As a senior HR leader for more than 15 years, I have seen first-hand the ongoing challenges that an HR function faces in establishing itself as an integral part of a business and in earning its place at the top leadership table.
Having recently moved to executive search with a focus on senior HR roles within Financial Services, I read with interest Savannah’s report on the Rise of the CHRO, which outlined some of the challenges that the CHRO is currently facing including compensation, strategic partnerships, internal perception and title inflation. Many of these resonated with me and I wanted to provide my perspective on the direction I feel the senior HR function needs to take to overcome these hurdles.


The CHRO role (much like the CMO and CIO role) is a relatively new addition to the board room, and as a result, compensation can vary significantly from company to company. Compensation largely depends on the level of support, the company’s strategic agenda, and buy-in that the HR function receives from C-suite colleagues and the Board. Variance in board packages can result in increased difficulties with earning the respect of colleagues.

Title Inflation

Title inflation has frequently involved the assignment of a “C-level” title to an otherwise non-executive role (such as “chief cultural officer”, “chief privacy officer” and “chief reputation officer”). This has cheapened the value of recent C-Level titles and has made HR’s climb even more difficult.

Partnership With The CEO

Senior HR leaders are in a unique position to be a coach, mentor and sounding board to the CEO. To gain this level of trust, CHROs must position themselves as partners and constructive challengers, helping the CEO to build a high-performing and cohesive executive leadership team.

Research by McKinsey and the Conference Board found that despite the level of partnership between the two, CEOs devalue the role of the CHRO not for their specific functional performance but because of concerns that they don’t have a strong enough grasp of broader business workings and objectives.

My colleague Lisa Gerhardt recently published an excellent post on the strategic attributes that her clients are asking her for when recruiting senior HR leaders which I would highly recommend. In the situations where an HR leader demonstrates that they can offer a strategic perspective, CEOs are more inclined to elevate their position. This is the key to forming the most important partnership within the business.

Problems With Internal Perception

It’s no secret that HR has had a brand image problem for some time. While a lot of these perceptions are rooted in myth, it’s the CHROs responsibility to debunk them on behalf of their function and team. There are three ways to achieve this:

1. Tying The Role Of Talent To The Profitability Of The Business

HR leaders must embrace data as the mechanism to identify key performance indicators and quantify the value of attracting, cultivating and retaining top talent.

2. Taking Ownership Of Important Workplace Issues

HR is in a unique position to drive significant positive change in the areas of equal pay for women, diversity, parental leave, and expanded childcare. In doing so, they will be seen as progressive and implementing meaningful cultural change.

3. Prove That HR Is Not A Cybersecurity Threat

Given the volume of data that HR manages on compensation, health records and other proprietary information, questions often arise about cybersecurity and the HR function. Breaches are often a result of employees’ lapses, and by leaving the cybersecurity agenda to the CIO or CISO, it asks questions of HRs readiness to protect confidential information. Visibly partnering with the CIO or CISO to tackle cybersecurity will aid HRs credibility.

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