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Will the HRD / CHRO soon become the CEO’s “right-hand person”?

Posted 4 months ago by James Taylor


Like never before the pandemic has highlighted the importance of the HR Leader. I have called HR “the 5th emergency service” during the past two and a half years.

Jumping from the Pandemic into the business challenges associated with the War in Ukraine, rising energy prices, high inflation and a confused political landscape and you have HR Leaders needing to navigate their people through a sustained period of unprecedented change.

As such, it’s easy to understand the rise in profile for HR Leaders.  When you then add in the fact that we are experiencing an acute War For Talent (with over 1 million live vacancies in the UK and a candidate pipeline/skills shortage that is worsening month on month), I say the rise in the profile is long overdue.

With the talent shortage showing no real signs of slowing, businesses must have a People / Talent Strategy that focuses on employee engagement, productivity and the employee experience in order to differentiate their offering to attract and retain high-calibre people.

Most of the Business Leaders I have the privilege of knowing to admit that they don’t have “People” as an agenda item during their Board Meetings.  I don’t understand this and will continue to challenge it given that they also say that they’re struggling to recruit and retain their best people.  

If you have a business strategy and business goals.  You need a people strategy and people goals… the HR Leader therefore must, at the very least, occupy a seat around the top table to ensure businesses are laser-focused on… THEIR PEOPLE, something which has seen the rise of the Chief People Officer (CPO) and Head of People.

Whether or not you believe that your people are your most important asset, it really cannot be argued that a lack of quality talent is a barrier to growth and/or success for most businesses.  A lack of employee engagement is also a key reason that businesses fail to execute their strategic projects.

The reason I believe HR could become the CEO’s right-hand person (sorry Finance Directors) is that businesses and Boards need to find answers to the following in the next few years:

  1. How to balance Employee v Employer Expectations.  Employees hold all the aces currently and HR are frantically redefining their EVPs to meet (hopefully exceed) employee expectations.

  2. How to look after Employee well-being.  (Whether physical, mental or financial.)

  3. How to bridge the skills gap.  (Innovative projects with schools, colleges and Universities to think outside of the box when it comes to early careers.)

  4. How we manage and support a workforce spanning 5 generations taking into account behaviours, outlooks and expectations.

  5. Implementing tech and digital transformation projects in a human-centred way.  Or the project will fail.

  6. Optimising Internal Communications to ensure that every employee has a voice and feels valued.

  7. Diversity, Equality & Inclusion.  Is fast rising up the strategic agenda for many Boardrooms.  Few would argue that diversity is good for business and I believe that, for the next generation of job seekers, your DEI policy will be scrutinised.

  8. ESG (or CSR in old money).  Is also at the top of the strategic agenda for many Boardrooms.  The HR Leader is the obvious person to own this if someone with specialist knowledge isn’t recruited.

  9. C-Suite succession planning.  With Executive Recruitment being a dark art that overly relies on interviewing rather than assessment, continuity and succession in the Boardroom are crucial.  One bad external hire can ruin an otherwise successful team.

The final reason that I believe the CHRO will overtake the CFO as the CEO’s right-hand person is their ability to manage a crisis and given that we are living in a VUCA World (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous), these crises show no sign of easing.  

A few months ago we hosted an online event, with a panel of high-profile experts, called “What does the C-Suite of The Future Look Like”.  You can access the recording here