'Colleague experience officer' | Amex ditches the 'HR' term and builds a new function. Will it work?

Amex ditches the 'HR' term and builds a new function. Will it work?

In a time when many companies are adding flashy titles to their C-suites, American Express’s recent name change for its HR department might seem like just another superficial move.

However, according to Chief Colleague Experience Officer Monique Herena, this change reflects a broader business pivot and a reimagining of the HR function at Amex.

“It wasn’t about just coming up with the next cool name,” Herena recently told Fortune. “For HR, it was a strategic decision aligned with the Amex vision and strategy.”

This change came shortly after Steve Squeri became Chairman and CEO of American Express in early 2018. Squeri introduced a new vision for the company to “provide the world’s best customer experience every day,” and hired Herena for the top HR role in early 2019.

Together, they rethought the HR function, focusing on the employee experience to align with Amex’s new vision. This shift led to the rebranding of HR as the Colleague Experience Group and new titles for Herena and the heads of other major functions.

“You spend a lot of time at work. What is your experience like?” Herena asked. “Just like we would for a consumer on our app, we asked: What’s easy? What’s hard to do? How do you access certain things quickly and seamlessly?

"We had a lot of work to do, end-to-end, on the experience. Just like we would on a customer journey, we looked at our colleague journeys as well.”

The Colleague Experience Group still handles essential HR tasks like payroll and benefits administration.

But this new focus on treating employees like customers has led to the development of new processes and programs.

These include streamlining the application process for taking leave, expanding benefits programs in areas like mental health and family medical care, offering more recognition for milestones like promotions, and creating other internal HR products.

One standout initiative is the “Career Growth Model,” a leadership development framework available to all employees. Herena said this model has been a hit with both current employees and job candidates.

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“The model has really helped colleagues think through where they’ve been, how they want to grow, and what support they need from us to get there,” Herena said.

“It’s been wildly successful as a recruiting tool as well because people love having a plan and really reflecting on and demystifying career growth, especially in a large company.”

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what HR is called. What truly matters is its commitment to being a force for positive change for both employees and the business.

In today's world, HR needs to be an ethical source of good and a key influencer in the company. By focusing on improving the employee experience, American Express can demonstrate how HR can evolve to meet modern needs and drive meaningful impact.

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