Companies are placing unrealistic expectations on CHROs. This startup is a prime example

November 1, 2022, 12:30 PM UTC
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Executive leaderships teams are seeking HR leaders with superhero-like qualities.

Good morning!

With each passing year, crisis, and cultural shift, the responsibilities and suggested qualifications for CHROs seem to grow longer. To be an HR leader today, you practically have to be a superhero. Take this job posting from a recently launched news startup that left me scratching my head. The first half reads like your typical job posting for an HR leader. 

But it quickly devolves, requesting that the hire have an MBA or advanced degree, at least a decade of experience, report to the CFO in addition to the CEO, and ideally get nominated for a Titan Human Resources award for Most Innovative Startup in the next two years, among other things. 

For what it’s worth, such job descriptions aren’t unique to the aforementioned startup, though this is one of the most egregious I’ve seen in some time. And while several career consultants and HR experts I tasked with reading the listing gawked at the requirements, others say these heightened expectations aren’t necessarily bad.

“It’s a little bit of a sign of the times that companies are now expecting more of HR, which actually is a good thing,” says Dan Kaplan, senior client partner for Korn Ferry’s CHRO practice. 

CEOs have traditionally hired a head of HR to lead on compensation and benefits and determine whatever else the function needs, with little input from the corner office. That CEOs are now coming in with a laundry list of what they want to do—as unrealistic as it might be—speaks to the growing understanding of the impact HR can have, Kaplan tells me.

But he warns, as do other executive recruiters, that if CHRO candidates and headhunters don’t adequately communicate with the executive team what responsibilities are appropriate for the HR job, companies risk disappointment when CHROs cannot fulfill all they were hired to do. 

Lofty timelines for achieving milestones, unfavorable reporting structures, and unnecessary credentials are some of the most common unrealistic expectations set by companies hiring their first HR leader, says Deborah Warburton, who leads Spencer Stuart’s human resources practice for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

“There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be built from a very low base when it’s the first role. And to do that, you don’t necessarily need the most experienced, strategic, progressive CHRO,” Warburton says. “Lowering the sights to something that’s realistic and an actual match for what needs to be done is more likely to breed success.”

HR job postings for young companies often reflect a highly collaborative process among various function leaders, she adds. “Though the intent to create a thorough consensus is good, what they actually end up with is not necessarily a great CHRO.”

Instead, Warburton and Kaplan encourage executive teams to prioritize communicating the company’s purpose, culture, and vision when searching for a people leader. Kaplan also suggests narrowing the list of job expectations to a few tangible items and refraining from being too prescriptive. 

Setting timelines for desired outcomes and accomplishments is fine, they say, but leaders should avoid wishful thinking. A better strategy is to identify talent-related pain points and who would be best suited to address them.

“What’s critical on the job?” Kaplan says. “Is it 20 years of experience and an MBA? Probably not; it’s experience solving two, three, or four critical things.”

Amber Burton

Reporter's Notebook

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“We know that a break from it all is necessary—it benefits us all as human beings. Taking time out is not a magic potion that fixes underlying mental health issues, but looking after our people and giving them the space to take this kind of break is what being a true people-first organisation is all about.”

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- Rupert Murdoch, the 91-year–old chairman of News Corp., is officially a remote employee. Quartz


Everything you need to know from Fortune

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ESG bonus. Seventy-three percent of Fortune 500 companies have tied executive compensation to ESG goals, up from 66% last year. —Alan Murray

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