Q&A with Anna Penfold on the changing role of the CHRO
Career TransitionsHuman Resources
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August 19, 2021
Career TransitionsHuman Resources
Executive Summary
A discussion with Anna Penfold, on the CHRO’s growing prominence and their main areas of focus in the coming period. 

Excerpt from the article originally published in Consultancy.uk

The role of Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) has evolved over the years and even more so since the start of the pandemic. A discussion with Anna Penfold, partner and co-leader of Russell Reynolds Associates’ global Human Resources practice, on the CHRO’s growing prominence and their main areas of focus in the coming period. 

How important has the role of CHRO become in today's corporate office structure?

The CHRO has become a particularly important function within the boardroom as organisations increasingly dedicate resources to non-financial issues like corporate purpose. Many of the most pressing issues in the workplace like DE&I, ESG, talent management and retention are firmly in the remit of a CHRO. 

In fact, boards are scrutinising candidate credentials for the role in more detail as an increasing number of appointments are for those with on-the-job experience in addition to commercial knowhow such as consulting expertise. As boards increasingly focus on key issues like ESG and DE&I, the job of the CHRO will become even more critical within the corporate office structure. 

Has the pandemic accelerated the CHRO's influence in the boardroom and, if so, how important is it? 
Absolutely, the pandemic has put CHROs on the front line in some of the most pressing boardroom issues of the pandemic. They have had to keep their workforces safe, motivated and productive through lockdown while being involved in tough decisions around salary cuts, furloughs and redundancies. And these questions are not going away. The success or failure of hybrid working will be one of the most important tests for the board in the years to come. 

Additionally, some functions that used to sit at the HR organisational level have shifted to executive teams and boards. Employee wellbeing, the future of work and engagement are areas that now command scrutiny, investment and action. Hence, we now see a growing trend for workplace representatives on boards in UK PLCs and other organisations providing further evidence of the role becoming central to strategy.​ 

Talking about the role itself, what are the top three things CHROs need to address in today's workplace in preparation for current and future needs? 

Today’s CHROs have quite a few elements to juggle in addition to being advisors to the board on matters of compensation, governance, succession planning and talent management. Some of these elements we have touched on already. Firstly, the future of work and how the modern office will change for many after the experiences during lockdown. Organisations will have to ensure employee wellbeing and support their workforce as it adapts to a new way of working. 

Secondly, diversity, equity and inclusion and how to ensure equity and representation for all in the workplace. From racial and gender disparity to inclusion, there is a lot to be done in this area now and going forward. 

And finally, sustainability. As ESG gains momentum and becomes more defined, the question remains, how are organisations placed to manage their sustainability ambitions in the face of scrutiny from boards, employees and from external influences?​ 

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