The future of work is changing and so are the expectations from leaders and employees alike. With talent becoming an imperative, the role of HR and a CHRO has elevated in the recent times. But in a world that’s becoming competitive, digital, and AI-driven by the minute, what role will a CHRO play in the future workplace? What does the CHRO need to be equipped with to solve challenges around reinventing the business and bringing transformation through human capital?
In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, Eva Sage-Gavin, Senior Managing Director, Global Talent and Organization Practice, Accenture, sheds light on how the equations between the CHROs and businesses have changed over time and what the role of the CHRO entails when it comes to the future of work. Eva Sage-Gavin is responsible for shaping the market strategy for the Talent & Organization practice across Accenture, including its offerings and investment initiatives. She leads the team that helps Accenture’s clients harness digital technologies and evolve their workforces to innovate, unlock new sources of value and “lead in the new.” She also plays a pivotal role in shaping the practice’s market strategy, including offerings and investments. In her previous role, she served as a senior advisor at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and contributed to BCG's CEO Advisory Practice, directly coaching CEOs. She has also served as a senior adviser to G100 companies, supporting CEOs, board directors and CHROs and has served for over 30 years in executive human resource officer and C-suite leadership roles at companies like Gap Inc, PepsiCo, Disney, Sun Microsystems and Xerox.
How has role of the CHRO and the expectations from the role changed over time? How has this influenced the equation that the CHRO shares with other business heads?
A major trend that I have seen in organizations is that today, everyone is considered a business leader with the responsibility of solving a business challenge — whether pertaining to growth, attaining competitive advantage, innovation, or market presence. Particularly with the role of the CHROs, I have seen that the expectations from them have changed. And there are three major asks from anyone who occupies the role of the CHRO. The first is the general business experience that an individual holds i.e. if the person has had a direct business responsibility. The second is how global the experience has been. So what is the experience in terms of maximizing the sources of talent or supply chain globally? The third is capability around core analytics, financial, and data analytics acumen. I feel all these three demands have really shaped the role of the CHRO and the equation that a CHRO shares with other business leaders.
The roles of HR and the CHRO have evolved to becoming business partners. But this partnership goes much beyond. Where do you think the opportunity lies?
New relationships are emerging in terms of leadership in this triangle of the CEO, the CFO, and the CHRO. I think that is an unprecedented opportunity for impact. But I also believe that when you are given the opportunity, there is tremendous responsibility and expectation. There is a need for the CHROs to be value creators, have deep subject matter expertise, and the ability to provide predictive insights. There is a lot of dialogue about moving from lagging indicators to predicting sources of untapped value. The best-in-the-industry know where the source of the best talent in the world is, they know how to renew it, keep it agile and fresh, and they can predict if people are more or less engaged, and intervene before they have to face a loss. And just like the CFO, who has tools like standard accounting principles, CHROs now also have tools like analytics to dispense. Those who are investing in such tools are not only changing the face of their companies but also that of the function. They are changing learning, rewards systems, as well as social roles. We will realize a few years down the line that a CHRO’s role has become one of the three most pivotal roles.
How is the relationship between the CHROs and boards maturing?
HR now has an important seat at the board and talks directly to the board. The role of the CHRO is getting more respect and value as the CHRO now holds HR data curated with the help of predictive analytics. Today, a CHRO can come in with predictive analytics and talk about the major satisfiers and dissatisfiers for the business. The ability to make data-backed decisions is what brings the CHROs at par with the CEO and the CFO at the board level.
Instead of responding to a disruptive technology, CHROs need to plan for disruption. They need to plan for a best case scenario, a mid-case scenario, a worst case scenario, and a brand new way of preparing for opportunities and risks
What do CHROs need to keep at the top of their minds to combat the future of work?
This idea of disruption and how one is able to look at the possible scenarios and to have workforce plans that are proactive is a new area of decision science and capability. I work a lot with leaders, and in a typical organization, a leader will have 20+ years of experience, they would have graduated from an academic philosophy and learnt certain management sciences. Now all of a sudden, some of the most productive and value-adding individuals in an organization might have only 2-3 years of tenure. Their specialty might be data analytics or artificial intelligence or value chain analysis. So the biggest challenge before a CHRO is to keep the business model agile and respond fast enough to the rapid market shifts. If you are a CHRO of a 3000+ organization with decades of history, instead of responding to a disruptive technology, you need to plan for disruption. You need to plan for a best-case scenario, a mid-case scenario, a worst case scenario, and a brand new way of preparing for opportunities and risks.
How imperative is it for CHROs to harness the power of digital technologies to innovate, unlock new sources of value and transform their organizations?
The idea of now-ness, instantaneous real-time sensing, and predictive ability is made possible by technology today. It is important for CHROs to look at human capital not as ‘production agents’ but as human beings with hopes, aspiration, capabilities, backgrounds; and use advanced analytics to unlock these untapped sources of value. Their focus should also be on transformation driven by talent, on the basis of an innovation index, agility index, or other new capabilities that cutting edge CHROs are bringing to their organizations.
The idea is to find out the critical elements that will have the most impact. CHROs will need to figure out where the most innovation will occur and ask if their teams are ready to respond to the market conditions, how fast they can train them, and how many skill categories would be impacted. This extraordinary level of predictive capability will enable strategies that will give the best return on investment.
Also, let humans do what they do best, and let machines do what they do best. But remember that data is not perfect and without human judgment and interpretation, you could find yourself not getting the results you want.