HR Chief Operating Office (COO), nice to have or critical?

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Our founder & Director Ian has held two HR Chief Operating Officer (HR COO) roles in the past. In this blog he gives his views on a recent Gartner research article on the ‘5 Imperatives of the HR Model of the Future’.  The article focused on the whole people function. Its premise was that the core elements of the Ulrich model are still required i.e. Shared Services / Centres of Excellence. It also highlighted a revised BP role (which moves into a Strategic Talent Partner). However, the key call out was the need for an COO role within the people function.

Their justification is that Directors of People / Chief People Officers need someone, trusted and capable, to run the function. Therefore freeing them up to focus on board and executive matters.  They suggest that the HR COO role takes accountability for shared services, technology, analytics and a team they refer to as people relations managers.

Our experience

In the previous two roles I’ve undertaken there have been differences in scope and remit.  The first, for a global bank was HR COO for the Asia region.  Within this remit I wasn’t accountable for shared services but focused on project delivery (including significant divestment activity, technology implementation and user adoption, annual pay review process); analytics; risk and people planning.  The second, as Head of HR Operations for a global charity did include people services as well as technology; analytics; project planning; risk; finance; process improvement and supplier management – almost a business manager role.

Having undertaken both roles I can absolutely see the benefits they bring to the People Director.  The confidence that comes from knowing someone is focused on the day to day operations whether that be delivering for employees or ensuring that the function is set for success absolutely allows them to engage with their counterparts in a more focused and timely way.

Previously HR COO roles only worked in organisations of scale, that had the headcount and breath of resources to warrant the need.  However, they are now more viable in medium size businesses, the charity was an organisation of just over 11k employees, but the role was still able to add value to that organisation and the HR team it was part of.

So, to answer the initial question, yes it is a fancy role title but no matter the title, the concept of the role and the value it can add are measurable and worth considering for many People teams.

So, how can we help?

InFocus HR can help you with planning and implementing an HR COO role as we have extensive experience in people:

For more information or to just arrange an initial chat, email

Access to the Gartner article here, note you have to register with Gartner to access the free download

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