The New CHRO: Critical strategic advisor for CEOs
Historically, the role of the Chief Finance Officer has always been closely aligned with that of the CEO. This is because finance or the epicentre of all things money has always been accorded supreme status in the world of business. As we navigate the uncertain waters of the modern workplace, it is becoming increasingly clear that it is human resources or talent that forms the driving force of any enterprise. Consequently, the role of the Chief Human Resources Officer is changing and emerging as that a critical strategic advisory for CEOs.
The modern day CHRO needs to be a consummate business person who understands the organization’s business objectives and map not just talent but workflows and processes that will help the organization achieve its objectives. A blinkered focus on merely managing people will not suffice. Here are a few essential characteristics that the new CHRO role must encompass:
A broader perspective
Increasingly we are witnessing companies appointing CHROs from outside the HR function. Senior executives from departments as diverse as finance or marketing or operations are finding their way to the CHRO position.1 Korn Ferry research indicates that 40 of the CHROs at Fortune 100 companies had significant work experience outside HR before they came to lead that function.2 The reason behind this seemingly baffling trend is quite simple. Human Resources is inextricably linked with the core business and is considered as a crucial driver of business value. The person heading this critical function has to understand Human Resources is the context of the business and the enterprise at large. Where earlier HR had only the briefest of glimpses into the inner workings of a large enterprise, today the head of HR strategy is expected to possess cross functional business acumen with a keen focus on P&L.3 Tim Huval, CHRO at Humana is an example of a CHRO who came with diverse experience in human resources, technology and operations. Huval was able to draw from his experiences to effect a cultural transformation in the way they approach change leadership, succession, organizational design, team building, talent acquisition, and stock performance. Lisa Buckingham, CHRO at Lincoln Financial Group also holds the post of the company’s Chief Brand and Communications Officer and has been successful in establishing LFE as a powerful employer brand.4
The modern CHRO is an integral part of the core team that shapes organizational policy and business objectives. He or she works with the CEO in setting the course for the organization’s move forward. A hard working CHRO who can merely execute orders or carry out administrative duties will find himself inadequate and eventually redundant in today’s scenario. From identifying talent requirements, mapping talent to departments and roles, to strategizing on processes and policies, todays CHRO takes the lead in defining a company’s very existence and is crucial for its growth. She has to be proactive and be equipped with the conceptual foresight and strategic skills required for addressing future challenges. The best example of this is Laszlo Bock, CHRO at Google. As Forbes magazine puts it, “Many of the latest trends in talent management have been incubated, implemented and validated under Bock’s 9-year tenure at Google. Bock’s relentless pursuit of cracking the code on what makes people tick, makes people fit, makes people contribute, and makes people happy will likely keep him breaking new ground at Google for year to come”.
No business exists in vacuum and the modern enterprise is particularly susceptible to a number of risk elements. The modern CHRO has to necessarily be aware of the context or the environment within which the enterprise operates and the risks and opportunities that this environment poses. Considering that we are now working with five distinct generations and addressing the never heard before expectations of the millennials, I cannot stress the importance of this point any more. It is critical that the CHRO is aware of the mind sets of each generation and has a strategy to address it. It is critical that the CHRO knows what other companies are doing with reference to talent and is able to accordingly set his company’s policies. It is critical that the CHRO’s opinion on future enterprise plans is based on solid awareness of environmental and market conditions and that she is able to formulate a comprehensive strategy to meet requirements effectively.
A flair for technology
Technology has changed the world as we know it and business and HR are no exceptions. Like almost everything else today, data and effective analysis of data can change the way the HR department functions. Effective data analysis can help CHRO’s identify trends, pinpoint problem areas and help bring in a different perspective on most issues facing the organization. Of course mere data analytics is not the complete answer, CHROs will need to combine the facts presented by analytics with the strength of their experience, awareness and knowledge to arrive at a truly effective strategy. This is not the only reason why I think a flair for technology is an important characteristic for the CHRO. As more and more millennials join the workforce, we have to learn to speak their language in order to truly engage with them. Technology savviness is a basic millennial characteristic and they expect technology interface at every step of their work day. Obsolete processes and systems will leave this generation frustrated and alienated. A tech savvy CHRO can put in place processes and operations that are tech optimized for those that demand it.
Like everything else in life, change is the only constant for the enterprise. As operating environments get more and more complex and challenges grow manifold, the CHRO has to emerge as a strong strategic advisor to the CEO, driving change and business value for an organization that is changing and evolving as well.