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 CHROs!

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 at