September 10, 2020

Total Performance Leadership Blog Post #32: Reexamine the Role of Your CHRO

By Rob Andrews

Written by Rob Andrews with paraphrased content from Ariana Huffington’s article in the Harvard Business Review, June 3, 2020

A distinctive feature of the coronavirus pandemic has been to elevate the role of the CHRO. While this is a positive, the role of the CHRO is one of the most underappreciated positions around. It is unfortunate that there are still CEOs who have either never experienced great human resources leadership or have never given their top HR officer a real chance. Hopefully, an important and fundamental shift is underway.

At Verizon, for example, since March 11, CEO Hans Vestberg and CHRO Christy Pambianchi have led a daily all-hands for the company’s 135,000 employees. At Accenture, Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer Ellyn Shook now meets virtually with company leaders twice a week — instead of in-person once a quarter — to discuss key people and operations issues. At Cisco, Chief People Officer Fran Katsoudas is leading, along with CEO Chuck Robbins, a weekly meeting for all 75,900 employees. This meeting, which used to be monthly, is an example of how “the workplace is becoming the new definition of community. Sometimes employees bring in their families. They hear business updates. They talk about mental health and wellbeing. They laugh a little about seeing each other’s homes, kids, and pets on WebEx.”

More now than ever, CEOs are leaning on their CHROs to ensure their workforces are feeling supported, because they know the future success — and in many cases, the survival — of their businesses depends on it. According to research by State Street, “companies seen as protecting employees and securing their supply chain experienced higher institutional money flows and less negative returns, especially when those practices garnered significant public attention.”

CHROs are helping employers and employees navigate this new era together. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer found that employer communications were the most credible source of information. Across 10 countries, “my employer” was trusted by more people than the government, media, or business in general. According to the Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse, 80% of newly remote workers said that communication from their company helps them feel more confident in the actions they can take for themselves during the crisis.

CHROs are stepping up to create agile cultures, not only responding to employee needs but seeing around the corner — giving permission and support, and role modeling empathy, accountability, compassion, and inclusive leadership. Agility is not just about process or infrastructure — it’s helping people adopt resilient mindsets and navigate ambiguity and uncertainty.

Of course, in many companies, CHROs are also at the center of the really difficult cost-cutting conversations that have led to unprecedented job losses. And when the pandemic ends, organizations will face entirely new difficult discussions around inclusion and belonging. Women and minorities will continue to be disproportionately affected. Extroverts forced to work from home and introverts exhausted by the social demands of remote work will struggle to connect with others and with the company’s larger purpose. These challenges and more will directly affect our organizations’ agility, productivity, adaptability — and they will chiefly be the province of CHROs.

When CHROs and other leaders don’t take care of themselves, innovation, creativity, resilience, empathy, decision-making, and team building all suffer, with consequences for the whole organization. That’s why it’s so important for these leaders to be the carriers of the culture they wish to instill. Yet in all my conversations with the CHROs we work with, I have never seen them as burdened as they are now by the huge responsibilities they are shouldering.

Compassion and empathy can no longer be seen as extra, nice-to-have qualities; they are essential. CHROs and HR teams must lead by example, starting every conversation with simple, direct questions, like, “How are you?” “How is your family?” “Are you ok?” We must give people room to share what otherwise might be kept private — and respect when people decide not to share what they’re going through. Before we even begin to talk about business, we need to open the door to these conversations in authentic, compassionate ways, and keep that door open.

This elevation of the CHRO is going to outlast COVID-19 and permanently change the way we do business — for the better. The pandemic is proving what many forward-thinking CHROs knew long ago: Organizational resilience — the ability to adapt, innovate, and succeed — is directly tied to employees’ individual physical, mental, and emotional resilience.

Right now, CHROs have the wind at their back. We have been talking about putting people first and bringing our whole selves to work for a while now, but these talking points are no longer abstractions. CHROs have an immediate opportunity to move these values from the periphery to the center — not just to get their companies through the pandemic, but to ensure they emerge from it with a stronger, more inclusive, compassionate, and resilient culture. This is their moment to help their companies actually become what they have always claimed they wanted to be.

If you’re open to beginning a discussion around the role of your CHRO and a culture of peak performance, give us a call.


Warmest Regards,