A look back at HR Tech World San Francisco: Introducing the Chief Heart Officer

Charlotte Nicol
Published on 19th June 2017
3 min read

Say hello to the Chief Heart Officer. They’re the second most important person in any organization after the CEO. That’s according to Gary Vaynerchuk, founder of VaynerMedia, at this year’s HR Tech World show in San Francisco.

Vaynerchuk was speaking as part of the line-up for the inaugural event at the impressive Fort Mason, where the who’s who of HR and technology, from Cisco to Adidas, came together to discuss the future of work and the biggest trends in the sector.

For Vaynerchuk, it’s not about HR but people – and this is the thinking behind the Chief Heart Officer role. As he explained at the event, and sets out on his blog: “Despite the media portrayals, having endless snacks and espresso bars aren’t what creates great corporate culture. You don’t get to claim that you have a great culture just because you have an unlimited vacation day policy, or an open floor plan.”

Not HR, but people

A lot of what Vaynerchuk said in his session ‘Crush it! Cash in on your passion!’ was spot on for people leaders at HR Tech World. Just as HR changed to become Personnel in the 80s, so now is HR becoming a people function. Organizations that are realizing this are getting ahead. VaynerMedia, for example, is looking at hitting revenue near $100 million, and its 700-strong workforce is continuing to grow at an exponential rate.

For Vaynerchuk, he explained that culture sits at the helm of his company – and the Chief Heart Officer is positioned alongside him. Their people team is not named ‘HR’ but the ‘People and Experience Team’. And, in the words of his Chief Heart Officer herself, “the role means being in touch with the heartbeat of every single person in this company.”

Vaynerchuk elaborated by setting out that some of his younger employees may be motivated by money. Others want a great work-life balance. The needs might be different for someone who just moved to New York versus someone who wants to start settling down. “I care about my employees,” he explained, “because when you care about your employees, it translates into value they can give back to your company”.

It’s something we’ve been talking about for a while at Sage People. Our latest research report found that 55% of senior executives think their company is people orientated – yet only 29% of employees agree. In short, when Vaynerchuk spoke about his Chief Heart Officer role, he spoke about putting people at the center of his business. At Sage People, we call this being a ‘People Company’.

It’s all about experiences   

Vaynerchuk’s message wasn’t the only standout takeaway from HR Tech World, however. Also delivering an exceptional session was Josh Bersin, HR thought leader and Principal and Founder of the research provider Bersin for Deloitte. For him, “it’s all about experiences.” And in a similar way to Vaynerchuk, Bersin explained there is a shift from HR to employees underway.

50% of Millennials will live to 100, which means they’ll have careers spanning 70 years, explained Bersin. Employee experiences matter. Bersin elaborated that digital tools and social media has led to workforces feeling overwhelmed and worried about ‘FOMO’ in the workplace. Great workplace experiences need to address this. (You can also read more about the importance of great workforce experiences in our recent white paper).

Overall, it came down to disruption. This is something Bersin talked about a lot, and we saw elsewhere, too. For us, it didn’t seem as if it was the same old story from everyone; different companies are finding new ways to innovate and challenge the status-quo to deliver great workforce experiences. This extended to our Alexa demo session – in which we showed how an Amazon Echo can in the future be used to book leave on our people platform, prompting one member of audience to say it was the most innovative demo he’d seen across the two days.

The future of work?

The title for HR Tech World’s San Francisco show was the ‘future of work’.

Yes, tech and disruption was the focus at the event, but we think the reason Vaynerchuk and Bersin’s messages stuck the most, was because they put approaches to technology – not technology itself – at the heart of what they do. They both saw the advantages of technology, but realize that you can’t, and shouldn’t take the people out of HR.

For example, for Bersin, technology enables organizations to understand their workforce better through data.

And for Vaynerchuk? We think he explains it best himself: “I truly believe that the continuity of a great team trumps everything,” he has said. “It’s just like in sports—a team that has been playing together for a long time usually beats a group of superstars that came together for just a season.”

Find out more about what it means to be a People Company. Read our latest report, or try our profile tool, now.


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