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The Rise of Non-HR CHROs

10 June 2024

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Story by
Adrian Tan HR Influencer

Adrian Tan, HR Influencer, says HR leadership is gaining attention from other professionals – and here’s why that’s good news for HR specialists.

You might have noticed an interesting trend lately – more and more business leaders from diverse backgrounds are being appointed as Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs). What was once considered an outlier or even a career dead-end is now becoming an exciting opportunity. Let me explain why this shift is happening and what it means for organisations.

HR’s importance has skyrocketed

First, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room – the strategic importance of HR has skyrocketed in recent years. CHROs are no longer just overseeing administrative HR functions; they’re key strategic partners to the CEO and executive leadership team. Their role in talent management, organisational culture, and employee engagement is crucial for business success.

Moreover, the CHRO position has evolved from a compliance/transactional focus to a more strategic and transformational one. Companies expect their CHROs to drive organisational change, develop future leaders, and align people strategies with overall business objectives. With such an expanded scope, it’s no wonder the role carries more weight and influence within organisations.

But why is there a sudden influx of non-HR professionals into CHRO roles? Well, there are a few compelling reasons:

  • Business Acumen: The influx of non-HR CHROs brings a wealth of business acumen, commercial awareness, and a strategic mindset. This infusion can elevate the HR function’s role in driving organisational success and better align HR strategies with overall business objectives, thereby enhancing the overall HR capabilities.
  • Fresh Perspective: Individuals from outside HR can bring a fresh perspective, challenge traditional HR practices, and foster innovation in HR approaches. Their diverse backgrounds can provide fresh air for organisations with outdated HR models.
  • Cultural Shift: Appointing non-HR CHROs signals a cultural shift, where HR is viewed more as a strategic business partner than just an administrative function. It’s a bold statement that companies are serious about integrating HR into their core business strategies.
  • Respect and Credibility: The direct impact of the HR department is sometimes underappreciated within organisations. HR instantly gains credibility and respect by having a well-respected leader who has already proven their mettle in another business unit.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – what about the potential lack of HR expertise? It’s a valid concern. Non-HR CHROs may lack technical knowledge of employment laws, compensation strategies, talent acquisition, and employee relations. However, this can be overcome through a collaborative approach. By working closely with seasoned HR professionals, non-HR CHROs can tap into their expertise and ensure a well-rounded HR function.

Conversely, we must also consider the potential impact on HR morale. While some career HR professionals may initially feel uncertain about this trend, it also presents a unique opportunity for growth and learning. They can see it as a chance to expand their skill set and adapt to the evolving needs of the HR function. This positive outlook can help mitigate any potential demoralisation and strengthen the HR talent pipeline.

That’s why it’s crucial for organisations to balance leveraging diverse perspectives and ensuring HR technical expertise. Nurturing and developing internal HR talent for succession planning is paramount, even as non-HR CHROs are brought in, to maintain the core HR knowledge and skills.

The push for data-driven organisations

Speaking of diverse perspectives, one area where non-HR CHROs could shake things up is data-driven decision-making. HR has sometimes been associated with emotion-based decisions and even pseudoscience (remember that CHRO who claimed they could tell everything from a handshake? Yikes!).

With their business backgrounds, non-HR CHROs are uniquely positioned to embrace evidence-based decision-making and leverage tools like people analytics to translate people’s data into actionable insights. This could be a transformative opportunity for HR to evolve and excel with their most valuable asset – their human capital.

HR expertise still required

The rise of non-HR CHROs is an exciting development that challenges traditional HR norms and brings fresh perspectives to the table. However, it’s crucial to remember that HR expertise remains a core pillar of the function. This reassurance should instil confidence in HR professionals, reminding them of the value they bring to the table and the integral role they play in the success of the organisation.

If done right, this trend could usher in a new era of strategic, data-driven, and business-aligned HR practices that drive organisational success like never before. And that’s something we should all be excited about, regardless of our backgrounds.

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