Leadership Matters
HR Professional
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By Philip Wilson, CHRE


As an HR professional, do you ever aspire to head up an organization as CEO?

It’s an aspiration that was largely unthinkable up until a few years ago, when most senior HR professionals reported to the CFO and the role was seen as a cost centre overseeing administrata like payroll and benefits.

But it’s not so unfathomable these days, when more organizations are relying on their chief human resources officers (CHROs) for insight and strategy around talent management and culture to achieve sustained success.


In 2015, having some HR experience is definitely an asset for anyone considering the top job.

In fact, a recent study by influential HR thinker David Ulrich and executive recruiting firm Korn Ferry shows the CHRO role is more important than ever before. (In fact, in terms of monetary value, the study found CHROs are typically the third highest paid executives in the C-suite, behind CEOs and COOs – largely because they are so hard to find.)


Not only are CHROs seen as taking a critical advisory role in the C-suite – acting as a confidante and sounding board for the CEO – but many actually share the same characteristics as chief executives.


The study looked at leadership qualities – things like leadership and thinking styles, how executives behave in group settings and how they deal with things like ambiguity, pressure and risk taking.


Ulrich and his team then assessed the prevalence of these qualities among different types of executives and compared the results.


Guess what?


Besides COOs – whose responsibilities often overlap with the CEO’s – the executive whose traits were most similar to the CEO was the CHRO.


The corollary, of course, is that CHROs make great CEOs.


As Ulrich said in the study, in modern business, attracting the right talent, creating the right organizational structure and building the right culture are essential for driving strategy.


And executive HR experience makes a leader more likely to succeed at those tasks.


In my current role as CHRO for the last six months, I have been primarily focused on helping the CEO develop the strategic plan looking at all the aspects of building a sustainable business into the future. This has entailed organization design, culture change (as we move to a more client-centric model), change management, employee engagement and reviewing and aligning our total rewards strategies.


The biggest challenge for the organization is talent management, in terms of ensuring that “the right seats are filled by the right people on the bus.” This is why the board decided to hire a CHRO who had significant experience in talent management.


We would not be talking about this 20 years ago, and it’s amazing how the profession has changed.

Today, HR provides guidance on business strategies, talent management, leadership development and cultural transformation that delivers competitive advantage – and, ultimately, profits – to our organizations.

It’s precisely this change that necessitated a radical overhaul of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA)’s competency framework.


Our new framework was developed over 18 months in partnership with HR academics, senior business leaders and HRPA members at all levels.


The result is a completely modernized snapshot of HR practice in the 21st century.


It defines 213 functional competencies and 15 enabling competencies at each of three levels of HR practice – entry, professional and executive.


And it’s these enabling competencies – things like business acumen, critical thinking, negotiation, decision-making and ethics – that are going to not only build more effective HR professionals at all levels, but place more of them in the corner office.

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