The Changing Role of the CHRO






To kick off the second day of Deloitte’s CHRO Academy event last week, Lisa Weber highlighted many of the challenges facing today's HR leaders. If you don’t know Lisa, she previously served as Chief Human Resources Officer, Chief Administrative Officer, and President of one of the largest operations at MetLife. We are lucky to have her as an advisor to Deloitte.

A few of the key themes from Lisa’s presentation are as follows.

The Bold, Business-savvy CHRO

Lisa provided data showing that turnover among CHROs in F100 companies is high: 39% over the past two years, in fact. Many of these roles have been filled with leaders from outside of HR – executives from marketing, finance, operations, or lines of business.  The turnover isn't that surprising, given that only 5 percent of respondents in our global survey rated their organization’s HR performance as excellent (see Figure 1.)


Driven by the need to deliver greater business impact and drive innovation, the CHRO role is changing. The need for CHROs with strong business and financial acumen is more pressing than ever. CHROs need to understand where the business is going and how the business makes money. Most HR leaders have only a fleeting glimpse of what really drives the business.

There is also tremendous pressure these days to be data-savvy. Data and analytics can help CHROs to see new directions and can bring better perspectives. But Lisa commented that the data alone is not enough. CHROs need to take those insights from the data and apply foresight – using their experience, wisdom, and judgment.   With this combination, great things can happen.

So CHROs need to be business-savvy and data-savvy, but they also need to be bold. What does “bold’ look like? Bold is advocating a point of view on the company’s critical growth areas and how to get there. Bold is identifying where the company is weak and proposing solutions. If your company is thinking of opening a facility in a new location, for example, speak up on the talent implications: Can we find the right talent there? How long will it take us to recruit? What are the local labor laws and practices? Is this a wise move from a talent perspective?

A bold CHRO is also proactive in identifying trouble spots and creating talent initiatives in response. During the keynote, an HR leader at a cosmetics company shared an initiative that originated from his CHRO. In response to flagging sales numbers, the organization built a sales capability COE within HR to help recruit and retain high performers. The CEO commented on how impressed he was that HR was proactively taking steps to increase sales – independently, without being asked or pressured. It reminded me of a conference I attended a few months ago where one business leader said in exasperation, “I don’t want my CHRO waiting for me to tell her what to do. I want her to tell me what we should be doing.”


Know Your Strengths

A recurring theme at the event was “play to your strengths.” Each person on the leadership team has a role to play, and by capitalizing on everyone’s particular skill sets, the team can be more effective. So work closely with others with complementary skills, such as your CIO, CFO, and CMO.  Leverage their expertise and perspectives in combination with your talent management prowess.

Too often we fixate on our (and our employees') weaknesses and spend countless hours trying to bolster these deficiencies. By focusing on what people do well, and understanding and leveraging the strengths of others, we have much greater potential to add value to the organization.

Within my own workgroup we are using Gallup’s StrengthsFinder to discover our individual talents. As an example, one of my strengths is that of an “Activator,” which Gallup describes as “someone who can make things happen by turning thoughts into action.” Activators can bring energy and clarity to others’ ideas and bring concepts to market; these individuals should team up with people with complementary skills, such as “Futurists."  By learning our strengths and sharing them with each other, we hope to get greater productivity out of our team.

Team members who understand each other’s abilities have greater trust and respect for each other. And they can selectively spend their time in certain areas, while leaving other areas to their teammates with other strengths. The team is therefore more efficient as well as effective.


Focus on What Matters

CHROs have a never-ending to-do list. Many try to do too much and end up working on things that don’t bring much value to the organization. Lisa’s advice: Be decisive about how you spend your time. Look at your to-do list and prioritize the most important items, then leave the rest

This advice reminded me of similar comments made by Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO, who said in an interview that if you are completing everything on your to-do list, you’ve probably spent time on some relatively unimportant tasks.

One priority for your to-do list: building relationships with business and functional leaders. In fact, Lisa recommended that 20% of your time should be spent networking. Oftentimes we let our calendars get filled up with meetings. Lisa’s advice: Don’t let your schedule manage you – you need to manage your schedule. Decide what meetings are critical and politely decline the rest.

And if you’re in a new HR leadership role, it’s important to get focused early. It can be a lot easier to make changes when you are fairly new in your role. Get to know the business and landscape first and then make some bold changes in the first year. If you wait too long, the opportunity for change may pass you by.


Be Mindful

Lisa talked about the importance of being mindful, or being present and fully aware. How many of us have this level of presence at work, or in our personal lives, for that matter? As Lisa pointed out, “It’s hard to be mindful when your mind is full.” Most of us are running at hyper-speed. So take some time to reflect, to bring focus to your thoughts, and to be fully present in the moment. You will likely see your judgment, decision-making, and relationships with others radically improve.

Oftentimes CHROs feel they have to have the answer to everything. “I don’t know” or “ I would like to think about that” are perfectly acceptable answers. We are much more effective when we respond, rather than react. Mindfulness helps us to respond.


Success is Deliberate   

Finally, one of the things I loved about Lisa’s talk was her quote, “Success is deliberate.” You need to decide to succeed and go after it. Pick just a few things and over-deliver on those. Then prioritize the next set of deliverables. Many CHROs feel the need to say ‘yes’ to everything and then get caught up doing busywork all day. It’s easy to lose perspective when you are doing too much.

The job of the CHRO requires hyper-prioritizing. But prioritizing often isn’t popular, and you will likely get pushback from other executives and business leaders, who are irritated that you’re not focusing on their requests. Be clear but firm about what you are working on and why. And by all means – deliver!

Madhura Chakrabarti

Employee Engagement & People Analytics Research Leader / Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Madhura leads the people analytics and employee engagement research practices at Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP. Highly regarded for her work in analytics, employee engagement, organizational development, and preemployment hiring assessments, Madhura helps corporations make data driven talent and business decisions. Her work has been published in the Journal of Business and Psychology and the Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work. Madhura has a doctorate in industrial / organizational psychology and a master of arts degree from Wayne State University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Delhi, India.

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