Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) and other senior executives in HR are seeing big changes to their roles as businesses begin to address post-pandemic work. The shutdown and swift pivot to remote work in March 2020 and the consequential labor shortage brought on by the Great Resignation catapulted HR departments into the spotlight.
In addition, calls for social justice and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives fell on the shoulders of HR. What was once considered an administrative department carrying out the will of C-suite executives was now essential to a functioning business strategy. And CHROs pulled up their seat at the table.
WATCH: HR and Future of Work
Eric Torigian, who was then Vice President and Assistant General Manager of Global Human Resources at Akebono Brake Corporation, explained the transition in the HR Exchange Network’s most recent State of HR report:
“I remember my early roles in the personnel department. HR as we know it today was an administrative function. We were responsible for completing forms, hiring employees, and the most senior roles were held by operations executives. Over the past 30 years that has transformed, and HR is now seen as a true strategic partner. While HR took a central role during the COVID pandemic, I believe that we are at an inflection point. HR was thrust to the forefront of leadership as we shut down offices, established work-from-home practices, supported remote work, and now facilitating the orderly return. It will be critical for us to take this newfound responsibility and do something meaningful. The real measure will be what HR is able to accomplish over the next 18 months.”
REPORT: State of HR
What’s Next for CHROs?
A report on the Future of Work by PwC declared that Human Resources is at a crossroads. The researchers predict that this work could transform in three ways:
- Focusing on people remit incorporating and influencing many other aspects of a business
- Becoming a driver of corporate social responsibility
- Seen as transactional and almost entirely outsourced
Frankly, recent studies and data indicate that the third possibility is highly unlikely. Humu found that 80% of CHROs report they are now “actively partnering” with their CEOs on company culture, according to Time. In that article, the writer reported on how CHROs are now the driving force of businesses striving for success in the new normal.
“Welcome to the new world of HR,” according to Time. “A convergence of economic and cultural trends is elevating the stature – if not the power – of HR departments nationally, even as pressure intensifies to do more with less.”
Someone must lead people while they navigate this transformation of work and life. CHROs and the departments they head are taking on this assignment with verve. It begins with changing hearts and minds across an organization.
“There’s never been a better time for thoughtful, creative, inspirational HR leaders to redefine workplace culture,” says Jim McCann, Founder and Executive Chairman of 1-800-Flowers.com in a column for Forbes. “This involves taking a holistic look at team members’ lives and using available leaders to fulfill their needs for growth, development, and social connection to make their work experience as rich as possible.”
The Case for CHROs in the C-suite
CHROs also have data analytics to help them in their vital decision making. Learning how to use metrics to improve talent management and better see the connections between hiring and employee engagement and the bottom line is empowering. Some of the questions that analytics allow CHROs to answer include where the organization has excessive labor costs, the price of turnover, how to sustain employee productivity during a merger or acquisition, and the employees that are at high risk of leaving or being poached by competitors. Having this information at the fingertips of CHROs provides them with the ability to strategize and offer a vision for the future that compliments the organization’s long-term goals.
“The workforce is the lifeblood of any organization—so when it’s operating at a high level, the likelihood of reaching key business goals is raised considerably,” according to CHRO Analytics, a whitepaper from Deloitte. “In the past, many HR leaders had a difficult time making the case for their roles in guiding business strategy. But equipped with data-based insights from workforce analytics, these leaders are able to more clearly demonstrate value—and drive real changes in behavior.”
But the CHRO of the future can’t rely on number crunching alone. He or she will have to demonstrate empathy. Already HR departments are being called upon to improve employee engagement and experience and create a psychologically safe workplace. CEOs are asking CHROs to make DEI a priority. It is HR that is spearheading those efforts, both attracting and retaining a diverse pool of talent and making sure the workplace is also inclusive. CHROs are charged with helping employees maintain their mental health and wellness, reduce stress, and achieve zen.
“We are all here to do our best work, and when your work environment is one where you feel safe and capable of doing your best work, retention and employee engagement soar,” says Maria Leggett, Director of Talent and Professional Development at MHI in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a speaker at HR Exchange Network’s 4th Annual HR and Future of Work online event. Empathy is a critical leadership skill. The only way that companies will adapt and change and indeed be agile is by trusting their employees, management, and customers.”
CHROs Establish Culture and Draw Top Talent
Obviously, this kind of empathetic leadership must be modeled from the top down in an organization.
“Shine a spotlight on your creative cultural management skills and earn your rightful place in the C-suite,” says McCann in Forbes.
Indeed, managing human capital seems to finally be on par with managing financial capital. CHROs are influencing the bottom line and helping produce positive business outcomes. They hire the best people, oversee their training and development for the future, and establish workplace norms and culture in the era of remote and hybrid work. And they are now expected to do this job with grace and empathy, so they serve as a model for other leaders in the organization.
CHROs have never had so much power. Truly, there’s no turning back now.
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