The Sorry State of CHRO Succession
When Bill Conaty retired from the CHRO role at GE he told me that if he had not
developed his own successor, he would have felt like he had failed in his role.
He may not be alone, but he’s apparently in a small group.
In 2008 I traced the number of Fortune 100 CHROs who were promoted from within their
HR function within their firm using public announcements of their appointments.
In 2009 I surveyed the Fortune 150 and in 2010 the Fortune 200 CHROs and asked how
they had gotten into their jobs (internal promotion from HR, internal promotion
from another function, external hire into the role, or external hire with the promise
of a promotion into the role). In all these cases the data showed that only 34-38%
of them had been internally groomed and promoted into the role.
When I would present these results as an indictment on the function’s ability to
develop its own leaders, I was often asked "Well, how is this different from other
C-suite jobs?" with the implication that maybe the CFO and CEO numbers looked similar,
and thus, the function would be exonerated from this criticism. So, in the 2011
Cornell/CAHRS Chief HR Officer survey I again asked the CHROs to tell me how they
came into the role, but also how the CFO and CEO came into their roles. Consistent
with past surveys, 36% of CHROs were internally groomed and promoted and 54% were
externally hired. In contrast, 54% of CFOs and 65% of CEOs were internally groomed
and hired compared to 34% of CFOs and 29% of CEOs being externally hired. In other
words, CFOs are better (in fact, FAR better) at developing their successors than
In all my discussions with CHROs about this, I have yet to hear an explanation that
does not suggest a problem with the function (e.g., not enough high level talent),
or with the CHRO (not enough attention on developing a successor). I would be extremely
interested to hear either any other explanations, or success stories and strategies
for solving this problem. Feel free to either post here, or e-mail me your explanation