Anatomy of a CHRO: What Makes an Effective HR Leader
What makes an effective HR leader? Discover the anatomy of a CHRO—from head to feet—they may be the most complex executives in the C-suite. Get the infographic.
"In this new era of HR, CHROs must understand human performance, engagement, and productivity in combination with business data to meet today’s complex challenges. Winning organizations know that talent outcomes are determined by the collective sum of everyday decisions made by front-line managers. These distributed decisions about people will add up to meaningful, high-impact change—but only if the dots are connected." - Paul Rubenstein, CCO, Visier
Connecting the dots that add up to meaningful, high-impact change requires today’s CHROs to possess some key characteristics to be successful and to have the ears of their CEOs and C-suite executives. It’s not a job for the faint of heart. Here we take a look at the attributes that top-notch CHROs possess and how they apply these traits to serve their organizations effectively.
Despite the many changes that the field of human resources (HR) has seen over the last several decades, the profession remains at its heart a people profession. CHROs must understand and advocate for the employee. They need to be deeply invested in cultivating a culture that values people and creates great outcomes for people and the businesses they serve.
People and business success are inextricably entwined. As Human Capital COO Jaco Van Vuuren notes, for his organization, people analytics at Standard Bank Group "is about line management understanding their people better to make better talent, recruitment, and culture decisions."
Today’s advanced technology capabilities support CHROs in this role, automating the mundane and administrative aspects of their work to free up their time to be people-focused. That means putting processes in place to gather employee input, monitor employee sentiment, and establish two-way communication channels so employees feel included and valued.
CHRO at financial services company, Protective Life, Wendy Evesque comments: "People are the biggest part of our budget and expense as a company. It’s their capability that makes us successful."
Van Vuuren agrees. "People analytics for us is about line management understanding their people better to make better talent, recruitment, and culture decisions."
Over the past several years, HR has made an important shift from a focus on primarily soft skills to the use of data analysis to make decisions that are informed by facts rather than instincts. Today’s CHROs lead with data, allowing evidence to light the path forward. They look for patterns that reveal opportunities to create business impact through people–and people impact through business.
At Providence, a large healthcare system, Chief People Officer Greg Till points out that most executives are analytical by nature. "They care about data. They’re motivated more by data than qualitative assessments."
That’s an organizational reality that needs to drive HR practices.
"If our leaders are very wired to look at data and analyze data to help inform their decisions, why wouldn't we do the same thing when it comes to making decisions about talent in the organization?" Evesque asks.
That message is spreading through the HR ranks as CHROs focus on people analytics to inform their work. As Evesque says: "We always tell everyone who’s in our HR group that our expectation is that they're a businessperson first and an HR person second." The starting point in HR today, she says, is first developing good business people. "Then the HR skills complement that. We need to invest in people analytics for the sake of our business."
The pandemic experience has opened up the eyes of organizational leaders, including CHROs, to the need to continually monitor internal and external shifts to ensure the ability to react and respond quickly to the unexpected. While no one could have predicted the massive impacts COVID-19 had on the business environment, and HR, today’s CHROs are more aware than ever of the need for being visionary.
Successful CHROs need to be able to see around corners and ahead of the headlights, tapping into a keen understanding of market, societal, and cultural trends to shape and execute a progressive people strategy.
"We need to step into it to identify the top things to be looking at," Van Vuuren says. "Those things will be different each month."
The use of today’s technology allows CHROs to be visionaries. As Till shared: "Instead of asking ourselves do we have data that we can trust or data that is providing insights, we’re asking how can we get even better informed and use predictive modeling in a way that can help us predict what we see instead of continuing to look in the rearview mirror."
Yes, HR professionals are still focused on people. But today they need to balance that focus with an equal focus on business outcomes. Today’s CHROs are adept at calibrating advocacy for employees with advocacy for the business, understanding that one cannot be successful without the other.
Evesque points out that: "As we think about the future, five years out, it's more about understanding the external environment—how the demographics are shifting, how expectations are shifting for talent—both from a business side and employee side—and how our own business strategy is shifting and evolving."
Custodianship, says Van Vuuren, "is about quality and providing insights, but then putting it in the hands of management because that’s where employees are being managed."
Balancing customer, company, and employee needs is also an important part of today ’s CHROs responsibilities, says Till. "The thing that aligns us is that we start with the outcomes we're trying to create together for our caregivers, communities, and customers... and then identify what data and insights we need to understand to fully inform strategies."
HR’s administrative role has shifted significantly since the early days of the profession. CHRO leaders, in particular, don’t—and can’t—serve as order takers. They need to serve as the eyes and ears of the organization and to fearlessly bring forward issues, and solutions, even if they might meet with resistance among members of the C-suite, or employees.
Today’s CHROs are principled and determined, standing up for what’s best for employees and the business. They speak truth to power and lead with a passionate conviction for driving positive change.
Data can be a critical aid here, Till points out. Data, he says, "can help us stop interventions that haven’t been as successful or that we haven’t been able to prove out." Van Vuuren adds that HR is "not in the service game—we’re in the custodianship game." That requires courage and conviction. It is, of course, less risky, and less frightening to use data to make bold predictions or to recommend bold moves.
Today’s CHROs aren’t operating in a vacuum. They can, and are, using data and advanced analytics capabilities to draw conclusions, identify trends, and make predictions that both bolster their courage and boost their role as strategic advisors rather than tacticians.
There’s no room for navel-gazing in today’s business settings. Yes, data is foundational for sound business decisions and strategic analysis is a must-do. But business leaders, including CHROs, must go beyond numbers, digging into the details, walking the talk, and driving an agenda that is more than town hall platitudes to turn vision into programs, programs into action, and action into results.
Cascading data throughout the organization, and making that data available to all those who need it, is an important element of ensuring appropriate action.
At Standard Bank Group, Van Vuuren says, at the moment data is published all of the company’s senior leaders can see it. "They know the CEO is focused on it, so they make it a priority. And if they make it a priority, the next level of management will make it a priority." That drives action strategically and in a meaningful way while also allowing ongoing access to data that helps to determine whether actions are having the desired impact.
Evesque says that, at Protective Life, strategic priorities drive action while data aids in analysis. "Once a month we have a group of executive leaders who come together to look at our progress on strategic priorities."
In a business environment that is volatile and generally unpredictable, people remain a top priority. After all, it’s people who get the work done. Those people, though, need to be appropriately selected, deployed, managed, coached and counseled to drive desired business results. The role of the CHRO will continue to evolve, but one thing will remain constant: their commitment to people and performance. That commitment to people and performance will also continue to be supported by people analytics.
On the Outsmart blog, we write about workforce-related topics like what makes a good manager, how to reduce employee turnover, and reskilling employees. We also report on trending topics like ESG and EU CSRD requirements and preparing for a recession, and advise on HR best practices how to create a strategic compensation strategy, metrics every CHRO should track, and connecting people data to business data. But if you really want to know the bread and butter of Visier, read our post about the benefits of people analytics.