In a new article on Harvard Business Review, there’s a funny story about the concept of a Chief Human Resources Officer:
Lucia Luce Quinn is Chief People Officer at Forrester Research. Earlier in her career, she left a position as SVP of business development and emerging businesses to join Boston Scientific in a senior line job. Upon arriving, she flatly refused the CEO’s offer of the CHRO role. He had to ask her four more times, including once on a conference call with the whole executive team, before she finally relented.
Basically, this woman turned down a Chief Human Resources Officer role four-five times, including once when she was backed into a corner on a conference call (classy play by that CEO, as an aside). Why? In her words: she thought she must have done something wrong.
This is logical. Companies care about making money, predominantly. Human Resources does not make money on face. So why would a hard-charging executive want to run that team?
Plus: HR has a bad rap at most companies. It’s often not empowered to do anything, and usually it creates more impediments to stuff getting done than it does solve problems. At most companies, execs barely care about the department — until they need a rival forced out the door, of course.
But what if being a Chief Human Resources Officer could be a strategic value-add?
The rise of the Chief Human Resources Officer
I guess this is the simplest way I could explain this:
- Most companies focus intensely on process and product.
- They tend to view people as replaceable.
In 100 years, who knows? There might be about 30% of jobs for people available as there are now. But it’s not 100 years from now. It’s today! And because people still work in organizations — in fact, bureaucracy is exploding — we should care about people more. We should optimize them to do the best they can for themselves and the company.
This would all come from the “shop” of a Chief Human Resources Officer.
In that way, it could be a super-strategic role. Think on stuff like:
- How will promotions work?
- What will we do about salaries and reporting?
- How can we optimize the hiring process?
- What’s our succession plan?
- How can we get more out of the top employees?
- What are we doing to make managers more effective?
All those things matter — and a lot. They actually matter more than “What’s our unit cost on this widget?”
What normally happens, though
Some organizations are forward-thinking and have the Chief Human Resources Officer doing those things.
- Barely acknowledge HR’s existence
- Only kick it “hair-on-fire” or “cover-your-ass” projects
- Use it as an internal cop
- Staff it with hot 20-something women
If those bullet points are how your org treats HR, then you can go get a homeless person and make them Chief Human Resources Officer. It won’t make a difference. You could honestly just outsource the function at that point and it would be exactly the same.
If you’re reading this post and think you can relate to some of the ways I think about work and marketing and management and productivity, subscribe to this newsletter I do every Thursday. It’s fun. I promise.
Last FT job I had the HR team was 3–4 people, and the Chief Human Resources Officer had a title like “Chief Organizational Evangelist” or some bullshit. Best I could tell, she (a) spent 2 weeks once hiring a nanny for the CEO and (b) ran point on some annual employee survey that the rest of the executive team subsequently completely ignored. She probably made a solid $150,000 for that. Fun times, yea?
What you do with your people is, by definition, strategy. So yes, a Chief Human Resources Officer can be a strategic role. In fact, it must.