You hired a Chief Human Resources Officer because you believe people are key to your company's ability to perform for all its stakeholders. So what do you expect of your CHRO—and what should you do to help them?
Obviously, you didn't hire them to deal with mundane administrative tasks. Of course, they must take care of many operational matters and ensure the company abides by relevant employment laws and regulations. The truth of the matter is you hired them to do everything they can to enhance the capability of your company's management to drive value creation.
That reason will not necessarily be intuitive to a brand new CHRO, especially if they have risen through the ranks of HR. They may very well be assuming you want them to deal with the entire menu of "people issues." In my experience, that assumption, in and of itself, can quickly overwhelm them.
You can help by first, providing a clear line of sight from the company's value agenda to the selective people priorities that support value creation and, second, by helping them navigate the C-suite.
WHERE TO FOCUS?
Coming in, your new CHRO should focus on connecting talent to value.
Unfortunately, what matters to value is often not readily apparent to new CHROs. Perhaps that is why so many become enchanted by new, fashionable solutions that have no clear link to either a company problem or to its current value agenda. They do not yet fully understand what you are trying to do with the business. Therefore, they cannot accurately discern which initiatives and which roles in the organization really matter to value creation—and which do not.
If you want your new CHRO to quickly have a positive impact, clarify the vital few initiatives and roles that will be critical to driving the value agenda.
Be specific about what you want to achieve in the business. If possible, articulate exactly what you want delivered: the outcomes you are looking for in each area, how and by when you want those achieved, and how much value you expect those outcomes will contribute to the enterprise. The more precise you are regarding your expectations here, the better you set up your CHRO—and your company—for success.
Give your new Chief Human Resources Officer a sense, in very general business terms, of how you see those critical roles in the company driving that value. If you are aware of challenges these leaders are likely to encounter inside and outside the organization as they execute these deliverables, candidly share those too.
Then leave the running of the people side of your business to your new CHRO. With this guidance, it will be clear to them that only four of the traditional "people priorities" will demand their attention:
- Performance management,
- Succession management,
- Leadership development, and
- Capability building.
For insights into how a CHRO can add value in each of these areas, have them read my article "How HR Adds to Enterprise Value."
HOW TO NAVIGATE THE C-SUITE?
Initially, your new CHRO may also need your help with crafting a people agenda that has enough precision and rigor to get them some traction in the C-suite.
- Be honest with them about what you believe is critical to driving performance.
- Be very open to their input on what they think is critical: let them teach you about HR, but don't hesitate to test their thinking. Engage in constructive conflict.
- Challenge them on the business relevance and conciseness of trendy proposals. Digressing into fashionable initiatives will not improve the performance of the business: be firm. Do them a great service by keeping them sharp on what you need them to deliver.
- Keep their focus on the very few things that really matter—and nothing else. As soon as you stop insisting on these essentials, you take away the incisive framework within which your CHRO can excel.
Set great expectations for your CHRO, and you naturally bring an element of unreasonableness into play. The CHRO may or may not be your "favourite child" at the leadership table. But if you want a leadership team that performs extraordinarily well, if you want your managers and your workforce to have the necessary capabilities to deliver your value agenda, then you need someone leading HR who is really good at making the crucial talent choices that will drive company performance. Once the two of you have aligned on the people agenda, give them the support they need from you, especially when not everyone likes or agrees with what they are doing.
Provide sufficient "air cover" for them in the C-suite while they build what you want them to build. If you don't, all their efforts may be to no avail.
Give your new CHRO clarity about where to focus and what to deliver. Invite them to realize their full potential, to boldly rise to the challenge of the CHRO role, and match the greatness of their team members, for they are the one person, of all the people in your business (besides yourself), best qualified to look after the challenges and demands that come with working with people.