The HR function is becoming increasingly more critical from a strategic business standpoint. For some organizations, that means introducing a new C-level role—the CHRO, or Chief Human Resource Executive. But, not every HR professional is poised to step into this role. For those HR pros who have the interest and, potentially, the aptitude, to move into a C-suite role what will it take in 2016?
Bo Carrington is a leadership and human resources expert and the managing director of Triangle Performance, LLC, in San Antonio. Moving to a C-level role, says Carrington, “takes a different mindset as well as a different application of the skills that a good HR generalist needs.” Most significantly, he notes, HR pros hoping for C-level recognition need to view themselves as “a business person in HR, rather than an HR person in business.” It’s a subtle, but important, distinction.
“A good CHRO is a business-minded professional that, like a CFO or CMO, brings a requisite set of skills and knowledge forward to help steer, drive and grow the business,” says Carrington. “In short, a good CHRO needs to know HR, but more importantly how HR impacts the business in the short-term, long-term, deep into the business and across the business,” he says.
“Simply put, a good CHRO has to be able to view the business through a human resources lens at a high level, and also be able to look not only in terms of breadth, or time, but depth, or systemic impacts.” Most importantly, he adds, HR pros hoping to gain a C-suite role, must “be able to communicate to other business leaders the value of what they see and/or know, now and in the future.”
That combination of functional HR know-how, and a strategic mindset is critical, agrees Matt Brubaker, Ed.D. president of FMG Leading, a consulting firm with offices in San Diego and Philadelphia. “The best CHRO’s have mastered the HR blocking and tackling,” he says. “Sounds counter-intuitive, because the quest for CHRO is about getting above and beyond the transactional work into a more strategic role, but the best CHRO’s have a deep understanding of the core HR systems and can lead them effectively to align with a strategy,” Brubaker points out. “The aspiring CHRO who thinks this work is beneath them, doesn’t have much to offer at ‘the table’.”
Like Carrington, Brubaker says, “The best CHROs integrate two streams: the irreplaceable value of an organization’s human capital and the business. The best CHROs speak business first, HR second.”
Specifically, adds Ken Taylor, president of Training Industry, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, CHROs must possess skills in the following areas:
- Extremely strong business acumen;
- Consulting skills, especially related to organizational development;
- A thorough knowledge of the legal and compliance environment
- A strong process orientation, including knowledge of workflows, interdependencies and team development;
- A clear understanding of compensation strategy, options and risks; and
- The abilities to lead, recommend and endorse solutions and give direction outside of their core competency.
“A successful CHRO,” says Taylor, “is a team-builder, is highly networked, an engaged listener, and a problem-solver who is able to synthesize a large amount of data and make appropriate interpretations, with a clear bias toward finding solutions and solving problems.”
HR and business pros’ perspectives on what it takes to succeed in the C-suite are important, but insights from CEOs about what they look for in a C-level HR role can be especially telling.
Joel Trammell, is CEO of Khorus, an Austin, Texas-based enterprise leadership platform firm, and shares what he looks for in a CHRO. First and foremost, Trammell says, the CHRO must have the credibility and experience necessary to advise the CEO on strategy—specifically, whether the organization has the talent resources on hand to meet its predicted outcomes, and if not, how to bridge that gap.
This means, he says, that CHRO candidates must be comfortable with strategic planning, leadership development and meaningful performance evaluation. Increasingly, this also means that CHRO candidates need to be familiar with HR analytics, and must be able to deliver clear, actionable insights about the talent pool to the CEO.
The skills, attributes and experience needed to succeed in a CHRO role are pretty simple, just not easy, says Carrington. “First and foremost, the HR leader needs a solid business foundation,” he notes. That doesn’t mean they need a degree in accounting or finance, but they do need to understand how business operates and how their business operates.
Next, Carrington says, they need to understand how the levers they control can, and do, impact the business. But, he adds, “Unlike many of my peers who say that a good CHRO needs line experience or P&L experience, I disagree.” They do, though, he says, “have to have enough business experience and savvy that they can develop the needed credibility with their peers and the CEO to show that you don’t have to burn your hand to know something is hot!”
Not every HR professional is cut out for, or may even desire, a C-level role. But, for those who do, building a foundation of strong business competencies is a must. Don’t be an HR person in a business role. Be a business person who also excels at HR.
Is there a CHRO role in your organization? What competencies do you feel make CHROs valued business partners?