Can you be a great talent strategist and still not be effective in your role as an HR leader? I’ve seen it happen all too often.
As the leader of i4cp’s HR executive search practice, I have the privilege of connecting with many chief human resource officers and chief people officers. Our interactions extend beyond professional matters, occasionally delving into personal anecdotes about our adventurous, accident-prone children or unbelievable stories of what happens within company walls. As a trusted confidant, I’m privy to insights and disclosures rarely shared in the public domain.
Many of these discussions also center on i4cp’s research, from the intersection of AI and its implications on HR, to productivity enhancements, innovative organizational design and development, holistic wellbeing strategies, and the critical realm of diversity, equity and inclusion. While these themes span a broad spectrum, two recurrent topics consistently dominate discussions: crafting dynamic talent strategies and achieving board alignment—aligning closely to the needs and interests of the company’s board of directors. And you can’t truly be effective at the former without accomplishing the latter.
Why knowing talent isn’t enough
CHROs and their teams invest considerable time and resources in sculpting talent strategies that attract, retain and advance essential talent within their organizations. Winning the war for talent requires an orchestrated effort across HR domains, particularly talent acquisition, learning and development, management and performance management. This effort, in partnership with business, at each phase of the talent lifecycle, is integral to success.
The rise in the chief talent officer role is a testament to the importance of the comprehensive talent management strategy required for future organizational growth. Organizations that integrate these functions seamlessly also focus on culture health and as a result, see a positive impact on attraction and retention.
Very fit (healthy) cultures are four times more likely to have experienced improved retention of current employees. They are three times more likely to report the ability to attract top talent since 2020, according to i4cp’s study Culture Fitness: Healthy Habits of a High-Performance Organizations.
Effective integration requires deliberate and thoughtful approaches to planning and implementing under the direction of a chief talent officer or synchronized efforts across these functions within an HR leadership team. To make this all happen and happen well, I often advise HR leaders (regardless of domain expertise) to deeply understand the business. Gone are the days of operating as isolated specialists.
What helped me add immediate value in my HR-specific roles was that I had spent more than a decade in the business as a practitioner who understood leadership priorities and strategies for corporate growth. However, while talent undeniably forms the bedrock of business and is a cornerstone of growth, over-indexing on talent can inadvertently limit the horizons of CHROs and CPOs. This is where board alignment helps amplify the impact of an incredible CHRO/CPO.
Aligning—and leading—your board of directors
I recently spent time with members of i4cp’s 2023 Up Next Cohort, an intimate, six-month program that develops CHRO readiness. During two of the sessions, Pete Ramstad, an accomplished strategy and organizational consultant and former CHRO, delved into the art of engaging with boards. He spoke in depth about how to best engage with boards, and two pivotal insights stood out:
1. Make sure you understand the board members’ perspective.
This includes governance in addition to strategy and leadership. When CHROs lead only with talent strategy, they often find themselves out of alignment with the board. As an example, a CHRO working with the compensation committee brings a one-sided talent perspective without considering the many issues regarding compensation governance; this leads to challenges if you don’t holistically integrate both.
As Pete shared with me, “Ensure that you recognize the governance role of the board to demonstrate that you are a CHRO who is capable of balancing shareholder, company and employee interests.”
2. The role of a CHRO is to collaborate effectively with stakeholders (spanning employees, executives, the board and sometimes shareholders), drive necessary change and deliver measurable results.
Sometimes, this results in massive transformations or company turnarounds; other times, it may mean operationalizing for scale. In all cases, it requires that CHROs help their organization think about talent decisions within frameworks that represent the CHRO’s point of view and that can be taught to the board. These principles extend to board interactions as well.
Pete imparted invaluable counsel: “Teach the board so that they are using your problem-solving frameworks to address key talent issues, rather than imposing their own framework on you as CHRO.”
CHROs occasionally grapple with various board viewpoints and over-index to seek approval, inadvertently adopting preexisting, ineffective frameworks. This can take discussions off-course, yielding suboptimal outcomes. Effectively leveraging board interactions mandates CHROs not only follow but lead—a chance to establish the tempo, direction and innovative methods through new perspectives and frameworks.
Balance and integration
I’m proud to see more CHROs and their teams continue to move from tactical executors to strategic consultants with strong abilities to influence the business, executives and boards. Considering a holistic approach that balances talent strategies with board alignment will continue to increase CHRO impact.