The Evolving Role Of Chief Human Resource Officers

Nov 19, 2018 1 Min Read


It was the end of a long and stressful day in the midst of a multi-day strategic planning session. Most of the C-suite executives had headed out, ready to dine at a barbeque dinner by the beach.
Clasping a drink in her hand, chief human resource officer (CHRO), Kristabel, strolled along the shore enjoying the cool waves against her feet. Yet, her heart was heavy as the harsh words of her executive officer (CEO), Adam, kept ringing in her ears.
She had tried her best to contribute to the sessions, but Adam was obviously dissatisfied with her. She just couldn’t understand his actions and wondered why.

Today, the CHRO sits at the same table as other C-suite executives and holds one of the most influential positions within senior management – a trusted partner to the CEO.

How can Kristabel make an impact at the sessions and ensure that she is contributing optimally? To keep up with the growing importance of the CHRO role, Kristabel has to develop the traits of an excellent CHRO.

So, beyond handling the usual human resources (HR) responsibilities, what else should Kristabel do to be an exemplary CHRO?

Value people 

Great CHROs are astounding people managers. They have the ability to connect with a diverse workforce and can read workplace dynamics well.

They possess the foresight to predict and diagnose problems. They believe that people are the bottom line of any organisation.

They take a strong stance on happiness at work. In this, they value not only the well-being of employees, but also justice, ethics and trust. To generate happiness at work, great CHROs strive to understand the minds and hearts of their employees. Knowing employees’ needs and expectations helps them understand how both relate to business goals and financial health.

Happiness at work is important as it fosters employee engagement, job satisfaction and affective commitment. To keep the best and brightest talents, CHROs work hard at keeping them happy.

Great CHROs make every effort to promote a conducive and win-win working environment for everyone. As role models, they lead by example and work as equals.

Great CHROs develop deep, trusting relationships within the business, and employees trust them with their feedback. They love being around their employees and relate to them. They connect people and bring everyone into the same sandbox.

Knowledge of future jobs and competencies 

Great CHROs keep up with social, political and business trends to enhance their knowledge of future jobs and competencies. A profound understanding of this enables them to get the right people in, as well as build a capable workforce that will achieve business objectives.

Great CHROs are able to examine the gaps between the current capabilities the organisation has and its future needs. They have the foresight to take actionable steps to address and bridge the talent gap. They make sure that their organisations have a talent pipeline that is readily available.

Knowledge of what other companies are doing enhances a CHRO’s comprehension of what is trending in human resource. Competitors’ job postings can be a good indicator of how jobs and competencies will evolve in the future.

This provides CHROs with an insight on whether they should keep up with what is trending to outperform the competitors. Knowledge of what non-direct competitors are doing is crucial too, as they can learn from these companies.

Strategic decision-making based on data analytics 

Great CHROs are able to make decisions based on data and analytics. They have the ability to leverage data to give the right answers and ask the right questions. Data-driven and assertive CHROs use relevant facts to drive the message across.

Using both intuition and insight backed by people analytics, they build work environments that incentivise people to stay. They are talent magnets and take a strong stance on talent management. They have good insights as to whom to hire, whom to promote and what salaries to pay.

In line with increasing technological advancements, great CHROs are aware of the technology evolving within HR. They continuously keep up with cutting edge technology in order to improve HR processes and analytic capabilities.

Business strategic and financial acumen 

Great CHROs understand the entire business ecosystem. They possess business strategic and financial acumen to achieve business success.

They have knowledge, experience and insight of not only the organisation’s people-related matters, but also other aspects such as finance, operations and marketing. They understand the numbers and contribute directly to business performance.

As data-driven strategic advisors who are fluent in the language of the business and have the capability to think and operate strategically, they can plan effective business strategies to help drive results.

They are as visible as other C-suite executives and can confidently articulate the contributions of human resources to the organisation. They can convincingly portray the department as absolutely critical to business success now and in the future.

Being woven into the business, the emphasis is on expounding the relevance of the human resource department as the lifeblood of the business.

Great CHROs leverage their personal greatness and engage in the greatness of others, in particular, their human assets to achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes.  With a strategic mindset, they can see the organisation’s big picture and take strategic steps to achieve results.

Employee champion

Great CHROs act as a bridge between the needs of the employees and the executive team. They advocate for the well-being of employees, yet are mindful of the financial impact. They strategise with the executive team on ways to balance happiness at work and business results.

Great CHROs have the skills to champion the needs of the employees. They have the ability to read the politics of the organisation and to act with integrity.

Using a combination of integrity, political savviness and courage, they act as honest brokers and frame decisions within a particular context based on ethical values. They have a great sense of situational awareness and are able to navigate the complex environments naturally.

Cultural change agent 

Great CHROs play a key role in shaping the culture of an organisation. They proactively drive organisational culture in the right direction. They can effectively communicate to and influence employees to embrace change in a positive way.

In the current business environment, great CHROs ensure that their organisation’s culture is aligned with the need to operate in a digital economy. They promote the criticality of embracing digitalisation to stay relevant.

To further steer the organisation in the right direction, they ensure that the organisation’s business leaders’ styles are aligned with the organisation’s cultural goals.

The global and multigenerational world of work demands a flexible, agile and open mindset.  Great CHROs are tolerant and have high intercultural communication skills to foster agility and openness at the workplace. They have the intuition and foresight to manage a diverse workforce.

Concluding thoughts 

To be recognised as a strategic partner of the organisation, CHROs have to be ready for that role. CHROs have to function beyond administrative tasks and demonstrate that they do understand the business. Focusing on the business side of the human capital, great CHROs help the organisation through better management of its human capital.

As business will benefit from the better management of its human capital, it is time that CHROs be accorded the same priority as the CFO. CHROs oversee the complete human component of an organisation and should play a central role in corporate decisions and be a true partner to the CEO.

As CHROs are focused on everything that is people-related in the organisation, many consider it as a stepping stone towards becoming a CEO. Alan Guarino, Vice Chairman at Korn Ferry asserts that,

“Next-generation CHROs will perform like the CEO of an HR solutions company, enabling human capital solutions for their company. They are not administering programmes. They are creating impact and a return on the money invested in the company’s talent systems.”


Dr Carol Hooi Lai Wan is an Associate Professor of Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour at The University of Nottingham. She specialises in global human resources and her current work is on competencies in the digital world. She is the author of Human Capital Management Practices in Malaysia: Local and Foreign Perspectives and Governance and Citizenship in Asia: Organisational Justice and Citizenship Behaviour in Malaysia. Currently, she is the Associate Editor of the International Journal of Manpower. To connect with her, drop us a note at


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