The Best Ways HR Leaders Can Transition Into CHRO
Career AdviceLeadershipHuman ResourcesExecutive Search
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October 19, 2020
Career AdviceLeadershipHuman ResourcesExecutive Search
Simply knowing a company’s industry, operating model and strategy is not enough to find success – leaders must constantly learn as they develop in their roles.

Hunt Scanlon Media

The Hunt Scanlon Media article, "The Best Ways HR Leaders Can Transition Into CHRO​," was based on our paper, "Advice for CHROs: Architect Your Transition into Your New Role." The article is excerpted below. 


Every new chief human resource officer (CHRO) comes into the role from a place of success. Past impact produced the invitation into the C-suite or into a new organization. But past success, no matter how significant, does not guarantee a successful transition. What worked before may not generate the same success at a more senior level. 


Russell Reynolds Associates interviewed a diverse group of 21 CHROs from around the world earlier this year. Each had been in their current role between nine and 18 months. The search firm’s goal was to uncover the best advice for new CHROs and to learn what these leaders wished they had done differently during their transitio​​n. 


The search firm found that these leaders recognized the need to have clarity about what drives the business before Day One. Walking in on your first day with a general understanding of the new company’s industry, operating model and strategy is not enough. While this learning begins in the interview process, it continues with research and first conversations. 


One CHRO told the firm: “Do your prep work – before you start and in the first two weeks. Dig into financials, proxy, shareholder materials, strategy documents. The goal is to understand the business as quickly as possible.” But archival research is not enough. The learning deepens in your first conversations with people at the company. Advice for these initial discussions included to “talk about the business, not about HR.” Another CHRO suggested a new leader “learn the context. Learn the history of the business, the board, and the leadership team as well as the infrastructure and technology.” A third said: “Discover the key levers in the business. How does the business make money? What are the sensitivities around that?”


The Russell Reynolds Associates’ report said that the discovery work is also about what the CHRO will need to change and what should stay the same: “Understand the legacy, what you’re trying to preserve, and how you’ll make that happen from a business and people point of view,” said one CHRO. “Break some things, strategically. Make your mark in your team and identify the gaps on the ELT quickly,” advised another. And critically, “balance the urgent and important versus the strategic,” said a third. 


Only You Can Create Your Onboarding 

One HR leader stated: “Own your onboarding beginning with the day you accept the job.” The Russell Reynolds report said that you can be the driver of culture change in your new organization, beginning with how you introduce yourself and simultaneously assess the organization. HR leaders emphasized that the process begins with mindset. “Prepare for a baptism by fire,” said one CHRO. Another recommended: “Think of this as a year-long learning lab.” 


The report also said that as much as you will want to move fast, patience matters too, for both you and your colleagues. Two leaders reflected back on their experience, with one saying they would have “[told] myself to be more patient and not put so much pressure to deliver.” The other “would give myself more patience and give my CEO more benefit of the doubt.”​ 


Build Trust First​ 

The search firm’s report said that with business insight and a mindset of learning and patience, the most important work of your onboarding plan is building relationships. One CHRO said, “Really focus on building relationships and listening. Don’t have a preset agenda on what you think is right.” Almost every leader wished they had done a better job of connecting with others in the first year. They challenged new CHROs to do better. “Be more intentional about building relationships: Time, setting, and frequency matter,” said one. “I would have focused more on my manager relationships,” said another. A third remarked, “I would probably try to spend more time with my colleagues and with my CEO earlier on.” 


“The CEO presents a unique challenge,” the report said. “Most CHROs, when new to a team, spend so much time pursuing the CEO’s attention that they inadequately engage other members of the executive leadership team. They don’t spend enough time with leaders a few levels down, who really hold the secrets of the organization.” 


An added wrinkle is CEO tenure. The search firm said some CEOs will be in their seats for many years. Others may also be transitioning into their role as the CHRO joins. In either case, the advice about the CEO relationship is still about building connection immediately: “I think I would be in the CEO’s face more,” said oner CHRO. “I would have built a stronger relationship with him more quickly and I would have commenced that charter of what we’re working on together as a team earlier.” 


To read the full article, click here​.