Surveys find the new CHRO won't be an HR specialist but a polymath

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett May 17, 2015
Findings in recent surveys suggest a disconnect between HR and the business. Fixing that means changes at the top.

When I met John Schwarz, CEO Visier at last year's HR Tech conference I was unsurprised to discover that HR take up of purpose driven analytics is not as fast as you might expect. Despite the dire warnings of skilled labor shortages (although some vehemently disagree), falling educational outcomes and a rapidly aging workforce across multiple geographies, few businesses seem equipped to plan for workforce change. One reason offered was that HR leaders instinctively know there are structural problems but either don't want to or cannot face the consequences of knowing what needs to be done. The response from at least one survey is unequivocal - get with the program or you'll be replaced by leaders who come from other parts of the business. In short, CHROs need to be polymaths, showing strong business, networking and financial skills as significant experience components in their CVs.

This is backed by research commissioned by Visier which showed that successful CHROs are:



  • 80% of executives say their company cannot succeed without an assertive, data-driven CHRO, who takes a strong stance on talent issues and uses relevant facts to deliver an informed point of view.


  • 81% of executives say that when hiring new senior HR talent they value business acumen more than technical HR skills


  • 78% of executives say that their company cannot succeed without a CHRO that takes on responsibility for contributing directly to business performance.

Usually, we take these kinds of survey with a sack of salt since they are often predicated upon satisfying the vendor's marketing objectives. But when I mentioned this survey to colleagues at an HR company event last week, none of those I spoke with saw this as surprising. If anything, the findings are prescient in light of additional research from Bersin by Deoloitte which said:

...turnover among CHROs in F100 companies is high: 39% over the past two years, in fact. Many of these roles have been filled with leaders from outside of HR – executives from marketing, finance, operations, or lines of business.  The turnover isn't that surprising, given that only 5 percent of respondents in our global survey rated their organization’s HR performance as excellent.


Deloitte HR survey

In his analysis Schwarz (naturally) makes the case for CHROs to be both business focused and data driven, arguing that the fallback to finance for workforce related cost analysis is a weak approach:

The workforce is the biggest investment an organization can make, but decoding a Total Cost of Workforce (TCOW) is often where it is weakest. Finance doesn’t have a deep enough understanding of the workforce to deliver this information. It has a much more historical and accounting-oriented point of view.

With a TCOW, you can deliver a very clear workforce plan and project where costs are going. It puts you in the position of having the facts to support the talent needs of the business when these issues are debated with Finance and the C-suite.

Schwarz argument is based upon the way costs tend to be allocated, taking out for example contingent or contract labor. While that is not always true, I can buy the finance related argument. I can also see the C-suite being in broad agreement with this approach. But as commenters have noted, the bottleneck may well be the process-orientation that pervades much of HR.

I suspect that is changing albeit slowly. Vendors like Visier, but also others are starting to roll out better approaches to automating or at least making the transactional HR processes more efficient. In theory, this should free up HR leaders to focus on  the important talent topics that are a common part of the conversations we have with all vendors.

All of which is fine and dandy but do these people exist? In a recent Forbes article, Mike Myatt said of Tim Huval, CHRO at Humana:

He is the total package – a team player people love to work with and for. With a diverse background in human resources, information technology, and operations, his business and leadership acumen are only exceeded by his commitment to make others better. Huval refuses to take credit for any of the many successes Humana has achieved over the last two years, quickly giving the credit to his colleagues and teammates. But those who know him will quickly point to the critical nature of his role in Humana’s transformation into the enterprise (CEO) Broussard envisioned.

Myatt names nine other CHROs. All of them tick the polymath box. Go figure.

Images via Visier and Deloitte