Why human resources chiefs are reaching the corner office

The sharp focus placed on the people agenda over the last two years has also put a spotlight on those who lead the human resources function within major companies. During the pandemic, many chief human resources officers (CHROs) were lauded for taking broader management responsibility when staff safety and remote working quickly forced changes to strategy and outlook.

So it should come as no surprise that those leaders are now being propelled to new heights. In December, Leena Nair, Unilever’s CHRO, was named as the next leader of Chanel, swapping Dove soap and Magnum ice cream for classic suits, luxury handbags, and scents. A month later, the 2,000 employee–strong UK sandwich chain Greggs announced that Roisin Currie, for many years its group people director, would become CEO in May 2022. And before both, Anne Jessopp led the way in 2018, when she was named CEO at the UK’s Royal Mint after having joined as human resources director in 2008 and then adding business services responsibilities to her CV.

These are examples of a leadership trend that has been a long time coming. Predictions that CHROs—once mere human resources directors—could be the CEOs of the future began to appear as HR executives took on more roles within organizations, and have been around for most of the last decade. A 2014 study by University of Michigan professor Dave Ulrich and Ellie Filler, a Korn Ferry headhunter, found that CEO traits were more similar to those of CHROs than to the traits of other lieutenants (with the exception of the COO, whose role and responsibilities are often shared with those of the CEO).

But back then, the authors did not foresee a path to the CEO role for HR lifers. They thought success was far more likely for those who had broad managerial experience that also happened to include some time running the people function. That was the way it used to be. The best example was Mary Barra, who became CEO of General Motors in 2014. An engineer by training, she worked her way up GM’s operations side before serving for two years as vice president for global human resources and then holding senior posts in product development. HR for her was more like a tour of duty on the way to leadership of the Chevrolet-to-Cadillac automaker.

Today, in light of the high turnover rates facing so many organizations, CEOs need HR experience more than ever. Before the pandemic, CEOs could look to the workplace review site Glassdoor, where outspoken staff commented on the boss’s actions, for assessments of their performance. More often than not, these report cards did not make a difference. But with the demand for ongoing flexible working, the “great resignation,” and the scramble for talent, staff are speaking up within their organizations and expecting to be treated as customers.

Source: https://www.strategy-business.com/article/Why-human-resources-chiefs-are-reaching-the-corner-office?rssid=all_updates&gko=99440