Putting the 'People' Back in People Management

December 13, 2023
min read


Table of contents


Putting the 'People' Back in People Management

Picture this: you hop on a call to a cheery face and a cozy home in the background. In the pleasant introductory back and forth you find out that the new dad filled with sleepless nights lights up when sharing his journey and experience in putting people first throughout his career. 

If you haven’t already read the title, this cheery (but a bit sleepy) human is Jason Waterman, current CPO at ProSapient, and Co-Founder/Advisor, at People Club. 

He spared us some time for a coffee chat to discuss:

  • The journey to CPO & challenges 
  • Moving beyond the stereotypes of HR 
  • The two skills HR needs today to thrive 
  • What’s cooking in Jason’s kitchen? 

Plus make sure to read to the end for his recommended readings! 

The journey to CPO

“I guess I fell into the world of People and Talent and then progressively wanted to move into more and more..”

Before being in the world of HR, Jason started his professional journey on the other side, as a Recruiter building start ups.

However, Jason gradually became more interested in organizational design, culture, and company visions, missions and values.. He shifted focus from dealing with employee relations and disciplinary matters to helping companies define their culture and mission. 

“The shift in perspective on HR from traditional to more strategic and partnership-focused. So I was kind of venturing into that HR world from a different angle.”

And the biggest challenges for Jason on that transition? 

#1 Filling the knowledge gaps 

As with any role change, there are always some knowledge gaps to be filled. Jason adopted an agile approach of continuous learning and partnering with some experts and advisors. 

#2 Changing the speed at which he is used to working

“So I've been used to doing things at a million miles an hour all the time trying to get quick decisions in the talent side of things. Whereas HR is a lot more process driven. So the pace switch was quite a big one for me and I suspect is probably the biggest issue that people face when they make that transition from talent into people.”

Fear not about making that transition yourself, because currently, as a Chief People Officer, Jason’s primary responsibility is HR, and he spends about 90 percent of their time on HR-related tasks, whilst also overseeing the Talent, Internal Comms and Learning teams. 

Let’s dive into what this expert shared with us some of his thoughts on the best way of doing business and priorities for the next year. 

The new perspective on HR: Moving beyond stereotypes 

There’s been a shift in HR and an even bigger shift in the way that people view the role of the HR team.

For those of you The Office fans, we’re talking about the idea of the HR department being like Toby: Boring, slightly sad and not gifted in the art of communication gremlins. 

Or in the words of Jason “You didn't choose to go into that role, that you were kind of sat in a back office either telling people off or approving their holiday.”

But those days are over.

“I think people now start to see that especially in the startup world. People teams are more focused on partnering with their businesses, their different leaders to help get problems solved.”

"All Businesses Should be People Businesses" 

From our conversation, this is one of the pain points that stood out. A little bit controversial because it’s a relatively new idea to businesses, however most “people-people” will agree.

The idea that "all businesses should be people businesses whether you employ one person, or 10,000 people." 

In many companies (as is the industry standard), a head of HR, Chief People Officer, or equivalent will report to the CFO, or the COO. And to Jason, after decades of experience, “that's just a nonsense way of doing things.”

Coming from years of experience and currently in a position where he has a visible, senior role, he wants to get the message across that for organizations, it’s time for business leaders to seriously consider putting “people-people” up at the top. 

“If you can't hire the right people, motivate them, have them pushing in the right direction, then you're never going to be successful because that churn of people is just going to be constant, the costs will be ridiculous. Your products, services won't get delivered well. So you have to have a people person helping the company make decisions as well, right?”

Jason’s number one recommendation? Giving your people-person a voice.

It’s not enough to have your “people person” just in the room or just privy to conversations about budgets and planning. (ex. Conversations that go along the lines of “we're gonna upsize or downsize”). 

Companies should empower their people leaders to be key voices in important discussions. Avoiding secondhand information and involving the right individuals can prevent bad decisions, like unnecessary layoffs, and improve company performance and reputation. Letting people leaders participate is essential for a successful and positive business. 

And on the hot topic of layoffs:  “There's obviously some really good examples, but there's some absolute horror shows out there and you can just see that that's because a decision has been made by someone that isn't a people-person. And then that people-person gets left with “oh here's the communication, over to you”.”

And on the topic of communication, here are the two main skills that HR teams need today:

#1 Problem-solving skills 

With constant questions and a global pay transparency movement approaching, now more than ever HR teams are stepping out from that back office and face to face with questions to answer on the spot. 

“You need to be able to solve problems quickly, understand people's needs, and be able to bring different people together.”

#2 Emotional intelligence and empathy in employee-employer interactions

HR can be an emotional job. Being able to communicate, separate and regulate your emotions is key. Now he’s not advocating for you to be a robot, but empathic:

“Being able to step into people's shoes to solve things for both employees and employers. I think it's really important that people have that kind of commercial brain so they can understand why business is making certain decisions. But then they need to be able to personalise it and empathise with different people to help messages get across really well.”

An example of this? Being mindful of how people digest information and adapting your communication methods. 

“Gone are the days when you send out a blanket email to explain a decision, you need to be able to communicate in lots of different ways to engage different audiences. You know, the way that a 50 year old employee will process information compared to a 20 year old employee is wildly different.”

Now, what’s cooking in Jason’s kitchen? 

We’ve heard about a lot of thoughts but let’s talk about some actions that this HR leader is working on behind the scenes. Let it give you some inspiration on what should be on your agenda for 2023 and beyond. 

#1 Retention via a solid compensation career framework. 

Hiring lots of graduates means that Jason’s team has their work cut out for them in terms of providing the right education and tools to develop & retain their new talent. Especially when it comes to taking good individual contributors and then making them great managers: 

  • How do you motivate them? 
  • How do you ensure that they are and feel fairly rewarded? 
  • What training programs are in place to ensure they are supported & efficient? 

#2 Working on transparency in compensation.

“The current generation coming through and starting to become a bigger part of the workforce have obviously had more flexibility than any other generation ever AND they've got more access to compensation data than anyone has ever had as well, which is great. So, we have more conversations around pay now than we probably used to have, which is a blessing and a curse I think.” Actions to address this include: 

  • Building salary bandings in place for visibility 
  • Using real-time external salary benchmarking data with location factors
  • Communication on salary progression processes 

And for international compensation? They have chosen to go with cost of living based on the HQ location with reviews every 12 months to ensure it’s aligned with the market.

#3 A focus on the “Equity” work in DEI actions

“As a leader, I want my team, regardless of their level, their race, gender, background, to feel that their voice is equal and everyone has the same opportunity to have the same conversation and influence in the same way.”

  • Pay Gap Analysis: how long people have been in role, how often they get pay rises at, what rate they get pay rises, how often they're promoted compared to their peers, and then be broken down by gender, race, educational background etc.


If there’s one thing you should take away from this chat is that one of the best ways to succeed as an organization is to put your people first. Not only giving your “people-person” a voice at the decision making level but also ensuring that your HR team is able to empathize and communicate effectively. 

It will take some work, the world is still shifting but thanks to leaders like Jason, HR will soon move far away from those stereotypes bringing a voice and fairness to employees. 

And we think that’s pretty great. 

Jason's recommendations for further reading on HR and people management: 

  • No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings & Erin Meyer
  • Culture Code by Daniel Coyle
  • Good To Great by Jim Collins

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