Building a productive relationship with directors is crucial to CHROs succeeding in their roles. Three veteran board directors offer their advice for HR leaders who are faced with an ever-growing list of responsibilities.
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What Board Directors Need from HR Now
Building a productive relationship with directors is crucial to CHROs succeeding in their roles. What are the key insights and lessons from board members? Adam Bryant, Directors Roundtable Editor, interviewed three veteran board directors on their advice for HR leaders who are faced with an ever-growing list of responsibilities. Their comments were edited for space and woven together in a roundtable format.
People + Strategy: How has your thinking evolved about what directors expect from CHROs?
George Barrett: The pandemic has elevated many big questions that require CHROs to be particularly attentive to all that is happening around us. How do you create in your organization a center of truth, a command center that can guide decision-making in challenging times? Are our people safe and do they feel safe? Is this applied equitably? There are new questions about the impact that working remotely will have on the culture of the organization. How do we keep focused on our mission? What is it doing to retention? These challenges about safety and culture naturally sit with the CHRO’s role, and they put a premium on effective communication.
As a result, you’ll find many new issues that rise to the top of the organization and quite possibly to the board. How do employees feel about being a part of the organization? If they’re unhappy, or if there’s a source of toxicity somewhere in the organization, it will rise to the board’s attention faster than in years past, in part because of social media. These are enormously important risk-management discussions. The HR function helps to frame and develop strategies to address these issues.
The CHRO has to have fantastic antennae, and they should be measuring the temperature of the organization all the time. Directors may be asking for new kinds of measurements about cultural health. Those are increasingly important because you can’t ask an organization to care about and prioritize these things and then not measure them and provide feedback on how the company is doing. In some cases, it may make sense to tie those measurements to compensation and reward systems for the most senior leaders.
Helene Gayle: The expectations of CHROs have risen as we have come to better understand the importance of focusing on people. Companies and organizations have said forever that our talent is our greatest asset, but as the recent challenges have shown, if companies aren’t investing in their people, culture, values and all the things that support that, including incentive systems, then they are going to falter.
As we have elevated culture, and as we’ve elevated the role of succession planning, the CHRO has taken on added importance and centrality. But we have to make sure we’re not putting too much on the CHRO beyond what is realistic. Another issue that has elevated the role of CHRO, particularly in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, has been understanding diversity and equity as an important enabler of culture.
"Boards and leadership teams are increasingly expecting the HR leader to be the touchpoint on culture and culture change. HR is facing more pressure to help drive transformation efforts through culture change."
"We’ve learned during the pandemic that the executives who demonstrate resilience—the ability to pivot, stay centered and be clear about how they create value for the organization—set themselves apart."
“I want to know the CHRO’s highest priorities. That’s the way HR leaders can have the greatest success with their boards—by being clear about what they’re prioritizing so that we can be mutually supportive.”—Helene Gayle
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