The role of the chief human resource officer (CHRO) has changed dramatically over the years. Once a mid-level staff position, the head of human resources today sits at the elbow of the CEO and maintains one of the most influential positions within senior management.
But finding the right chief human resources officer (CHRO) can be a challenging proposition for a recruitment firm. As businesses have become increasingly holistic, the CHRO role has evolved away from just administrative and transactional responsibilities. Indeed, the job now plays an integral, strategic part in driving a company forward. One finds CHROs in constant interaction with the chief executive officer, members of the executive team, and the board of directors. And they do more than recruit talent: They have a deep understanding of the direction and aspirations of their organization, can work across leadership to inform and shepherd decision-making, and help bring aboard those individuals who will contribute to a company's success far beyond the here and now.
In the following interview Mike Bergen, human resources global practice leader for Allegis Partners, headquartered in New York, discusses the critical role the CHRO plays. He describes the modern CHRO as something of a new breed: "They are business leaders first who happen to lead the HR function. They understand the financials and are able to contribute well beyond human capital."
Mike was senior client partner in the HR practice at Korn Ferry as well as a contributing senior client partner in its global sports practice. Before Korn Ferry, Mike founded Bergen Briller Group, an executive search and talent consulting firm that he led for more than 12 years.
Mike, how has the CHRO role changed over the last decade?
The role of the CHRO is no longer one that is just administration and transaction oriented. The focus goes well beyond traditional people initiatives. Today, CHROs are strategic executives that are constantly interacting with the CEO, members of the executive team, and the board of directors. They are business leaders first who happen to lead the HR function. They understand the financials and are able to contribute well beyond human capital. In today's marketplace, you are only as good as your talent, therefore, CHROs need to ensure their company has the best talent onboard and is constantly evolving and developing leadership as well as the HR team. CHROs should aspire to be counsel, coach, and consigliere to the CEO – because the best are. They act as a bridge between the executive leadership team and the CEO, managing the way decisions are made, and are responsible for guiding, developing, and coaching across the C-suite. By virtue of their strategic view of interrelated issues across the enterprise and their knowledge and understanding of all aspects of talent and business, good CHROs – and they aren't all good – use talent as a business opportunity and know how to connect talent back to the business goals and challenges of their organizations.
Is recruiting a CHRO getting more complicated then?
I wouldn't say that recruiting CHROs is more complicated – as long as you understand the evolved profile of today's CHRO. But your question is a good one because it is certainly more challenging since the talent pool is smaller. Finding CHROs with the right mix of business acumen and human resource skills is certainly a hurdle to cross. Traditionally, HR executives haven't had the same career development steps as, say, someone coming up through finance. The academic path for HR professionals has failed to emphasize hardcore business skills, and once HR professionals enter the profession, they have rarely been moved into line roles to gain an understanding of the business. We are seeing this being addressed in the last decade, but it will take time. When Allegis Partners takes on a search, the first question we ask our clients is what business challenges do they want to solve. Once we understand the business objectives, market trends, and dynamics, we can then create a specific position description for the candidate that is going to strengthen the leadership team and address the concerns and strategic needs of the company. We never just search for the person they think they want. We have to have a point of view on the industry as well as our client company's position in that industry. We look for candidates that can build and strengthen teams, identify and resolve business structural changes, implement significant technology change, manage complex labor issues, and – probably most importantly, if necessary – coach an incoming or sitting CEO.
How active are CHROs in their company's external hiring process? Is it more for senior-level positions or do they get involved in all hiring decisions?
If the CHRO is not involved in C-suite hires, they are not doing their job well! They should be intimately involved in all executive-level and C-suite hires and that of board directors. Beyond that, they have an obligation to create a consistent framework for assessment and consistent standards for performance and potential that gets driven as deep into the organization as they need. They are developing core sets of competencies that are going to apply to all levels in an organization. If a CHRO has built a strong team of talent drivers within his or her organization, he/she shouldn't have to micromanage other levels of the hiring process. If members of the HR team are knowledgeable about the goals of the business, they can work with and guide hiring managers and talent acquisition professionals in making the right decisions when it comes to talent.
As a recruiter, in what capacity do you work with a CHRO? How extensive is your communication and does it typically involve other line executives?
Most of our more successful searches have been when the CHRO takes an active role in the search because they are the keeper of the talent strategy. When we do our stakeholder meetings during the initial kick off of a search, we speak with line executives throughout the organization around the profile they think will be successful in the role. We find they are very open to us providing great insight that they may not have shared with someone inside the organization. We translate that back to the CHRO providing him/her with a perspective, outside his/her own lens, bringing more color and texture to what exactly will be the right fit. We are constantly communicating with the CHRO, asking questions and offering our guidance. They know where the talent gaps are, and we have access to a large pool of talent in a wide variety of industries. By building and maintaining that relationship, we are often able to help fill roles through our relationships with our sister companies like Major, Lindsey & Africa, an expert in placing general counsel and other in-house legal talent, or through the expertise of our colleagues in other Allegis Partners' practices like our board and corporate governance practice. We nurture that relationship to help them build a best-in-class team because we want to see our clients succeed.
What do you differently from other search firms?
At Allegis Partners, we are doing everything that the other search firms aren't doing. We are leading with advice and counsel and not commercializing those conversations. We are talking to, and informing, our clients about succession, talent mapping, compensation benchmarking, assessment, and market intelligence. We are even facilitating the successful on-boarding of new leaders as part of our normal search process. We don't look to monetize this advisory work we do for our clients – rather our goal is to develop trust that is needed for long-term relationships with our clients. It’s not just about recruiting anymore. Being a part of the fabric of our client's organization is what sets us apart from our competition. It is the foundation on which we have built our firm.
This interview was originally featured December 17, 2015, on Hunt Scanlon Media.