Article: What do CEOs want from their CHROs, R Gopalakrishnan decodes for us

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What do CEOs want from their CHROs, R Gopalakrishnan decodes for us

Bestselling Author & Former Vice Chairman, HUL and ED, Tata Sons, R. Gopalakrishnan spills the secret of achieving responsible growth by bringing people, business and governance in unison in an exclusive conversation.
What do CEOs want from their CHROs, R Gopalakrishnan decodes for us


If people are the fuel for running an organisation, and business is the road, then governance is the steering wheel navigating through the good and bad roads. Governance represents how businesses are run, where decision-making lies in the hands of the CEO.

CEOs can often succumb to being too results-oriented, overlooking psychological needs and showcasing aberrant behaviour towards their people. In such scenarios, it’s the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) who acts as the guide and true business partner in bringing harmony between people, business and governance.

To understand the interplay of these three factors and the holistic approach needed to pave the way for sustainable growth, resilience, and enduring success, People Matters sat down with R. Gopalakrishnan, Former Vice Chairman-HUL and ED-Tata Sons & Bestselling Author. 

From the impact of people and governance in creating a good or bad business to the importance of keeping people at the centre for a business to be successful, Gopalakrishnan spoke his heart out on the sidelines of People Matters and Keka HRTech Conclave for Emerging Businesses 2023.

How CHROs can reserve a seat on the board

CHROs are expected to have a substantial background in people management, but their role goes beyond just HR for the company. When asked about the dos and don’ts for CHROs to bring more value to the board, Gopalakrishnan said: “You are hired to the board because of your business judgement; you happen to have experience in HR, marketing or finance. The expectation from a CHRO is his/her experience in judging situations. Anyone joining the board without a track record of judgement will be less than adequate.”

Gopalakrishnan bats for a diversified career for anyone aspiring to join the board of directors and not just restrict themselves to HR roles to garner the experience of “dealing with people and human relations.”

Referring to his book ‘Inside the Boardroom: How Behaviour Trumps Rationality,’ Gopalakrishnan says: “Behaviour is a predictor of the future and not rationality.” The book explores directors’ behaviour in the boardroom and its impact on corporate governance. In his book, he has explained why directors and boards need to observe human behaviour and boardroom dynamics, as behavioural and cultural nuances are significant aspects in most incidents of mismanagement leading to governance failure.

Blind spots HR leaders need to work on 

Referring to the common mistakes CHROs make, he emphasised the importance of having an unbiased and open mind. The best way to deal with blind spots as a CHRO is to have an open mind, says Gopalakrishnan. “If you come to a board meeting with a pre-decided solution, you have inadvertently shut out other people’s ideas.” 

The second technique, according to Gopalakrishnan, is listening. “The act of listening itself makes the toughest of issues softer. It may not always solve the problem but surely makes it easy to handle the problem at hand.”

The third solution is being aware. You can’t solve the problem without being conscious of your own blind spots as a CHRO. “Going with an opinion about others, without being aware of our own shortcomings, can be a showstopper.

Interplay between People, Business and Governance

Organisations are, by default, set in a way that people, business and governance are treated as separate functions and thus assigned to different departments. But in reality, they are interconnected and need a holistic approach to create the desired harmony.

Instead of a functional approach, finding the root cause of a problem by taking a holistic view can go a long way in driving growth, optimising operations and enhancing employee experience. This principle should also be applied in organisations to come to conclusions and not restrict HR to just a functionary. 

He also hosted a highly interactive session on “Seeking Growth With Responsibility - People, Business and Governance” at the conclave, emphasising the “adaptability quotient” and “human intelligence” in an era of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data-driven business decisions. “The heart holds the key to the mind and governance. HR leaders today need to bring the heart into HR,” he said at the Bangalore Edition of HRTech Conclave for Emerging Businesses 2023.

Gopalakrishnan expressed his concerns about how CEOs are relying on AI in current times. He rooted for HI or Human Intelligence. “Today, the adaptability of the human mind is lagging. And it’s the future role of HR leaders to become the catalyst (for CEOs) by embracing change and bringing the heart back to HR,” he concluded in his closing note.

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Topics: Talent Management, Leadership, #SMEcorner, #Leaders Talk

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