of how an organisation and its people work. The success of a business so often depends on the ability of the CPO to inspire everybody with the same vision. So why are CPOs overlooked when it comes to the top job?

Graeme Paxton has spent fifteen years working with people leaders and following their careers, so can speak from experience that the problem stems from the fact that we just don’t see people leaders in the same way as business leaders.

“Why is that? Why do we not equate people leadership with business leadership? How can we actively change this perception? And what can CEOs do differently when it comes to the training and development so that the next generation of people leaders get to change this?”

Graeme Paxton

Bridging the Gap

CPOs hold in-depth knowledge about their business’s people. However, they can lack the same breadth of business experience compared to other managers. For marketing and business execs, there are many more opportunities to move around internally and advance.

A CEO’s mission is to make a business successful. They may have a clear strategic direction for the company and a plan to achieve it, but if they don’t communicate their vision to the entire company things can quickly start to go wrong. The CPO is skilled at connecting and aligning the organisation to its vision and implementing strong people strategies in business. 

“Most CEOs have risen up through operations, sales, finance, or marketing. Bar marketing, where empathy and understanding into why we do what we do is a major part of success, CEOs aren’t often experts in emotional, psychological, or behavioural people matters. But CPOs are. They have a natural talent for building trust and knowing how best to invest in their people, which is why they often stay in the people function.”

Graeme Paxton

No Change in Sight

The lack of CEO opportunities raises a “Where next?” question for CPOs. Successful people focused functions have a growth mindset and are always looking for new opportunities to learn. If the prospect of CPO looks unlikely, how do you continue to advance once you reach the CPO level?

“When all leaders, not just the CEO, fail to spend any time in a people function – which we’ve made loud and clear is one of the most valuable assets a company has – I’m not sure things will change at the top.”

Graeme Paxton

There are other avenues for CPOs to pursue but with so few, if any, examples of CPOs moving into CEO roles, it seems that for now at least, change is a long way off.

Want to learn more from Graeme Paxton’s experiences of working with people leaders?

Read the full article here to power up positive and lasting change.

Unlocked: Culture

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