Becoming—or grooming—your organization’s next CHRO

Posted by  Tom Morrison and Joanne Stephane on August 1, 2017.

If your goal is the CHRO chair, how are you preparing yourself to take the helm? If you are a senior HR executive, how are you grooming your successor?

By their own admission, HR executives are struggling to keep up with the near constant change and disruption that characterize business today. The scorecard measurements in our annual Global Human Capital Trends surveys show little to no improvement, and even some slippage, in how survey respondents rated their HR function’s capabilities over the last three years. Only 35 percent rated their capabilities good or excellent this year, down from 39 percent last year and 36 percent in 2015.1

The C-suite and Board expect better than a C grade from HR, including the ability to lead through the disruption to drive sustainable performance and meaningful results. The 40+ participants in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s 2017 Next Generation Chief Human Resources Officer Academy are two to five years away from taking on the CHRO role in their organizations, which included a number of prominent national and global companies. The Academy focused on helping them build their own personal leadership skills and networks in preparation for the top HR job. The agenda included guest speakers, subject matter experts, and Deloitte practitioners, who shared thought leadership and perspectives based on their personal experience and their work with a variety of organizations in the field.

Among the most important takeaways for aspiring CHROs to consider:

Speak up: CEOs and Boards expect candor and forthrightness.
One of the guest speakers, a retired CEO and current Board member, noted the expectation that a CHRO should be a critical strategic adviser to the CEO and someone who is not afraid to speak truth to power and put his or her own job on the line in order to do so.

Examine and broaden your thinking and approaches.
Speakers and coaches urged participants to be aware of the biases they bring to conversations and guard against letting those biases sway their thinking and keep them from being objective. Seeking other perspectives and building a diverse team is considered critical to driving innovation and the best possible team and company outcomes.

Be a savvy communicator.
In a similar vein, how a CHRO translates thoughts into words and actions was reinforced through hands-on coaching and role playing. Effective communication relies on a mix of words and body language, along with the ability to adjust to the audience receiving the message. Participants discussed the principles of Business Chemistry®, which focuses on understanding the behavioral dynamics encountered in business interactions in order to engage and interact more effectively with individuals and in teams. On a broader communication level, CHROs also have a role in the public messaging of the organization and how its brand is portrayed, and should become adept at working with PR, legal, and marketing resources to help drive and support that messaging.

Champion—and model—diversity and inclusion.
With diversity and inclusion often categorized as solely a “people issue,” HR is often thought of as the default owner. However, as called out in this year’s Global Human Capital Trends report, it is actually a CEO issue that affects brand, culture, corporate purpose, and performance. For the CHRO, then, the goal should be to help the CEO and all leaders take ownership of and weave diversity and inclusion standards into their day-to-day behavior, becoming a model for others to emulate.

Pay it forward.
Even as next-gen CHROs are working on their own leadership skills and traits, they should be thinking about how to cultivate those attributes in others. This extends to members of their own HR teams as well as in the organization as a whole, working with the Board, C-suite, and business and functional leaders to assess needs and provide appropriate and diverse development opportunities.

Prepare for the unexpected.
One of the qualities of effective CHROs is the ability to peer around corners and anticipate what might be coming, both within and outside their typical role and responsibilities. For example, Next Gen CHRO Academy participants had the opportunity to take part in a war room simulation of a cybersecurity attack and resulting data breach, where they had to manage the situation and its follow-on impact on employees, customers, markets, and reputation. While this scenario is becoming more likely, it’s probably not one a future CHRO typically prepares for unless, perhaps, the organization has already been a victim. The takeaway lesson is the need to anticipate and prepare for the fullest potential range of the senior HR role—both day to day and in times of crisis.

Above all, think strategically about disruption.
Cyberattacks are certainly one form of (abrupt) disruption, but there are other, ongoing forms that can be just as devastating if not strategically managed. For example, the workforce is facing unprecedented levels of disruption from several fronts: impending Baby Boomer retirements; multiple generations and diverse populations in the workforce at the same time, with very different needs and expectations; the gig economy and the need to accommodate the changing nature of work; the rising role of artificial intelligence and robotics—a long and varied list. These are all critical CHRO issues that demand strategic thinking and an approach that drives enterprise-wide impact.

As an aspiring CHRO or a current CHRO grooming a successor, the goal is to build the knowledge, insights, and experience to be effective in the role today, an active and valued member of the senior executive team, and future ready for tomorrow.

Tom Morrison is a principal in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, helping clients maximize the value of their talent investments.
Joanne Stephane is a senior manager in the HR Transformation and Service Delivery practice of Deloitte Consulting of LLP. She leads end-to-end global HR Transformation programs, strategy through implementation, to help clients achieve sustainable results.

1 Josh Bersin, et. al., Introduction: Rewriting the rules for the digital age, 2107 Global Human Capital Trends, Deloitte University Press, February 28, 2017.

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