The four roles every CHRO should prioritize to transform people outcomes

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It has been a particularly challenging time for CHROs. They are having to ensure smooth HR operations are maintained whilst at the same time adapting rapidly to stay on top of a multitude of challenges resulting from the Covid pandemic. Issues they are grappling with include working with their top team to explore and implement radically different ways of working, supporting employee’s wellbeing and emotional needs remotely, training and enabling managers to effectively manage, motivate and support virtual and remote teams, hiring and onboarding using only online methods and technologies, and a host of other challenges. In the same way Covid is transforming many businesses, it is radically reshaping and accelerating the agenda for HR functions everywhere.

In this rapidly evolving new world of work, effective CHROs are going to need to play four interrelated roles to deliver maximum value to their business.

Chief Humanizing Officer

Covid has amplified the growing importance of humanizing workplaces. To attract, retain and motivate top talent in the future, organizations will need to embrace people holistically and treat them with respect and decency, caring for their emotional and psychological wellbeing. According to the 2021 Glassdoor Best Places to Work Survey, winning employers have gone above and beyond to help their employees deal with the challenges arising from Covid, demonstrating that even during the toughest times, they’ll care for and support their people. Companies that treat people like assets to be sweated will be unable to compete for key talent in increasingly competitive global talent markets.

Accelerating rates of technological advancement, particularly in machine learning and AI, have highlighted the need for a human-first approach. Rather than replacing humans, the focus of the dialogue within organizations should be on how to enable human ingenuity and talent with the smart use of increasingly intelligent machines. Human-machine partnerships can improve productivity and satisfaction at work, but only if digital transformation puts people at the heart of how these changes are planned and implemented.

Innovation Accelerator

Mega forces like Covid, digital transformation and the growing environmental emergency are disrupting traditional business models and creating huge impetus for transformation and innovation. Innovation laggards and those organizations that see innovation as the responsibility of only the R&D function will succumb to growing disruptive and competitive pressures. CHROs should lead the charge on promoting creativity and innovation as key imperatives for all teams, starting with the executive team. This involves creating psychologically safe environments where people feel included and are encouraged to share their ideas, be curious and take risks to come up with new ways of working and delighting customers. However, this is not sufficient. They need to ensure the L&D function prioritizes training and development for managers and teams in creative and collaborative thinking methods, ensuring people have the skills, tools and techniques to unlock the collective power of everyone’s ideas. Through encouraging positive, empowering leadership by the top team, CHRO’s will promote a culture that encourages curiosity, experimentation, innovation and collaborative working throughout the business.

Positive Culture Catalyst

The saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is now an old cliché, but also a truism. Even without the best strategy or products, a strong culture can fuel a common purpose, high commitment and positive energy throughout the workforce that unlocks higher performance and greater value for customers. A strong cultural DNA, including shared values, beliefs and norms,  will serve as a ‘north star’ and organizational ‘glue’ that can help a company stand out from its rivals and see a company through virtually any challenge. Good examples include Netflix, Google, VF Corporation, Unilever, and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals. By working hard to ensure their culture and associated company values are inspiring, differentiated and aligned with the purpose and strategic priorities of the company, CHROs and their top team will provide the company with a clear HR and business edge. However, culture is not static and needs to evolve to keep pace with internal and external changes. Accordingly, they should ensure the culture and values are periodically reviewed and, where necessary, adapted to ensure they are fit for the future, as well as current circumstances.

Diversity, Equality & Sustainability Champion

Diversity, Equality and Social Justice are not just hot topics, they are essential to enable organizations to thrive in the future. They are key to hiring, retaining, and motivating talented people and building a company that embraces fairness, inclusion, and transparency.  A more diverse and representative workforce is also vital to attract and serve an increasingly diverse customer base.  Many companies have avoided or paid lip service to these issues for far too long. These companies are increasingly finding that this inaction is creating competitive drag for them in their hiring and customer acquisition, as well as undermining their employer brand and reputation. Companies like Apple, Coca Cola and Ernst & Young who are among those leading the way in tackling social injustices and pursuing inclusive, diverse HR practices are doing so not just because it is morally the right thing to do, but because they see the significant business value in doing so.

A related area that is fast emerging as a high priority for the CHRO and HR function is the ESG and sustainability agenda. As well as a growing climate emergency with potential ramifications far worse than Covid, the business case for investing in ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) and building a business that contributes positively to the world is very compelling. Many CHRO’s will need to persuade hard and persevere to get these issues onto the agenda of their top team. By gaining support and investment from the C-suite, they can ensure the relevant training, resources and programs are planned and implemented to translate promises and policy into concrete action and meaningful change.

One priority redefining HR that I have not mentioned is the importance of good analytics and data-driven decision-making. Technological advancement is providing new possibilities to collect, analyze and act on robust people data rather than applying subjective views or gut-based decision-making, which has been the preference of many HR functions in the past. CHRO’s should embrace the power of modern analytics to improve decision-making quality and empower managers as well as employees with accurate and useful data-driven insights that enable them to improve their performance and outcomes. Analytics spans all the four areas I have mentioned and is a key enabler of great people outcomes, rather than an end goal or defining source of competitive advantage.

By focusing on these four critical roles, CHRO’s can deliver better people outcomes, exceptional employee experiences and a strong, enduring competitive advantage that is very tough for rivals to emulate.



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About the Author

James Brook
Founder and MD | Leadership Consultant | Organizational Psychologist

James is a leadership consultant, organizational psychologist and executive coach. He has over 25 years’ experience working with leaders, teams and organizations globally to optimize their performance, talent and future success. He specializes in positive leadership, thriving workplaces, collaboration and influencing, organizational change and transformation, accelerating innovation and coaching executives and leaders in innovative sectors including Tech, Digital, E-commerce and Life Sciences.

Before setting up Plexus Leadership, James held leadership roles in HR and Talent Management in the UK and abroad with companies such as NatWest, Yahoo! and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals. After this, he founded and led several talent and leadership consulting and assessment businesses, including Strengthscope®, an online strengths assessment and development business serving a wide range of UK and global clients. James grew this venture into a global market leader before selling the business in 2018.

James has supported, advised and coached leaders and teams globally across diverse industries and geographies. Clients he has worked with include Allen & Overy, Commvault, Equinor, Facebook, GSK, Hilton, John Lewis, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, NHS, Oracle, Sainsbury’s, Swiss Re, Tesco, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, WSP and Yahoo!.

James has a Master’s in Organizational Psychology, an MBA, an Advanced Diploma in Executive Coaching and a Harvard Business qualification in Sustainable Business Strategy. He is a member of the Institute of Directors, the Association of Business Psychologists and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD). He is currently undertaking a PhD in Organizational Psychology examining the start-up experiences of Tech and Digital entrepreneurs.

James is a regular contributor and speaker on leadership, coaching, innovative talent management and the future of work. His most recent book, Optimize Your Strengths, explores how leaders can create thriving workplaces by inspiring and supporting people to optimize their potential and teamwork to deliver breakthrough results.

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