How to Become a Chief Human Resources Officer: What You Need to Know

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The future of HR is rapidly evolving as technology does, which means that the core role of the Chief Human Resources Officer is changing too. Successful Chief Human Resources Officers have to be true strategic advisors to their business and drive organizational performance through HR strategy. This requires a unique mix of competencies, education, and experience. What are the key skills you should be developing to become a Chief Human Resources Officer? And why are these essential today and in the future world of work? Let’s dive in!

Contents
Chief Human Resource Officer role and responsibilities
Chief Human Resources Officer competencies
How do you become a Chief Human Resources Officer?
Chief Human Resource Officer interview questions
Chief Human Resource Officer salary

Chief Human Resource Officer role and responsibilities

The Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) is the job title for an organization’s HR and culture leader. They are a member of the executive team within the company.

Depending on the industry and size of the company, the job title can vary. Other titles for this role include:

  • Chief People Officer (CPO), 
  • Chief Talent Officer (CTO),
  • Head of People or Talent, 
  • VP of HR,
  • Chief of Talent or Culture.

“As the chief people officer, I wear many hats. I’m the HR person for Satya, I lead a team of HR professionals, and I represent all employees at Microsoft. My job is really to listen and learn from them, and make decisions that help us create an empowering culture where everyone can do their best work.”Kathleen Hogan, CPO of Microsoft.

A Chief Human Resources Officer will:

Oversee the HR department

A Chief Human Resources Officer will usually manage or oversee the following employees:

  • HR managers
  • Talent managers
  • Employee relations managers
  • Records managers
  • Benefits managers
  • Training managers
  • Compliance advisors

It’s the CHROs responsibility to ensure the entire department is working strategically and cohesively as a team. They oversee everyone’s day-to-day duties and projects. 

Be a key strategic partner to the CEO

Chief Human Resources Officers are key strategic partners to CEOs and help co-create business strategies with their unique insights into the workforce. At Marsh—an insurance brokerage and risk management company—CEO Peter Zaffino regularly has joint discussions with his CFO and CHRO, which helps to ensure the organization aligns with desired business goals. 

Drive upskilling initiatives 

A CHRO will typically lead all training, talent acquisition, and career development initiatives and activities. This includes:

  • formulating career development plans,
  • crafting talent acquisition strategies,
  • and consistently evaluating training and development programs to ensure future-proofing of the workforce. 

Ensure the HR strategy aligns with the business strategy 

It’s essential that the HR strategy and business strategy are in alignment. The Chief Human Resources Officer is responsible for designing a strategy that contributes to the business’s overall objectives, and that this can be explained to leaders through data. 

Scania—a commercial vehicle manufacturer—demonstrates the power of combining HR and business objectives through their annual “Climate Day,” which sees the entire company pause operations for an hour to engage in sustainability training. This is in line with the company’s greater vision to “drive the shift toward a sustainable transport system.” 

Promote inclusion in the workplace

Chief Human Resources Officer roles and responsibilities should also include cultivating an inclusive environment at work through policies and behavioral changes. In a survey by XpertHR, 52% of employers said the CHRO is either partially or fully responsible for managing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Only in 11% of cases, there is an appointed Chief Diversity Officer whose primary role is to oversee inclusion initiatives. 

Chief Human Resources Officer competencies

There are several competencies CHROs need to develop to thrive in their role today and in the future. This is not an exhaustive list, but it should give you a good idea of which skills you should focus on developing if your ambition is to become a CHRO.

Business acumen

Business acumen is one of the four core competencies we’ve identified vital for present and future success in HR, along with digital proficiency, data literacy, and people advocacy. When individuals possess all four of these competencies with at least one other functional HR competency, they become a T-shaped HR professional. This is vital for helping an organization achieve its business objectives.  

A CHRO with business acumen is a professional who understands how the organization operates and can speak the language of its leaders. They recognize that business strategy is not separate from Human Resources. Such a leader can strategically design policies and initiatives to best serve the wider company, its customers, and its employees. This ensures that HR strategies align with business strategies and enables the CHRO to be a key strategic partner to the CEO. 

At Vodafone Germany, CHRO Bettina Karsch incorporates business acumen into her role by owning employment costs as if they’re a part of the Profit and Loss statement for a product or service. She says, “It shows that HR drives value—and value has an impact on profit. Bringing P&L thinking to the CHRO role also advances its standing, making it more attractive to people from other functions.” 

There’s an increasing trend for CHROs to be hired from non-HR backgrounds, with a larger focus on strong business acumen. Understanding how an organization makes money is key to making the right top-tier decisions. 

Digital proficiency

Digital proficiency (also known as digital integration) is the ability to harness and integrate technology into HR operations to increase personal and organizational efficiency and drive business growth. This requires an awareness of technology both inside and outside of the workplace. HR executives also need the ability to weave it into the employee journey, creating a digital-first culture. 

There may be instances where the most digitally proficient employees are working at lower levels of an organization. It’s also the CHROs responsibility to identify this talent early on, develop it, and place them in roles where they can be most effective. Dow Chemical deployed this strategy effectively by hiring more entrepreneurial Millennials over a decade, then redesigning its career paths to move those employees into bigger roles in a shorter time. 

“HR teams today are still far too absorbed in operational and transactional tasks such as administration and payroll. The continuing digitization of all business processes is the game-changer. It enables us to automate a growing share of our processes and frees up capacity to shift our focus from transactional tasks to actual value creation for our employees and the company—more forward-looking and nimble in unlocking growth potential. Going forward, we see more fluidity and less functional separation. The HR function will change fundamentally.”—Andreas Hugener, CHRO at Swissport International.

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Ensuring the workforce is future-proofed is a core responsibility for CHROs and digital proficiency is a necessary skill in today’s rapidly evolving HR landscape. 

Data literacy

Collecting data is essential, but understanding, interpreting, and applying the findings from that data is a critical skill that all HR professionals must cultivate if they want to progress in their role because this can create real business value. This is what it means to be truly data literate.  

An example of this in practice is at BBVA—a US banking franchise. The company compared its employee turnover to other banks and found their turnover rate was above average in certain key roles. After a closer look at the data across regions, branches, and various demographics, they found that 10% of their branches accounted for 41% of all turnover in one key role. This meant they were able to target their focus on those branches.

They also utilized feedback surveys from current and former employees and discovered repetitive concerns with onboarding, training, and the compensation structure. By addressing all of these issues in the specific branches, they managed to reduce turnover in that role by 44%. This subsequently reduced the cost to hire and improved the retention of customer relationships.   

There’s no need to be a tech geek, but you do have to understand how HR fits into a digital world,”—Phil Read, Senior VP of HR at Tetra Pak.

People advocacy

The final of the four core HR competencies is becoming a people’s advocate. This includes company culture building, being an effective HR professional, being a trusted and ethical advocate, and being a highly effective communicator. This competency is particularly important for managing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

Leadership skills

Leadership competencies are vital for a successful CHRO as they oversee the entire HR department. Often, they have hundreds of employees looking up to them for direction, education, and inspiration. Leading an organization usually involves a combination of knowledge, skills, and abilities. Of course, this is different depending on the industry, organization, and role in question.   

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) outlines three competency categories within leadership:

  1. Competencies for leading the organization
  2. Competencies for leading others
  3. Competencies for leading the self

Deloitte suggests that leadership is a mix of developable capabilities (learned factors) and leadership potential (innate factors). 

Problem-solving

A CHRO must be able to identify and evaluate problems effectively and generate feasible working solutions that can be implemented to improve HR ways of working. These should, in return, positively impact the entire organization and its employees—for example, enhancing onboarding operations, training, or communication.

This ability to problem solve demonstrates initiative and business acumen, helping convey the value of an HR department in any organization. 

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence refers to a person’s ability to understand people’s emotions (including our own) and emotional situations. This includes developing self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, cultivating empathy, and developing social skills. Geoff Tranfield, group HR Director at IMI, believes that by 2025, CHROs will need to “have an acute sense of emotional intelligence and the intercultural sensitivity to be able to communicate authentically and clearly with all parts of what will be in many cases complex global businesses.” 

Emotional intelligence is a vital part of communication and the ability to communicate effectively with employees across all levels in an organization, from someone on the sales floor to someone in the C-suite. 

How do you become a Chief Human Resources Officer?

The role of Chief Human Resources Officer is often viewed as the most senior HR position available within the scope of careers in HR. But with demands changing all the time, what can you do to set yourself up for the best chance of success?

Here are a couple of things you can do to set yourself up for success on your way to becoming a Chief Human Resources Officer:

Develop your HR core competencies

Work on developing the competencies outlined above every day through training, online learning, and coaching.

How to become a Chief Human Resources Officer

Cultivate your leadership skills

One of the biggest mistakes HR folks can make is not devoting enough time to their own personal development. HR teams and leaders still prioritize technical skills, but the skills that will take you to another level are leadership and communication.”—Ed Krow, HR strategist and member of the Forbes Coaches Council. 

A leadership development plan can help you develop your leadership skills to help you stand out and remain valuable in an ever-changing marketplace. An HR leadership development program is another way to build core HR competencies and leadership skills.

Get certified

Did you know that more than 55% of CHROs have an HR certification? If you’re looking to get certified, you may be interested in our Strategic HR leadership certificate program.

Many CHROs are also required to have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, or an MBA. All of these can be a significant advantage when applying for positions. 

Although there are no set requirements, these certifications and qualifications can only improve your chances of successfully landing a CHRO role. A PayScale survey found that 34% of HR professionals have at least one certification. Additionally, more than half of CHROs and VPs also have at least one. 

Practice continuous learning

Think about what you can do each day to upskill yourself to lead an organization forward. Read business books and online articles on HR and digital trends. Attend business events and conferences and network with people in different organizations and industries.

Always have one eye on future trends and how they may shape businesses in years to come. That will help you stay on top of the developments in HR, the world of work, and business in general.

Build your network

As we’ve mentioned above, it is essential for you to build connections with people across companies and industries on your way to becoming a CHRO. It will not only help you explore diverse perspectives but also open doors. In fact, over 35% of executives have found their most recent role via their own network.

Next to attending events and conferences, you can expand your network by connecting with people you’d like to get to know better on Linkedin or ask your existing contacts to introduce you to people they know.

Remember: there’s no typical career path for CHROs

Traditionally, a CHRO would begin as a recruiter or HR generalist and work their way up the career ladder until they reached the top role. However, this route is rapidly changing. Many CHROs are now recruited with little to no HR experience but instead bringing their own leadership and business experience with them. 

KPMG confirms that a significant number of CHROs hold non-traditional roles before assuming this role, including general management, sales and marketing, and finance. 

Therefore, don’t get caught up in following a set career path to reach the role of CHRO because there isn’t one!

Chief Human Resource Officer interview questions

Here are some of the typical interview questions you might be asked when interviewing for the role of CHRO:

  • What are the top qualities a CHRO should have?
  • What types of HR management software are you familiar with?
  • How would you approach implementing an equal opportunity policy in our organization?
  • What have you done recently to improve your knowledge for a CHRO position?
  • Share a time when your advice to management led to an improvement in your organization or helped your employer.
  • Share an experience you had in dealing with a difficult person and how you handled the situation.
  • Describe a change you made to a benefits policy that made your program more competitive.
  • How do you think technology will impact HR over the next ten years?
  • What would you do if a senior staff member publicly disagrees with your new policy?

Chief Human Resource Officer salary

According to PayScale, the average base salary in the US for a Chief Human Resources Officer is $151,136 per year. It’s important to note that this varies between states and cities. 

Here are some average yearly base salary rates across the US:

New York: $217,842 per year.

Los Angeles: $192,584 per year.

Cincinnati: $150,000 per year.

Dedication and patience are key to becoming a CHRO

Becoming a Chief Human Resources Officer requires years of dedication, patience, and persistence. And while you will encounter many obstacles on your way, it will be well worth it once you become an influential, confident HR leader.

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