The ultimate career goal for many HR professionals is to land the chief human resources officer (CHRO) title. The value of the CHRO has steadily increased in recent years, often heralded one of the most important or influential jobs in the company. Many consider it the best step toward becoming CEO, a position focused on everything from developing leaders and attaining growth to aligning goals with business plans.
“Next-generation CHROs will perform like the CEO of an HR solutions company, enabling human capital solutions for their company. They are not administering programs. They are creating impact and a return on the money invested in the company’s talent systems.” -Alan Guarino (@AlanGuarino), Vice Chairman - CEO & Board Service at Korn Ferry
In order to add CHRO to your title, you must understand the what the role of CHRO truly means. Though each organization might differ, overall, a CHRO is responsible for aligning business strategy with succession planning, talent management, organizational and talent performance, training and development and compensation. The CHRO acts as a bridge between the needs of human capital and the executive team.
Crucial Skills for a CHRO:
- Financial planning and forecasting
- Compliance and legal knowledge
- Talent acquisition and market knowledge
- Management training
- Learning and development
- Compensation and procurement costs
- Benefits administration
In a world where talent is the definitive differentiator between companies, services and products, the CHRO becomes the keeper of that talent and must move from cost center to revenue generator. But there are also a few things you probably won’t be doing.
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For example, if you enjoy the daily interactions with employees on all levels or have a love for hands-on HR practices, this position could very well separate you from both. That doesn’t mean you are no longer advocating for the wellbeing of employees. Working as a CHRO means standing in the front lines, closely strategizing with leadership ways to balance employee satisfaction and financial impact. It could mean a great deal of research and administrative work, and will definitely mean compromise. However, you will still be able to impact the managers and department heads you work with, as well as your team.
If a career as a CHRO still sounds like the right one for you, the following skills and traits will be critical to landing the role:
Business & Financial Acumen
This might be one of the biggest challenges of an HR professional because it is a departure from what you may have experienced in an HR role so far. CHROs will be focused on how human capital can best suit the business and be able to read, create and translate a P&L (Profit and loss statement). Bottom lines and productivity are key strategic drivers and will be the overwhelming focus. People outcomes like engagement and retention will still be critical, but the modern CHRO should be able to see the bigger picture. How does talent relate to the organization’s success and goals? Do not overlook the needs of your workforce and talent pipeline, just understand how both relate to business’ goals and financial health.
Affinity for Strategy
A CHRO’s job is synonymous with strategy. It’s critical a CHRO can see the organization’s bigger picture and how it translates to actionable steps. A CHRO is capable of thinking strategically, prioritizing top level concerns while remembering to plan for future issues. At the same time, the CHRO should be willing to do some of the hard work themselves. While the role requires a lot of planning, any good executive will admit that leading by example and working as an equal can pose great reward. Succession planning, staffing new offices, regional expansion and product development and selection are all areas where a strategic mindset will benefit a CHRO.
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Accepting a role on the executive level means there is clear demonstration of leadership excellence and evidence it will impact the company successfully. A CHRO should be seen as a mentor and confidante as well as a respected peer by colleagues. Those who can retain and develop a team will do best at an executive level, even if a great deal of daily work is performed solitarily. Your fellow executives will need to know they can rely on you for guidance as well as positive reinforcement to the culture they want instilled in the company at all levels. Dawn Hrdlica-Burke, HR Writer and Speaker and Former VP of People, emphasizes the need for trust at this level in the company.
“You know people trust you when they can be vulnerable with you. When your CEO says, we’re doing this really scary thing, and I need your help to guide me through it.”
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One survey found that 66% of CHROs had previously been exposed to a board prior to becoming a CHRO. It isn’t always a requirement, but those who have been involved at the board level tend to understand the unique skills needed to successfully interact with members. Serving on a board allows the future CHRO to understand all the decisions that go into even the smaller workings of a company and to work with other board members to balance the priorities of multiple departments, stakeholders, employees and executives. In public companies, understanding how talent management and HR impact shareholders is essential for the CHRO role.
Having worked in the HR profession for typically over a decade, CHROs have dealt with and experienced a good number of organizational and personal issues. A CHRO must have great communication and interpersonal skills which only come with a high level of emotional intelligence.
"In fact, emotional intelligence—the ability to, say, understand your effect on others and manage yourself accordingly—accounts for nearly 90% of what moves people up the ladder when IQ and technical skills are roughly similar." -Laura Wilcox, Director of Management Programs at Harvard
Ability to Use Data
Modern HR departments understand the importance of HR analytics. Today, 97% of respondents in one survey said that they collected at least some HR data. When the right data is collected and analyzed, HR departments can make more informed hiring and managing decisions. They are better equipped to satisfy and engage the workforce as well as make better business decisions. A CHRO will need to understand these important data points and how they relate to the organizational goals. Not only will a CHRO understand HR analytics, they will know how data is gathered and will be keenly aware of potential faults in the process.
Want to better understand HR analytics? Download our guide, Becoming a Data-Driven HR Function.
Desire to See Change
Many executive-level employees are tasked with driving change. The leader of HR is someone who not only holds the goal of change, but also the responsibility of communicating that change to the organization. A great CHRO will be motivated by the potential to affect positive influences through their decisions and capable of helping others understand those rewards. If anyone is going to strategize communication plans and smooth over bumps that come with adjustments, it is the CHRO. That means you as a CHRO should be prepared for the possibility of resistance and prepared to be persistent and tactical. “Feedback will not always be accurate or grounded in reality but it is the leader’s duty to ask for it, as well as respond to it.” – Brent Gleeson, Forbes Contributor.
Becoming a CHRO isn’t for everyone, but the path to it creates big wins for any organization. If you’re interested in a career path that leads to being a CHRO, you will need great dedication to the HR field. Start some of your high-level research with our guide, Execute Organizational Goals Through Alignment. After reading this guide, you will better understand the art of setting and tracking company-wide goals.
As the head of a department in the midst of a sustained period of rapid growth, Sara has spent hundreds of hours interviewing, hiring, onboarding and assessing employees and candidates. She is passionate about sharing the best practices she has learned from both successes and failures in talent acquisition and management.