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What is a CMO of People?


I’ve working with Peter Navin, who leads HR for Grand Rounds, on a book we call “The CMO of People”. There are two reactions to that title: “That’s perfect!” and “Huh?” To be honest I was in the latter category when Peter first mooted the idea. Here’s an excerpt that explains what we mean.

The “CMO of People” concept is a way of framing how we think about the impact HR can have on an organization. We all know what Chief Marketing Officers do: they work to draw in customers, they aim to get the value out of customers, and to do so they seek to create a great customer experience. We should see HR through the same lens: drawing in talent, getting the most value from talent, and doing so on the basis of a great employee experience.

When you map out the duties of a CMO against the duties of a CMO of People (i.e., the head of HR)—as shown in Table 1.1—the analogous nature of the roles is obvious.

Table 1.1 What a CMO Does vs What a CMO of People Does


CMO of People

Marketing & customer analytics

People analytics

Brand, PR & creative

Employment brand

Customer acquisition

Talent acquisition

Marketing communications

Internal communications

Customer retention

Talent management

Pricing and packaging, marketing strategy

Total rewards


Talent operations

Events and PR

Real estate/workplace services

I’ve a homework assignment for you which is to draw a similar table paralleling HR with Finance. In some sense we already set up that parallel by calling the function Human Resources. Canada’s top management thinker, Dr. Henry Mintzberg, never tires of pointing out to me that employees are not resources, they’re people. The analogies we choose drive thinking in one direction or another. Taking the idea that HR parallels marketing is a rich analogy that is frankly far more simpatico with HR than the idea that we are managing resources.

The view from the CEO’s office

One of the most compelling reasons to explore the analogy between HR and marketing is that CEO’s love the parallels. I had a chance to present the idea to one CEO and I hadn’t got beyond the book’s title when he said, “You’ve hit it out of the park.”

The truth is that many CEO’s don’t have a clear vision of what an elevated HR function should be doing. They know that a traditional HR function handles a lot of administration and compliance; it’s essential work but not something that fires the imagination. Tell a CEO that HR should get the most from the relationship with employees the same way marketing gets the most from the relationship with customers and their eyes light up. CEO’s know what a CMO does, they can envisage an elevated role for an HR leader if they’re seen as a CMO of People.

The employee experience advocates are right

There are many people who have been promoting the idea that the employee experience is a crucial concept. I think Peter’s experience proves these people are right. He’s taken the idea and shown how it can drive productivity and performance in the real world. In fact, he’s done this as the HR leader at three companies (Shutterfly, DocuSign and now Grand Rounds Inc.) so it’s not a one-off success.

I hope you explore the analogy between HR and marketing. It’s a rich source of ideas to inspire the function and help the CEO see HR in a new light.

If you find this idea compelling our book is “The CMO of People: Manage Employees Like Customers With an Immersive Predictable Experience That Drives Productivity and Performance” by Peter Navin and David Creelman


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