The Incredible Shrinking CHRO: What’s Next for HR Leaders?

February 27th, 2024 – SkillCycle

The Incredible Shrinking CHRO: What’s Next for HR Leaders?

The Incredible Shrinking CHRO: What’s Next for HR Leaders?

HR has evolved a great deal over the past few decades. People leaders have risen from managing personnel and payroll to having a place in the C-suite as Chief Human Resources Officers, or CHROs.

With the creation of a C-suite people leadership role, the concept of an HR business partner was officially introduced. It was the first time in many companies that HR began shifting into alignment with business goals instead of being adjacent to them. 

“HR has been disenfranchised, even as it rebranded from personnel to HR to people ops,” says Rebecca Taylor, CCO and Co-founder of SkillCycle. “There’s still this assumption that HR lives outside the business, instead of deserving a seat at the table.” 

The result of this dynamic? Fewer people leaders seeking the role of CHRO, and a shift in the potential career paths of talented people leaders. 

In this article on the disappearing role of CHROs, we’ll explore:

  • What is a CHRO responsible for: business, people, or both?
  • Why HR pros have slowed on pursuing a CHRO position
  • Strategies for HR pros looking to move up
  • Could the career path of an HR pro now include COO?


What is a CHRO responsible for: business, people, or both?

HR has always been about people, but the role of CHRO requires a different kind of business savvy. The shift to create a C-suite HR role changed how HR leaders worked with the rest of the organization. 

So, what does a CHRO do? The job description varies, but these leaders are now charged with connecting their initiatives to company objectives. The creation of this role demanded people leaders to go beyond interviews and processing paperwork, and learn how to build people processes that aligned with the overall goals of the organization.

“It wasn’t always easy for people leaders to integrate themselves into the business,” says Taylor. “A kind of stalemate was created where HR was finally able to get a seat at the table, but wasn’t sure how to move forward from there. There’s a lot of pressure to be tied to business metrics.” 

Today, CHROs navigate a changing landscape. More than 90% of CHROs predict significant shifts to the HR operating model during the next two to three years, according to McKinsey. Another 72% are eyeing AI and believe it will replace jobs in their organization in the next three years, according to Gallup.

The best case scenario is an HR leader who understands the business, the people, and has the power to enact change in the organization. Yet, people leaders often carry high levels of accountability without the corresponding levels of authority.


Why HR pros have slowed on pursuing a CHRO position

HR leaders were already working under pressure when the COVID-19 pandemic began. At that point, the landscape in many workplaces changed considerably, and swiftly. Companies were suddenly writing policies about working from home, and everyone was under serious pressure.

Most companies turned to HR, which in turn became crisis management: making sure everyone had laptops and that accommodations were considered. 

“This is telling in a couple of ways,” says Taylor. “First, there is trust in HR because so many companies turned to them to handle the crisis. And second, it demonstrates that HR leaders can be very strong in a crisis.” 

HR leaders are great at problem-solving without needing to have experience in a particular situation. They’ve often built their careers figuring it out as they go without a clear roadmap, which serves them well when a critical incident or emergency strikes. 

But now, HR leaders have been in crisis mode for four years. They navigated a pandemic and led their teams through a growing awareness of racism during a global movement toward equity. Many companies needed new policies to meet these new demands, and the outcomes related to these shifts also became HR’s responsibility. All in all, it’s a lot of pressure to carry indefinitely. 


Strategies for HR pros looking to move up

HR leaders who are looking to move up in an organization can take steps to improve their ability to identify and ask for what they want. One effective approach is to learn to articulate how their people development plans will generate a return on the company’s investment

While HR pros and COOs may have different perspectives, they likely have similar goals for the company. Both want to retain their best people, and help them perform their jobs in a way that achieves company outcomes. 

When bringing new initiatives to your COO, try introducing it in terms of what matters to them and how they measure success. To do so, you can frame concerns like skills gaps as an obstacle to high performance. 

“Maybe you can’t say a new training program will result in a specific revenue level, but you could ask what the obstacles have been in the past, and if the right people are in place to achieve the desired goals,” says Taylor. “You can point out the skills required to succeed, and suggest assessments to flag gaps.”

Having these conversations in the right way can help you manipulate outcomes that are favorable for everyone, and communicate the value of investing in the organization’s employees. 


Could the career path of an HR pro now include COO?

A senior people leader likely has valuable insights and useful strategies into how an organization can leverage its workforce to achieve company goals. Yet, HR leaders don’t typically own their budget, and often don’t have the business acumen to articulate the benefits in a way the rest of the organization can understand. 

“The lack of authority is causing HR leaders to burn out faster than I’ve ever seen,” says Taylor.

It’s a recipe for frustration and resentment. So where can talented HR professionals set their sights if the CHRO job description doesn’t seem as appealing as they once thought? It’s possible that some will target a COO role instead. 

“HR leaders have the skills, can gain business acumen, and are looking for the position that gives them the power to do their job today,” says Taylor. “In many cases, that role is COO.” 

What does a CHRO do that is different from a COO? Both roles are nuanced and vary from company to company, so there are no hard boundaries. However, there are transferable leadership skills, and the roles are not dissimilar. Can you juggle multiple priorities and hone skills that may not come naturally, like business-side and people-side skills?

In many cases, the leaders in these roles want the same things, but one may have more clout to get them done — and those moving up in HR are paying attention. 

Want more insights about the future of HR? Watch our free on-demand webinar: Secure Your Place and Cultivate a Learning-Driven Environment


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