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The top traits executive recruiters say every CHRO today must have

August 3, 2022, 1:48 PM UTC
Business people in large modern meeting room
Klaus Vedfelt—Getty Images

Good morning!

One of the first things I set out to understand when launching CHRO Daily is how the role has changed in recent years. Turns out it’s changed quite a bit. The CHRO, or CPO, job description looks considerably different today compared to just five years ago, and that evolution is reflected in the skills executive recruiters look for when filling vacant roles.

Two executive recruiters spoke with Fortune about the top traits companies want to see in the modern-day CHRO.

Strategy-minded leaders

More than ever, companies want to bring on HR executives who can serve as key advisors to the CEO. 

Dan Kaplan, a senior client partner for Korn Ferry’s CHRO practice, has been on the search side of corporate HR for over 25 years. He says the amount of input fellow C-suite executives want from the CHRO has completely shifted over the course of his career. One need only peruse a CSR report or earnings statement, which often references workforce trends, to witness this new dynamic. CEOs desire HR executive who are true business leaders and exist as an integral part of the C-suite team.

“You’re no longer the people person, you’re no longer running an HR function. You’re one of the senior leaders running the business,” Kaplan says. “This idea of the triad where the CEO, CFO and CHRO collectively are running the company has been around for some years, but there’s a greater recognition today that if you’re not employing that model, you’re missing the boat.”

Lisa Baird, who leads the HR officer search practice at Heidrick & Struggles, says she’s received similar requests from CEOs on the hunt for their next CHRO. They often request people leaders who can sit at the table with the senior executive team and “you can’t differentiate between them and the CFO or the P&L leaders. They’re participating fully in the strategy and the business, but being the key advisor to the CEO and the other leaders on how the strategies will impact the people.”

‘First-principle thinkers

Some new buzzwords are popping up during the search for today’s CHRO. One of them is a “first-principle thinker,” Baird says. She defines this person as a true problem solver. “Our clients don’t want people that come with a playbook.”

Gone are the days when good HR strategy was measured by the ability to plan ahead. Now, agility is a top quality, along with adaptability as more of the job becomes intertwined with crisis management. CHROs not only have to think ahead but react quickly and smartly. 

“We used to talk about seeing around corners. It is impossible to see around corners because no matter how visionary you are, other than maybe Bill Gates, no one’s looking around corners and seeing a pandemic coming,” Kaplan says. “What we’re finding is [CEOs] need really, really smart problem solvers who are willing to take chances, who are willing to leverage their budget, and their resources, and their access to external experts in general for the betterment of the people in the company.”

Data and digital savvy

CEOs want data-centric leaders with an ability to build out and gather insight from HR analytics. Today’s CHROs can adeptly measure everything from compensation spend to representation and retention, and find areas that need improvement and are potential profit drivers.

Baird coyly refers to this type of people ops leader as someone who thinks in Excel rather than Word or PowerPoint, noting that today’s CHROs must also be digitally savvy because transformation at its core is powered by technology. 

The ability to scale

Talent leaders with a proven track record for spearheading large-scale transformations at high-growth companies are in demand. So much so, that companies are willing to still engage with CHROs who don’t have the traditional HR resume but have change management skills. “Our clients are much more interested in their track record of transformation than they are about the path that they came up through,” says Baird. 

To that end, much of the old pedigree that was standard for the role has fallen to the wayside. For some time, companies preferred an “academy trained” HR professional in the driver’s seat; that’s now of less interest, say both Baird and Kaplan. 

“What we have learned in the last couple of years is the core skills around communication, culture, looking after employees’ health and well-being [is the] foundational stuff,” Kaplan says.

I want to hear from you! What are the biggest HR challenges and priorities today? Reach out to me at amber.burton@fortune.com. I’m hosting 15-minute desksides with HR and DEI executives. You could see your response in a future newsletter.

Amber Burton
amber.burton@fortune.com
@amberbburton

What’s Perk-olating?

The latest employee perks and benefits.

While some leaders have debated the merits of offering raises to offset inflation, others have jumped in head first. Business management software company simPRO is one of them. Late last month, leadership at the small company of 500 employees announced it would give every employee making under $80,000 an inflationary pay increase of up to 10%. They've coined their approach the “Do the Right Thing” benefits program. 

“We are empowering employees to take care of themselves. It’s now about being partners in our employees’ futures,” says Rod Lacey, simPRO’s chief people officer. His method goes against the common practice of merit-based increases, and guidance from some talent experts who say inflation-based increases offer few business gains. 

Nevertheless, Lacey says, “employees who feel truly valued by their employers are more likely to achieve workplace balance and that is absolutely what we want for our employees.” Other unique perks include a 32-hour, four-day workweek (now a permanent program for all employees globally) and a newly extended parental leave program. Primary parents now receive 24 weeks of fully paid leave. 

“We are in a new era of the employer/employee relationship—what matters to today's workers cannot be addressed using traditional approaches. Employees need to feel that the employer is truly invested in them and in their careers,” Lacey said in a release. 

Does your company have a unique take on employee benefits? Share with me at amber.burton@fortune.com.

Around the Table

- Starbucks beat estimates for quarterly profits. The coffee chain's rise in sales was bolstered by U.S. demand and comes as the company is fending off continued unionization efforts. Reuters 

- Thousands of employees in the U.K. are taking part in the world's largest trial of the four-day work week. Workers are already reporting they feel happier and more effective in their jobs. CNN

- Listen up: Some leaders are cutting back on Covid leave and other pandemic-related benefits. What will an employee-first workplace look like in the future? Listen time: 26 minutes. Wall Street Journal 

- Bipartisan legislators introduced a federal bill in the House that would provide legal protections for gig workers. SHRM

- Wells Fargo reinstated its “diverse slate” policy requiring half of all candidates interviewed for a job to be female or nonwhite. The company paused the practice earlier this year after it was revealed that some managers were interviewing diverse candidates after positions had been filled. New York Times

Watercooler

Everything you need to know from Fortune. 

Job openings. U.S. job openings plummeted in June, falling to 10.7 million from 11.3 million in May. The decline in openings is the biggest drop since April 2020, and was lower than all but one estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists. —Jordan Yadoo, Bloomberg

You need a vacation. People are working on vacation. A recent report from Qualtrics finds that nearly half of American employees work about one hour a day when on PTO. And the “unplugged” vacation is getting even harder as more people work remotely. —Trey Williams

Mixed signals. There might be an upside to all the mixed signals denoting whether or not we are in a recession: the clashing events could help keep the economy afloat. Despite rising prices, hiring is still on the table and employers are making competitive offers in a stubbornly tight talent market. —Bernhard Warner

Tune in. In this week’s Leadership Next podcast, Fortune CEO Alan Murray sits down with Rene Haas, the CEO of chip design company Arm. The two discuss how the rapid access to information has changed the nature of leadership. Listen time: 22 minutes.

This is the web version of CHRO Daily, a newsletter focusing on helping HR executives navigate the needs of the workplace. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.