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Career Milestones

terri lecheva, partner, tritonexec

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Terri Lecheva Partner, Executive Search, TritonExec

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Climbing the HR ladder takes requires patience, a track record of accomplishment and tenacity. Here, HR-search specialist Terri Lecheva of global search firm TritonExec details what firms will be looking for in 2024 to secure HR’s top roles.

Embarking on a journey toward the upper echelons of the HR profession requires a strategic roadmap, fortified with experience, expertise, and a keen understanding of business dynamics. Aspiring HR executives often set their sights on coveted positions in the C-Suite, aiming to wield influence, drive organisational culture, and propel business success. But what exactly are the career milestones for HR execs, and how can one navigate the path to reach these lofty heights?

Paving the Way to the C-Suite:

1. Driving Tangible Results:

Aspiring CHROs understand the imperative of demonstrating the impact of HR initiatives on the organisation’s bottom line. In the eyes of the CEO and the board, success hinges on achieving key performance indicators (KPIs) that address critical business challenges. These may include tackling attrition during periods of growth or change, building a robust leadership pipeline, enhancing workforce quality through learning and development initiatives, and optimising HR productivity.

2. Strategic Problem-Solving:

A distinguishing factor for HR leaders aspiring to the C-Suite is their ability to transcend standard processes and navigate complex business challenges strategically. Rather than relying solely on traditional HR methods, successful CHROs adeptly analyse critical business areas, identifying root causes and tailoring solutions to drive meaningful change. Strategic problem-solving prowess is paramount in addressing issues such as attrition, succession planning, and organisational instability.

3. Business Acumen and Financial Literacy:

A seat at the executive table demands a deep understanding of financial metrics, market dynamics, and industry trends. HR executives must seamlessly link HR decisions to tangible business outcomes, translating data-driven insights into financially impactful recommendations. To resonate with the board, HR leaders should steer away from ‘HR jargon’ in favour of clear, concise communication grounded in business acumen and financial literacy by using language that all will understand.

4. Service Orientation and Emotional Intelligence:

Beyond analytical prowess, successful HR executives possess a service-oriented mindset and robust emotional intelligence. Leveraging their comprehensive understanding of business operations, HR leaders navigate complex organisational landscapes, influencing key decisions and driving collaboration across functions. Their ability to harness emotional intelligence, coupled with a core understanding of employee dynamics, propels them to operate effectively at the highest levels of leadership. We’re often told that the best HR leaders are those who listen first and then action, rather than acting without all the information and on impulse.

5. Adaptability and Learning Agility:

The journey to the C-Suite demands adaptability and continuous transformation through change. HR executives must stay attuned to evolving industry trends, technological advancements, and organisational dynamics.

Navigating the Path Forward:

In essence, the path to becoming a successful HR executive requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses driving tangible results, strategic problem-solving, business acumen, service orientation, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. By leveraging these key attributes and continuously honing their skills, HR leaders can ascend to the C-Suite, where they play a pivotal role in shaping organisational strategy, driving cultural transformation, and delivering sustainable business success.

CEOs often express a preference for HR executives with broader business experience beyond the confines of HR alone. Many CEOs believe that the most effective HR leaders possess a comprehensive understanding of the organisation’s commercial landscape and operational intricacies. To achieve this, aspiring HR executives are encouraged to seek opportunities to work in other commercial departments or closely shadow various business teams. By immersing themselves in different facets of the organisation, HR leaders gain invaluable insights into the diverse needs and challenges across functions, enabling them to make more informed decisions and drive holistic business strategies.

This immersion in cross-functional experiences not only enhances a HR leader’s commercial acumen but also a shared sense of purpose and understanding. Whether it’s collaborating with sales teams to understand customer dynamics, partnering with finance teams to grasp budgetary constraints, or working alongside operations teams to optimise processes, these experiences enrich an HR executive’s perspective and elevate their ability to contribute meaningfully to the organisation’s success.

Board Roles:

The board’s focus extends to long-term sustainability, risk management, and financial oversight, while the CEO may prioritise immediate business needs. The board emphasises governance, compliance, and talent strategy, expecting the CPO to ensure HR practices align with legal requirements and support future growth. They also look to the CPO for effective communication, transparency, and leadership in shaping the organisation’s external reputation and corporate social responsibility initiatives. In summary, while both the CEO and the board expect strategic alignment and talent management from the CPO, the board’s perspective encompasses broader areas such as financial oversight, risk management, stakeholder engagement, and corporate social responsibility.

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