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How CHROs can strengthen their careers with informal advisors

Since the onset of the pandemic, the role of the CHRO has become increasingly complex, as HR leaders have tackled everything from creating new work environments to assisting employees with rapidly rising mental health issues and financial wellness concerns.

Now, CEOs are pushing for a return to the office while employees resist. These responsibilities, coupled with the growing expectations from the C-suite and board of directors of having a strategic CHRO on board, have made the role of a CHRO more demanding. In such a challenging environment, informal advisors like other CHROs, CEOs, or high-ranking executives in other departments can be valuable resources, says Bill Conaty, president of Conaty Consulting and former senior vice president of human resources for General Electric.

In addition to helping CHROs navigate increasing pressure, informal advisors can be crucial to reducing the isolation CHROs often feel, and that can stunt their growth. CHROs may operate in a lonely role, where they are part of the C-suite but many feel like outliers whose function is treated differently than others, Academy to Innovate HR found in a report. Savvy CHROs will seek out informal advisors to help them navigate, grow and excel in their role, says Conaty, who oversaw GE’s HR department for 15 years before retiring in 2007.

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“Establishing relationships, learning from those people, following up with them with a phone call or meeting is how you can really spread your wings,” says Conaty.

And he should know. Hundreds of the nation’s top HR executives have worked with Conaty over the years, resulting in his reputation as having built an HR coaching tree, reports executive recruiting firm Korn Ferry. This network includes Brian McNamee, former CHRO for Amgen, Rino Piazzolla, former senior executive vice president of HR for UniCredit and Marc Chini, former chief people officer at Kohl’s.

After leaving GE, Conaty joined private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier and Rice as an advisory partner to help the HR teams of the firm’s portfolio companies. Currently, Conaty is active as a Distinguished Fellow at the National Academy of Human Resources (NAHR) and sits on the board of trustees at Bryant University. He also has an endowed chair at Cornell University’s Center for Advanced HR Studies.

Conaty recently sat down with Human Resource Executive for a video interview on how HR leaders can identify the best informal advisors to help them grow as CHROs and how to develop and maintain those relationships. Here’s what he had to say.

Dawn Kawamoto, Human Resource Executive
Dawn Kawamoto
Dawn Kawamoto is HR Editor of Human Resource Executive. She is an award-winning journalist who has covered technology business news for such publications as CNET and has covered the HR and careers industry for such organizations as Dice and Built In prior to joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected] and below on social media.