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This is What Happens to the C-Suite in the War for Talent

CHROs aren't on a linear HR career path anymore.
By: | December 28, 2018 • 2 min read

The war for talent has made its way into the C-Suite, but not in the same manner that it’s impacted everyone else. Rather, employers are finally beginning to recognize the importance of the CHRO. The CHRO is the top-tier expert in talent management and acquisitions, skills that have been thrust into the spotlight in our fiercely competitive job market. There’s also been a dramatic shift in focusing on company culture, and employee and candidate experiences, which also fall directly into the realm of HR.

What’s interesting, however, is that the makeup of CHROs is changing. According to an article from Quartz, larger employers are beginning to think differently about what (and who) they want from their CHROs.

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“In the same way the corporate world treated chief financial officers with new reverence in the wake of the corporate malfeasance scandals that dominated business headlines in the early aughts, and gave CFOs responsibilities they’d never had before—indeed, the regulatory response to the scandals literally required it—companies are beginning to redefine the role and expectations of their CHROs,” writes Heather Landy, global news editor and managing editor at Quartz.

Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive search firm, conducted research last year analyzing Fortune 100 companies’ CHROs. What they found was that CHROs aren’t on a linear HR career path, instead they’re rapidly being appointed from other departments. For example, there was a 56 percent increase in CHROs (appointed within the past three years) with international experience, a 50 percent increase in those with general management experience and a 75 percent increase in those with corporate communications experience.

Landy pointed to Kathleen Hogan, chief people officer and executive VP of HR for Microsoft, as a recent example of the CHRO shift. Hogan served as a developer for Oracle and a partner at McKinsey & Co. but never held an HR title. That certainly hasn’t stopped her from doing great things in HR for Microsoft. For instance, we mentioned earlier this year that she revamped the review process into “Talent Talks.”

Another interesting question that comes from this research is whether the CHRO role will ever be a direct pathway to CEO. Though it’s not as common as going from, say, COO to CEO, there’s a clear opportunity for CHROs to make it to the top. Given how much business has already started to shift its focus to talent management, it would just make sense.

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Take, for example, a recent C-Suite analysis from Heidrick & Struggles. The executive search firm evaluated 80 CEOs and 36 CHROs and found that while CEOs outperformed CHROs on eight of 11 factors that accelerate leadership performance, CHROs dominated what the firm considers the two most important factors: building talent and teams, and inspiring and influencing people.

“To be a good business leader, you need to understand HR,” Dominic Barton, managing partner emeritus of McKinsey & Co. told Quartz. “I hope we’ll see more CEOs coming from the HR function, and we’ll see more line leaders spending time in HR. There has to be a transformation there.”

Danielle Westermann King is a former staff writer for HRE.

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