Man with tech concepts CPOs needto further develop the digital business acumen to understand howtechnical skills fit into the workplace and how to make best use ofpeople. (Image: Shutterstock)

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In this age of accelerated technology advances, workers must beregularly reskilled or upskilled – and HR leaders are no exception,according to the study, "The Future Chief People Officer: Imagine, Invent,Ignite," by SHRM's HR People + Strategy and Willis TowersWatson.

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"There must be a commitment on the part of HR leaders tocontinue to evolve in order to ensure that the business maintainsits competitive advantage — however, HR leaders can't go it alone,"the authors write. "This also requires the same commitment fromtheir C-suite peers, the CEO and the board to transform the work ofHR and radically reset expectations for the CPO role."

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Related: Reskilling and upskilling becoming biggertalent-management priorities

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More than 500 executives including CPOs, corporate boardmembers, CEOs and other C-suite executives participated in thestudy, which consisted of a survey, in-depth interviews and focusgroups.

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The study found that CPOs need to further develop the digitalbusiness acumen to understand how technical skills fit into theworkplace and how to make best use of people as their organizationsimplement digital technologies "to unlock greater business value."CPOs must also prioritize continuous learning and reskilling acrossthe enterprise, and also elevate HR decision science to progressfrom anecdotal to evidence-based thinking.

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However, only about a third (35 percent) of the surveyrespondents believe that future CPOs are getting the developmentthey will need in these three key areas.

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"When comparing their organization's progress in these areasversus other organizations, CEOs have a more optimistic view thanCPOs, perhaps suggesting that CEOs do not fully appreciate thedevelopment gaps in the next generation of HR executives," theauthors write.

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Indeed, there is a disconnect between how the top brass and HRleaders view the progress that has been made in key developmentareas: embracing technology that builds a consumer experience foremployees (51 percent of CEOs believe this, compared to 36 percentof CPOs); moving from episodic training to perpetual reskilling (51percent CEOs, versus 31 percent CPOs); and leading with data-driveninsights (43 percent CEOs, versus 27 percent CPOs).

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"This study serves as a call to action for HR executives andtheir C-suite peers to imagine, invent and ignite the changerequired to chart a new path forward for the CPO," the authorswrite. "Our research reveals five pivotal imperatives thathighlight the skills, behaviors and experiences needed to capturethe opportunities and meet the challenges in the new world ofwork."

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Those five partitives are:

  1. Push boundaries to evolve and power more agile ways of workingto ensure that both the organization and HR will be able to respondin a nimble manner to an ever-changing business environment.
  2. Unleash digitalization to understand how technology is changingthe nature of work and how it can free talent from administrativeand operational tasks, allowing individuals to focus on highervalue activities. It's also critical to understand howdigitalization can be used to deliver a consumer-grade employeeexperience that will increase engagement and productivity of theworkforce.
  3. Embrace perpetual work reinvention to optimize the use oftalent and automation. Organizations must put continuous learningand reskilling at the heart of the new employment deal as work iscontinuously reinvented and skill requirements shift.
  4. Rethink culture and leadership to lead people in more fluidorganizations where talent on the front lines is empowered toinnovate and where the entire workforce feels vested in a commonpurpose.
  5. Elevate decision science to make evidence-based decisions anddemonstrate the impact of talent decisions on company value,performance and growth.

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Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in Running Springs, Calif. She has more than three decades of journalism experience, with particular expertise in employee benefits and other human resource topics.