Leveling Up On People Leadership: Oak HC/FT Celebrates One-Year Anniversary of the CPO Guild

March 21, 2023

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By Leah Scanlan, Oak HC/FT

This month marks the first anniversary of Oak HC/FT’s Chief People Officer’s (CPO) Guild, comprised of five founding members who are incredible people leaders and are undoubtedly paving a path for new talent. Almost four years ago I had the privilege of being introduced to the founders of Oak HC/FT. It was early in those conversations that I saw what a huge commitment the team was willing to make towards talent and people. They saw it as a key strategic lever both at the Oak firm level, as well as across the portfolio. It was this, combined with so many other wonderful things, that attracted me to the firm, and it is this commitment that has continued to attract so many amazing entrepreneurs and operators to Oak.

With the support and dedication to talent at the partner level, as well as the need for people leadership across our portfolio becoming increasingly more sought after, we knew there was an opportunity to do something big. The culmination: the launch of the CPO Guild. The goal of the CPO Guild was first and foremost about elevating the people leader role. Our five amazing founding members serve as thought leaders and partners to our portfolio companies by providing support, mentorship and helping to communicate the importance of Oak’s position on talent to the market. Additionally, the Guild shares our belief that the people function belongs in the boardroom, and as shepherds of this movement, we are committed to enforcing the need for people leaders on boards and in top executive seats. Lastly, the CPO Guild is about community and provides Oak’s portfolio companies greater access to mentorship and a supportive expert group of talent leaders. 

When we launched the CPO Guild, it was clear that the rise in importance of people leaders had become magnified due to events over the past several years, including social justice, COVID, remote work, and major talent wars. These leaders were now responsible for navigating all of these at once. There was no question the Guild’s importance would be recognized. Hand in hand with our five founding members, we worked hard to develop content pieces and connected moments to foster this trend. Through fireside chats and virtual panels, our portfolio had the opportunity to tap into the expertise of these seasoned operators. Late last year, we developed a first of its kind HR Leaders Coverage Guide that serves as a practical guide for HR leaders to ensure they’re covering key areas in their teams as headcount grows. In just one year, the work we’ve done has resulted in a heightened awareness among CEOs to level upon their own people leadership. Part of that push directly resulted in 16 or more of our companies bringing on new senior people leaders. The thought leadership provided by our founding members has been instrumental in helping companies recognize the need for business partnerships at the most senior level from a people expert. The mentorship provided to our community of people leaders continues to shape and mold those stepping into roles for the first time.

And the work doesn’t stop there. The market has shifted drastically, and while the environment around us may not feel as frothy and companies aren’t hiring in droves, the role of people leaders has become just as, if not more important than before. Hiring may not be as rampant as it once was, but what matters even more is getting it right. For many businesses, the line between success and failure likely comes down to the handling of key people issues. How you identify and retain your top performers, make hard decisions around people who stay and who go, and prioritize people practices and processes are taking precedence. Companies are under a magnifying glass and while the scrutiny from those looking in from the outside may be consuming the media, it’s the scrutiny of those from the inside that matters. If the last couple of weeks, involving the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and related macroeconomic consequences, are indicative of anything, it is that the environments in which companies must operate are ever changing, and it’s up to the people leaders to respond appropriately to such events to ensure that the cultures they cultivate are agile and filled with people who are in it for the long haul.

As we reflect now, most appropriately, on this one-year anniversary, there is no doubt that the vision we saw then for the CPO Guild, continues to be equally as important today. One year’s work is only the beginning, and we are reminded every day why—and how important—strong people leaders are for building great and successful companies.