Why Your Organisation Needs a Chief HR Officer

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They play a critical role in bridging the divide between the leadership team and its people, impacting almost every touchpoint in an organisation and having the strategic vision needed to help achieve success. So, isn’t it time to elevate and celebrate the CHRO?

The Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) is a position of two halves. Not only do they need to nurture a strong partnership with their CEO, but they need to maintain trust with the workforce and represent their people from every aspect of the employee lifecycle. Yet despite this, according to research by McKinsey and the Conference Board, HR is ranked by CEOs worldwide as only the eighth or ninth most important function in a company. HR functions are still not seen as crucial to an organisational business strategy.

Considering that an organisation’s biggest asset is its people, it seems surprising that the CHRO role is languishing at the bottom of this list while other positions such as the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) have both been acknowledged as incremental to organisational success. So why is the Chief Human Resources Officer still being denied a spot in the C-suite despite its obvious importance?

The new wave of leadership

Post-pandemic leadership has changed and will likely never be the same. While the role of HR came into sharp focus during the global disruption, it only accelerated the changes there were already in motion. However, the evolution of HR has not yet come full circle. CEOs need to be agile and reactive to anything that comes their way; to this effect, they need their HR leaders more than ever before and the CHRO is perfectly placed to take on that challenge.

What exactly does the CHRO do?

The remit for a Chief Human Resource Officer is incredibly broad as the HR function within an organisation covers the entire employee journey from recruitment, onboarding and performance management to career development and eventual departure from the company (and often re-hire as well). While there are many job titles and job descriptions that fall under the umbrella of Human Resources including HR Generalist, HR Executive, HR Director, Head of People and Personnel Officer, it’s the Chief Human Resource Officer that heads up the entire function and acts as the primary contact with the leadership team.

This incredibly demanding dual-aspect role sees the CHRO take charge of the strategic vision that aligns with the organisation’s business objectives as well as all the areas of people management. This includes performance management, talent management, recruitment and retention, creating benefits and rewards initiatives, implementing learning and development (L&D) across the business and overseeing any change management or succession planning the business may undergo.

Not only is the CHRO in charge of facilitating all the above, but they have strategic reach over all areas of the business and foster key relationships with stakeholders and the senior management team, shaping the people vision and identifying how best to future-proof the talent pipeline and recruit the best people for the organisation. 

Building an organisational culture

One key task that the CHRO takes on is developing and implementing the organisational culture, whatever that may look like. Collaborating with the CEO and leadership team, they will identify the requirements needed to bring about this vision.

Shaping the employee experience vision

In line with the talent development strategy, the CHRO will explore the best practices for employee benefits, rewards, recognition and anything else that will shape the offering to current and prospective employees.

Executing the people management lifecycle

One of the most critical elements of the role, the Chief Human Resource Officer will be instrumental in determining hiring needs and implementing the necessary recruitment and retention processes required to achieve them. This will invariably mean working with recruiters from both inside and outside the business, building key relationships and maintaining best practice.

Ensuring compliance

The Chief Human Resource Officer needs to have an overview of employment law, compliance and best practice to ensure that all processes are adhered to. They will have a thorough understanding of all these regulations and stay abreast of any updates and new HR policies, in order to shape a business strategy that ensures compliance. 

Learning and Development (L&D)

Skills development is another critical responsibility of Chief Human Resource Officer. They will explore opportunities for the continuing professional development of all employees in order to help maintain the internal talent pipeline and expand the skills pool within the organisation.

Coaching and mentoring initiatives

Another area of interest and focus for the CHRO is the creation and management of coaching programmes for the management teams. They might also take responsibility for any mentoring schemes. This might be pairing up senior managers with emerging talent to help propagate the internal talent pipeline or provide opportunities for employee skills development outside any formal L&D programmes.

Focusing on DEI

While this might not be a typical CHRO responsibility, in some organisations the absence of a dedicated DEI officer or department will see the CHRO step forward. This might see them shaping DEI policies and strategy to ensure compliance in all areas of the business, particularly within any recruitment activities.

Behaviour and Performance

Outlining the organisational behaviours that employees are expected to display falls under the remit of the CHRO. In fact, despite this being traditionally the sole responsibility of the CEO, the CHRO will be instrumental in defining the core values and developing the framework for performance based on these expectations.

HR administration and Payroll

Various other areas of HR fall under the watchful eye of the CHRO namely employee discipline and conflict resolution. Payroll, holiday allowance, time-off, lay-offs, redundancy, contact termination and suspension are also managed by the CHRO.

What skills does a CHRO need to possess?

As the job description and scope of responsibility for a Chief Human Resource Officer is so diverse, the person selected for the role will inevitably have demonstrable experience in leadership roles. They might have a talent management background or be accustomed to implementing cross-organisation initiatives that drive forward company objectives.

One this in certain; a good CHRO is keen on the detail. Following the process to the letter is a given for most HR people, as is possessing excellent organisational skills. The differentiator here is that the individual is able to take a pragmatic and strategic approach when designing the business’ people strategy.

But isn’t a CHRO the same as an HR Director?

The short answer is no. While the title of HR Director carries weight within an organisation, it is the CHRO who is responsible for developing HR strategies and management of human resources. Rather than being purely concerned with recruitment, employee relations, and other day-to-day aspects of an HR director, the CHRO is tasked with creating the agenda for the entire organisational culture and providing that long-term overview that requires a strategic mindset and the skills to collaborate with other leaders to push forward the business agenda.

What makes the CHRO so critical?

The role of the CHRO is entirely dependent on the level of responsibility given to them by the CEO in order to conduct the requirements of the business from a people perspective. As well as being courageous and prepared to step up when it is needed, a good CHRO displays exceptional leadership skills to rival the CEO. They need to act as a businessperson, not as a human resources manager. These leadership skills are what will place the CHRO alongside the key leaders in the organisation to ensure the people strategy is focused, successful and aligned with the future growth of the business.