HR Leads Business

Jan 31, 2017 | Barry Lawrence, MBA, HRCI Staff Writer

How to Become a CHRO

So, you want to rise to the top as a human resource management leader. But what does it take to make it to the ranks of a senior HR officer or Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO)?

Stay on the move, writes Sarah Fister Gale in Workforce Magazine. Gale also provides other advice on the road to becoming a top for HR leader:

  • Take risks in the early stages of your HR career.
  • Choose organizations where you can learn the most and be tested as an HR professional.
  • Know the business and industry.
  • Carefully plot out your career path.

"When aspiring to be a CHRO, plan a career path that provides diverse experience ― both in industries and roles," Gale notes. "In considering a new position, think about how it will help develop new skills. Will it provide new experiences or opportunities to take on leadership roles? Will it provide opportunity to apply past lessons learned in a new setting?"

Culture also counts. A lot. It is wise to spend time evaluating a company’s culture before making a career leap. "Even when two companies have similar industries or business goals, it doesn’t mean their corporate cultures will be alike," Gale writes. "That can be the biggest challenge when moving into a new company."

Partner with an HR-Friendly CEO

Don’t get bogged down in HR jobs that trap you in administrative tasks only. One of the best ways to do that is to make sure that HR is ranked high on the priority list by an organization’s CEO and other leaders.

Look for CEOs who understand that it is people who add business value. Get clear answers about the leadership team’s HR expectations. At the same time, make sure your business acumen is up to par if you want to rise to the level of a CHRO. You must be confident when talking about issues beyond traditional HR topics such as hiring, firing, payroll and benefits.

"An enduring solution is to create new career paths for HR leaders to cultivate business smarts and for business leaders to cultivate people smarts," according to a Harvard Business Review article, People Before Strategy: A New Role for the CHRO. "Every entry-level leader, whether in HR or some other job, should get rigorous training in judging, recruiting and coaching people. And those who begin their careers in HR leadership should go through rigorous training in business analysis . . There should be no straight-line leadership promotions up the functional HR silo. Aspiring CHROs should have line jobs along the way, where they have to manage people and budgets."

Having the ability to connect to a CEO on their terms is critically important, writes Fred K. Folkes, a Professor of Organizational Behavior at Boston University’s School of Management, and founder and director of the Human Resources Policy Institute.

"CEOs want a true business partner who can build the HR vision and strategy around business models," Folkes writes in The Rise of HR, an e-book from HR Certification Institute® (HRCI®). "They want someone who can talk candidly and completely about talent, succession, compensation, change management and corporate culture. They also, of course, want someone they can trust will 'tell it like it is,' even if it is not what the CEO always want to hear."

Continue to Prove, Develop and Gain New HR Skills

The market for proven CHROs looks good as more and more CEOs realize the importance of HR strategy as a sustainable business driver. One way to demonstrate HR leadership competency, and take a major step up the HR career ladder, is through certification.

"Obtaining my Senior Professional in Human Resources® (SPHR®) credential in 2008 was the greatest choice I could have made for my career, "says Kimberly Vernon, SPHR, a Senior HR Manager at Comcast. "Maintaining the credential shows my business partners and the industry that I am committed to my profession and am constantly learning new trends."

Nelson D. Zivic, GPHR, SPHR, Senior HR Director, Latin American Region, for Newell Brands based in Mexico City, agrees: "HRCI certifications have elevated my career and the careers of my fellow HR colleagues. My HRCI certifications have helped me achieve the next level of HR, focusing on competencies, knowledge and business strategy."

Put Business First

A Zenger Folkman analysis recently analyzed leadership skills to compare HR with other functions. While HR scored high on relationship building, role modeling and functional knowledge, HR leaders rated lower on external focus, strategic perspective, quick response to challenges and openness to stretch goals. To rise to a senior leadership position as an HR leader, overall business strategies and goals must become HR goals.

"Business strategy and business results need to be kept in mind with everything you do," says Jill B. Smart, also a contributor to The Rise of HR. "The key is to have relationships with people at all levels of the business ― spending time with them, observing how they do their jobs and asking them questions about strategies, process, customers and employees."

Today’s HR is not just about HR anymore. To climb the ladder of success, HR professionals must be business people, not just HR leaders. Form partnerships with the C-suite. Always be open to new learning and professional development opportunities. Rotate jobs or at least get embedded in the work of your organization’s business units. Most important of all, think about how your HR initiatives can solve external as well as internal business challenges.