Are You Prepared for The CHRO Role?

8/1/14

As many of you know, I was conducting the HR@Moore Survey of Chief HR Officers through May and June, and we are in the beginning stages of looking at the data. One of the first orders of business was to explore the questions on CHRO succession. Mirian Graddick-Weir, CHRO at Merck and one of the survey's advisors, helped me to develop this section of the survey, and over the next few posts I will present some of the findings. For this one, let's look at what CHRO's reported not being prepared for.

About 5-6 years ago I polled about 12-15 CHROs on what they felt least prepared for when they stepped into the role. This was part of the design of our "Understanding the Top Seat" program conducted in a partnership between Cornell and the National Academy of HR (NAHR). Then, three issues stood out: Dealing with the Board, executive compensation, and running the HR function. We built the program to make sure we covered those aspects clearly.

This year we heard from 186 CHROs, so the data should be both broader and deeper. Certainly, dealing with the board of directors was again the most cited aspect of the role and this was often paired with executive compensation (as that's the content of many of the CHRO-Board interactions). Sometimes it was simply being aware of the board dynamics, sometimes the relationship between management and the board, but most often it was the interface with the compensation committee. Again, the second most cited aspect of the role they were not prepared for was specifically executive compensation.

Running the HR function emerged as the third most cited aspect, but this year's data provided more specificity. Often it was the massive scale of taking over a function in a large multinational. Others cited the changed relationships with former peers. Still others noted the challenges in taking over a function in need of significant improvement in terms of talent, resources, and reputation within the firm.

Finally, three additional aspects were cited. First, a number of CHROs cited they weren't prepared for the culture or the need for driving significant culture change in the firm. Second, CHROs noted they weren't prepared in terms of their knowledge of the industry. Finally, a number pointed to the challenge in learning the new business or complex business model.

In the end, the first three aspects are probably ones that all CHROs face when stepping into their first CHRO role, whereas the latter three are more prevalent when taking on the role from outside the firm. But all are aspects that require developing a pretty steep learning curve if one wants to remain in the role beyond the first year.