HR Leads Business

Oct 2, 2019 | Clare Chiappetta, MA, HRCI Contributing Writer

Preparing to Lead the Future of HR: 3 Steps to Becoming a CHRO

The wave of the future workforce is about to break on our shore. Leaders must prepare for this new future or risk being swept away. HR is positioned to take its place as a leader of organizational change, and that means you have the chance to take your place at the HR forefront.

With all these changes, what does it take to make it to the ranks of a senior HR officer or chief human resource officer (CHRO)?

If you had asked that question five or 10 years ago, you may have received a different response. But the truth is that work is changing, and the service HR provides is changing along with it.

“Today HR is struggling to overcome outdated practices,” says Denise Caleb, executive vice president and chief transformation officer at Talent Plus. “As a result, those who strive to move from being an individual contributor to a leader and visionary in the HR space must determine how they are going to positively influence and reinvent the brand and practice of HR for their organization.”

So what skills should you be honing to become engaged in leadership at your organization?

“One of the biggest mistakes HR folks can make is not devoting enough time to their own personal development,” says Ed Krow, an HR strategist and a member of the Forbes Coaches Council. “HR teams and leaders still prioritize technical skills, but the skills that will take you to another level are leadership and communication.”

Here are three ways you can own your personal development journey and set yourself up for a spot in the C-suite.

Focus on Your Business Acumen

First you have to demonstrate widely applicable business knowledge. As technology allows HR departments to move into a more strategic role, it’s crucial for you to demonstrate a wide knowledge of business functions outside of HR.

HR’s goal is to support the business through human capital and organizational structure, but that can’t happen unless HR folks know how to align their contributions with the business’ overarching goals. “The HR profession needs, and is requiring, more vision, strategy and alignment with both business and people outcomes,” Caleb says. “It is critical that HR professionals advance their business acumen, as well as teach and demonstrate to the business how to best care for their employees, who will in turn better service their customers, clients and/or patients.”

A really simple way to work on developing business knowledge is through reading. Numerous books break down the details of business, while also realigning the nitty-gritty processes with overall goals. “It’s so important to step outside of your knowledge zone and expand your horizons,” Krow says. “The best step you can take for your career is to put down the HR material and pick up a book or watch a webinar on global business. That’s the direction HR needs to take.”

Develop a Versatile Communication Style

Communication is a critical skill in the future-ready workforce, and it’s one you must cultivate to make it to the C-suite. As business structures shift to become more fluid, you’ll be communicating with professionals at all levels of the organization.

The conversations a CHRO has will range from practical knowledge and execution on a small scale to executing strategies and global visions. Being successful in the role will require a versatile communication style and professional demeanor.

“Being a good communicator starts with the one-on-one relationships, and the ability to move quickly between communicating with someone on the floor and communicating with someone in the C-suite,” Krow says. “The skill set it takes to remedy an interpersonal conflict out on the shop floor, for example, is very different from the skill set it takes to sit in the boardroom and make strategic decisions about where the company is headed.”

The best way to learn these communication skills is to put them in practice. Try attending conferences when possible and practice eye contact and confident body language when chatting with peers and leaders in the industry. Remember respect is the key to successful communication at any level.

Cultivate Leadership, Starting with Learnability

No successful CHRO got where they are because they’re a follower. It’s vital to demonstrate leadership skills when seeking a position at the top. Don’t think for a second, though, that this means marginalizing the folks at the bottom. 

“The best of HR leadership includes follow-through, showing up for all employees — regardless of title — and providing internal consulting that is candid, direct and considers all parties’ vantage points,” Caleb says. “HR is a people business; therefore, HR leaders must always behave in a way that supports people’s full employment journey. They must always demonstrate behaviors that drive accountability, understanding, measurement and compassion simultaneously.”

One of the best ways to become a great leader is learnability. Leaders must stay humble about knowing what they don’t know and demonstrate a hunger to continue learning and adapting. “Employees who are entering the workforce expect and want more learning and development from their leaders,” Caleb says. “HR plays a critical role in the future with knowing how to provide solutions for the elevation of needs driving people outcomes within the workforce today.”

Establishing your seat in the C-suite isn’t always easy, but it’s a road worth taking. Do you have the drive to learn, grow and become one of the next generation’s HR leaders?

This article was originally published in 2017 and was updated in September 2019.